iPad Mini 2 review: This is Apple's second-gen mini tablet, but has it got what it takes to top our list of the best tablets to buy?
The original iPad mini was our favourite tablet ever; small and lightweight enough to be truly portable, unified hardware and software to keep the battery going all day, and running the best OS with the most apps. Hell, even without a Retina display, it even won our tablet of the year.
Then the iPad Air arrived – a smaller, more lightweight, faster 'full-size' iPad with an aesthetic design that took all the best bits from the Mini - we're looking at you, thin bezel.
But now we have a quicker, more powerful, super-resolution iPad Mini 2 with Retina display at our fingertips. It’s up against some seriously high quality small tablets, including the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, the new Google Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, to name a few. Are the improvements enough to keep the Mini ahead of the pack, and our number one all-round tablet?
iPad Mini 2: Screen
Let's start with the upgrade that we've all been waiting for since the Mini was first introduced – Retina. What you now get on on the 7.9-inch display is a resolution of 2048 x 1536 at 326ppi, equating to a total pixel count of 3,145,728. That's as much as the iPad Air and just 25% less than the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.
Needless to say, everything is pin-sharp, especially text and high-res images whose fine detail pops even when zooming in close. For instance, iBook and Kindle books are easier on the eyes and can now be viewed clearly at arm's length. Screen brightness seems the same but colours are unequivocally more vivid.
WATCH: iPad Mini 2 unboxing video
Video content isn't any smoother but blacks are deeper and a greater amount of detail can be picked out in moving HD content. Thumb rejection tech prevents wayward digits triggering screen commands. In short, the Retina Display delivers in every way we hoped. A triumph.
iPad Mini 2: Features and performance
Hardware-wise, Apple has stuffed every flagship piece of tech from the bigger iPad Air into it's pint-sized brethren. The new 64-bit A7 chip and clever M7 motion co-processor are both present but, like the Air, Touch ID fingerprint recognition has been omitted – a shame considering how much we use it on the 5S.
The Mini can now be bought with 128GB storage, which blows most of the competition out of the water. You'll pay for it, though – almost £700.
In our testing, the new ipad Mini Retina is noticeably faster and slicker than its predecessor. The A7 chip is clearly working overtime to deliver a smooth experience, even if iOS 7 still seems a little sketchy at times.
The Mini crashed twice in our testing for no obvious reason. However, after an Apple update mid-way through our time with it, we had no repeat of the problem.
Apps that take advantage of the 64-bit architecture are arriving now. Playing around with them video-mixing app, vJay, we had two simultaneous video mixes going out live via Apple TV without any glitching. Impressive.
Graphics performance is also much improved with high-intensity games, such as Infinity Blade 3, making use of the OpenGL ES 3.0 platform and, in non geek-speak, producing some incredible lighting and shading effects, all of which look spectacular on the new Retina Display.
The M7 motion coprocessor is also getting some app love, making its potential clearer to see. The Day One app uses it to count, and add, steps to your daily journal, while Strava - yes you can get iPad mini attachments for your bicycle - uses it to reduce battery consumption when the GPS isn't needed - see more below.
The Mini is also the proud owner of a 4G upgrade for wider frequency compatibility. The dualband (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) N Wi-Fi now has MIMO tech for supposedly more reliable connectivity.
In practice, Wi-Fi seemed a little more robust but nothing to email home about. If you've got a decent 4G connection and contract, though, the speeds are outrageous. We were downloading data at almost 50Mbps at one point.
iPad 2: Camera
Optics-wise, the Mini now comes with the excellent FaceTime HD camera and dual mics - the same as the iPad Air and the original iPad Mini. Bragging 1.2MP photos, a ƒ/2.4 aperture and 720p HD video, the quality bump is clearer than the video itself. It's a shame the rear-mounted iSight Camera remains at five megapixels and ƒ/2.4 aperture, but the 1080p video still rocks.
We'd have preferred am iPhone 5S-style 8MP camera and slo-mo video functionality, but you can’t have everything.
There's nothing to seperate the camera on the new iPad Mini and the snapper on the Google Nexus 7, which has also stuck at 5MP.
Not that a rear camera is a huge selling point on a tablet for many, but it's worth noting that the new Amazon Kindle HDX 8.9 has an 8MP rear cam (although the 7-inch version only has a front-facing lens).
iPad Mini 2: Size and build
The second-generation mini is almost identical in size and weight to its predecessor. It's still a great size for everyday use – especially long bouts of reading, commuting and typing with two hands - when used in portrait mode.
Chassis colours come in Space Grey and Silver. Add the official Smart Case - £55 - and things get less natural, but we'd choose that over risking scratching and chipping the chamfered edges any day.
iPad Mini 2: Battery
Our major concern when hearing the iPad mini was going Retina was how the battery would cope. In terms of energy consumption, the Retina-packing iPad 3 really suffered in comparison to the non-Retina iPad 2.
But here, it's a different story. It seems the A7/M7 chip tag team is doing its job well – preserving juice when it needs to, using it efficiently when required.
We didn't get near the 10-hour wi-fi web surfing figure, or 9-hour 3/4G figure, but had music and video playing for almost seven hours before things went quiet. This was at 75% brightness and all wireless tech switched off, though. In standby mode, it lasts for days.
iPad Mini 2: Verdict
At £319 for the 16GB, cellular-free, model, the iPad Mini Retina isn’t cheap, especially compared to its rivals. Things get almost MacBook-like at the top-end, with the 128GB/4G model setting you back £659.
But if, like us, the size and feel of the Mini is of most importance, it offers such a boost in performance and display quality, it's worth the upgrade. The Retina resolution feels like the missing piece of the Mini puzzle and keeps it at the top of our tablet table.
We thought the iPad Air was a stunning piece of technological invention; this just takes all of that goodness and puts it into a device that's more manageable in more real-life situations. We love it.
iPad Mini 2 release date: Out now
iPad Mini 2 price: Wi-Fi only: £319 (16GB), £399 (32GB), £479 (64GB), £559 (128GB)
Wi-Fi and Cellular: £419 (16GB), £499 (32GB), £579 (64GB), £659 (128GB)