Apple unveiled its hotly anticipated next generation iPad mini at its media event on Tuesday, October 22nd. Apple is calling it the iPad mini with Retina Display.
We briefly told you about the features of Retina iPad mini on the day of the event, but the devil is in the details, so we take an in-depth look at iPad mini’s design, specifications and features.
When Apple launched the iPad mini last year, the lack of Retina Display was a deal breaker for many people. Apple has finally addressed it as the 2nd generation iPad sports a gorgeous 7.9-inch Retina Display with 2048-by-1536 resolution at 326 pixels per inch (ppi), which is the same resolution as the iPad Air with significantly higher pixel density (326 ppi vs 264 ppi). The Retina Display has over 3.1 million pixels, which is 4 times the pixels as the original iPad mini.
The Retina iPad mini looks exactly like the original iPad mini in terms of design with its rounded edges, sleek metallic finish at the back and diamond-cut chamfered edges.
However, it is marginally thicker (0.29 inches or 7.5 mm vs 0.28 inches or 7.2 mm) and slightly heavier than the original iPad mini (331 grams vs 308 grams). This as you may have guessed is to accommodate the high resolution Retina Display.
The Retina iPad mini is as thick as the iPad Air but is approximately 50% lighter. The smaller size of the Retina iPad mini should still be much easier to hold in one hand than the iPad Air, despite its new lighter, narrower and thinner design.
One of the major new features of the Retina iPad mini is Apple’s next generation A7 chip, which also powers the iPhone 5s and iPad Air. The highlight of the new A7 chip is, of course, the 64-bit “desktop-class” architecture. The A7 chip is the first 64-bit tablet system-on-chip, showing that Apple is way ahead of other tablet manufacturers when it comes to silicon chips. Apple had used the A5 chip, which was first used in the iPad 2 (launched in 2011) in the original iPad mini. So the A7 chip offers significant performance improvements. Apple says that the iPad mini’s A7 CPU is 4 times faster than its predecessor.
Apart from the CPU, the A7 also has a new GPU which supports OpenGL ES 3.0, a graphical library extensively used in games and photography apps. Earlier iOS devices supported OpenGL ES 2.0, but support for 3.0 means more detailed and complex graphics, previously seen only on PCs, Macs and consoles. According to Apple, the A7 Chip GPU offers 8 times faster graphics performance.
iPad Air benchmarks have revealed that the A7 chip’s clock speed has been tweaked to 1.4GHz, which is 100MHz faster than the 1.3GHz A7 chip that has been used in the iPhone 5s. It remains to be seen if the iPad mini also comes with the tweaked 1.4GHz processor.
Retina iPad mini also gets the M7 coprocessor chip, which was first introduced with the launch of the iPhone 5s. The M7 motion coprocessor is a module independent of the CPU, which collects data from the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. This means that fitness apps can keep requesting motion related data without draining the battery or burdening the CPU.
Since you’re not going to be carrying your iPad everywhere, I’m not too convinced about the utility of including it. It appears to be something Apple has included to simplify the manufacturing process by using the same chip for the iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini, rather than creating a variant of the A7 chip.
While it is yet to be confirmed, the A7 chip that powers the iPad mini, most likely comes with 1GB RAM, which is still twice the amount of RAM compared to the original iPad mini.
The biggest disappointments of the iPad mini is the camera. iPad mini’s iSight rear facing camera is the same 5-megapixel camera that was used in the original iPad mini. It allows you to take 1080p HD videos and offers 3x zoom while recording videos.
Apple has however upgraded the FaceTime camera. It looks like Apple has used the same 1.2-megapixel camera that has been used in the iPhone 5s. The new FaceTime HD camera features the next generation backlight sensor with larger pixels, which should improve quality of the FaceTime calls and selfies.
The A7 chip includes an all-new image signal processor, but it is not clear to what extent it will help in improving the quality of the photos.
You will notice a small hole at the top (center) of iPad mini’s rear casing, which is for the second microphone. Apple says that the two microphones “work together to capture better sound by suppressing audio from the source you’re not focused on.”
It should improve the quality of the audio on FaceTime calls and during video recordings because of the reduced background noise. It should also make it easier for Siri to understand what you’re saying.
Even though the iPad mini comes with a power hungry Retina Display and is four times faster than the previous generation iPad mini, it offers the same battery life as its predecessor thanks to improved display technology, the efficient A7-chip and a bigger battery. The Retina iPad mini comes with a built-in 23.8 watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, which is significantly bigger than the original iPad mini’s built-in 16.3 watt-hour battery.
iPad mini Wi-Fi only model offers the following battery life:
- Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
iPad mini Wi-Fi+Cellular model offers the following battery life:
- Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
- Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using cellular data network
Retina iPad mini offers support for more number of LTE bands than the original iPad mini. It supports 14 LTE bands (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26) compared to 5 LTE bands (1, 3, 5, 13, 25) supported by previous generation iPad mini. So the Retina iPad mini will be most likely be compatible with your carrier’s LTE network.
Here’s a look at the frequency and the LTE bands that iPad mini will support:
- UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
- CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900 MHz)
- LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26)
iPad mini gives you up to twice the 802.11n Wi-Fi performance thanks to two antennas to support MIMO (multiple input multiple output). With dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) 802.11n Wi-Fi and MIMO, the new iPad mini supports download speeds of up to 300 Mbps, which is double the data rate of the previous-generation iPad.
The new iPad mini supports Bluetooth 4.0.
iPad mini with Retina Display will most likely come pre-installed with iOS 7.0.3 – Apple’s latest mobile operating system for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, which comes with an all-new user interface and over 200 new features. Here are some of the major features in iOS 7:
- All-new Control Center
- Improved Notification Center
- All-new Camera app
- Smarter Multitasking
- AirDrop for iOS
- Find my iPhone with Activation Lock
- Improved Safari
- Redesigned Music app and iTunes Radio
- New Photos app
- Siri improvements
- New features for business users
iPad mini comes in two colors: Space Gray and Silver.
Silver looks exactly like original iPad mini′s White & Silver color. Space Gray is the same color that was introduced with the launch of the iPhone 5s. It is the tweaked version of original iPad mini’s Black and White, which comes with a metallic grey anodized backplate.
The 2nd generation iPad mini comes pre-installed with the following apps from Apple: Safari, Newsstand, Videos, Photo Booth, Mail, Messages, Siri, Clock, iBooks, iTunes Store, Reminders, Game Center, Photos, App Store, Contacts, Maps, Calendar, Camera, FaceTime, Music, Notes.
In addition to the pre-installed apps, you can also download the following apps for free from the App Store:iPhoto, iTunes U, iMovie, Podcasts, GarageBand,Find My iPhone, Pages, Find My Friends, Numbers, Remote, Keynote, iTunes, Trailers.
Retina iPad mini will be available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB storage options.
Apple has increased the pricing of the Retina iPad mini by $70. It will be available for $399, $499, $599 and $699 for 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB Wi-Fi only models, and for $529 $629, $729 and $829 for the Wi-Fi+Cellular models.
Apple will continue to offer the original iPad mini for $299 for the Wi-Fi only model and $429 for Wi-Fi+Cellular model.
Apple has said that the iPad mini with Retina Display will be available later in November.
Apple has also unveiled redesigned Smart Cover and Smart Case for the new iPad mini.
The Smart Cover for the iPad mini has been redesigned to fit the form factor of the device, and will be available for $39 starting November 1st.
The Smart Cover will be available in pink, yellow, blue, green, black colors as well as a special Product Red edition.
Unlike the Smart Cover, the Smart Case covers the back of your iPad mini too, better protecting it from falls or other accidental damages. The Smart Case has a leather exterior, like the new iPhone 5s cases. It will be available for $69 for the Retina iPad mini. Colors are pink, yellow, blue, green, black colors as well as a special Product Red edition.
When Apple launched the iPad mini last year, Apple sent confusing signals. It came without Retina Display and included components from the 18-months old iPad 2, but was priced at $329. It wasn’t clear if Apple wanted to offer a cheaper iPad to compete with cheaper and smaller Android based tablets or a smaller version of its popular 9.7-inch iPad. The components and lack of features like the Retina Display suggested it wanted to offer a cheaper iPad to go after market share, but the premium pricing contradicted it.
Meanwhile, launch of tablets like the new Nexus 7 and 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX exposed the unimpressive hardware specifications of the original iPad mini.
The launch of the Retina iPad mini suggests Apple has finally figured out what it wants to offer. It is certainly not going after market share, as it has further increased the price. However for $399, the new iPad mini has the same hardware specifications as the bigger iPad Air such as the faster A7 chip with M7 coprocessor, Retina Display, support for more number of LTE bands and faster Wi-Fi thanks to new MIMO 802.11n Wi-Fi support. The only thing that differentiates the two tablets is the size of the screen.
As an iPhone 5s owner, I was hoping that the iPad mini will include the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, so I was disappointed that Apple decided not to include it in iPad mini. I am so used to the Touch ID now that unlocking the device using the passcode is going to be a pain for another year.
The other disappointment was lack of any improvements to the rear facing iSight camera. Ever since Apple launched the iPhone, it has always improved the camera in the new iOS devices, so it was surprising to see that Apple did not upgrade the camera to at least iPhone 5′s 8-megapixel camera. Here’s some perspective, Retina iPad mini comes with a camera module that was first used in the iPhone 4s in 2011. Taking photos may not be one of the most popular activities on a tablet, but I’m seeing a growing number of people using their tablets to take photos, so it certainly deserved a spec bump.
John Gruber of Daring Fireball makes an informed guess that the lack of Touch ID and improved camera was due to supply and engineering constraints. According to him, Apple didn’t have enough time to incorporate the Touch ID or iPhone 5s’ camera in more than one device, and the supply of Touch ID sensors was enough to meet the demand for iPhone 5s.
When Apple launched the iPad mini last year, it quickly became my go-to device at home. It will be interesting to see which iPad will be my go-to device, will it be the lighter, thinner and narrower iPad Air with its bigger screen or the Retina iPad mini. Apple has certainly made that decision very difficult this year.
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