Review: Apple iPad Mini 3

This is the iPad mini we’ve all been waiting for. When the first generation iPad mini debuted in 2012, it was a terrific product. Apple’s first stab at a smaller tablet looked more far more elegant than the competition, managed to squeeze a larger 7.9-inch display in a traditionally 7-inch tablet form factor, and featured remarkable battery life. But its 1024 x 768 resolution display was a major let down compared to the Retina displays on the iPhone and full size iPad, as well as the growing number of HD screen-sporting Android tablets. And inside, a two-generations-old A5 chip powered the tablet—nothing too shabby, but not really impressive, either.

Apple stepped up its game for this year’s iPad mini. The new mini is essentially the same tablet as the 9.7-inch iPad Air, right down to its 2048 x 1536 resolution display and its TouchID finger sensor. It’s just packed into a smaller package—pixel density is higher on the Mini, naturally, at 326ppi compared to the Air 2’s 264ppi. A new A7 processor meshes with iOS 8 to create a super-powerful slate that gets all-day battery life. The only real difference between the two is the pared-down size, and the $100 cheaper starting price.

The iPad mini with Retina display is roughly the same size as the original. It’s ever-so-slightly thicker, and has a little bit more heft, weighing in at .75 pounds for the LTE model and .73 for Wi-Fi only. Last year’s model weighed .68 pounds. It’s comfortable to wield one-handed, but I feel less confident waving it around than I would a tablet with a slightly rubberized back. The aluminum is more attractive visually, but “soft touch”-type materials like you see on the Nexus tablets are, well, handy.

While the 2013 edition of the Nexus 7 sports an excellent 1920 x 1200 resolution display, the screen on the new mini looks even better. Side by side, there’s just no comparison. And the old iPad mini might as well be 8-bit compared to the pixel-packed Retina screen. It’s obvious in graphics—the icons in Safari, app icons on the home screen—as well as in text, which doesn’t render nearly as well on the old iPad mini. On the Retina mini, text maintains crystal clarity even when zoomed in to a ridiculous level. In an HD Planet Earth video, the definition of pebbles on a beach and leaves on trees are razor sharp, creating a greater sense of depth than the old mini’s display.

At 100 percent brightness, I only lost about 10 percent battery life per hour while watching Netflix over Wi-Fi. Streaming a 1080p HD YouTube video over Wi-Fi ate up even less—more like 8 percent per hour. Streaming Rdio and other lower intensity tasks like reading and web surfing made a minimal dent in battery life. Apple’s 10-hour promise seems right on target, if not at the low end of what its 23.8 Watt-hour battery can deliver.

The old iPad mini might as well be 8-bit compared to the new pixel-packed Retina screen.

The device can get noticeably warm during CPU intensive activities like heavy gaming or HD playback, but not alarmingly so. And it handles those activities swimmingly. Situations where I noticed ever-so-slight stuttering on last year’s model, the 2013 iPad mini handled with aplomb. Again, it’s basically an iPad Air but packed into a smaller package, which is kind of mind blowing.

For a 7.9-inch tablet, the stereo speakers are exceptionally powerful, but they still don’t have the depth and bass you’d get from a pair of dedicated speakers—no surprises there. While stereo (each speaker is positioned on either side of the lightning port at the bottom of the device) they’re still located on the same end of the device, so if you’re watching a film in landscape mode, you only get sound from one end. I find this a bit irksome.

While the Retina mini doesn’t include 802.11ac Wi-Fi like the Air 2 and Apple’s notebook offerings, the company did add MIMO to the mini, which means it can share or receive more data in parallel, and maintain a strong Wi-Fi signal farther away from the base station. Indeed, videos loaded faster on the Retina mini than previous models, and apps downloaded noticeably quicker.

The iPad mini is exactly the type of product we expect from Apple. Stunning good looks, a display so high resolution it’d take a magnifying glass to pick out the pixels, and unparalleled performance.

Photos: Josh Valcarcel/get-gadget

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