Apple's new iPad Mini: With a Retina Display, it's a Mini in name only

The latest version of Apple's smaller tablet is just as powerful as the iPad Air

It took Apple two and a half years after the debut of the first iPad to rollout the smaller, more mobile-friendly iPad Mini. Soon after it was unveiled in October 2012, it quickly became Apple's most popular iPad -- its portability and light weight trumped the faster performance and sharper Retina display on the larger, heavier models. With the debut last month of the 2013 iPad Mini with Retina display, virtually all of the compromises inherent in the smaller models are gone.

iPad Mini with Retina display
The iPad Mini now has a high-resolution Retina display like the iPad Air. (Image: Apple)

The new iPad Mini -- which Apple quietly put on sale Nov. 12 with little hubbub -- is essentially a smaller iPad Air. It now has the high-pixel density Retina display, the 64-bit A7 processor, the M7 co-processor and the updated camera system. As a result, if you're trying to decide between the iPad Air and the iPad Mini with Retina, you only have to figure out whether you want the Air's larger 9.7-in. display or the Mini's smaller 7.9-in. display.

For this review, I originally purchased a 32GB Space Gray iPad Mini (it also comes in Silver), but because I quickly realized it contained nowhere near the storage I needed, I soon swapped it out for a 64GB model.

What's new

What's new? Well, first of all, the iPad Mini with Retina is more expensive than last year's model. While the previous iPad Mini started at $329 for 16GB of storage and is still being sold (for $299), the new model starts at $399 for the 16GB model. Just as with last year's models, storage capacity doubles in $100 increments. The 32GB model is $499, the 64GB is $599 and the 128GB model is $699. If you're looking to buy an LTE version, add $129 for each model.

Other than the look of the device -- it's essentially unchanged from the first generation -- nearly everything has been updated. The Mini is still 7.87 x 5.30 x .29 in., making it about two-thirds the size of the iPad Air. But the new internals have added a little more weight, with the Wi-Fi-only model weighing just under 12 oz. and the LTE models coming in right at 12 oz. Holding the 2012 and 2013 Minis in your hands, I could feel the slight weight difference, but the extra weight shouldn't be an issue for Mini buyers.

As I mentioned, the iPad Mini still comes in two colors: Silver and Space Gray. The Silver model features white borders around the display with a shiny silver diamond-cut chamfered edges and a gray aluminum back; the Space Gray model features a similar design, except with a black border around the display and darker aluminum accents.

A stunning screen with a couple of concerns

The most visible update is the stunning Retina display. As a reminder, "Retina" is the marketing name given by Apple to a display so densely packed with pixels that your eyes can't ascertain the individual pixels that make up the screen. The 2012 iPad Mini came with a 1024-x-768-pixel resolution; this year's model features a four-fold increase to 2048 x 1536 pixels, or 326 pixels per inch. That's about a million more pixels than a 1080p HDTV.

At that density, you can put the Mini as close to your eyes as you can focus and still not see the individual dots of light comprising the screen. At a normal distance, text is super sharp, lines are crisp and iOS 7 looks better than ever.

Although the screen looks fantastic to me, there have been reports that the color range on the iPad Mini's display isn't as wide as on the iPad Air. I'm doubtful any casual user would ever notice, but if you do color-sensitive work on your iPad, you might want to visit an Apple store to confirm the colors on screen are good enough for you.

More importantly, some users have reported that their Minis exhibit image retention on the screen. This issue was apparently first noted by Marco Arment, who came up with an easy way to test whether your Mini has this issue. Thus far, it's unclear how many tablets may have the problem, but it is an issue. If you find you have a Mini that's affected, call Apple or take it to your local Apple store. Some Mini owners have reported that Apple will replace units with this defect, even though there hasn't been anything official announced.

Note: I checked my own iPad Mini and it does not have the image retention issue.

iPad mini screens
The Retina display on the new iPad Mini (left) is sharper than the screen on the first-generation iPad Mini (right). (Image: Michael deAgonia)
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