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iPad mini 2 Retina: Design and Performance

evan kypreos

By Evan Kypreos



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iPad mini 2: Design

The iPad mini 2 shares its casing with its predecessor. For those unaccustomed with the iPad mini it has a slim aluminium unibody design, with a small exception for the 4G versions, which has a single piece of plastic on the rear that houses the antenna. The subtle texture on the back helps with grip and the rounded corners make it a very comfortable tablet to hold with one hand. The edges are diamond cut, exposing the shiny metal beneath.

All the buttons and switches are made of metal and there’s only two inputs, a 3.5mm headphone socket at the top and a Lightning port (Apple’s proprietary charging and data transfer tech) at the bottom, between two tastefully drilled speaker grilles.

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The iPad mini 2 in grey in front of the original iPad mini and the larger iPad Air

It’s an excellent design that not only feels premium, but is easy on the eye and we’re glad that Apple transferred it to the larger iPad Air.

The iPad mini 2 is a fraction thicker and heavier than the original, although you’ll be hard-pressed to notice unless you have both in your hands at the same time. The extra weight is down to the larger battery required to run the Retina screen while maintaining the claimed 10-hour battery life. The differences are minor and the iPad mini 2 remains a compact tablet, perfectly suited to one-handed use.

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It comes in the same silver and space grey versions as the previous version, which look great. Of the two we prefer the space grey version, but you can't lose with either.

iPad mini 2: Performance

The iPad mini 2 runs on exactly the same 64-bit A7 system-on-chip processor and 1GB RAM as the iPhone 5S, as opposed to the slightly turbo-charged version of the A7 on the iPad Air. It’s dual-core and runs at 1.3GHz with a quad-core GPU providing the graphical and compute grunt.

It’s an excellent processor and makes the iPad mini 2 fly. Apps open instantly and games look and run like a dream -- particularly those optimised for the 64-bit architecture like Infinity Blade 3 and Anomaly 2. You’ll never notice during real-world use that it’s a fraction slower than the Air in benchmark tests.

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The difference in performance from the iPad 4 to the iPad Air is impressive, but there’s a huge leap of power from the iPad mini to the iPad mini 2 Retina. In our benchmark tests we found the iPad mini 2 to be at least four times more powerful than the original. This goes way above the extra muscle required to power the new Retina display. It’s a massive improvement and one you’ll notice when running intensive apps and games.

It’s also faster than any other tablets of a similar size. It beats the Nexus 7 with its last-gen Snapdragon S4 Pro by about 40% in benchmarks, but surprisingly also pips the Snapdragon 800 powerhouse that runs the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and Sony Xperia Ultra -- albeit by much smaller margins.

The question is: does being so fast matter in a tablet? Arguably it’s less important than it is in the bigger screened iPad Air, which can double up as an impressively competent productivity tool when it’s attached to a Bluetooth keyboard. On the other hand, the iPad mini Retina’s smaller form-factor makes it better for gaming – one of the most processor intensive tasks around. Let’s put it this way, we’d rather have the extra power than not.

The iPad mini 2 running the processor intensive AutoCAD app

One of the primary reasons the A7 chip was made with a 64-bit architecture was so that it can run the innovative Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S. The ability to unlock your phone or tablet with a fingerprint might sound like a bit of a luxury, and frankly it is, but it’s a brilliantly realised one in the 5S. Unfortunately, we don’t get this little gem in the iPad mini 2, although it would is a pointless feature if you never lock your iPad.

What we do get is the nifty little M7 co-processor. It manages the iPad’s motion data from the accelerometer and improves battery efficiency by being much more low powered and is particularly effective in telling 4G models to stop searching for signal when none is available.

The M7 is also increasingly being used by app developers to minimise the effect on battery life of apps that track motion, such as exercise ones. The Day One app, for example, that records and preserves a daily journal of the steps you’ve taken and the distances you’ve travelled, now uses the M7 processor and therefore uses much less battery in the background. Thinking outside the box to improve battery stamina other than whacking a bigger battery in is just the kind of thinking we like, though the M7 is arguably more useful overall in the iPhone than in the iPads.

There’s a plethora of antennas packed into the iPad mini 2 and we found that it matched the iPad Air’s excellent Wi-Fi performance almost exactly, making it twice as fast as the previous model. If you want speedy Wi-Fi on your tablet then mini does the job well, the only minor omission being wireless standard 802.11ac. The vast majority of people don’t own an 802.11ac compatible router so this should only affect only internet speed-demons, though the premium you pay for an iPad makes it small buy understandable niggle.

Of course the iPad mini 2 does not have a microSD card slot for expandable storage, but it does come in a few sizes, from 16GB to 128GB. The fact that the main competition (the Nexus 7) also forgoes microSD makes it less of a disadvantage, but if it’s a deal-breaker for you then you could opt for the much cheaper 7-inch Tesco Hudl or Asus MemoPad HD. You’ll find a big drop in quality if you do, though.


October 24, 2013, 10:19 pm

I would have liked to have had ac wireless.


October 25, 2013, 10:32 am

Not everything. If Apple wanted to increase the price then they should also increase the amount of memory, considering how little the hardware actually costs to do this.

Too greedy.


October 25, 2013, 10:32 am

Kinda agree but with the mac books only coming with AC now my guess is ac will be main stream on Ipads and Iphones next year :(


October 25, 2013, 11:27 am

so you get about the same specs as a nexus 7 or the new amazon tablets but with half the memory and about 50^% more expensive


October 25, 2013, 3:08 pm

The A7 looks 4 times faster than the snapdragon in the nexus 4 and 7. Does this count as the same? The screen is 4:3 ratio, useful for reading with unlike the pillarbox screen on the nexus 7. Did I mention the tablet apps...
And one last thing has google fixed the touch screen in the nexus 7 v2, mixed reports as to if a patch has gone out on this?


October 25, 2013, 8:23 pm

It is amazing how all your replies missed my point.

I am not a fanboy. I buy whatever is the best, but I do not like being exploited either.

I only mentioned that the amount of memory should be increased, their lowest option is 16GB, which is way too low for something in this price category. Memory is cheap, so they can do this, but instead they charge extreme amounts for each memory upgrade. This is greed.


October 26, 2013, 2:43 pm

you can't compare 5S with 727k pixels to 3146k Ipad retina. 4x more pixels could also mean 4x less performance.

I still want one!

Jules Stoop

October 27, 2013, 4:28 pm

You're talking about storage, not memory (RAM). I guess that's why people missed your point.


October 27, 2013, 6:26 pm

No, it your point. The nexus 7 has a completely different technology performance level which lies between both mini and mini retina. You come across as saying that the mini retina is over charging for the same spec as the nexus 7. They are clearly different. That was my point,. Storage is always expense on apply platform unfortunately, depends what you want to compromise on. Nexus 4 and ipad owner.


October 27, 2013, 11:28 pm

Anyone know if they up'd the RAM to 1GB on the mini 2 or is it still 512mb?


November 7, 2013, 5:17 am

S4 Pro SoC in the Nexus 7 is over a year old, so the iPad wins on that front. Amazon's tablets are a very good deal, though.

John Simmons

November 13, 2013, 3:08 am

1 gb

Christopher Sanders

November 17, 2013, 1:50 am

I tried an Amazon and wont be going back to it. Its not even full Android.

Christopher Sanders

November 17, 2013, 1:51 am

Its 1.3 for mini and 1.4 for air.


November 17, 2013, 4:00 pm

It's 1GB. It's essentially the same insides as the iPhone 5S

alex mason

November 17, 2013, 8:07 pm

Doesn't anyone think that they don't have more than 1GB RAM because they just don't need it? I'm beginning to think Android is a bit more resource hungry and I think that is partly down to having to work across many different devices, just like windows. The only way to get Android running like butter seems to have been to throw tech at it. 2-3 GB of ram and 8 core processors belting out 1's and 0's at 2.2 GHz. Not that long ago those figures wouldn't be looking out of place on a desktop or laptop sitting in PC World.

I've always thought that rapid growth in hardware performance simply leads to lazy programming, programming who's inefficiencies grow to use that performance. Granted, apple has an advantage here by having a handful of devices confined to a walled garden, they are able to have a nicer time when it comes to optimisation.

Also see the PS3 and XBOX 360. Look at their hardware. Its fricken ancient and yet, highly optimised programs mean they're still relevant even though hardware performance has sky rocketed on PC and now in the new consoles.

KitKat, from what I have seems to be addressing this. I have heard its not as demanding on resources and that is a good thing. With current crappy battery life across all smartphones, being less power hungry can only be good.


November 17, 2013, 8:58 pm

you are partially right, there is a case to be made to compare andoid v ios with windows v osx, where osx needs only to deal with about 20 30 configs, most of them all in ones or laptops whereas windows has to deal with millions of different ones.

i saw a stat recently that shows that more than 11000 distinct types of android device were operating. That kind of commoditising always comes with a efficiency penalty

however, the ram thing, i don't think its that simple, don't forget that apple acctualy made it nearly impossible for a long time for any non apple app to multitask, and even today (small screen to) multitasking is done less than on android, the ram size is getting bigger but the growth seems to be in devices which would be natural for multitasking, ie tablets and phablets.

alex mason

November 17, 2013, 9:01 pm

Some very good points there Ton.


November 17, 2013, 9:04 pm

it is actually a bit of a cheat, the s4 pro has last years name but it was produces with a newer template than that.

also as far as day to day use is concerned i have yet to see anybody say that the qualcomm cpu is a problem, The other factors, store, screen etc will be an issue and there the (half as expensive) nexus 7 is not behind the mini, the simple fact that i can buy a 32 gb nexus 7 for 255 euro, while a mini with 32gb will cost me about 500 is a big difference. If money is not an issue i guess use would be, browsing would be the mini, video the nexus

The amazon ones are interesting but limited by no access to the play store.


November 17, 2013, 9:19 pm

I suspected that was the case (with regard to the SoC). I was recently looking into a tablet to replace my old iPad 2, and I was trying to choose between the iPad mini 2 and the Nexus 7. I ended up getting the mini specifically for the apps and iMessages.

George Washington✓

December 10, 2013, 9:49 am

The whole reason iOS doesn't need more ram is because it's locked to running on HFS file system. Which was written primarily for single threaded Motorola chips and Floppy Disk storage. Even though Apple upgraded it to HFS+, all that added really was the ability to utilize Apple's "Preemptive Task Management". Which is basically an add on feature to suspend one task in order to run a more important one!

This is as close to true full Multitasking as Apple has gotten to, except in both Copland (true ground up 64bit kernel (Nukernel) w/ pervasive multithreading for IBM PowerPC RISC chips) and Rhapsody OS (used as Server OS preview of OS X on BSD FFS Fast File System).

The really great thing Apple missed out on when Amelio killed Copland to buy BeOS or NeXTStep, was it was no doubt as good as either of the systems Apple was trying to buy and it's 64bit Nukernel sat on a relational database file system w/ full pervasive multithreading and real multitasking. It's really a shame that Copland was killed.

Because if it hadn't, it would have forced Microsoft to actually finish Windows Cairo/WinFS Project in the 90's to compete with Copland. Which was really another outstanding example of Apple's own innovative engineers and development every bit as good as NeXTStep and BeOS! ......and of the three modern OS's, only Copland could run Apple's own native Mac programs, frameworks and API's without stacking layers of abstraction on top of an archaic old file system with it's own 2040 DEATH Wish Bug in HFS+!

I can't imagine why Apple is still hanging onto this old file system, when they've had so many chances to kill it. First with Copland, next why didn't go to FFS like what BFS runs on? Top this off with ZFS from Sun. A 128bit file system that can be configured as a relational database file system for Enterprise Oracle Servers and Cloud based computing! ....it's around 10yrs ahead of any other file system out today and the crazy thing is that Apple's Copland (possibly based on Copeland database system) File System could have easily been reconfigured as a 128bit file system!

In all reality this is the main difference between the two systems of Android vs iOS. One still relies on "Preemptive Task Management" vs the other being fully capable of "Preemptive Multitasking"!

So while iOS relies on tasks stacked one on top of the other, Android like Linux is fully capable of Pervasive Multithreading and Multitasking. If you can only run one task at a time while suspending the rest, naturally iOS will appear to be faster. But..... if you could actually test Multitasking side by side, Android would kill iOS in performance by being able to run more than one task at a time!!!

On OS X they run HFSX on top of HFS+ and so it can run limited Multitasking, but only on these virtual sub file systems and not on HFS+ itself!


December 16, 2013, 2:25 pm

The amount of cluelessness in this comment is amazing.


December 17, 2013, 12:32 pm

Would you care to explain why? We don't have a problem with people disagreeing, but it's makes for a better discussion if you actually back you point up with an explanation.

Andrew Munster

December 18, 2013, 12:43 am

You andrones need realise that apple tables have bench marks 33% faster then their nearest rival. BTW it is 1mb of ram..

Andrew Munster

December 18, 2013, 12:50 am

Apple has had true multitasking since 0SX 10.00 and with that multitasking they developed the protective memory system where each program runs in it own memory bubble if it crashes then it does not crash other programs that are running and the system windows included that tech with window 7 8years later.

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