iPad Mini with Retina Display Hands on Review

ipad mini with retina

When the original iPad Mini was released last year most people lamented the poor resolution. This issue seemed to have been solved with the advent of the iPad Mini with Retina Display that just came out yesterday. How does it stack up against up against the first generation and is it worth it to upgrade? We dive into the e-Reading experience and show you how magazines, comics, graphics novels, newspapers and eBooks look.

Hardware – The Difference Maker


The iPad Mini with Retina has a 7.9 inch screen with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. This is the exact same resolution as the 9.7 inch Apple iPad Air and really shines with HD content. The screen itself was a huge upgrade over the original and in head to head tests anything that is graphic heavy really excels.

Underneath the hood is a duel core A7 1.3 GHZ processor, 1 GB of RAM, quad-core GPU and a new 64 bit architecture. The Mini has varying degrees of internal storage and you can opt for a 16, 32, 64 GB depending on your needs. It is important to note that HD content tends to fill up your device very quickly. The average HD comic by Comixology has increased to over 100 MB per issue, and magazines are sometimes much larger. I found that my 16 GB model would constantly run out of space with 50 comics loaded on it. So if you do a ton of online streaming for music and video, you should be OK with a smaller model, but if you download a bunch, consider the 64 GB edition.

Aside from the processor and resolution not much has changed from the first generation iPad Mini. You still have the front facing 1.3 MP camera and rear facing 5 MP camera. The stereo speakers next to the lightning connector have also remained consistent. The positioning of the speakers are somewhat odd as most movies tend to play better in landscape mode. When you are holding it with both hands it tends to muffle the sound.

The iPad Mini with Retina no longer feels out of date when you look at the specs on paper. Apple products are seldom about what is on the back of the box or on Wikipedia. It is all about the 475,000 tablet optimized apps in the store and tremendous first party support.

The most obvious competitors of the iPad Mini is the Kindle Fire HDX and Google Nexus 7. They are all a full one inch smaller and cost around $170 less than the $399 iPad mini. The most noticeable differences when comparing the Kindle and Nexus to the iPad Mini is when you are watching films. Anyone can easily distinguish between a 7-inch, 16:9 or 16:10 screen and a 7.9-inch, 4:3 screen. You have more than 33% percent more pixels on the iPad mini than the Nexus 7 and Kindle.

In the end, the resolution simply makes video and graphic heavy content really shine. The GPU and hardware underneath the hood will insure that anything the iPad Air can handle, this one can too. I used to use the Mini casually for short spurts of content consumption while commuting and rely on my iPad 4 for marathon movie sessions or playing serious games. No longer, the Mini will be my replacement for everything.

Software – The Apple Ecosystem


iOS 7 has its own idiosyncrasies when you compare it against Android. The Keyboard has not really changed over the years and five finger multi-tasking can be hit or miss. Apple has introduced pseudo livewallpapers with animation effects, but severely lack in interactivity.

Still, iOS 7 has more features once you can get past the cartoony icons. I like the ability to swipe upwards from the bottom of the screen and be able to turn WIFI off and augment other core features. I also like when you are multitasking you can simply swipe upwards to close an app, which feels similar to Android.

The Apple ecosystem is the entire draw about buying the iPad Mini with Retina. Most HD videos purchased from the iTunes store look really good and put it right on par with the iPad Air. The Mini no longer plays second fiddle in the entire gaming and multimedia experience.

e-Reading Experience – Good Things in Small Packages


When you open the Mini for the first time you are greeted by the iBooks app. This is the only bookstore on the iPad that allows you to purchase books within the app. Amazon, Sony, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and all other major booksellers disabled the ability to buy eBooks within their apps because they did not want to give Apple a percentage of every single sale. This really hinders the customers ability to easily buy from their favorite merchant. Instead you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to buy content via the website and then sync it to the app.

The iPad Mini with Retina on a core eBook level really makes the text stand out. When comparing the Mini 1 against the Mini 2, the text really pops out and looks less pixelated. You would figure how difficult is it to make a white background and black text. On a hardware level, it is all about the resolution in this regard.

When it comes to magazines purchased from the Apple Newsstand and Comics purchased from Comixology the Retina Display shines. Graphic heavy content really shines. Most magazines these days from the newsstand actually have iTunes integration. For example, Rolling Stone magazine has a built in music player that allows you to play tracks right in the magazine and if you want to buy it, you are automatically directed to the store to buy it. This makes it more intuitive to do something very unlike any other ecosystem.

Comixology delivers comics in their CMX-HD format, which increases the size of the files from 60 MB to over 150 MB. This is the big advantage of Apple staying consistent with their resolution and size of their hardware. The iPad has always been 9.7 inches and the Mini 7.9. The last three generations of the iPad has maintained the exact same resolution and now the Mini has participated in that trend. This allows content delivery platforms to optimize everything for the same resolution and two different screen sizes. This is Apple’s greatest advantage and allows people who love to read graphic novels, manga, comics and magazines a better experience than Android.

Wrap up


If you have the first generation Apple iPad Mini you owe it to yourself to upgrade to the latest iteration. The resolution and hardware underneath the hood really makes your day to day tasks load faster and look better.

At Good e-Reader we normally focus on the overall reading experience and this is one of the most portable and lightweight tablets we have ever reviewed. It remains very pocket friendly and will last all day long with the 10+ hour battery. If you do roam around a lot you might want to spend the extra cash and get a model with a cellular connection.

People may not want to invest the $400 needed to buy the entry level iPad Mini with Retina and opt into purchasing the Nook HD+, Amazon Kindle HDX or the Nexus 7. There are viable and compelling reasons to walk down the road of Android but if you are a reader, you want to avoid these.

It comes down to the content delivery systems and the sheer number of Android tablets with varying screen sizes and resolutions. Magazine, Manga, Comic and Newspaper publishers cannot possibly optimize HD content for all of these different models and delivery it properly. This is the failing of the Kobo Arc 10, that has the highest resolution in the business but lack of HD content kills it dead. You spend the big money on a tablet to make everything look awesome, if the comic you bought was optimized for a tablet that is 800×600, it doesn’t matter how awesome your Android tablet is, it won’t look as good as the iPad.


Amazing Resolution
Lightweight and Portable
HD Content Shines
475,000 Tablet Optimized Apps


iOS 7 needs some work
Poor Availability – Sold out almost everywhere
Larger battery adds slightly to thickness and weight of original iPad mini.

Rating: 9.5/10

Michael Kozlowski (5209 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to michael@goodereader.com