Apple iPad Mini Retina No Longer Riding Its Big Brother's Coattails

1 - Apple iPad Mini Retina No Longer Riding Its Big Brother's Coattails
2 - The New iPad Mini's Touch-Screen is a Stunner
3 - The New A7 Chip Gives It Some Kick
4 - iPad Mini Goes to Work
5 - Rock-Solid Wireless Is Part of the Deal
6 - No WiFi, No Problem
7 - Apple's Class-Leading Design Remains Intact
8 - iPad Mini Is Impeccably Built
9 - The Retina iPad Mini is Perfectly Palm-able
10 - Where's Touch ID?
11 - Still, With the Plastic?
12 - Prepare for Sticker Shock
13 - Verdict: It's a Keeper
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Apple iPad Mini Retina No Longer Riding Its Big Brother's Coattails

by Pedro Hernandez

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The New iPad Mini's Touch-Screen is a Stunner

Apple packed a uniformly lit, 2048 by 1536 resolution display into 7.9 inches. At 326 pixels-per-inch (PPI), it delivers a level of visual fidelity beyond that of the full-sized 9.7-inch iPad Air at the same resolution. Websites, text and images are razor-sharp, even up close, making it easy to curl up with some online articles or long-form pieces in apps like Flipboard and Instapaper. HD videos dazzle and digital comics leap off the screen with super-saturated colors.

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The New A7 Chip Gives It Some Kick

The iPad Mini with Retina display delivers snappy performance, courtesy of its A7 processor, the same one that powers the current iPad Air, meaning that the Mini is no longer a step behind. (Last year, the original Mini, with its A5 chip, debuted alongside the A6-powered iPad Retina.) In practical terms, expect responsive app performance, buttery-smooth video and fewer progress indicators with the new 64-bit processor.

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iPad Mini Goes to Work

As promised by Apple, iWork apps are available free for buyers of iOS devices. They are not preinstalled; a friendly reminder pops up when you first fire up the App Store app on the new Mini, encouraging you to download the iWork suite. Office fans may balk at Apple's user-friendly, "lite" productivity suite, but it offers more than enough features to produce polished presentations and even crunch some numbers. Even without iWork, there are tons of apps that, along with the speedy A7 processor, make it easy to get work done on the go.

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Rock-Solid Wireless Is Part of the Deal

Connect to a WiFi network, and the Retina iPad Mini keeps a solid grip on the signal. The Mini's MIMO-compliant (multiple-input multiple-output) WiFi radio kept the tablet at "full bars" in every corner of my apartment, which while not palatial by any stretch, has enough walls, appliances, competing networks and signal-blocking obstacles that other devices, including my first-gen iPad, would occasionally drop some packets. Not so with the new Mini.

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No WiFi, No Problem

Granted, 4G is old hat by now, but connecting the iPad Mini Retina to a high-speed cellular network (AT&T's LTE (Long Term Evolution), in this case) rivals a good WiFi signal. That is the case, if you're in the New York City area, where AT&T has widespread LTE coverage. When covered by 4G, the Retina iPad Mini's fast processor, incredible screen and compact dimensions make it a great travel companion.

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Apple's Class-Leading Design Remains Intact

The iPad Mini is appealing, understated and well-proportioned. Polished aluminum edges catch the light in ways plastic tablets don't, while imperceptible seams keep things together. Those are just some of the many touches that give the device a premium look and feel, while remaining fairly understated—a tricky balance to pull off. Considering that the Retina iPad Mini is pricier than its Android-powered rivals at $399 to start, it definitely looks the part.

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iPad Mini Is Impeccably Built

If looks don't matter, buyers will certainly appreciate the iPad's solid build. While small for a tablet, it feels substantial, not toy-like. Nor does Retina Mini flex. Best of all, with a Smart Cover protecting the screen, it can hold its own in a crowded gadget bag. Microsoft's Surface rivals the Mini in build quality, but there's no mini version of it yet.

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The Retina iPad Mini is Perfectly Palm-able

Unlike the full-size iPad, the iPad Mini fits in one average-size hand, even with the smart cover attached (glimpsed here). Those in the market for a full-powered iPad, but in a more compact package, finally have a device that fits the bill.

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Where's Touch ID?

With the new iPhone 5S on the scene, it's only natural to expect one of its hallmark features, Touch ID, to appear on the iPad. Sadly, iPads—all of them, not just the Mini—must do without it for now. And it's a shame, because it's a nice little time-saver. As an owner of a 5S, my thumb will sometimes linger on the Mini's home button for a moment out of sheer habit. Annoying.

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Still, With the Plastic?

Since the first-gen iPad was released in 2010, a plastic panel interrupted the expanse of aluminum that made up the back panel of cellular-enabled iPads. Three years later, the story is no different. Understandably, it's there to help the iPad Mini grab onto 4G signals. On the downside, it looks out of character, attracts dirt and scratches, and is a blemish on an otherwise seamless design. Here's hoping that Apple can find a solution to this admittedly minor shortcoming.

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Prepare for Sticker Shock

The 16GB WiFi version of the Retina iPad Mini retails for $399, while a comparable Google Nexus 7—an excellent tablet in its own right—sells for $229. The 32GB LTE version of the Nexus 7 rings in at $329, nearly half the price of the 32GB WiFi + Cellular model reviewed here ($629 before taxes). However you slice it, new iPad Mini is priced at a premium.

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Verdict: It's a Keeper

The iPad Mini with Retina display is made for people who are looking for a smaller version of the iPad but don't want to compromise on performance or crisp visuals. It's expensive compared with the competition, but the price of admission entitles buyers to a fast, compact tablet that offers access to Apple's sprawling, increasingly business-friendly mobile app ecosystem.

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