The Retina Mini Is So Disappointing I Switched To The iPad Air [Opinion] | Cult of Mac

The Retina Mini Is So Disappointing I Switched To The iPad Air [Opinion]


I just switched back to the full-sized iPad – in the form of the iPad Air – after over a year of exclusive iPad Mini use. The reason? I can’t get on with the Retina Mini. The Mini is great in many ways, and so you’d think that an A7 Retina-ized version would be even better. But almost since I bought it, the new hi-res Mini has been driving me crazy.

The First Mini

Like many nerds, I bought the first Mini just to check it out, opting for a 32GB Wi-Fi-only version (the Vegas Apple store was out of 16-giggers). And bit by bit I found myself using it almost exclusively, despite the fact that it was really just a slow old iPad 2 in a smaller case. It was so impossibly slim and light that I could take it everywhere.

The only things I didn’t like were the screen and the 512MB RAM, which meant that almost every app-switch would trigger a cold relaunch of that app.

I liked it so much I switched to it full time, and gave my old iPad 3 to The Lady.

Retina Mini – The Fat Nano of iPads

I ordered the new Mini the day it launched. The minute it launched, in fact. I knew I’d be keeping it for a while so I got the 128GB cellular version. It arrived (I was sharing an office with Ulysses and Daedalus Touch developer The Soulmen, and so the UPS delivery brought us a couple of Minis) and as soon as I opened it up I was disappointed.

It’s fat. The cellular Retina Mini is around ten percent heavier than the Wi-Fi-only original, and just a third of a millimeter thicker. This sounds like nothing, but it’s the difference between being pleasantly surprised at its lightness, and disappointment that you’ll have to wait for the next generation for the proper Retina Mini – more on that in a second.

The faster processor is great, but I didn’t notice it so much. The 1GB RAM would be a lot better if iOS 7 weren’t still so awful on the iPad, but the latest iOS 7.1 betas help a lot. And of course the screen looks, uh, sharper. But not actually better.

The whole time, though – almost every time I picked it up or pulled off the Smart Case to shed some weight – I’d realize that it just wasn’t that slab of helium-light tech that the first iPad Mini had been.

The Terrible Screen

The Retina Display is the reason the new Mini is fatter, and heavier, and takes a lot longer to charge than the old Mini. But it’s not really worth it. We wrote about the color gamut of the Mini’s Retina display being lower than that of the iPad Air, and in person the difference is huge. Colors on the Mini are flat and muted. It’s just fine for text, but for video and pictures, it’s just muddy compared to its bigger brother. And as an iPad is really just a screen with a battery, this is a big deal.

Last Year’s Tech

Speaking of batteries, the Retina Mini reminds me of the iPad 3, the first Retina iPad. The iPad 3 also got fat and heavy (comically so if you use one today after picking up a Mini or an Air), and even got warm in use. And like the iPad 3, the Retina Mini feels like a stop-gap, an in-between device that will tide us over until the real Retina Mini comes along.

The iPad Air feels like the future. It’s the same 7.5mm thick as the Retina Mini, and yet it feels thinner. The whole thing has the same air (forgive me) about it that the original Mini had: when you pick one up you’ll think its a demo model without any electronics inside.

The Mini feels like what it is: last year’s model with a beta version of next year’s tech crammed inside.

Eyes And Size

Then we get onto the more subjective bits. I constantly found the Retina Mini’s display cramped in a way I never did with the original Mini. Maybe the Retina screen encouraged me to edit more photos and read more, but I kept finding the text to be too thin and the photos to be too small. I’m also over 40 now, and I have always worn glasses, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Either way, whenever I picked up The Lady’s iPad 3 I’d be jealous of the screen. I always coveted its extra pixels over the first Mini, but now I found myself jealous of its size, too. The Air is even better. All that size, in a package as slim as the Mini, and with only a couple hundred grams of extra weight. That’s the weight of a case.

I still can’t hold the Air for log periods of reading, but I don’t have to. It’s longer, so I can prop it on a table or on my chest. In this way it’s actually more comfortable to use than the Mini

Things I Miss

It’s only been a few days, but I already miss some things about the smaller iPad. I think twice before grabbing the Air from my bag to check a map or look something up. The Mini is really great for this, and I found my iPhone had been relegated to nothing more than a camera.

The Mini is also holdable in one hand. I have big hands, and if I stretch I can hold the Air in one of them, but it’s not practical.

Also, finding somewhere to set it down isn’t so easy. The Mini – especially in the Smart Cover – can be dropped anywhere. Finding a safe spot for the Air while I make my morning coffee is a little trickier.

Finally, I miss the fact that the Mini could live in my bag and I’d never really notice it. I really did take it anywhere. Now I find I leave the iPad at home when I go out for just a few hours, packing my Kindle and iPhone instead. On the other hand, the use-case for both the iPhone and the Kindle is a lot clearer when your pair them with a bigger iPad.


The Air is, to make yet another bad pun, a breath of fresh air. The screen is obviously bigger, but the real difference comes in the colors, which make photos pop and movies more real. And becasue I use it every day for both work and play, those extra screen inches really add up, making everything easier to read. It’s like switching from a cramped kitchen table to a desk in a new office with big windows and a cool fake-leather sofa (actually a pretty good description of my office).

Will I ever go back to the Mini? Sure, I guess – when it’s actually mini again. Right now it’s the iPad Air that feels mini. And I still have that old Wi-Fi-only 1st-gen Mini around the place, just in case.

BTW – anyone interested in buying my 128GB Retina mini?


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