iPad mini 2 with Retina display
5th Dec 2013 | 13:55
A great tablet that still costs a little too much
The new iPad mini 2 (or iPad mini with Retina display, if you want to give it Apple's elongated title) is the next step in the smaller tablet wars - and with Google and Amazon stepping up their respective games, the Cupertino brand needed something that hit back with strength.
However, even with that landscape, we were still surprised when Apple announced the iPad mini 2 on stage, coming with things like the A7 chip under the hood and a 128GB iteration to satisfy those that crave a lot of HD action.
On top of that, there's the much-needed Retina screen (as the name might have told you) and an improvement in battery size to help power those pixels more effectively.
However, there's the big issue of price, which Apple has had to balance carefully over recent years. No matter how much you like the look of the iPad mini 2, you have to factor in that it will set you back nearly £320 (US$399, AU$479) for the lowest-spec 16GB model with Wi-Fi connectivity only.
Consider the rivals, and you'll see that Apple has a real fight on its hands. Google's 7-inch Nexus 7 is £199 (US$229, AU$299) at the same spec, and Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX starts at the same level (although you'll need to put up with the ads to get it at that price).
Even LG's slightly overpriced G Pad 8.3 is only £260 (around US$329, AU$399) for the 16GB model, and that lets you supplement the meager innards with a microSD card.
Given that Apple's decision to allow users to download the iWork catalog for free, as well as Garageband, iPhoto and iMovie, then you'll really be looking at buying the 32GB tablet option at a minimum.
It's here that you have to wonder at Apple's pricing strategy. The doubling of the internal storage is something that apparently costs twice as much to achieve, compared to Google, and even less for Amazon.
That said, the iPad mini 2 does still feel like decent value for money given it's not a loss leader over Google and Amazon, and not just because of the tired "Well, it's an Apple device and therefore spending more should be expected" excuse.
We've never bought into that, and never will. Apple makes well-designed and premium products, but as the extra cost for larger capacities illustrates, it's not always justified.
But while in the phone market we can't understand why an iPhone 5S costs so much more than an HTC One or a Galaxy S4, in the tablet space Apple has a justified lead.
The iPad mini 2 is an excellent device. There's no other way to look at it. We were pretty impressed with the original mini a year ago, but bemoaned the low-res screen and under-powered chipset powering things along.
So we fully expected the iPad mini 2 to be another sidekick to a bigger brother, and with the iPad Air showing itself to be the best tablet on the market, we fully thought we'd be getting a smaller iPad with a Retina screen and an A6 chip - so the decision to make the tablet 64-bit enabled with the latest A7 CPU is a really great thing to see.
It takes an already well made device and adds in so much more: the aluminum finish no longer feels like a deflection from the fact the iPad mini doesn't have the engine to compete with its Snapdragon-powered rivals.
Check out the benchmark speeds later and you'll see just how much better the CPU is for day-to-day tasks and, coupled with the rich app ecosystem and improved operating system, you'll see how Apple justifies charging the premium price.
The addition of the M7 chip in the iPad mini 2 seems on the surface to be a little redundant, given you won't be doing much in the way of exercise with the mini strapped to your arm.
However, there are journal-style apps coming out that will use information on where you've been and the weather at the time - tiny tasks that don't need the help of the larger chip.
When reviewing the iPad mini 2, we've compared it to the previous version of the smaller tablet - both with and without iOS 7. The jump in the OS is marked, but even without that, all owners of the original mini will feel a pang of envy when you hand them the newer one.
With the screen turned off, there's very little difference between the two versions - the options of Space Gray and Silver are different to the black and silver versions from 2012, and there's a slight increase in the weight from 312g to 331g.
But in the hand there's nothing to choose between them - which is fine, as the design last year was the saving grace of an otherwise low-powered, but cheaper, tablet.
What we've seen is the iPad mini design being taken on by the iPad Air, and now back again on the smaller sequel, and it really works.
Apple is still maintaining that users will be able to hold it one-handed, and while this is uncomfortable when done for long periods, we did find that on occasion for browsing the internet we were able to work with a single palm.
The aluminum-clad design feels hugely premium. If you've walked into an Apple store thinking that the mini 2 is too expensive compared to the Nexus 7, then the second it's thrust into your palms you'll realize that's there's no comparison between the two when it comes to build quality.
While the new Nexus 7 is a much-improved design from Asus , it's still a rubberized device that relies on plastic to make it feel robust and a little lighter.
The iPad mini 2 has the same effect, but it's hugely more impressive. It's not £160 (US$170, AU$180) better, which is something of an issue for those torn between the two tablets, and any Nexus 7 fan would have a very valid reason for purchasing the Google tablet.
But looking simply at Apple's design, and it's easily the best on the market. The smooth covering, machined speaker holes and gently curved edges all combine very well to give a really secure feeling, that this is the device that it was worth forking out a little more.
Even down to the solid click of the sound toggle, or the long travel of the power, home and volume buttons, the whole thing makes you feel like it's robust and won't crack on you a year or so down the line.
There's no TouchID on offer here, and we're torn over whether this is a big miss. We use it all the time on the iPhone 5S, but that's only because it's there. It marginally makes using the phone easier, which is nice.
It's missing more on the iPad mini 2 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you're more inclined to pick this tablet up like a phone, meaning your natural impulse is to hold the power button.
Secondly, tapping out a passcode on this screen is harder as your thumb isn't as well placed, meaning most will avoid iPad security altogether.
Given the 64-bit architecture is there for the encryption, it seems odd that Apple has left this out for the mini 2 and the Air – and it's not like its omission is enough to upgrade to next year when the sequels appear.
The Retina display on the iPad mini 2 is overdue. It should have appeared on the first version, but either Apple was struggling to get that technology in at the right price 12 months ago or just wanted to give it something to upgrade to. Whatever the reason, it feels very late now.
Given there are multiple rumors of Apple's iPad mini 2 screens being hard to produce, leading to the delay we're seeing for this tablet, we can perhaps believe the earlier version of events - but given Apple's larger profit margins, we reckon that if it had wanted to it could have launched a Retina iPad mini a year ago.
Anyway, the good news is that it's here now and it looks stunning. The crisp characters, the more realistic colors, the sharpness of the icons - all excellent and well represented.
Some have criticized the mini 2 for having a slightly more washed out colors compared to the Air, but only in side-by-side comparisons is this evident - we couldn't help being impressed by the added sharpness every time we turned on the smaller tablet.
It's so much better that when we handed this device to an iPad mini owner, they were instantly upset - you could see they wanted to upgrade from a device that cost a fair amount only a year ago.
We're still torn on the issue of screen ratio - the iPad mini 2 follows Apple's tablet strategy of keeping the 4:3 screen, which is the same as seen on TVs before widescreen came in.
This means that video needs the black bars above and below - and sounds horribly last-generation when you consider that most other tablets (the Nexus 7 being the most popular) are in 16:9 widescreen.
However, while video watching is a large portion of what you're going to do with the mini 2, it isn't the primary reason to buy the tablet. For web browsing, swishing through the home screen or using some of the 425,000 dedicated iPad apps, the larger screen (at 7.9in) is excellent, offering more space by expanding the sides a little more.
So while the video experience seems a little marred, we do appreciate that the additional pixels make scrolling through the web that much nicer, and gaming becomes more immersive.
When you've got a graphics chip as capable as the one on offer here, you'll see that's a real plus point.
So Apple: we're still irked that you took this long to deliver us an iPad mini with a Retina display, but by making it the same resolution as the iPad Air (1,536 x 2,048) and so much higher-res than the competition (the LG, Google and Amazon options all come in at 1,920 x 1,200) you've given a really cracking screen that goes far beyond what would be acceptable on a tablet.
Some have claimed it's hypocritical to criticize the iPhone 5S for not coming up with new screen technology and not do the same with the mini 2 - but to our minds, the distinction is clear.
The mini 2 needed to only make the step up to Retina to be considered a success, as tablets are held to a different standard to phones. And to pack this many pixels into a sub-8-inch screen, bringing the same PPI as the iPhone, is really impressive too.
It lacks the colours gamut and dynamic contrast of the Kindle Fire HDX, but pixel-for-pixel Apple has outperformed expectations for its next-gen mini tablet - even if it has only pulled this off by denying last year's customers a highest quality screen.
The iPad mini 2 won't be a surprise to anyone running a current iPhone or iPad, bringing with it the latest version of Apple's iOS.
But beyond the new features we're happy to report the iPad mini 2 is nice and fast, despite being a touch slower when it comes to CPU performance compared with the iPad Air.
We're getting to a point where describing a smartphone or tablet as quick under the finger is pointless – once you reach a certain point there's not a lot more speed to be gained.
Even dual-core phones were more than acceptable, so why make a point of highlighting the speed of the new iPad?
Well, it's just virtually flawless through all kinds of tasks. A millisecond faster from a finger press might not seem like much, but once you do a hundred or a thousand of them in a day, and then go back to the previous iPad mini, you'll realise that there's a real difference in the operation.
The iPad mini 2 is slightly behind the iPad Air in benchmarking terms, but leagues ahead of the Nexus 7, scoring 2,220 on the GeekBench 3 "real world" testing compared to the Tegra 3-powered Google device, which managed just 1,800.
However, Apple's claims of total speed domination don't appear to be completely founded, as the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chip, was marginally faster in our tests.
The two both performed amazingly well, but it's interesting to note that in performance terms, Apple can't justify the improvement as a reason for a higher cost.
iOS 7: an all new face
Like it or loathe it, the all-new iOS 7 is still a real step forward for a company that desperately needed to refresh its offering in the face of stiff competition from Android.
The new flatter interface takes away the pointless need to pretend all apps are real-life objects just to integrate them into people's lives - users know that pressing the Photos app will take them there, no matter the result.
Like most popular platforms that get upgraded, there's been a large amount of flack coming Apple's way for iOS 7, with juddery icons shown when returning to the homescreen.
This can be negated by heading into Settings, General, Accessibility and then toggling "Reduce Motion" to On, which creates a much nicer fade transition.
Things like the Parallax effect, which moves the image in the background to create a 3D effect, are much more stable on the iPad mini 2.
And while this was annoyingly unpredictable on the iPhone 5S, on the mini 2 it's much better and we wouldn't advise you turn it off, unlike on other Apple devices.
It doesn't even have a huge effect on battery life, which is impressive in itself.
The rest of the interface is easy to use and makes sense for the most part. One of the newer features of iOS 7 is the notification bar, found by dragging from the top of the tablet. This gives access to updates, calendar entries and missed messages.
It's also one of the weaker parts of the OS, as it always starts on the calendar, which doesn't often give a lot of useful information.
The "Missed" section is often also sparsely populated - we'd rather this prime space was better used by Apple.
However, there are a lot of other areas in which the Cupertino brand has made strides in terms of improving the user experience.
For instance, swiping upwards with all five fingers (or double tapping the home button) will lead to the multi-tasking pane, which shows all of your apps in large thumbnails.
This is an excellent interface, although perhaps a little large, and you can swiftly jump between apps or flick a thumbnail upwards to end it.
We would like to give a special mention to the "five finger pinch" if you've not used it before on previous iPads. Make sure it's enabled in Settings > General, and then simply pinch in with four or five fingers in any app to return to the home screen. You'll be doing it on your phone before you know it, such is its simplicity.
The new Control Center is something worth highlighting too - drag up from the bottom of the screen and you can control music, brightness, turn on Wi-Fi and loads more.
We would have thought that most people know all about this feature, but the number of iOS 7 users who get their minds blown when we show them that this exists means it's worth highlighting.
It's annoying you can't alter the toggles here, and long-pressing them doesn't move into the menu to get a more advanced look at things like Wi-Fi. Apple has clearly written the architecture to handle other toggles (like on most Android phones) so why it's not here is unclear.
Well, it is: Apple doesn't like the option of too much customization to keep things simple. For some that's amazing, for others it feels locked down and far too authoritarian on a device they've paid a lot of money for.
There are tonnes of nuances to Apples UI that we'd like to laud here, but we invite you to go and use it for yourself, as despite there being no tutorial, there's very little here that the novice user won't be able to pick up.
Typing on the iPad mini 2 is an interesting experience. It feels like the whining of the privileged to even mention it, but such is the balanced weight of the Retina-clad mini that holding the device in portrait mode and using two hands to enter text makes it feel too top heavy.
If you split the keyboard (either through pinching outwards on the keys themselves, or dragging up the keyboard icon) it doesn't break apart fully until too far up the page.
And the landscape option pales in comparison to the iPad Air, with the smaller strike zones meaning that even if you prop the mini 2 up with a cover, it's still not as accurate as we'd like for a productivity device.
You might argue that writing longer documents is an ancillary function, but when Apple is shoving its iWork apps on consumers for free, you can argue quite easily that the company is hoping enough people buy iPads as laptops replacements.
Email and iMessage
While it can be hard to find the people you want (or at least have all the social networks linked) messaging on the iPad is a much better experience.
There's iMessage and the decent inbuilt email app on offer as standard, and the variety of other chat apps you can download is mind blowing.
iMessage remains a slightly confusing app in that it can pull in information on your phone number and email addresses and use these to connect to other users - however, this isn't always accurate when you're trying to share details and can result in people trying to contact you in the wrong way.
It's better than it is on the iPhone, which has texting to worry about too, but it's never the most reliable system to set up in our eyes.
Thankfully, the Mail app is a lot better, with a wide and expansive view that makes full use of the screen size.
You get a decent column down one side to see all your missives, and a gentle swipe across allows you to move or edit the mail or send it to the trash can.
On top of that, emails are grouped together nicely when in conversation flow, email folders are easy to use and you can have all your messages in one inbox, even with a variety of accounts being used.
We also like the VIP setting, allowing you to tag only your boss and colleagues, so you know when to panic should you see a mail arriving there.
Adding in the Facetime HD camera is a big plus for the iPad mini 2, as it feels like the 1.2MP camera on the front of the device is so much smoother than before.
It has all the same easy functionality as the previous iterations but makes things look so much better over a decent Wi-Fi connection. Facetracking also works well to keep things in focus, and obviously allows you to give up your soul for the odd selfie.
Facetime is still a little impenetrable to set up for some - you have to know which numbers or email addresses have been used to access the service though, which can be frustrating when you have a contact and they've only set up Facetime on a certain email address instead of the number you have for them.
But with the addition of Facetime Audio, and the improved Facetime HD camera, this is a great device for when you're on the go and want to say goodnight to your goldfish from the bus.
And with Facetime Audio now an option, you can have free voice calls with other enabled users thanks to VOIP technology. Once in the app you can set up your favourite people as instant contacts to call - and helpfully they can also be set to call through voice or video by default.
While there aren't that many other ways to talk to people over the iPad mini 2, the Contacts app is still obviously on board, giving access to all the people you've spoken to and saved over the years.
However, be careful when adding accounts, as you'll likely have a few on there and it's very easy to have information from Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail and iCloud all jostling for position in your list, as well as those from Facebook too.
It's not as easy as on Android to change these though, as you'll need to jump into the external Settings app once more to check the right boxes.
However, when this is done things are nice and simple, showing the friends you've saved as well as their Facebook picture (or other that you've tagged) if you've linked the accounts.
However, here's an issue we're not sure why Apple hasn't fixed as yet: contact linking is nigh-on impossible unless you drill right down through the editing menu.
You can pull all manner of social network account info into a contact card, but when adding the names in you're not going to link to the right person unless you're exact with your spelling.
It's confusing as to why your contact lists aren't pulled from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and more when you're trying to perform this task, but it's very difficult to tag people together, which is irritating when you want pictures to go alongside each name.
The internet browser on the iPad mini 2 needs to be impressive, as otherwise one of the key functions for this device is really negated thanks to the upgraded screen.
While you might not be seeing much of an upgrade over older iPads in terms of functionality, the speed in overall use of the device is definitely something to be lauded.
The main difference over last year's iPad mini (out of the box) is that iOS 7 makes everything a little cleaner and less obtrusive.
The URL bar won't dynamically retreat like it does on the iPhone range, but with 7.9 inches of space to play with, we can't say that we blame it too much.
The bar is actually chock-full of functionality in the same way as its Android counterpart, although there's perhaps a spot more relevance to everything that's run with the mini 2.
For instance, the reading mode is just a simple icon of text lines in the URL bar, allowing you to easily switch to a more text-friendly mode.
It's a little irritating that you can't sync this with Pocket, as although you might be fine using the "Saved for Later" function of Safari on the iPad, if you're not using an iPhone as your smartphone, there's no central repository for all the articles you want to read later.
At least if you copy the URL of the site you're reading the app can intelligently work out that you might want to save it to Pocket - but when you can share links over Facebook and Twitter with such ease then it doesn't seem fair that other popular apps aren't supported.
Of course this is completely subjective, and something we would have expected from Apple a few years ago. It's become more relaxed about working with partners recently, however, so perhaps the functionality will come.
In reality, all these reading modes don't mean much when you've got such a speedy and responsive browser.
Apple is touting the fact the iPad mini 2 is one of the first tablets to use MIMO wireless connectivity, allowing for a stronger and faster Wi-Fi connection. In reality this means that you can wander further from the router and still get access to the internet when you've decided against shelling out for the cellular version of the iPad.
We've covered this in our Battery section in more depth, so check that out if you want to find out how the new mini compares to the original in terms of speed.
The Retina display, which has finally made its way to the iPad mini 2, is really bright and clear for reading stories on the go, and the 7.9-inch screen gives you so much more room to work with over the iPhone 5S.
It's no surprise that Apple would make strides in this area, although text wrapping when zoomed in could still do with some work.
However, the internet browser on the iPad mini 2 is one to be rather respected, as it does what it needs to do with considerable aplomb.
Whether you want to see a list of shared links from Twitter (which is a rather underrated feature, drawing only the tweets from your friends that contain links) or save articles to check out when you don't have connectivity, there's little the iPad can't do.
If you're in a family home with a number of Apple devices then you can easily share links using AirDrop, and this will be useful for those that hate doing the same over messaging or Facebook - although with iMessage, it's hardly a chore.
We would say that something like Google Chrome is a better bet if you're a fan of simplicity though, as over time we found that we never used things like the Reader mode or the integrated quick link.
Chrome, on the other hand, is simple and unobtrusive and connects to Google accounts well too. We're not saying that Safari is a bad browser or anything, but it's worth thinking about the opions at times.
But Apple has kept things simple on both functionality and the interface on the iPad mini 2's internet browser, and that makes a lot of sense to us.
When it comes to all manner of media, the iPad mini 2 is a great device to consume the content you want on the go.
It starts at 16GB capacity, but 4GB of this eaten up straight out of the box, which means we can only recommend you start with the 32GB version for your media collection.
Given we had managed to suck up 12GB just by downloading a couple of TV programs, three HD games and plonked on a lot of music, that's not going to last well over the course of your ownership.
We're really rather frustrated that Apple hasn't scrapped the 16GB iteration of the iPad mini, as it's going to annoy a lot of buyers who go for the cheapest option thinking they're getting a good deal, when in reality it's going to be a compromised performance for many when they have to start deleting content.
You do at least have the option of the 128GB option as the highest tier device now, which is a nice move, but again begs the question of whether Apple is aiming the mini 2 at the productivity space.
The audio performance of the iPad mini 2 is hugely impressive, even with the most basic of earbuds on offer.
There are plenty of other reviews out there that seem to gloss over the fact that the iPad is as much a media-centric device as anything else, and no matter how many streaming services you subscribe to, the output is always going to be limited by the hardware.
But what Apple has done, and to be honest, always managed to do, is bring refined audio output to a system that commands a premium price.
Through a decent pair of headphones it's possible to capture all the nuance of high-bitrate audio, and even streamed to an external speaker via Bluetooth things don't sound as muddy and horrendous as they might on other devices.
It's a much more compelling option as a portable music player because it has the same audio performance as the Air, yet is so much easier to sling in a bag or even a generous pocket.
It also makes the interface feel a little less stretched out, thanks to there being less screen estate to go around.
On top of that, the lock screen has excellent integration for third party apps, so the likes of Spotify feel as much a part of the iPad mini 2 as its own music player.
So while sonically we're enamored, the interface still feels like, as with other elements in iOS 7 for iPad, it's designed for an iPhone and stretched up.
We get that it's meant to be a simple way to show as many songs as possible, and appreciate the widgets on the lock screen and in the Control Center. However, can't we have a more beautiful interface? You can either have a long list of songs with a tiny controller at the top, or a Now Playing screen that is surrounded by bland and unsubtle white.
What happened to the Cover Flow beauty of the first iPhone? Where did that go? It's made even worse by the fact that finally we have a processor that can keep up with all the artwork, yet all we get is this pool of limpid uninterestingness.
Video on the iPad mini 2 is excellent. There's no other way to describe it. You've got sharp images, a large screen and, the black bars aside thanks to the 4:3 screen ratio, a thoroughly immersive experience.
However, it's not the best out there. You can argue that the larger iPad Air and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX both have better screens when it comes to color reproduction, giving a more natural-looking experience.
But ones you've plopped your favorite movies onto the iPad mini 2, you're in a very good place indeed. The 7.9 inch screen is a really portable size that means you can cart the mini 2 around with you without getting wrist ache from too much watching.
The range of movie codes supported is still disappointing though, with MP4 really the main one that will be supported. iTunes is still an infuriating platform to use to get video onto your iPad – for instance, we needed to encode our battery test video into 1080p from 1080p just to allow it on.
Compare this to the drag-and-drop nature of Android and you'll see that there's still a disparity between the systems.
However, once it's on there, things generally look really good, and that's what matter. Yes, unknown files will have odd thumbnails, but for the most part everything this slick.
You've also got the added bonus that a number of Blu-ray discs now come with an iPad-compatible copy of the film, where Android has to make do with Ultraviolet. Apple's method is so simple and works just as well as if you'd paid far over the odds for a simple TV show or movie from its own store.
We're getting sick of moaning about the cost of videos on the iTunes store, but at least the breadth is getting seriously wide – if you've got an Apple TV you'll wonder how you ever spent so many nights in BlockBusters trying to choose a film to rent.
The camera interface on the iPad mini 2 is something of a confusing one, as just like the iPad Air it's got a stripped-down version of the iPhone 5S app.
This means that instead of the ability to take Slo-Mo videos and make them look amazing on the larger screen, you've instead got the option to take a photo, a video, or a square photo for portrait shots.
You at least get HDR mode, but even the filters, which have similar options available in the separate Photobooth app out of the box, aren't available.
Given the architecture is almost identical from the new iPhone to the iPad Air and mini 2, we can see why these options aren't there.
We're not going to get that upset, as this might minimize the amount of people using their iPad to take a picture. It's not a good look, and you shouldn't be doing it.
We're more tolerant of this on a smaller iPad, and we have to say that despite only taking 5MP stills the output is very impressive.
The ability to lock auto focus and exposure is still very handy, and in portrait mode especially it was very easy to actually take pictures thanks to the even weight of the device.
Flicking between the modes was no hassle with one hand, and while we noted a couple of times when the auto focus took too long to kick in, when it got it right we were really pleased with the results.
Being able to edit them on the device with iPhoto was brilliant too, although you're more limited with what you can do with the smaller screen. We kept wishing we could alter them on the Air instead, which has a much larger capacity for editing thanks to the increase in size, if not pixel count.
Battery and apps
The battery on the iPad mini 2 is 50% bigger than its predecessor, but even still we were rather worried about how the new iPad mini would fare when it has to power more pixels and a much stronger engine.
In reality, there's not a lot to worry about. Running our looped video battery test on both the iPad mini and mini 2 (with iOS 7.0.4 on board and all displays corrected to the same lumen output) showed only a 3% difference in the battery drain, although the original device did fare slightly better.
This isn't surprising though, as pixel driving is one of the major reasons for battery depletion, along with the screen brightness.
It's interesting to note that the iPad mini 2 can run to a higher brightness than the iPad Air, although the larger device was better than both of its smaller variants, coming in with a 4% better score than the new Retina iPad mini.
However, and this is important for those trying to decide between the iPad mini 2 and the Google Nexus 7: it appears that having fewer pixels is kinder to the tablet, showing an almost 33% improvement for the Google tablet in battery performance over our video test.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX was surprisingly similar in battery life to the mini 2, coming in at only 3% better power management in the same test, which is close to negligible when you'll be using your tablet for a variety of tasks.
In general use we didn't see as much of a problem – there was certainly no instance of battery draining rapidly as we've seen on other tablets in this smaller category.
You can do a good portion of email reading, watching a TV show and playing a couple of higher-res games before you hit 80% battery life, which is more than adequate in our eyes.
This really equates to a device that you only need to charge every three days, even with the added bonus of it being so portable, and for a tablet that's easily enough.
Apps and connectivity
The Wi-Fi performance of the iPad mini 2 is really rather good thanks in no small part to the addition of the MiMo technology (Multiple in, Multiple out) that uses a load more antennas to give a really strong and stable connection to your router.
We tested this against the iPad mini, and close to the router speeds were relatively similar. However, as we moved further away things started to drop quickly on the original smaller iPad, where the new Retina-shod version managed to hold on more than admirably.
It's not so much that you need to think of the new tech as offering faster speeds, but if you're in a house that struggles to get Wi-Fi signal to the outlying rooms, this iPad will certainly help there.
4G bands has also been supercharged in the same way as we saw on the iPad Air, and and low power Bluetooth is also on board as well, making it an incredibly well-connected device.
Apple has thrown on reams of free software with the iPad mini 2 (and other new iOS 7 devices too), so you now get access to the likes of Pages, Numbers, Keynote from the iWork tribe as well as iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband for free.
These are incredibly powerful tools for what is still essentially a cut-down mobile device – we can't say that we'd recommend using them regularly without a keyboard (in the case of iWork) but elements such as iPhoto and Garageband really give you the chance to express yourself fluidly.
When you consider that the iPad mini 2 will be appearing under the Christmas tree for a few lucky (and wealthy) people, having software right out of the box (well, you do have to download it actually, and it's a fairly hefty download) is a big plus for a shiny new toy.
However, it's worth noting that on the smaller iPad screen it's not as pleasurable to use things like the Garageband app when you want to be precise in your chord strumming or drumming – the larger iPad Air is more adept here.
That said, the portability of the mini 2, despite not being that far ahead of the slimmed down iPad Air, is a real help when you want to be creative on the go.
On top of that, we still feel the need to laud the Apple App Store for its ability to offer the best apps around. We're talking about things like BBC iPlayer and Sky Go, both of which offer improved user interfaces and allowed downloads first before the Android hop came.
The gap between Apple and Google's app portals is narrowing, but there's no doubt that users will still feel far more secure in the app experience they'll get on an Apple tablet compared to an Android one for now, and that's a big reason to purchase.
Maps should also gain something of a special mention, as while it was a PR disaster for Apple, it's slowly clawing its way back to usable thanks to constant upgrades.
In response to reader requests, we'll be running a side by side screen test of these tablets soon - so stay tuned.
Google Nexus 7
The Google Nexus 7 is probably the biggest rival in the small tablet category to Apple's new mini.
It has a similar vertical dimensions, but runs with a much thinner screen to allow for a 16:9 screen ratio.
This has both positive and negative points to it: on the one hand, the thinner dimensions make it much easier to hold the Nexus 7 in a single palm, and even two handed it feels great.
However, as soon as we get to web browsing on it, we miss the larger expanse of the iPad mini 2's screen, thanks to the extra width that 0.9-inches gives us. It doesn't sound like much, but it makes a big difference.
The screen technology on the iPad is a little bit higher-res than the Nexus 7 can offer, although in day to day use you won't really see the difference in sharpness given both are able to pump out over 1080p resolution, which is more than enough.
Color reproduction is a little lower on the Nexus 7, which can look a little washed out at times, but for the price, we can't say we're too upset.
And that's where the Nexus 7 wins in the biggest way: the iPad mini 2 is nearly twice as expensive as Google's offering at the 32GB size (which is the minimum we think you should consider) and yet doesn't offer twice the performance.
The iPad mini 2 is faster, has a better design and a richer and more robust apps catalog, but when it comes to price Google has streaked ahead.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX
Talking of price: as long as you're willing to put up with lock screen ads, Amazon's new tablet is actually a little cheaper than Google's for the 32GB option.
It's got a lot of positives over the iPad mini 2 as well, thanks to a slightly more powerful chipset in the Snapdragon 800 – we were surprised that the much-touted A7 chip wasn't miles ahead in the speed stakes on our Geekbench testing.
It's slightly better on battery too, although not by much, but it does have an improved screen. Amazon told us that this was because it believes it's managed to get to the highest level of sharpness needed – we've heard that before from companies that have then gone and unleashed a higher-res model months later, but at least the screen tech has been improved on the HDX for more realistic colors.
However, for all the glitz and glorious speeds of the HDX, it still has a few foibles: the interface is very simplistic, which won't appeal to many; it also manages the impressive feat of moving from too simple to hard to navigate at times, something Apple doesn't have to worry about.
There are much fewer apps as well, thanks to Amazon curating everything on its own store – this will improve over time, but there's no doubt Google and Apple are light years ahead in this key area.
LG G Pad 8.3
LG has made the tablet which takes the design fight to Apple in the most believable way. Managing to stuff in a larger screen means it's actually negating the problem of closed-in web browsing, and it does so in an attractive aluminum shell.
Where it falls down though is on the main things we need it to be great at: speed and battery life. The former isn't as much of an issue as at least LG has optimized things in a way that the Snapdragon 600 processor doesn't leave us wanting more too often, but it's certainly not market leading.
The battery needs to be better though. Lasting only a day or so in most scenarios isn't going to be good enough for the on-the-go tablet user, so that will put off a fair few buyers choosing between this and the iPad mini.
But apart from the higher price, LG has come out with a tablet that belies its lower-spec innards and offers genuinely useful options with things like Q Slide to hide commonly used apps until needed, and Q Pair to help your phone and tablet interact more readily.
It's ideas like that which Apple should be aping - but for now, we'll just say that the G Pad is a really valid choice if you want a stylish Android tablet.
Strangely, Apple has made the biggest competitor to the iPad mini. You could argue that having two strong contenders and mostly just altering the screen size makes sense from a business perspective, but in reality the upgraded design of the Air starts to squeeze the relevance of the mini 2.
For not a lot more cash you can have the larger screen, which allows better typing, easier interaction with loads of apps and a longer-lasting battery.
You do lose a touch of screen sharpness and portability, but such is the lightness of the Air that we can't really call it non-portable in any way. It sits nicely in most bags and just keeps on chugging in terms of battery life.
Apple really needed to keep the price point the same for the iPad mini 2 to differentiate better between these two products, because as it stands unless someone really had a problem with the larger screen we'd say that they should definitely check out the Air first - after all, not much money for a 1.8-inch jump in screen size is nothing to be sniffed at.
Hands on pictures
Well, the iPad mini 2 being a shrunken down version of the Air eh? Who saw that coming? Well, we all did. Apple announced it a few weeks ago.
We weren't really sure what to expect when looking at the new iPad mini though. Would it have a poor battery? Would the screen be lower brightness? Would it somehow be made out of recycled chicken droppings?
Luckily none of that came to pass, and Apple's managed to really raise the bar set from the first iPad mini - albeit in a market where the rest of the market has massively raised its game.
The design of the iPad mini was great already; so much so that Apple scaled it up and used it on the larger version. It's back in an almost identical form here, but seems less likely to chip and still wows us with the all-encompassing aluminum design.
We'd also like to applaud Apple for managing to get large battery and powerful processor under the hood to make a market-leading tablet, and both of those features work very well.
Battery life is strong, the A7 chip works in a robust fashion, and the Retina screen, while massively overdue, is clear and crisp.
And then there's the usual Apple stuff we're starting to tire of praising: the amount of 4G bands, the MiMo wireless connectivity to improve Wi-Fi, the strong catalog of apps. It's all there and make a tablet that's beyond par in so many ways.
Talking of things we're tired of talking about: we're going to mention the price again. It was so nice being able to avoid it with the iPad Air, coming as that did with a comparable tag to the competition in the larger-screen arena.
While it's slightly unfair to compare Apple to Google or Amazon, who both sell their devices for cost or slightly under to engage users with the ecosystem, Apple is using that normal route of charging a bit more to make a profit.
And forcing you to use its ecosystem, of course.
But that doesn't detract from the fact you can buy a Google Nexus 7 for 25-30% less than the comparable 16GB / 32GB option from Apple – and that increase in price to improve the amount of storage on board has no justification.
It's a shame because otherwise this is a flawless tablet. You might get a little annoyed at the colors not being as vibrant on the screen as some in the competition, but we can 't really call that an issue.
The storage issue should also be noted here as it's linked to the price. While you can buy versions of the tablet that will have more than enough space for your content, the 16GB option isn't enough.
We're not going to label this as a big negative, as it's completely down to user choice - but the step up in price from 16GB to 32GB means this is a little prohibitive for some.
The iPad mini 2 is almost flawless in so many ways. The rich App catalog mean it's a device that will grow with you, and the 64-bit A7 chip and Retina display are certainly future-proofing users from an outdated device.
The design is still the best in the tablet category, with perhaps only the LG G pad 8.3 coming close.
On top of that iOS 7 is at least a step forward, and finally being able to see things in the clarity they deserve is hugely important.
Even gaming is sensational on this tablet, which is essentially all the first mini should have been… and a little more.
But the price is still something that really jars when you consider the rivals. The Nexus 7 has a crisp and clear screen, a strong app catalog (although not as polished) and a decent build – for so much less cash.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX follows the same path, but with a better processor – although not the greatest user interface.
We were torn when scoring the iPad mini 2 as, in a vacuum, there's nothing that touches it apart from the larger Air, and these are tablets in different categories. You wouldn't own both, but the iPad mini 2 is no longer a sidekick to the larger model.
Given the weight and size reduction of the iPad Air too, there's a strong argument to be for just stepping up and buying the larger tablet if you want to invest in a premium product - there's not much difference in price now Apple has upped the cost of the smaller option.
So here's the upshot: if you're willing more on a tablet and want it to be a little more portable, then the iPad mini 2 with Retina display can't be beaten. It's slick, fast, powerful and comes with so much free software and design wins that it will provide a trouble-free existence for many years.
But if you're thinking about saving money, the competition is strong too. It's nowhere near as good as the iPad mini 2, but for the cost reduction you can forgive a multitude of sins.
The iPad mini 2 might not be a sidekick to the Air in terms of spec but, thanks to Apple raising the price even further this year, it's playing second fiddle to its larger brother.