Apple(s aapl) released the iPad mini with retina display on Tuesday, somewhat unexpectedly, and the reviews are just starting to go live. And if supplies were already tight to begin with, they’re likely to grow even tighter, since it sounds like Apple has released a winning companion to the iPad Air.
Nearly every review laments the mini’s high price and lack of Touch ID, but that’s where most of the cons lists end. It’s hard to categorize most of these reviews as anything less than raves for Apple’s new small-screen tablet.
Below are some highlights to give you a sense of what everyone is saying.
This year, the iPad mini with Retina display really is every inch an iPad. It’s no longer out of date, or worse in any way. It comes with the same A7 processor as the new iPad Air, the same storage and connectivity options, the same battery life, and — most importantly — a Retina display with the same resolution. For $399 with 16GB of storage, it’s everything the iPad Air can be — only smaller and $100 cheaper.
Last year, Apple needed to convince us that specs didn’t make the iPad. This year, equality isn’t just about offering the same look and the same apps – it’s about offering the exact same experience. Now, like the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air and like every TV you’ve ever purchased, there isn’t a better option and a cheaper option. There are just two options: iPad Air and iPad mini.
Without a doubt, if you’re a big reader, the massive jump in screen resolution is the most welcome change on this Mini. But what’s most impressive, and hard to truly appreciate at times, is that there’s no drop-off in pixels in the smaller screen size compared with on the Air. And, the Retina Display already looked good on the Air’s 9.7-inch display.
It’s a big improvement, indeed. Other 7-inch tablets routinely hit 1080p or better resolution, such as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX, with 1,920×1,200-pixel resolutions and 323 pixels per inch. The Mini’s 2,048×1,536 resolution amounts to 326 pixels per inch, offering even better pixel density over a larger amount of screen real estate. And the Mini’s screen is 7.9 inches with a closer-to-square 4×3 aspect ratio — not the 7-inch wide-screen form factor of the aforementioned Google and Amazon tablets.
The iPad mini has a 1.3GHz Apple A7 processor, the same speed as the iPhone 5s and slightly slower than the Air’s 1.4GHz. It scored slightly slower on the Geekbench and Sunspider benchmarks than the Air did, but matched the Air’s result on the Browsermark browser test and on the GFXBench graphics test. Both tablets are faster than the Nexus 7. Although Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX outpaces the iPads on graphics and processor tests, the iPads’ Safari browser showed superior results on the browser tests.
The slight slowdown didn’t visibly affect app performance, and both of the new iPads are much faster than previous models. High-end, accelerometer-based games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Need for Speed: Most Wanted are actually more playable here than on the Air, because it’s easier to handle and tilt the smaller device. iPhoto and iMovie also work smoothly.
The iPad mini with Retina Display is simultaneously a splurge compared with 7-inch Android tablets and one heck of a value in the context of Apple’s own tablet lineup. For $100 less than the full-size iPad Air, you get the same sharp screen resolution and blazing A7 chip in a more compact design. We prefer the color saturation and black levels on the Air’s screen — and some will like having the extra real estate on the Air’s display for content creation — but the mini delivers a lot for the money.
On the other hand, for the $399 starting price of the new iPad mini, you could pick up a very fast new Amazon Kindle HDX ($229) and a Kindle Fire HD ($139) and still have money left over for some apps, games and movies. The reason why we think the mini is worth the premium is Apple’s superior tablet apps selection, its larger and sharper display, better design and much longer battery life. Overall, the iPad mini is the best midsize tablet on the market.
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. This is the smaller iPad that should have debuted last year, but hey, better late than never.
We plan to follow up with our own thoughts after spending time with the new iPad mini, but so far it looks to be the small-screen tablet to beat this holiday season.