Retina iPad Mini Hands-On: That’s More Like It

Retina iPad Mini Hands-On: That’s More Like It

The original iPad mini featured a flawless design undermined by an unforgivably subpar display, an antique frame wasted on fingerpaint. Good news. This year’s iPad mini is, after a short time playing with it, picture perfect.

The Look

Let’s dispense first with the design, since it is the exact same as last year’s iPad mini. Well, not exact; if one of your hands were replaced by a decent kitchen scale, you’d notice that this year’s model adds .05 pounds of heft. It’s also .01 inches thicker. You will not notice, and if you do notice, you will not care, and if you do care, you should give up on finding joy in consumer electronics of any stripe, or anything, really.

And if you’re not familiar with the original iPad mini, the most important thing to know is that it is the most attractive tablet, iOS or otherwise. It’s about the size of a hearty Moleskine notebook, as thick as a thin crust pizza. Its vertical bezel is so thin that last year it was legitimately jarring; time has made it no less impressive.

More importantly, it still feels firm despite its waifish dimensions. Its balance feels as precise as a sword or, less melodramatically/more relatably, a really decent frisbee. It’s a one-handed operation (yes, good joke, good job) in a way all tablets should be, and that the trimmed down iPad Air still doesn’t quite manage.

So, yes, OK, that’s the body, same as it ever was. What really matters here is the face.

The Display

Yep! There it is. That’s the one. The new iPad mini has finally, blessedly, gotten a display that can keep up with last year’s Android tablets. This is exactly what it should have been all along.

The new Robocop trailer looks crisp and clean (Michael Keaton!). Games like Sword and Sworcery, Escape from Monster Island, and Infinity Blade III were all glorious and, thanks to that A7 processor, seamlessly responsive and quick to open. If all you want to do is stare at some pretty stuff (and who doesn’t?), you can’t do much better than this.

The display has improved in subtler ways as well. Whereas the iPad mini’s non-retina screen made reading magazines a squinty, silly exercise in frustration, I actually enjoyed flipping through the New Yorker on here. Comic books fare better as well; you can actually read the dialogue without having to zoom in on every frame.

It’s not all sunshine and codeine though. The iPad mini’s display is much, much more readable indoors, but it still suffers the same reflective horrors as its predecessor. On a sunny day, it’s unusable. Its dimensions, while perfect for browsing the web or reading a book, still make for some comically blocky letterboxing.

Those are quibbles, though. It’s ok that the most minor annoyances have carried over. The big, smudgy, inexcusable one has been fixed.

The Rest

We’ve only had our iPad mini for a short time — we’ll have a full review in the next few days — but a few other observations pop out. Here they are in numerical list form:

  1. The iPad mini was made for iOS 7, and vice versa. They’re both sleek and trim and future-forward; I never fully appreciated that there was a disconnect between iOS 6 and last year’s mini, but it’s starkly apparent here that the two were an awkward match.
  2. This year’s mini has a 5MP iSight camera and a 1.2MP FaceTime camera. Here’s a picture taken with the former, if you insist, with HDR on:

    Good dog!

  3. I haven’t tested out the M7 on this yet, because frankly there’s not much reason to? Unless you like to jog with tablets. Still, it’s in there!
  4. A friendly reminder that there’s no TouchID on the iPad mini. That’s fine, you won’t miss it. In fact, you’ve got much less reason to use it, since tablets — even tinier ones! — are mostly house-bound. Or should be, you tablet-toting monster.
  5. The speaker placement is still terrible for doing anything that requires a landscape orientation. your palm can’t help but cover them up, everything is muffled, you can’t avoid it, it is bad.

  6. The iPad mini’s display has improved, but its price has gone up as well to $479 for a 16GB model. That’s a lot of coin, especially for a feature that it should have had in the first place.

We’ll have a full review soon, but for now the important thing to know is that Apple has fixed the single worst thing about the iPad mini. It may still not be a deal, but it’s finally free of any dealbreakers.

Pictures: Michael Hession