But there was a problem. It wasn't Retina. The 2,048 x 1,536 resolution that Apple boasted on the full-size iPad and MacBook Pro had somehow eluded the iPad Mini. Now the company has returned to right the wrong with this second generation, the "iPad Mini with Retina Display" released earlier this month.
Behind the IPS display is an Apple A7 dual-core processor clocked at 1.3 GHz and its accompanying M7 motion coprocessor, along with 1 GB of RAM. The iPad Mini with Retina comes in four non-expandable memory sizes: 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB. For wireless connectivity it has Wi-Fi a/b/g/n (MiMo 4x4) and Bluetooth 4.0, and all four sizes are sold as either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (nano-SIM card required). The operating system is iOS 7.0.3.
The cheapest model, the 16 GB Wi-Fi, costs £319. We tested the most expensive, the 128 GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model, which sells for £659.
DESIGN & HANDLING
The iPad Mini with Retina display is thicker and heavier than the first generation Mini (this year's is 7.5 mm thick and weighs 331 grams, compared to last year's 7.2 mm and 301 g), yet it still offers some of the best handling on the market. And it's mostly because of the neutral touchscreen pressure point that we rave about every time we review an iPad.
Because of its size, it's almost impossible to use this slate with one hand the way you would with a 7-inch tablet, but it has one amazing feature that makes up for it: the "neutral" touch point. This allows you to hold the Mini with one hand and have your thumb resting on the display without interacting with it, while you tap and swipe with your other hand. It's the kind of thing you may not even notice, but it changes everything in terms of handling. For some reason Apple is the only company that does this.
On the new iPad Air, Apple managed to optimise the space well enough to make the vertical borders (when held in portrait mode) thinner than on the previous iPads, but not so here. As you can see below, the Mini with Retina's borders are just as thick as last year's. The screen takes up a very good 72.2% of the façade, but we feel the space could still have been better optimised.
2012 iPad Mini (left) and the 2013 iPad Mini with Retina Display (right)
The body starts to heat up when you really demand a lot from it (such as when you've been playing games for extended periods), but not as much as last year's.
Apple has always made the display one of the most important features on its products. And yet, the first iPad Mini had one of the worst screens ever to come out of Cupertino. This year they've made great strides and brought the image quality closer to that of the iPad Air.
The screen has an average contrast ratio of 813:1 and brightness of up to 378 cd/m². There are much higher contrast ratios out there, but that combined with the brightness is enough to give it perfect visibility indoors and satisfactory visibility outdoors (despite the highly glossy surface, which causes reflections in sunlight).
On the first iPad Mini, colour fidelity was a bit of a problem (dE = 6.8), but while the new Mini is certainly a step forward, the accuracy still isn't quite what we're used to from Apple (i.e. perfection). That said, a Delta E of 4.4 is still respectable, and the greyscale is just right. The colour temperature is a very good 6,837 K, staying relatively uniform across the spectrum. In other words, the colours don't appear exactly as they should, but they're pretty close.
Did we mention that this is the most responsive screen on the market, tablets and smartphones combined? The touch response time is 54 milliseconds. This is may be splitting hairs, but we might as well say it: that's 4 ms faster than the iPad Air and 21 ms faster than the first iPad Mini.
Of course, the 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution—the whole point behind this Retina model—vastly improves image quality compared with the first iPad Mini. Images look highly detailed and text is minutely precise. The 324 ppi pixel density is a delight, making the image as sharp as any of the existing 7-inch tablets that have 1920 x 1200 pixels.
The screen isn't quite as good as the Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7, both of which have the same pixel density but more faithful colours and deeper contrast, but it's still one of the very best, as far as mini-slates go.
Read more about the Retina Display
INTERFACE & NAVIGATION
iOS 7 came out in mid-September, seen here in version 7.0.3 (v 7.0.4 is available for download). The basics haven't changed since iOS was first introduced: there's no app launcher or app menu; just your apps lined up from top to bottom, left to right, on the various home screens, where you can create folders. Basically, it's the same experience as the iPhone, but bigger.
If this is your first iProduct, then you can get iWork (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) and iLife (Garage Band, iMovie, iPhoto) for free, which otherwise would cost around £35. These suites bring a lot of versatility to the iPad Mini, allowing you to edit photos, movies and music.
Now let's talk performance. The difference in speed is much greater between this iPad Mini and the first iPad Mini than the difference between the iPad Air and its predecessor, the iPad 4. That's because Apple gave the first iPad Mini performances similar to the iPad 2, the full-size iPad from two generations prior. But this year's iPad Mini is more like a small version of this year's iPad Air. Actually, it's more like the iPhone 5s, at least as far as clock rates are concerned.
As such, the Mini with Retina display gives a very similar performances to the iPad Air: the Sunspider benchmark gives it a score of 421, compared to 398 for the Air, and it got over 14,000 on 3D Mark. In other words, it's one of the most powerful mobile devices on the market.
In practice, what this means is a fluid user experience with no lags, hiccups, bugs or delays. While the new iOS 7 has had some difficulties on the 2012 iPad Mini, it runs like clockwork on the 2013 Mini with Retina display.
Web pages load quickly, whether you're using Apple's excellent default browser, Safari, or another option, like Chrome. It's a great online experience, and the high resolution has a lot to do with that. Text and images look just as good as they do on the Nexus 7, only the screen is bigger.
Of course, there's no way around iTunes, Apple's gate-master for downloads and syncs. It's the go-to place for legal downloads of HD movies and music. iTunes should serve as a lesson for the competition (we're looking at you, Samsung and Sony), whose VOD offers are completely obsolete and lacking in substance. Rivals take heed.
For any videos in formats other than Apple's pet MP4, there are any number of apps available at the App Store, such as VLC or OPlayer HD, that will read practically any and every format, including 1080p MKV and AVI.
Games run just as well on the iPad Mini Retina as they do on the iPad Air. It's quite simply a beast that runs games just as fluidly as the other market-leading devices (LG G2, 2014 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, etc.). The difference here is that 3D games have richer, more detailed graphics with less aliasing. This is partly because many games are optimised specifically for iOS.
With all this extra power and all these extra pixels to feed, Apple naturally gave this model a much bigger battery than last year's. At 6,480 mAh, it should, in theory, be enough to meet these needs all while reaching Apple's advertising promise of 10 hours' use. And like on the iPad Air, Cupertino not only met this objective, but went beyond it for a total of just over 11½ hours of basic usage, 10½ hours of video playback and 6½ to 8 hours of gaming (depending which games you play). A full charge takes about 3½ hours.
This iPad Mini's rear camera has 5 Mpx, just like the first iPad Mini, although there have been a few improvements since last year. Pictures look okay, but the quality doesn't match what you get on even some mid-range smartphones. All the same, the image is more neutral than last year, with a better white balance, far fewer red overtones and a relatively sharp image.
Just don't expect much in low lighting, because it's a catastrophe. The camera can certainly come in handy, but if you have any mid-range-or-higher smartphone that was launched over the past 18 months, then you might as well use that instead.
The "FaceTime" camera in front was already very good as front-facing webcams go, with little latency and ghosting, and this year it's gained a bit more detail, even in low lighting. It's perfectly fine for video chats.