The iPad mini with Retina display: Worth the Wait

I remember quite clearly how the iPad’s initial release went down in 2010. I told my wife that there was no way I’d buy one because what was the point? And then, a few months later when the 3G model came out to the public, there I was in line to buy one.

I loved that iPad, and the two that followed in my household, an iPad 2 and an iPad mini. But for me, the mini was where it was at, it was just missing that Retina display. Now that the iPad mini has the fabled screen and is available to the public, is it worth the purchase?

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The Backstory

The original iPad I bought back in 2010 is still in use. Today it serves primarily as a tool for my kids to use for learning, but they still play the occasional game, assuming it’s available for anything pre-iOS 6. When I became the iPad.AppStorm editor in 2013, I needed to buy a more current model than one that was at least current gen. I bought the iPad 3, and the iPad 4 came out just a few weeks later. I loved it, particularly for reading comics and watching movies. But it just wasn’t perfect.

The text is just amazing to look at.

The text is just amazing to look at.

As many have postulated, the iPad 3 was a dud. The A5X processor wasn’t great, the iPad itself was quite heavy and it got way too hot — problems that I faced on a regular basis (which also may be partially why the iPad 4 came out seemingly ahead of schedule). I found stuttering frame rates and fluttering games to be a fact of life, and when the iPad mini came out, I naturally gravitated that direction. It wasn’t perfect, and it certainly didn’t have enough RAM to work flawlessly, but I loved the form factor and weight. There were many times when I could’ve used the lightweight mini or the iPad 3 to do a particular task, and I always picked up the iPad mini. I told my wife, “When they come out with the Retina display mini, that’s going to be my only iPad.” And so far, I was right.

This is My Only iPad

Look, the iPad Air is neat, and I get why it’s an important device. Were I the guy who took my iPad out everywhere with me just to do some writing, I’d rock the Air all day long. But I’m not that guy. As hard as I try to make that happen, it just isn’t my workflow — I’d rather use my MacBook Air with all the power and multitasking tools behind it. For me, the iPad Air just isn’t my go-to device for getting things done.

The cross hatching patternon Batman's jaw wasn't as apparent on my original iPad mini. The detail on the new model is spectacular.

The cross hatching patternon Batman’s jaw wasn’t as apparent on my original iPad mini. The detail on the new model is spectacular.

I am the quintessential “iPads are for consuming” guy, because I don’t do a lot of creation on that device (not that you can’t, it’s just not my case usage). I sit down and read comics, pick up books and watch movies, or use it as a productivity tool when I want to focus in on one task at a time. Often I find myself one-handing my iPad, something I can’t do without tiring out my forearms on a larger model. Although the Air is lighter, that extra 1/4 lb. makes all the difference in the world. So for me, the iPad mini is the only iPad I need, no matter how cool and light the Air may be.

Stupid Fast

I own an iPhone 5S, so I was familiar with the A7 processor and the 64-bit system. Although my 5S is fast, there wasn’t this burst of speed that I felt like I was hitting 88 mph and going back to the future — the 5S has never felt that zippy to me. But with the iPad mini with Retina display, that burst of speed is obvious and immediate. Holy crap is that thing fast. Games load quicker, the Wi-Fi is substantially faster and everything I do just works better. It’s like this is the machine it should’ve been from the start.

Make sure to change your wallpaper.

Make sure to change your wallpaper.

Part of this may be what came before it. Obviously the new mini is faster than the original model; the processor is generations ahead. But there’s a noticeable difference when multitasking, loading videos, playing games and everything else. I want to say that it blows the 5S out of the water, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. I think it’s more that the difference between two generations of iPad mini is that much more dramatic than the 5 and 5S, but I don’t know. I have no idea how the magic works behind the scenes, but right now it feels like I’m using a rocket ship whenever I unlock the screen.

Go Big or Go Home

Almost week in with my iPad and I have only one real complaint: capacity. When I wrote my review on the original mini, I said this:

Right around the time I received my iPad mini, I ran into a problem with my third-gen iPad — I was out of space. With a 64GB model, I wondered where it could’ve gone? Turns out, everywhere. Because of the Retina display, I can put HD movies on my iPad, as well as HD comics. My copy of Wired this month was almost 1GB by itself, then there’s the 9GB music collection. But in the end, there were only two HD movies, a fraction of my music library and really, not a lot else. Turns out you can burn through those 64GB pretty quick, and that’s frustrating.

Apparently I did not learn my lesson, as I bought the 32GB model, thinking I’d be fine. After loading up all my stuff, I wanted to add a movie to my feed so I could watch it on a plane ride. The film weighs in at 5 GB, which meant that I had to remove a bunch of stuff just to fit it on there. Forget putting on two, that just wouldn’t happen.

Which is to say that if you’re looking at an iPad mini with Retina display, you should highly consider the larger models — 64 and 128 GB — if you want to load up a bunch of movies. Some iTunes flicks today are over that 5 GB mark (Man of Steel is 5.82 GB, Pacific Rim is 5.71 GB), so just five movies can overload your 32 GB iPad mini. Think about that before you buy, particularly if you’re planning on watching movies on the go.

Awesome, But Not Perfect

You’ll read a lot of reviews that tell you the iPad mini with Retina display runs cool and never has a problem, but that hasn’t been my experience. My mini does get warmer than my original mini — not enough to burn, but it is noticeable, as it was in my iPad 3. There are also times when holding the iPad mini is weird, like I have to tuck it between the webbing of my hand near my thumb to balance it properly. But that’s nothing new, it happened with the old form factor as well.

Reading books on the iPad mini with Retina display is amazing. And did you know that you can download multiple dictionaries now?

Reading books on the iPad mini with Retina display is amazing. And did you know that you can download multiple dictionaries now?

There’s been a lot of talk about the burn-in issue that some of these devices are experiencing. I didn’t have that problem myself, and I did run Marco’s test. But you should be aware that this is a potential issue, and you might want to run the test before you start loading up all of your data. Again, these are not reasons to pass on the device, not by a long shot. Just be aware that some units do get hot, and there is a burn-in issue to consider.

The Big Decision

I may buy a new iPhone every year, but I feel that the iPad should have a bit more shelf life to it. My original iPad still functions every day, and although it’s a bit slow, it gets the job done. The iPad 3 does the same, and will soon work its way into the rotation as a children’s tool. I planned the same kind of shelf life for my mini, but knew in the back of my head that two years was probably it because of the potential for a Retina display.

If you own a first-gen iPad mini and you’re debating the upgrade, do it. Honestly, it’s a great device, well worth the money and you’ll be happier for it. If you’re a full-sized iPad owner and you’re debating your options, you’ve got a lot of things to consider. Is the smaller size an impairment? Do you need a full-size(ish) keyboard when you work? If so, the iPad Air may be your best option.

But for me, the guy who’s wanted an iPad mini before it even existed, the iPad mini with Retina display is about as perfect as it gets. It is, by far, the best iPad I’ve ever owned and I think it will be in our home for a very long time to come.


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