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?

  • Apple, Tech Info

    I liked reading the post, its made me think do i really want a ret-mini or air now.

    • Adrayven

      Have both, use the Air mainly because my eyes are not the best. If I wasn’t trying to do class/studying on it, I’d use the Mini more. Unless you’re super critical about photography or video editing.. you seriously will not see the color issue w/o setting them side/by/side..

      I can take the mini and stuff in large coat pocket.. still do..

      It’s really about what you want to do with it.. if you travel heavy and want it on-hand.. the rMini hands down.. If you’re eyes are not the best, and it stays home most of the time.. I’d steer more to the Air for reading/larger screen for my eyes.

  • Bangali

    How much? =P

  • Mercurío

    I took the trouble of registration just to ask you this…………. Really?

    • Andrew

      Seriously. I love my wifi mini retina 16 GB. Maybe it’s because it’s my first iPad. But I love it. It’s screaming fast, gorgeous retina display, and so nice and compact.

      • Adrayven

        Yeah.. I disagreed on every one of his points. lol Odd..

      • Andrew

        Now it is true… there is a difference in color gamut, but unless you use pantones or need exact color matching for print etc… it really is hardly noticeable/problematic.

    • wylekat


  • zeekfizz

    Wow this is such nonsense. The air feels lighter though it’s the same weight? This is a nut job over analyze everything. The screen is gorgeous. It is not heavy. iOS 7 runs great on it. The buttons are too small? No.

    • The WiFi+Cell Air is 1.05 lbs (478 g), or 0.0169 lbs-per-surface-in² (0.0118 g-per-surface-mm²). The WiFi+Cell mini Retina is 0.75 lbs (341 g), or 0.0180 lbs-per-surface-in² (0.0127 g-per-surface-mm²). They’re both 0.29 in (7.5 mm) thick. Charlie Sorrel is on drugs.

  • Rygaard

    TBH I can hold mini with 1 hand, cant hold air with 1 hand – that is the real difference for me – and why i switched to mini

  • Mac2K

    This has got to be one of the worst articles ever posted on here. Both devices are identical in specs other than their size. And in “Things I already miss” section it sounds like you easily regret buying the iPad Air. The one-third of a mm thickness difference? Give me a break. The DPI is higher on the retina mini than it is on the iPad Air, making it sharper, the processor and RAM is identical… So iOS7 is still going to run like crap on the Air.

    • Speed and processor might be identical, but the lower color gamut is very real and noticeable. If you google a side by side comparison, you can visibly see the difference.

      See the difference.

      • Adrayven

        I tried, didn’t see it w/o really really staring.. it was like I was trying to do one of those visual puzzles. ROFL!

        Unless you’re a photographer or screen ‘snob’ no normal user is ever going to notice w/o really looking hard.


        If you can’t see the difference, you’re blind.

      • Ok, don’t know why this comment didn’t make it through the first time. If you’ll direct your attention to this 5S photo of a side by side with the mini vs air:

        Anyone, including the average user can easily see the difference. Maybe you’re color blind?

      • Komrad

        I see that the one on the left is a lot closer so that you can see the details better

      • Or that they’re on a level countertop and equal distant from the camera. Details and clearly more washed out color are completely different observations.

    • Callanish

      Wrong. The iPad mini has a 1.3 GHz processor. The air has a 1.4 GHz processor and it doesn’t run like crap on IOS7, nor is the screen any worse. You’re just spewing bullshit.

  • Scott Simon

    My experience is the opposite. I have owned every iPad model made (except the 4th gen). I bought the first mini when it came out (cellular 16GB) and LOVED it. I bought the Air when it first came out (cellular 16GB) and loved it as well, but I found myself missing the small form factor of the mini. After a few months, I sold my air and just purchased the retina mini (cellular 32GB), and I am not disappointed at all. Performance wise it blows the old mini away and feels just as fast and zippy as the Air that I just sold. I do not feel as though I am missing out on anything that I had with the Air. The Air IS an awesome device and if I had to keep it – I would have been perfectly content with that and would have been able to go about my life without any issues. But the mini gives me portability that I really enjoy, and I just find that its size fits my life perfectly. And while the Air may display colors better – its not immediately apparent to me. Everything looks just fine to my $4000 lasik’d eyes :)

  • pete n pete

    Do they sometimes forget to peel your grapes and cut off the crusts on your sandwiches, too?

  • James Groom

    I went from the iPad 2 hmmm almost 3 years ago now and went to the iPad Mini mainly because of it’s size and usability is key. I would go the iPad Mini mainly because of it’s size vs the iPad Air which is huge to me and not very workable if you only have one hand and you can type with 2 thumbs on the iPad Mini you can’t on the iPad Air! that and the iPad Mini fits perfectly in it’s little slot with my Camera Bag (2 of which i have one for every day one for Holidays)

    • dcj001

      “the iPad Air which is huge to me and not very workable if you only have one hand and you can type with 2 thumbs on the iPad Mini you can’t on the iPad Air!”

      I, apparently, have larger hands than you. The iPad Air, in my opinion, is the perfect size. I can hold it in one hand, and I have no problem tying with two thumbs. Are you aware that you can split an iPad’s keyboard into two halves to make it easier to type with your thumbs, if your thumbs cannot reach the center keys?

      • James Groom

        Yes very much indeed know about the split keyboard and I am for one not a huge fan of it good if you have the iPad Air or Original iPad but mini it really for me is so much better. Everyone has there preference and I just prefer the Mini over Air or Original iPad :) especially when on the run is rather grab out the Mini over the Air any day

      • TJ

        Same here. I can hold my Air in one hand with no problems, and I wear a size US Large glove. The minute I picked up the Air at an Apple store and realized I could hold it in one hand, and it felt like a demo shell, I was sold. My iPad 3 went straight to the lady…

        I could never see the benefit of a Mini, but I realize it’s a very personal decision. I like small phones and large tablets. It seems more people want large phones and small tables… go figure….

  • Andrew

    Glad i’m not the only one representing love for the mini camp. :D

  • Drew Bernard


  • kencopen

    I’ll give you 50 bucks for it

  • BB BB

    I prefer the full size iPad too. The larger screen real estate makes all the difference. And with the Air it makes the mini seem almost pointless. You’d have to be pretty wimpy to complain about the weight or portability of either the mini or air. If you’re really in the market for something portable than the nexus 7 is the way to go and fits in a pocket.

    I’m tired of the Safari issues and crashes on my iPad Air. /iOS7 Even with the latest Beta 5 Safari will still crash.

  • martim

    Wow. I couldn’t disagree more! I’ve had a 1st generation (my kids still use it), I’ve had a 3rd generation and I played somewhat extensively with a mini. This was when I decided I wanted a mini retina and was going to keep my 3rd generation behemoth until it came out. Then the air appeared and got me all confused. So I managed to get hold of an Air to try. It took me all of 10 minutes to decide on the mini retina and I haven’t regretted the decision at all. In fact I’ve reinforced it every time I get to use an Air for some reason… The mini retina is the perfect weight, size, solidity, image and speed. I mostly do mail, browse, remote desktop, tv series and a few games. I take it with me 10x more often than I did the 3rd generation behemoth. Oh, and off topic, but the Leather Apple Case is PERFECT for it. I got the brown one and it’s aging vintage style. Beautiful.

  • Joshua D.

    my wife loves her 1st gen mini ipad even if it does lag a bit, the ipad air is too much in my opinion, the mini with retina is far more portable for a purse or even my back pocket.

    PS: Yes I use android, but appreciate the pros of both platforms.

  • digitaldumdum

    So disappointing? Terrible screen? Last year’s tech?? Dude, you are living in a very large bubble. Sadly, you’re not alone. Tech “analysts” and users alike are increasingly insatiable beyond all reason.

    I guess it’s not your fault, since you get access to the “newest” and “coolest” without ever having to make a single request. These toys just come to you in the mail, or from a hard-working delivery person. You make fast (often unsupported) pronouncements, and move on to your next winner… or loser.

    But the iPad Retina Mini is “disappointing” and “terrible?” C’mon, Charlie, are even you can’t be that jaded? If so, however, perhaps you should think about being an “official” Apple analyst, the kind who isn’t impressed with the continuous flow of Apple products, or the biggest quarter in Apple’s history (for example), but instead determine on your own that the company should have sold a few million more of this or that. People get nervous, stock goes down and analysts make more money buying on the lows. Good day for analysts. Now wouldn’t that be a lot more satisfying for you than irritating a few iPad Retina Mini users?

  • Winston Williams

    This is the whiniest piece of sissy journalism ever written. I award you no points and may god have mercy on your soul…

  • inknzvl

    This is what I have done:
    I did modified/altered my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard Folio (original) to easily take the mini in & out. I did put a skin to the back of the mini and screen protector in front. It still fits in the case that comes with Logitech keyboard BT Folio. Now I keep the BT in my ipad sleeve and pull it out only when I know I’m going to need it. The mini is on my hands in a very slim and light form for reading and games.
    iOS 7 is sluggish and crashes a lot more that iOS 6. I had the original mini and got the Rmini only because of the better specs but just figure it out the the original mini it wasn’t in a need of anything (on iOS 6)

  • Michael Smith

    For all of you disagreeing with this “opinion” piece, I suggest you make a point to remember who wrote the article, I think you will find this is becoming a common occurrence.

    If Cult of Mac wants controversial headlines and wrong headed “opinion” pieces, they might just want to get some of their Cult of Android brothers to stop by and pen some articles.

  • billdamon

    I hated it also. It forced me to try the Nexus 7 (I wanted a better screen) and I just love it! Much better ergonomics than the iPad (easier to hold mostly), and there’s some things like the keyboard (swype) and widgets that make for a better experience in certain areas. I do miss some of the management features of iOS, but its been an easy switch.

    It is a bit cramped though. But I like the smaller footprint. It ends up I’m using it alot more than I did with the Mini. Plus… it cost 1/2 as much. I think you can get it for $200 now.

    I’m also finding that its good to get away from using the same ecosystem for everything. You see things that you couldn’t do and you get excited. Then you see things that you can’t do and you appreciate them more.

  • markfraser

    Oh no! My iPad is too heavy and too big, so I’m going to replace it – with one that is heavier and bigger, but – oh no! This one is too heavy and too big for me to use with Maps . . . so I’m going to get a smaller one.

    This is quite possibly the dumbest article I have ever read.

  • Panji Hadinugraha

    I might have to agree with the color gamut though.

    Unless you’re not a photographer/ cinematographer/ artist/ trained-eyes/ movie-perfectionists, the retina iPad Mini is absolutely excellent.

  • Sergio Arista

    1/3 rd of millimeter and 30 grams more for the difference in screen definition and you call it fat ????
    Noting you can’t solve by going out taking fresh air and gaining .005% of muscle mass
    Hopefully you don’t have a female couple to read this otherwise you may be in serious trouble…
    About being OCD or anal retentive just lay a couple of hundreds on your analyst desk to help you sole that… Wait, hundreds are a few micrograms heavier so you use twenties?

  • Shane

    “Last Year’s Tech”? That’s comically wrong.

    Last year’s mini was the one that was the stop gap model. The current gen is what it was aiming to be all along. The only thing that I’d really like to improve on the current gen iPads is to have the screen laminated with the glass, like the iPhone 5. Especially with the new, smaller vertical bezels.

  • Dennis McDonald

    Since I’m considering this decision I read the article but the following phrase suggests that Cult of Mac is not a good source for relevant information: “And as an iPad is really just a screen with a battery, this is a big deal.”


  • Devin Magruder

    Idiot idiot idiot. You should appreciate what you have while you have it you moron. Complaining about something that is actually quite useful is making you look foolish. Stop spewing complete bullcrap and use what ya got.

  • Boolshit. I have Mini Retina and like it for it’s portability.

  • Jeremy “the Critic”

    You make some good points here and I can’t completely disagree with them. I’ve always looked at the Mini as the workhorse for non-pro users. What I mean by that is, if you are constantly interacting with or do a lot of your work on a larger iPad on a daily basis, the Mini is probably going to disappoint. Myself, I use my iPad Mini as a supplement to my MacBook when it has to stay at home or in my bag. If I didn’t have a MacBook, the iPad Air is what I would have with me at all times. The Mini rounds out my hardware needs after it was equipped with the Retina Display. I’m extremely happy with it, but can understand why it isn’t right for you. I just couldn’t go back to the larger iPad and sacrifice the convenience of being able to stick it in my back pocket and go.

  • Varsha Kiri


  • Merckel

    I own both the iPad Air and retina mini. “Terrible screen?” I’m sure pixel peepers using lab equipment have something to ding the mini over something called color gamut, but I have NO CLUE what you’re talking about. Both screens look great to my eyes.

    It’s legitimate to question if you’ve received some Samsung swag. If not, try using a random sentence generator in your next “article.” What nonsense.

  • aegisbrand

    Retina is a must for me. Type on a retina is exceptionally sharp, even 4pt type is as crisp as print.

  • Bob

    Have the newer Mini Retina (LTE4G) & the 3 (LTE4G), until we had a lighter weight full size not as many people whined. I like the Mini Retina (a LOT) and still the 3. Even if the 3 is heavier than the iPad Air, hey- I hit the gym 7 times a week, I can still lift an iPad 3 & the screen is still awesome, no biggie. Americans are such whiners about anything over a month old…… suck it up!

  • Vivien AHJ R

    Just bought one mini retina 32g wifi. Big issue. Two spots kinda little but easily noticable on darker images. When I first turned it on it appeared when it ask to connect on itunes. These spots are located on the down part, above the home button, separated by few centimeters, the red one is more vivid on black screen and bigger than the blue one, more discret. But even on camera mode I can easily sport them… Also on white screen or lighter colors it’s invisible. Their form is weird, like tint spots, and their are permanent even after reset and all.

    Big deception henceforth… I’m returning it to the store. As I bought thru internet store, I waited two weeks, and I’m gonna wait again. What a pity. I dunno if it’s about the big travel it made or a factory issue. He came from Sao Paulo to my home in north of Brazil so around 5000km. But the case was intact. Monday the postman should take it back. Here is my big deception with apple, or the store I dunno. Who do you think I should blame?

  • Ryan

    Haha, the level of entitlement in some of these reviews speaks volumes about the state of our society ‘omg, it’s too thick, too heavy, it needs to meet MY NEEDS, now I have to switch to my other $500 tablet, ugh’

  • JustinNotCapricorn

    Oh, I hate you for bashing a product like that.

  • scienceandcake

    Thanks for writing this, it’s helped me immensely in deciding on my next purchase. I currently have an iPad Mini and was debating between getting the iPad Air or Retina Mini.

    I currently use a mini for the usual apps and also use it heavily for school, with a lot of textbooks and notes. I find that I cannot use the mini well with art apps (limitations of screensize and stylus quality combined), and managing photos has felt a little off, very different from my camera’s colors. Most here would call me a “snob.” I have pricey-ish monitor with good color resolution to for photo management, so knowing that the iPad air has better color range gives me more confidence to manage photos when traveling (I can carry fewer SD cards!). As for textbooks, I find that on the mini I always have to zoom a bit, because my eyes aren’t great, not a big deal on it’s own, but all together, an iPad Air looks like a good idea.

    I like that you mentioned the things you missed from having a mini, fortunately for me, those things won’t affect me! I use my phone to look things up when out, and any iPad is lighter than a laptop and textbooks. Also, I have small hands, I can barely hold the mini in my hands, so whatever, holding an iPad Air firmly with two hands, or placing it on a table where I can read it because the text is large enough is great too.
    I love my mini, it’s my first iPad, but I can see where an Air would fit my life better.

    Most helpful thing I’ve read on helping me choose. Thanks.

  • Ryan Lockovich

    I disagree. The mini retina is just as good as the air but its more portable.

  • Is this MADNESS? Really, this review sucks. Biased towards the iPad air. this is not professional opinion. Really? Same size, feels lighter. Ay ay ay!

  • Jake McCoy

    I own both the iPad Air and the iPad Mini Retina (for my wife). There is no doubt that the display on the Air is bigger AND better quality. The color and contrast are done better on the Air. Note that the Mini Retina’s display is fantastic. It’s just not as fantastic as the Air. I’m not one of those guys who is worried about carrying an extra quarter pound and a little more mass. Plus, the iPads usually stays at home anyway. Another difference, which ultimately tipped the scale for me, is the better speakers on the Air. The sound quality from the Air’s speakers is noticeably better, at least two times better (subjectively). The better speakers are nice when I’m showing videos to others, or when I want to watch a video or listen to music without headphones. Further, the better speakers somehow make the Air’s screen look even better because the overall experience is more robust and higher quality. Thus, the iPad Air wins.

  • abhishek

    Apple has put a new type of slim chaise of aluminum body in iPad Air
    with shining edges. The touch is powered by Light sensor,
    Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating Multi‑Touch display.

    is really handy gadget having best UX (user experience) and UI (user
    interface) of all time. But Every person can’t afford this device
    because of having more prices fixed by Apple, therefore Apple iPad is
    rarely realized in hand of common peeps.

    If we see from the
    beginning apple iPad has changed a good deal and if we talk about iPad
    air, then we come to recognize that it delivers something new and
    different in it.