The Apple iPad mini with Retina display is hands down, the best tablet on the market this holiday season.
When the iPad mini was first introduced in 2012, the tablet included the same chipset and unimpressive display resolution as an iPad 2, which was released in 2011. This made for a device that, while compact and well designed, offered lacklustre performance compared to the larger, more powerful 9.7-inch fourth generation iPad.
What a difference a year makes. Apple threw out everything critics didn't like about the old device in its bid to totally revamp its tablet lineup, making small, but significant changes to the hardware that push the diminutive mini (as well as the larger iPad Air) a few incremental steps closer to the company's ideal of mobile computing perfection.
This year's model, the iPad mini with Retina display, looks almost identical to last year's model, save the colours it comes in. It's minutely thicker, but you'll hardly notice it. Its extra girth affords the tablet the space to accommodate a 7.9-inch Retina display. Held at a comfortable reading distance, you won't be able to see a single pixel, making reading on the device as crisp as it would be on a printed page. HD movies appear as sharp as they are on an high definition television set and high resolution photos look amazing.
Apple opted to include its fastest processor – the A7 – in this year's mini. You'll find the same A7 chip in the newly minted iPad Air as well. This means that instead of forcing shoppers to choose between a compact, but underpowered tablet like the original iPad mini, or the raw processing power of a cumbersome, full-sized tablet like the fourth generation iPad, the only decision to make is "big or small?"
Having spent time with both the svelte new iPad Air (which now has the thinner case and rounded edges of the mini) and the iPad mini with Retina display, I can tell you the two tablets perform identically, and were able to handle any task I threw at them with butter-smooth efficiency. There are other similarities too: Both tablets also include a five megapixel rear-facing camera, a FaceTime HD camera for making video calls and a M7 co-processor, which is designed to gather data from the tablet's accelerometer. making it a great companion to health and fitness oriented applications. You'll even get roughly the same battery life out of either of them: approximately 10 hours. With so much the same under the hood, what's to recommend the mini over the iPad Air with its 9.7-inch display?
It's simple. When it comes to tablets, smaller, in most cases, is infinitely better.
Weighing less, it's possible to comfortably hold the mini for longer with one hand than you can an iPad Air. The diminutive mini can easily be slid into a coat pocket or a purse. The iPad Air? Not so much. Having both the mini and the Air on hand for a week, and loaded with identical applications, I found myself reaching for the smaller of the two tablets more often than not. It was a better choice for couch surfing, reading, gaming in bed or the checking Twitter on the loo (admit it, you've done it too). The only time I found the iPad mini's smaller size to be a detriment was when I needed to type on it. Where hunting and pecking out an e-mail on a 10-inch tablet display can be bothersome, doing it on a 7.9-inch model can be an exercise in frustration.
But the hardware's only part of the equation here. The main draw of using an iPad mini, or any other iOS powered device, is the wide range of apps available for download.
The iTunes App Store currently offers over 475,000 tablet apps. That's the largest number of any tablet ecosystem out there. Add to this the fact that every new iPad comes with free versions of Pages, Keynote, Numbers to help you stay productive on the go, as well as portable versions of iPhoto, Garageband and iMovie to keep your creative juices flowing even while you're away from your computer, and you've got a winning product on your hands.
Still, as much of a joy as it is, I do have a few complaints about this new iPad mini.
For starters, it's pricey. Starting at $419 for a 16 GB model – and ranging as high as $849 for a 128 GB model with Wi-Fi and LTE cellular connectivity – it's significantly more expensive than similarly sized tablets. But other tablets, at least so far, have failed to offer the excellent build quality, or easy to use interface of the iPad mini with Retina display. And they certainly can't match the cornucopia of apps, music and other media that Apple users can leverage thanks to the iTunes Store.
It's also worth mentioning that unlike many Android tablets or Microsoft's Surface hardware, the internal storage space of an iPad mini with Retina Display (or any iPad for that matter,) can't be upgraded through the use of inexpensive SD cards or other similar media. Also, while I find that a few scuffs and scraps only adds to my iPad's character, other iPad mini owners might be frustrated to discover that while their tablet's aluminum chassis is tough, it's easy to cosmetically scratch.
That said, all of these gripes become moot as soon as you pick one up to start working or playing with. This tablet's lightweight design, lightning fast internals, gorgeous screen and seemingly endless supply of applications make it a joy to use. If given as a gift, it'll please all but the most stalwart of Android aficionados or Microsoft devotees.
The extra money you'll spend to bring an iPad mini with Retina display home for the holidays is worth every penny.