Apple iPad mini 2 with Retina display review

6 Nov 2014

Apple's iPad mini 2 sports a top-notch Retina display and great performance - and it's now much better value than the iPad mini 3

Price when reviewed 
319
Buy it now for 
5

UPDATE: 13/11/2014

You might have expected the arrival of the iPad mini to relegate its predecessor to the scrapheap, but the truth may be surprising - the iPad mini 2 is now by far the better buy. With the 16GB model remaining on sale alongside the new model, and now at a much more tempting £239, the iPad mini 2 is difficult to resist.

Are you missing out by not buying the iPad mini 3? In a word, no. The iPad mini 2 is just as fast, pretty and long-lasting as the iPad mini 3 - in fact, the only thing lacking is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which is no great loss. Oh, and there's no gold version. In every other respect, though, this handsome compact tablet is every bit as refined as its successor. We'd snap one up while stocks last.

Want to know a little more? Then read our original review of the iPad mini 2 below.

After the fanfare that heralded the new iPad Air, Apple was rather less effusive about the new, upgraded edition of its compact tablet – the iPad mini with Retina display. Yet, while it shares the same body as last year’s model (which remains on sale at the lower price of £249), there’s plenty to get excited about. See also the 11 best tablets of 2014

Apple hasn’t only upgraded it to a crisp Retina display, it’s also swapped in the new 64-bit Apple A7 processor found in the Air, and ushered in a wave of more subtle all-round upgrades.

Apple iPad mini 2 with Retina display review: design

Apple iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display

From a distance, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish the new model from the old. The silver model retains the classic light-grey rear and white screen surround, while the black model has been supplanted with a lighter – but not dramatically different – Space Grey version. Whichever you choose, every curve and button remain intact, and in exactly the same place as before.

As ever, the iPad mini is beautifully put together. The metal casing is super-stiff, and remains taut and flex-free even when subjected to the most vicious attempts to twist it out of shape. Compared to the plasticky body of Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 7in, or even the more compact, matte plastic finish of Google’s Nexus 7, the iPad mini remains a cut above.

Place the two generations of iPad mini side by side, however, and it’s possible to note that the new model is just a hair thicker – 7.5mm to the previous model’s 7.2mm. It’s put on a few grams, too, with the Wi-Fi model weighing 331g, and the 4G model, 341g; last year’s Wi-Fi-equipped iPad Mini weighed 308g, and the 3G model was 312g.

Apple iPad mini 2 with Retina display review: display

It’s all change beneath the iPad mini’s familiar brushed-metal body. Apple has replaced the 768 x 1,024 display of the previous model for a 1,536 x 2,048 panel, and it’s a very welcome sight. You can wave goodbye to the slightly rough, pixellated look of the original iPad mini. Cramming such a high resolution into a 7.9in panel makes for a crystal-clear pixel density of 326ppi. For reference, that’s just a smidgen higher than the 323ppi, 1,920 x 1,200 display of the Nexus 7.
Brightness and contrast isn’t quite up with the best tablets we’ve seen, but the maximum brightness of 396cd/m2 and contrast ratio of 792:1 are perfectly respectable results. More crucially, though, Apple has done more than simply pack in four times the pixels; the panel is now more colour-accurate, too.

Apple iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display

Indeed, where previous generations of the iPad – both big and small – have tended to crush dark greys into black (to achieve a more punchy, high-contrast image), the iPad mini’s Retina display now dredges up both the lightest and darkest of tones, with no compression at either end of the scale. The colour temperature is now just short of a perfect 6,500K, where the previous model measured a slightly warmer, ruddier 6,176K. As a result, images look noticeably more natural; skin tones are reproduced in a more realistic fashion; and black-and-white images are completely tint-free. The only issue is that colour reproduction isn’t as rich and punchy as on the iPad Air.

Apple iPad mini 2 with Retina display review: hardware

Behind the Retina display, Apple’s new 64-bit A7 chip now powers the whole show. It’s clocked at 1.3GHz, a little slower than the 1.4GHz chip in the iPad Air, but it’s still blisteringly fast. We recorded a SunSpider result of 418ms, almost three times faster than both its predecessor (which took 1,293ms), and well ahead of any of its Android rivals.

In fact, it was only narrowly behind its larger sibling in all of our benchmark tests, racking up 1,763 in Futuremark’s Peacekeeper HTML5 test, and scoring 1,394 and 2,526 respectively in Geekbench 3’s single- and multi-core tests. Gaming power is formidable, too: the iPad mini eased to an average of 21fps in GFXBench’s demanding T-Rex HD test – exactly the same result as the iPad Air.

Despite the significant performance boost, battery life hasn’t suffered. With the screen dialled down to a brightness of 120cd/m2, the iPad mini survived our video-rundown test on loop for 12hrs 17mins. That isn’t only significantly longer than Apple’s claimed ten hours, but also good enough to best the 11hrs 48mins of the Nexus 7 and put the new iPad mini more than an hour ahead of its predecessor – we re-ran the battery test on the original iPad mini after upgrading it to iOS 7.0.4, and it lasted 11hrs 16mins.

Apple iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display

Apple has seized the opportunity to tweak the iPad mini in other areas. The addition of a second antenna and MIMO technology to the dual-band 802.11n networking is welcome, as is the debut of 4G support for the mobile broadband-equipped model. The absence of 802.11ac is a small niggle, but Bluetooth 4 still makes the cut. Connectivity is limited to the Lightning and 3.5mm headset connectors, but Apple has seen fit to tweak the stereo speakers on the iPad Mini’s bottom edge. Audio is dramatically improved, and the new speakers project a far richer, more detailed performance than the previous model.

The front-facing 1.2-megapixel and rear-facing 5-megapixel cameras are identical to those of the iPad Air. Working in tandem with the image-signal processor in the Apple A7 chip, the results mark an improvement on the original iPad mini, with better-quality images in low light, finer detail and fewer compression artefacts.

Apple iPad mini 2 with Retina display review: verdict

All in all, Apple has taken a great compact tablet and tweaked it to near perfection. The extra power makes iOS 7.0.4 feel supremely slick and responsive – noticeably more so than on the original iPad mini – and now that the excellent GarageBand, iPhoto and iMovie apps and the iWork suite are now freely downloadable, the package is more alluring than ever.

Apple iPad Mini 2 with Retina Display

It’s still expensive by any yardstick, though. The 16GB model costs £319, only £80 less than the iPad Air, and with no recourse to expand storage via a microSD card, we’d suggest that anything less than the £399 32GB model will soon start to feel very cramped indeed, especially once you’ve downloaded all the apps that now come free of charge.

It’s testament to the sheer quality of Apple’s efforts that the iPad mini with Retina display doesn’t feel outlandishly expensive. Other tablets, such as Google’s Nexus 7, or the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, offer substantially better value, but the iPad mini is more powerful and longer-lasting, and the sheer quantity and quality of choice in the Apple App Store remains ahead of rival devices. For most people, the Google Nexus 7 remains the better buy, but if you can afford it, the iPad Mini with Retina display is the finest compact tablet out there.

Detail

Price ex VAT £266
Price inc VAT £319

Size and weight

Dimensions 200 x 7.5 x 135mm (WDH)
Weight 331.000kg

Display

Screen size 7.9in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,536
Resolution screen vertical 2,048
Panel technology IPS

Core specifications

CPU frequency, MHz 1.3GHz
Integrated memory 16.0GB
RAM capacity 1.00GB

Camera

Camera megapixel rating 5.0mp
Focus type Autofocus
Built-in flash? no
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Other

WiFi standard 802.11abgn
Bluetooth support yes
HDMI output? no
Video/TV output? no

Software

Mobile operating system iOS 7.0.4

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