Weight, Battery Charging, Speed: The First Retina iPad Mini Review You’ll Actually Find Useful [Review]

display_hero

iPad Mini with Retina Display by Apple
Category: iPad
Works With: Your hands
Price: $400+

What’s this? A review of the Retina iPad mini almost a month after launch? That’s right. And although I haven’t been using my new mini for that long, I’ve been using for more than the two or three hours logged by most of the folks who “reviewed” it on launch.

So if you are wondering if the new mini is noticeably heavier than the old one, or if it takes all night to charge it, or whether an iPad even needs LTE, then read on.

Weight

Every review I’ve read has said that the Retina mini (mini 2) is so close in weight to the old mini (mini 1) that you barely notice the difference. At best they claim that the difference disappears after a few hours. As someone who has used the mini 1 daily, for many hours, and for many months as a main machine (since January this year), I can say that this is a pile of crap.

I moved from the Wi-Fi model (308 grams) to the 3G/LTE model (341 grams), and I noticed the difference right away. I can also see the 0.3mm of extra thickness even when the old and new iPads aren’t side-by-side. The new iPad mini is by no means heavy or fat, but if you’re expecting something as impossibly light as the original you’ll be disappointed. And even a week later I can still tell which iPad is which just by looking or touching (although the dents and scratches on the old one make this fairly easy).

If you’re not adding cellular into the mix when you upgrade, the difference will be less, but still noticeable. I handled a Wi-Fi only model in-store and it still feels chunky.

LTE

Speaking of cellular, I’m going to say something that’ll surely come back to bite me in the future: LTE is already more than fast enough for mobile devices. In fact, even 3G is already sufficient. But let’s step back a second.

The A7-based mini is way faster at loading web pages than the old mini, but this has little to do with network speed and everything to do with rendering HTML, which is a surprisingly intensive task for a mobile device. Browsing at home on a 100Mb connection, the mini 1 drags and takes forever even to load simple pages. The mini 2 is a different world, popping even heavy pages into full view almost instantly (although not the Cult of Mac home page, which even my MacBook Air takes like ten seconds to load).

In fact, the difference is so big that the Retina mini loads pages faster over 3G than the old mini does on super-fast Wi-Fi. And let’s be clear, I’m using a HSPA+ 3G network, not an LTE connection.

So why would I need LTE? Video already starts without buffering, and everything else I might do on mobile suffers not from speed but from data caps: that is to say my Skype quality is fine, but it burns through my allowance.

Ever-faster connections are great at home because we connect many devices to the same network, streaming Rdio on an iPhone at the same tie as Spotify on an iPad at the same time as a Skype call and a BitTorrent download. But an iPad has its own connection, shared with nobody (ignoring tethering, because iPhones have their own connection), and we can’t use network-intensive apps like BitTorrent anyway.

So, good 3G is probably plenty, unless you’re using the mini as a hotspot.

Fast

The A7 chip makes this iPad blazing fast, but as many other reviewers have said, there are no apps that really seem to take advantage of it yet. Then again, some everyday operations are much faster. Importing photos using the camera connection kit is one. What takes slow minutes on the mini 1 takes seconds on the mini 2. Imports are so fast in fact that I thought something had gone wrong, and that I’d shot super low-res JPGs with my camera. I’m not exactly sure why, as this would seem to be a task bound by the USB bus speed, but the difference is huge.

Switching between apps is also way quicker. To say the original mini could multitask was to be kind indeed: you could switch apps with a four-finger swipe, but you’d have to wait for a while for it to unfreeze. Worse, the paltry RAM meant that the mini 1 couldn’t even hold a few web pages in memory at the same time, triggering a complete app relaunch every time you switched away. The A7 along with a healthier (but still slim) 1GB RAM makes it possible to use the mini 2 as a main work machine. Combined with iOS 7’s great app-switcher view (almost full-screen thumbs of the background apps’ screens) and the Retina display, it feels more like your using a multi-window computer than ever.

There are some odd speed bumps though. Effects don’t seem to get applied any faster in iPhoto, for instance (although the occasional library reloads are much quicker) and the App Store is still dog slow, but this is likely due to iOS 7 problems, not A7 problems.

Charging

The iPad 3 was a low point for iOS devices. It had that amazing screen, but — like the old joke about the guy with a watch that does everything, but the batteries come in two suitcases — there was a penalty. Not only did the giant battery make the iPad itself fat and heavy, but it meant that even with the 12-Watt charger it really needed to charge overnight. I ran into this when I took it on a bike tour, naïvely expecting a solar panel to keep it topped up. In the end I had to stay in hotels a couple of extra nights just to charge the thing.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I was worried that the mini 2 would go the same way. After all, the original charged so fast that it only shipped with the iPhone charger (although hooking up the 10-watt iPad charger would make it charge even faster.

Happily, it’s not too bad. You can charge it with the iPhone charger, or just a regular USB port, and it’s slow but perfectly doable. Switch to the supplied charger and if you, say, realize the battery is dead half an hour before you’re due to leave the house, you can put enough charge on there to see you through.

The other part of this is battery life. For my use, which consists of lots of reading, lots of browsing and lots of music playing, the battery seems to drain slower than my year-old mini. This might be due to the battery on the mini 1 being a little older, or it may just be that the I use it for fewer minutes at a time as I’m not waiting for the damn apps to reload again. But I remember the original mini feeling like it drained faster than the iPad 3 before it, and the iPad 3 was slower than the all-time champion of iPad battery life, the iPad 2.

And it the sun ever comes out in Germany again, I’ll give solar another try.

Speakers

This one is completely subjective, but the speakers in the new mini sound better to my ear. They’re slightly fuller, and slightly deeper, and this may be due in apart to the greater heft of the accompanying iPad. Or new speakers, or just my own brain playing tricks on me. Whichever it is, I’m less likely to track down a Bluetooth speaker just to add a bit of background music while I re-read old issues of Hellblazer.

Speaking of comics…

The Screen

The Retina display is amazing, despite the fact that it struggles to show even the full sRGB gamut. Unless you put it alongside the iPad Air, you won’t notice the difference. Photos look great, video is incredible and text is like printed text.

The screen also manages to get brighter than the mini 1, and possibly darker at the low end, too. Other than that, there’s not much to say. It’s the mini, and it’s now Retina. And you can’t see any pixels (although you might want to increase the default text size one notch, even if you have pretty good eyes).

Cases

A quick mention on cases. Many well-made iPad mini 1 cases are a tight fit for the mini 2. There seems to be a reason that Apple made its own Smart Case completely open at the front (the Smart Case is excellent by the way — it feels great, weighs very little and offers a lot of protection. I’ll post my review this Friday). Saying this, I haven’t yet come across a mini 1 case that won’t fit the Retina mini: just beware if you’re buying something super slim.

Conclusion

Clearly, the new Retina iPad mini is better than the original in every way except size and weight, and while noticeable, the pros far outweigh the cons. I can’t think of a single reason to buy a first-gen mini, unless you just want to save a bit of money because its for the kids or something. For any real use, the mini 1 is painfully slow. I was reminded of this every time I used it over the past year, but going back to it now is like having to wear a scratched up pair of old-prescription glasses instead of my regular pair. Really slow glasses. OK, so the metaphor falls down there. But you get my point: The new mini is the mini you want.

wireless_hero

display_hero

Product Name: : iPad Mini with Retina Display

The Good: As powerful as the flagship Air, only smaller. Fast, portable and cute.

The Bad: Fatter than I’d like, but you get used to it.

The Verdict Buy it, unless you want a bigger screen, in which case buy the Air.

Buy from: Apple

Cult of Mac rating: Excellent

  • DerekStein

    Good news considering I just purchased my wife one for Christmas and snagged the beige smart case.

    Great write-up, Charlie.

  • DJBabyBuster

    air air air

About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in Featured stories, iPad, Reviews, Top stories | Tagged: , , , |