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iPad Mini 2 (Retina)

When the iPad Mini originally came out about a year ago, It seemed a good idea. At the time I had a third-generation iPad which had fared pretty well. In fact, I’d got to the stage where I could do 90% of the things I did on my computer on the iPad instead - with the added advantage that it didn’t need to be booted up or shut down.

In long-term use, I had two criticisms of my Retina iPad. One was that it took an absolute eternity to charge, about eight hours from a completely flat battery. It was also hard to use single-handedly for a significant period of time. The battery size significantly contributed to the weight - but of course it’s only in long-term usage that you realise that. Your hand starts to ache. It was never really a particularly good device to read a book on.

However, at the beginning of the year I managed to get the long-term loan of a first-generation iPad mini, which I quite enjoyed using. It didn’t have the bulk, but then again it didn’t have the retina screen either. Maybe it’s just me, but once you’ve got used to the improved screen you don’t want to go back. I couldn’t help but notice the difference, therein being my dilemma - greater portability at the sacrifice of the screen and processor or vice-versa.

Until now, anyway.....

It was obvious that Apple were going to give the iPad Mini a retina display at some point. Now they’ve done it, with the added bonus that they’ve used the same 64-bit processor as the iPhone 5S. That means the new iPad Mini is just a smaller version of the full-sized iPad Air. Dilemma solved, I’ve made the jump and upgraded.

To give you a size comparison versus other objects, I’ve included a few shots below. You’ll notice that mine’s covered in a skin - if you like the look of them, have a look at gelaskins.com for further details.

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Comparison vs a Kindle Fire HD, both sat on my 13-inch Macbook Air.

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It’s a thin device - a side comparison, also with a Macbook Air.

Apple make the usual claim that you’ll get at least ten hours out of the battery. I was concerned that because the device was smaller, the battery wouldn’t hold up so well. I was wrong. With a mixture of web-browsing, e-mail, Twitter, gaming, iPlayer and SSH/VNC sessions, I get well over fifteen hours on a single charge - and that’s leaving the device permanently on standby when I’m not using it. The longer you can leave your battery between charges, the less you have to charge it, meaning that your battery holds up better in the long-run. I’m impressed.

Despite the smaller size, the keyboard is still reasonably accurate to type on (I’ve typed this post on it) and the skinnier profile is a distinct bonus. This is a much more portable device that doesn't skimp on usability - and the A7 processor means it feels so much snappier.

The only stumbling block I've noticed so far is that some applications haven't been rebuilt yet to run on the device. I can't say as to whether that's due to the retina display or the 64-bit processor, but a few games seem to have some odd visual glitches. However, as before, updates will come.

If you use the camera (something I only do occasionally), then you'll probably notice that it's had an improvement too. The rear camera is 5MP, the front 1.2MP. That probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but the image quality seems to have improved a fair bit. The iPad doesn't have a flash, but then again it's a strange breed of tourist that goes around using their iPad as their main camera for holiday snaps. I can't really say I'm bothered. Here's a sample picture:

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The above is an example of an image taken in poor light. Obviously it’s grainy, but I’ve seen far worse.

What Apple have done with the iPad Mini is turn it into a very mobile productivity device. Here I am, listening to BBC Radio 6, tapping away in Evernote - and aside from the small form factor, this isn't really much different from doing the same on a regular computer. Sure, it doesn't have USB slots. Yes, it doesn't have options for additional storage and you pay the usual Apple premium for more, but for regular work, the 16GB or 32GB options will do most people just fine. Ultimately, the improved screen and performance mean that movie/photo editing on the go are reasonable propositions now - and with such good battery life, the reason to leave home with your laptop seems to ever diminish. It also charges far, far quicker than it used to. I charge mine from my iPhone charger and it takes about half the time it used to.

Have Apple ironed out all my niggles? Yes, it’s an enjoyable device to use. It’s responsive, has a good quality screen, great battery life and the speakers do it justice, despite being pretty small. Should I recommend you to buy it? Well, that depends. If you want a small, nearly pocketable productivity appliance, then yes, it’s worth the money. However, if you’re one of those people that sits on the sofa and does occasional web-browsing, then perhaps not. The enhancements probably aren’t going to make much difference to you. In fact, a cheap Galaxy Tab would probably do the job, yes?

And that’s probably a weird way to round off an Apple device review. However, the tablet market has reached a degree of maturity now and I’m pretty sure you know whether you’re an iOS person or an Android person. On a personal note, I don’t really get on with Android - so for my purposes this will do just fine. If you’ve got an earlier generation iOS device, I can only recommend this as a device you might want to upgrade to.
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