iPad mini Retina Display Review 09

As you’ll hear me recount on the upcoming episode of Let’s Talk iOS, I had to go through quite a lot to get my hands on the iPad mini with Retina display that I desired. The model, a Space Grey 32GB Cellular version with a bundled T-Mobile sim, proved to be a pretty tough get.

But I finally did get my iPad mini, and I’ve been able to spend the last few days truly analyzing the device, and analyzing whether or not the time I invested into acquiring it was worth the hassle.

You’ve likely read plenty of other reviews that pretty much spout off the same thing. Yes, the mini now has an awesome screen, has the same guts as the iPad Air, and it did so by compromising some of its thinness. So what’s the end result? Is this a good product? Will it go down as the best iPad ever? I share my thoughts inside.

Air vs Mini

To be honest, my first impression with the Retina mini was slightly disappointing. Mind you, I was just coming from a full sized iPad Air, a device that I had swapped out a few hours earlier for the mini.

The iPad Air’s thinness and weight loss makes the mini feel like less of a game changer than its first non-Retina iteration. Yes, it’s still remarkable that Apple was able to shoehorn so much power into such a petite package, but the iPad Air is no where near the overweight beast that the iPad 3/4 was. The emphasis placed on the size and weight difference just isn’t there this time around.

Because of that, more time is spent appreciating the screens of both devices. The iPad mini’s screen is beautiful, with an insane PPI count. Last gen iPad mini owners don’t even need to think twice about upgrading, just do it. If there was ever a so-called “must upgrade” the original iPad mini to the iPad mini with Retina display is it.

iPad mini Retina Display Review 07

But for those of you who are considering an iPad Air, or who already own an iPad Air and are thinking about “downgrading” to the mini, the decision is a lot harder. This is especially true if you don’t travel a lot and portability plays second fiddle to other issues.

There’s something definitely to be said about the larger screen found on the iPad Air. Not only does the screen appear to look a tinge better than the mini’s, the extra real estate, and larger app icons are something I immediately missed.

Now that size and weight differences doesn’t make the argument between the two a forgone conclusion, it’s something you should seriously consider. With that in mind, I definitely think you should check out both devices in store before making the plunge if you’re on the fence.

If you travel and portability is concern numero uno, then yes, buy the mini. But if your iPad is parked on the coffee table or on the bedroom nightstand 80% of the time, you should really look at both, and compare both before just assuming the mini is the one you should get.

This isn’t to say that the mini is a bad device. On the contrary, this just goes to show how good of a job Apple did with its full size offering.

My decision

Ultimately, as you have probably figured out by now, I went with the mini. I went with the mini because I travel a lot, and I always take my iPad with me. For that reason, the mini makes much more sense than the iPad Air.

That alone is the only reason why I swapped out my iPad Air for a mini. If I could somehow shrink down the iPad Air when traveling, and make it full size again when at home, I’d do so in a heartbeat. Until then, I consider it a compromise of sorts to go with the mini. It’s still a wonderful device, but the iPad Air is an absolute home run.

Smart Case

Apple switched things up, and for the first time offered a Smart Case to go along with the mini’s Smart Cover. Again, for someone like me who travels, the Smart Case is probably the right choice. It makes it so I don’t even have to think about it when I toss my iPad into my bag and head out the door.

iPad mini Retina Display Review 13

MG Siegler made a post about the Smart Case, lambasting it as one of Apple’s worst products in years. While I can’t speak for the full sized edition of the Smart Case, I’m fairly happy with the mini version.

iPad mini Retina Display Review 10

I do understand where Siegler is coming from when he mentions the way the case buckles a bit at the hinge. But as he mentioned, this problem is a lot less noticeable on the mini than it is with the Air.


My cellular requirement was one of the primary reasons that I had so much trouble tracking down an iPad mini with Retina display. For someone who travels with the iPad, a cellular version is a no brainer, especially with T-Mobile’s recent 200MB free pitch.

Final Thoughts

Having a fully Retina mini, with cellular internet access anywhere — all enclosed in a leather Smart Case — just feels like the future to me. I finally have a portable computer that makes virtually no compromises. The only compromise I can come up with is its size, but when you factor in the use cases, that may or may not be a compromise for you at all.

iPad mini Retina Display Review 03

The iPad mini is the type of device that I dreamed of as a teenager. I knew that eventually one day we&#8217d have a computer that could access the Internet from anywhere, with plenty of power, in a remarkable form factor. I’m just not so sure that I ever imagined that such a device would be here so soon. This really and truly does feel like the future. For those that travel with their iPad, this is the best iPad by far.

  • Rizky Ardi Nugroho

    i want one

  • Lance Baker

    Good read. My cellular model arrives tomorrow.

    • Bill Mcintyre

      I plan on moving to Mongolia soon, i’ll get a sim card there for my cellphone but if i don’t plan on using one for my cellular mini, would it still be able to help me navigate around the city? is there a built in gps?

      • Al Iverson

        Cellular iPad minis do have a GPS chip in them, yes. I have a non-Retina one and it does. My wife’s non-cellular one does not.

      • dialogueanalog

        why not tether your phone to your ipad?

      • Jack Wong

        First it costs extra money from the plan. And people like me who doesn’t want to lose the unlimited data…

      • dialogueanalog

        Not always and not for everyone. Mongolia might not charge extra.

        I tether all the time because with 3 I get unlimited data and free tethering. UK

      • Jack Wong

        This is a US site.

        And I was in HK/TW last week, tethering was FREE, FAST and CHEAP. Prepaid for TW 1 week, for TW$300, HSPA+ which is fast enough already.

        If I could get the at&t LTE unlimited data with tethering for $50, I really don’t mind to buy a Android tablet and tethering from the iPhone 5S.

      • dialogueanalog

        so because it is a US site do we automatically discount the other countries?

      • Jack Wong

        Why would I ask for TW$300 HSPA+ 5days service in US?

        I don’t want to argue about that please.

        Tethering is not FREE in US since day1.

      • Chindavon

        cuz it’s inconvenient.

  • klouud

    I think this is fair. I really don’t need a tablet. All i need is an iPhone, MacBook Air, and an iMac to hold my hundreds of gigs of music and movies. A tablet really doesn’t make sense for me to own. My wife on the other hand – a tablet and a phone is all she needs. With that being said, if I was to add a tablet to my personal arsenal, I would go with the iPad mini and a smart cover. I have my MBA for typing. So I would primarily use the mini for email, web, movies, and the occasional office suit stuff (iWork on iOS is S-Uh-Weet!). IMO there is no need to purchase a device that you are not going to use. Purchasing a $500 device that is going to sit around a lot is not practical — I’d rather take that money and save it for an upgrade to my MBA/iMac/iPhone in later years.

    • Jack Wong

      I’m on the same boat as you.

      I have iPhone and air 11″ and my wife has the iPad air and iPhone.

      We keep upgrade to te latest version for every generation.

      • klouud

        I’ll probably update my MBA every 3 years. My iPhone Every 2 years. My iMac every 4-5 years (depending). My 11″ MBA is the 2011 tier 2 model with 4GB of RAM and I love it! Except for the battery life… My wife’s phone gets updated every 2 years and her iPad I guess we will update it when she wants to.

      • Jack Wong

        I could do that yearly because the used value for Apple is GREAT!

        I have people waiting for my Air and iPad Air already.

  • Valinor

    So like what I’m wondering is:
    you’re saying that you travel alot with the device, how do you carry it with you? Inside a bag? If yes, what kind of bag…. wouldnt it also be easy to carry an Ipad Air with you?
    I’m still in doubt which to get.
    If I was a girl, I would have picked the mini cause it would fit in my handbag and it would have been lighter on my arm.
    But I’m a guy (i swear :P), when I have a bag with me, its either a messenger bag, or a backpack. Both large enough for the Ipad Air.
    I dont have pockets large enough for an ipad mini to fit in.

    My Ipad mini retina 64gb cellular is on its way but after hearing about the lower quality screen, i’m really thinking about switching to the Air 32gb cellular. Allready took me forever to decide and the rMini screen info is not helping.

    So basically, i’m just wondering how you carry your ipad mini retina with you 😛

    • I usually throw it in a bag. But I’m not just talking about that. I’m talking about using it in public as well. It weighs less, and it’s just less of a hassle to carry around, bag or no bag.

    • Tommy Gumbs

      I mean, if your carrying a bag, how much more room are you actually getting from a Mini, versus big brothe? Lol.

    • Jerwyn Feria

      my iPad air fits in my netbook messenger (don’t have a netbook anymore.) perfect to fit anything else with especially when i have a fastener that fits just right for my iPad air

    • Jack Wong

      I like your question! What’s the bag size if he has a air or mini! Lol

      I picked air 11″ because of that.

      But For iPad air and mini, they both can fit into any bag unless he is using a waist bag with mini.

  • Al

    “If I could somehow shrink down the iPad Air when traveling, and make it full size again when at home, I’d do so in a heartbeat.”

    I believe that’s impossible, but I like your thought process. 🙂

  • diggitydang

    It’s so much harder to type on the full iPad’s… I find it so much easier to type on the mini’s… Mine arrives Friday!!

    • You must be a thumb typer?

      • diggitydang

        Guilty! I type like I’m on my iPhone…

      • At

        You can split the iPad air keyboard in half so it’s easier to type in portrait with 2 thumbs. It makes it about as big as the mini, very easy to type on.

  • Josh

    Good reason indeed..

  • BoardDWorld

    When I read these articles from Jeff I’m reminded of a wine taster.

    • I’m not sure if I should be offended, or be grateful. Or both? hahaha.

  • Steven Cannan

    I will get one when a jailbreak comes out

    • Jack Wong

      A smart way to save money.

  • noecuhh

    Has anyone ordered one through AT&T? If so are the shipping times really 21-28? (My iphone 5s had a 30ish day wait but came in a week around launch)

    • Lance Baker

      Mine said 21-15 days and then shipped the next day. I was prepared to wait for a really long time so I was shocked. Hopefully you have the same experience.

    • Jerwyn Feria

      I ordered my air on the 4th this month. It didn’t ship till the 12th (one day before expected ship). i don’t doubt the wait is inaccurate. also i ordered the 128gb so it was expected.

  • CollegiateLad

    I’m probably in the minority here, but I find the weight of both devices negligible. I happen to think both are great for travel.

  • Art Mapa

    Had 2 iPads but now loving the rMini. The small size does matter!! Less conspicuous, fast and sexy!

  • Andrew Lee

    i had the iPad 2 and 3 and i just got myself the Air. couldn’t wait for the Mini Retina to arrive. when it does arrived… played with the demo set and i didn’t regret not waiting for it. the Air is light enough and i like its extra real estate space.

  • afra33

    iPad mini retina is the best device ever created by any company to date! i wish i could use it as a phone.

    • Jerwyn Feria

      haha i used my air as a phone when I didn’t have my earphones and my iphone was charging at my friend’s store. i’m sure you can too. I was using facetime audio.

      • afra33

        you can use it for voip calling but it does not function as a phone, all the phone antenas are missing.

      • Jerwyn Feria

        There is nothing wrong with phoning with VoIP. I pretty much prefer it now.

  • jack

    funny how iPad Mini has the same PPI as iPhone 5s.. seems like Apple knew in 2010 that iPad Mini would be launched and have a Retina Display a year later

    • hkgsulphate

      In fact mini 1 had same ppi as 3GS =P

      • jack

        I mean iPad Mini with Retina display 🙂

  • mav3rick

    Yes, the hype for retina screen on Mini is nowhere so impressive when you handle both versions in hand. In the store sitting one next each other you should look really close to find which one is Retina screen. On the paper is impressive as double the ppi, but in hand not much.

    The real advantage for Retina screen is for text when reading. But even that text is very clear, the font is so small on full web pages that it really needs to be zoomed in and the reading experience becomes the same as with non-retina screen. The size and resolution on Air are the best compromise on reading, even considering the bigger size package.

  • Tony Trenkle Jr.

    The only difference between a device that has access to the internet everywhere and a computer is that you dont have to pay monthly for the computers internet access. You get a router and boom! Until the cellular Ipads either come down in price or offer an unlimited plan, I’ll stick with my Wifi model. Plus I’m grandfathered in to AT&T’s unlimited plan still with my phone and I believe if I got a cellular ipad I’d lose that.

  • Altechi

    After comparing an air and my retina mini, I should not of got a retina mini. It’s the display namely, the colours. It doesn’t seem as good as the Air for some reason.

    Also I am having lag, and I think it is because it doesn’t have the overclocked A7 like the Air, and it has to push a lot of pixels. Safari crashes when trying to log in on the Verge website

    I love the portability though, but if I could redo my purchase, I would choose the Air over the retina mini