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First look: Apple iPad mini with Retina display

updated 05:41 am EST, Tue November 19, 2013

Apple iPad mini delivers high-resolution display, high performance

In many ways, the iPad mini with Retina display is a smaller version of everything that is great about the iPad Air. It runs the same tablet-optimized version of iOS 7, has access to hundreds of thousands of iPad-tailored apps, it shares a Retina display and is powered by a 64-bit Apple A7 chip. However, on closer examination, there are some subtle differences between the two iPads that may have discerning Apple customers judging one as being preferable to the other.

When the iPad mini launched last year, many people opted for it over the fourth-generation iPad with Retina display simply because it was much easier to handle and more comfortable to use. People lamented its lack of a Retina display, and felt that it was slightly underpowered -- using the A5 chip from the iPhone 4S.

Overall though, it proved a very strong proposition and won a significant number of fans, not least of which because it was also priced considerably less than its larger stablemate at the time. While many saw the addition of an iPad mini as being both highly desirable and seemingly the 'must-have' Apple tablet to get in late 2013, Apple re-wrote the whole equation when it launched the hugely impressive iPad Air last month, which knocked 0.4 pounds off the previous model, taking down to an incredibly light one pound (469g) and just 0.29 inches (7.5mm) thin.

The second Apple surprise at the iPad launch was that not only was the iPad mini with Retina display packing the same resolution as the iPad Air - beating it out for pixel density at 326ppi versus the 264ppi for the Air -- it was also powered by the same 64-bit A7 chip with M7 motion coprocessor (though the A7 chip in the Retina iPad mini is clocked at 1.3GHz against the slightly faster 1.4GHz clock speed of the iPad Air). At first glance, it looks like the iPad mini is the no-brainer choice as it packs two key headlining features as the iPad Air. It also costs $100 less and it weighs even less at 0.75 pounds (341g). For many people, this will still prove an irresistible combination.

In the hand, the iPad mini has the same outstanding build quality, fit and finish as the iPad Air. The new Space Grey color looks great on the iPad mini and, like the iPad Air, feels like it will resist scratches and knocks quite well. The 326ppi Retina display looks razor sharp, although not noticeably more so than the 264ppi Retina display on the iPad Air at normal viewing distances.

The iPad mini display is actually as sharp as the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s displays, although typically, you will hold the iPhone closer to your eyes in normal use where the difference in pixel density between 264ppi and 326ppi might be more noticeable. However, there is one further notable difference between the iPad mini Retina display and the iPad Air -- color gamut.

It has been noted that the Retina display in the iPad mini has a narrower color gamut than the iPad Air. Viewed in isolation, it will pose no problem for most users who will simply appreciate the crispness of the iPad mini resolution. However, if you switch between viewing your iPhone display and the Retina iPad mini display, you will see that the iPhone display produces much richer and more saturated colors.

Similarly, if you view an iPad mini side-by-side with an iPad Air, you will also notice that colors are not quite as rich or deep. In fact, testing has shown that the iPad mini reproduces only 62-63 percent of the sRGB color gamut against the 100 percent reproduction of the iPad Air. For the discerning user, for those who like to edit photo on the go, or for those who simply want the best of everything -- the iPad Air is going to be your best bet from a display perspective.

Although you could hardly call the iPad mini with Retina display heavy, it also is slightly thicker and slightly heavier than the original iPad mini, thus heading in the opposite route to iPad Air. This is the result of the additional power demands of the Retina display, which meant that Apple also had to incorporate a larger battery to retain its 10-hour battery life.

Apple fans will recall that when the original iPad with Retina display was introduced, it similarly increased in dimensions over the iPad 2; although in this case, the difference is minimal. However, it probably affects the overall weight distribution of the iPad mini, and it certainly feels denser in the hand than does the larger iPad Air -- ironic, perhaps, but the larger iPad does feel exceptionally light for its size. The iPad mini is light, but it does not feel similarly light for its size.

We will give the iPad mini with Retina display a full workout in our upcoming review this weekend. Early indications from a performance perspective suggest that it is extremely capable, which is no surprise as our benchmarking of the A7 chips shows that it has the fastest processor core on the market by some margin.

At this early stage, the iPad mini with Retina display has plenty going for it. It is one of the fastest tablets on the market, and it has one of the the highest pixel densities of any tablet on the market, beaten out on that score only by a handful of flagship models. It is also backed up by an outstanding iTunes entertainment ecosystem.

As is often the case with Apple products, making a choice between one or the other can be a tough decision. If compactness, coupled with a high-resolution display and a high-performance chip are your key criteria, the iPad mini with Retina display will not disappoint.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



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