Update: Thinking of other tablets to buy? I’ve updated the competition section, and updated the interface to include all the goodies from iOS 9.2.1.
The iPad mini 2 was, in 2013, Apple’s 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, I was 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 (although you’re now stuck with 32GB maximum).
On top of that, there’s the much-needed Retina screen (as the name might have told you) and an improvement in battery size over the first iPad mini 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. While it’s dropped since the launch of the iPad mini 3 and iPad mini 4, you’re still looking at £219 (US$269, AU$369) for the lowest-spec 16GB model with Wi-Fi connectivity only – and Australia didn’t even get a price drop!
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Given Apple’s decision to allow users to download the iWork catalog for free, as well as Garageband and iMovie, you’ll really be looking at buying the 32GB tablet option to keep things sane.
The doubling of the internal storage will set you back another £40/$50/AU$60, but it’s well worth the extra expense in my eyes.
Despite an arrival of a slew of cheaper Android tablets in recent years, the iPad mini 2 does still feel like decent value for money given that 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.
I’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.
The iPad mini 2 is an excellent device. There’s no other way to look at it. I was pretty impressed with the original mini when it launched, but bemoaned the low-res screen and under-powered chipset powering things along.
So I fully expected the iPad mini 2 to be another sidekick to a bigger brother, and with the iPad Air showing itself at the time to be the best tablet on the market, I 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 an A7 CPU was 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 original iPad mini didn’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 over its predecessor 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 that 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, but in all honesty, it’s just not needed.
When reviewing the iPad mini 2, I’ve compared it to the previous version of the smaller tablet, both with and without the newer iOS versions. 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 second generation.
With the screen turned off, there’s very little difference between the iPad minis 1 and 2 – 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 of the original mini 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 then 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, I did find that on occasion for browsing the internet I was 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 rest of the market, then the second it’s thrust into your palms you’ll realize that there’s no comparison between this and many other competitors when it comes to build quality.
While the most recent Nexus 7 from Asus showcased a much-improved design, it was still a rubberized device that relied on plastic to make it feel robust and a little lighter – and of course it’s since been discontinued.
The iPad mini 2 also had an improved design over its predecessor, but it’s hugely more impressive. It’s not quite enough to warrant the price difference between this and, say, Amazon’s 8-inch tablet – and any Amazon fan would have a very valid reason for purchasing that tablet instead.
But Apple’s design is easily the best on the market. The smooth covering, machined speaker holes and gently curved edges all combine very well to create a really secure feeling that this is the device that it was worth forking out a little more for. And it really is only a little more now, as it’s dropped in price since being superseded.
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 Touch ID on offer here, and I’m torn over whether this is a big miss. I use it all the time on the iPhone 6S and iPad mini 4, but that’s only because it’s there. It makes using the phone marginally easier, which is nice.
It’s missed on the iPad mini 2 for a couple of reasons. First, you’re more inclined to pick this tablet up like a phone, meaning your natural impulse is to hold the power button.
Second, 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, indeed the original Air – and it’s not like its omission is enough to upgrade to the otherwise very similar iPad mini 3.
The Retina display on the iPad mini 2 was overdue. It should have appeared on the first version, but either Apple was struggling to get that technology in at the right price at the time, or just wanted to leave something for users to upgrade to. Whatever the reason, it felt very late when it arrived.
Given there were multiple rumors of Apple’s iPad mini 2 screens being hard to produce, leading to delays just after launch, I can perhaps believe the earlier version of events – but given Apple’s larger profit margins, I reckon that if it had wanted to it could have launched a Retina iPad mini straight off.
Anyway, the good news is that it arrived eventually, and it still 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 slightly more washed-out colors compared to the Air tablets, but only in side-by-side comparisons is this evident – I couldn’t help but be impressed by the added sharpness every time I turned on the smaller tablet.
In fact it’s so much better that when I handed this device to an iPad mini owner they were visibly upset – you could see they wanted to upgrade from a device that cost a fair amount only a year before the iPad mini 2 debuted.
I’m 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 that of TVs before widescreen came in.
This means video needs the black bars above and below – and that did seem horribly last-generation. However, since then many other 4:3 tablets have come onto the market to compete with Apple’s lower-cost slate, showing that it might not have been the worst idea after all.
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 725,000-plus dedicated iPad apps, the larger screen (at 7.9 inches) is excellent, offering more space by expanding the sides a little more.
So while the video experience seems a little marred, I 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: I’m 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 Airs (1,536 x 2,048) and higher-res than much of the competition (Amazon’s Fire HD 8 is stuck on 800 x 1,200) you’ve delivered a really cracking screen that goes far beyond what would be acceptable on a tablet.
Some have claimed it was 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 released in the same year, is really impressive too.
However, let’s get a bit more technical now: the only problem, if I was to identify one, is that Apple hasn’t made the best screen on the market, according to DisplayMate. Ray Soneira of the laboratory testing facility ran competing displays through a variety of tests, and while the mini 2 performs fairly well in most scenarios it was often bested by the competition of the time – namely the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and the 2013 Nexus 7.
Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies
For instance, while all three showed a really good level of sharpness at distance and differing viewing angles, and critically performed well when being calibrated, in many cases the iPad mini 2 came up short. For instance, the color reproduction wasn’t as good compared to the other two, and the contrast wasn’t as accurate.
The iPad Mini 2 definitely errs on the more ‘natural’ when it comes to color reproduction, according to DisplayMate’s findings, and in our own side-by-side tests I noted the same thing. The iPad Mini 2 takes things too far at times, where the others show a clear and rich picture, especially when viewing photos.
This leads to lower color accuracy too, where the others managed it quite happily; again, natural options are to the fore here. I noticed that the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX had the best screen of the three for movies and photos, which is down to two things: dynamic contrast and the use of quantum dot technology.
Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies
The former you’ll be able to see easily: lower the brightness on the screen when looking at a photo and the decrease won’t be uniform. This might sound bad, but what it does is keep the darker scenes well lit, so you can still make out all portions of the screen without losing the overall visibility. For a tablet that some might say is only there to enable users to buy more things, the technology is very effective.
But what of Quantum Dots? Here’s what DisplayMate had to say on the subject: “Quantum Dots are almost magical because they use Quantum Physics to produce highly saturated primary colors for LCDs that are similar to those produced by OLED displays.
“They not only significantly increase the size of the Color Gamut by 40-50 percent but also improve the power efficiency by an additional 15-20 percent. Instead of using White LEDs (which have yellow phosphors) that produce a broad light spectrum that makes it hard to efficiently produce saturated colors, Quantum Dots directly convert the light from Blue LEDs into highly saturated primary colors for LCDs.”
You can head over to the DisplayMate report to see the full findings of the tablet test, but the results were that while the Amazon and Google tablets were matched in terms of performance, the iPad Mini 2 had less-accurate color reproduction, and lower peak brightness while still drawing the most power – it was also the most reflective.
That said, I do like the natural reproduction of the iPad Mini 2; the other two did err on the ‘impressive’ side when it comes to display type, which can grate slightly at times but wow most others.
However, the iPad mini 2 is the only one of those three tablets still officially on sale – so whatever the pros and cons of the screen, it’s lasted longer than the competition.
The iPad mini 2’s interface won’t be a surprise to anyone running a current iPhone or iPad, as it launched with iOS 7 and can now be updated to iOS 9, or more specifically iOS 9.2.1.
But beyond the new features I’m 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, you might ask, why make a point of highlighting the speed of the iPad mini 2?
Well, it’s just virtually flawless through all kinds of tasks. A millisecond faster from a finger press might not seem like much, but if you do a hundred or a thousand of them in a day, and then go back to the first iPad mini, you’ll realise there’s a real difference in terms of operation.
Even two-and-a-half years down the line, the iPad mini 2 feels fast and responsive, and it’s easily able to cope with the rigours of iOS 9.
iOS 7, iOS 8 and iOS 9
Like it or loathe it, iOS 7 was still a real step forward for a company that desperately needed to refresh its offering in the face of stiff competition from Android. Since then, we’ve had two major mobile OS upgrades from Apple, further refining the software.
The 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.
Like most popular platforms that get upgraded, there was a large amount of flack coming Apple’s way for iOS 7, but 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 than they were previously.
They don’t even have a huge effect on battery life, which is impressive in itself.
One of the bigger features introduced with iOS 7 was the notification bar, accessed by dragging from the top of the tablet and providing access to updates, calendar entries and missed messages. iOS 8 made some clever tweaks to the Notification Center, and iOS 9 has added a bunch of new features.
Apple’s mobile OS has now developed to be a mature, easy-to-use, powerful operating system for mobile devices, and it works just fine on the iPad mini 2 – there’s no sluggishness just because you’re using older hardware.
As usual, to keep things simple Apple doesn’t like to provide too much in the way of customization options. For some that’s amazing, but 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 Apple’s UI that I’d like to laud here, but I 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.
Last year’s iOS 9 update brought a whole number of improvements and new features, from multitasking to an improved keyboard, the best version of Siri yet, much-needed improvements to Apple Maps, a News app and tweaks to the Notes app, making it more full-featured.
iOS 9.1 is less exciting but still well worth a download, as it fixes a number of bugs and adds 150 new emojis.
Spotlight is now much smarter than it used to be, presenting search results, app icons, frequently used contacts, news headlines and other content that it thinks you’re going to be interested in.
Slide Over is available – where you can run another app in a small sidebar – but you need a full-sized iPad to use Split View, where two apps are genuinely running side by side.
Also new in iOS 9 is a Low Power Mode, which turns off some background syncing and processes when you’re running out of juice. It has seemed to make a small difference in battery life while the iPad is idle, although it’s always been good at holding a charge while not in use.
There’s even a back button of sorts now, helping you retrace your steps back through iOS.
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 I’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 reasonably argue that the company is hoping enough people buy iPads as laptop replacements.
I will give a shout-out to the improvements ushered in with iOS 8 though – it now supports third-party keyboards, and even the stock keyboard is now a little better thanks to next-word suggestions. And courtesy of iOS 9 you can turn the keyboard into a trackpad by pressing and holding on it with two fingers.
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. iOS 9 introduced some extra improvements, including the ability to write on and annotate email attachments.
You get a decent column down one side to see all your missives, and a gentle swipe across enables 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.
I also like the VIP setting, which enables 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 it was in the original Mini. It’s the same camera as the one in the most recent iPad mini 4.
It has all the same easy functionality as the previous iterations, but makes things look so much better over a decent Wi-Fi connection. Face tracking 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 through, 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 I’m 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 excellent Retina 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.
Safari wasn’t neglected in the iOS 9 upgrade, and Apple’s own browser now supports third-party ad-blockers. A new sidebar, tab view and full-screen view were introduced back in iOS 8.
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, though, as while 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 I 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. (Safari on iOS now supports extensions as well).
In reality, all these reading modes don’t mean much when you’ve got such a speedy and responsive browser.
The iPad mini 2 was 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.
I’ve covered this in the 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 finally arrived on Apple’s small slates with 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 6S or even the iPhone 6S Plus.
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.
I would say that something like Google Chrome is a better bet if you’re a fan of simplicity though, as over time I found that I 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. I’m not saying that Safari is a bad browser or anything, but it’s worth thinking about the options 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 me.
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 I can only recommend you go with the 32GB version for your media collection.
Given I 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.
I’m 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 did at least have the option of the 128GB option as the highest tier device when the mini 2 launched, but that’s now been discontinued, and you’ll have to plump for the latest and greatest iPad mini 4 to get that much storage.
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 real 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.
The refreshed Apple Music app (now with added streaming) looks much better than its predecessor on the iPad, with a nice blend of functional tools and cover art.
The Now Playing screen takes color cues from the artwork of the song you’re listening to, and while the playlists screen remains rather sparse, the music app that comes with the iPad mini 2 now has the visual appeal to match its audio quality.
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 2 and the Amazon Kindle Fire tablets have better screens when it comes to color reproduction, giving a more natural-looking experience.
But once 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 codecs 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, I needed to re-encode the battery test video just to get 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 matters. Yes, unknown files will have odd thumbnails, but for the most part everything is 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.
I’m 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 app you find in Apple’s iPhones.
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. At least iOS 9 has added a timelapse feature.
There’s also an HDR mode, but even the filters, which have similar options available in the separate Photobooth app out of the box, aren’t available.
Given that the architecture is almost identical from the iPhone 5S to the iPad Air and mini 2, I can’t see why the options aren’t the same across the board.
I’m 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.
I’m more tolerant of this on a smaller iPad, and I have to say that despite only taking 5MP stills the output is very impressive.
The ability to lock the autofocus 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 I noted a couple of times when the autofocus took too long to kick in, when it got it right I was really pleased with the results.
Being able to edit them on the device with the new-look Photos app was brilliant too, although you’re more limited with what you can do with the smaller screen. I kept wishing I could edit them on the iPad Air 2 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 I was still rather worried about how the device would fare when it has to power more pixels and a much stronger engine than its immediate predecessor.
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 the original iOS 7.0.4 on board – 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 either the iPad mini or the mini 2, coming in with a 4% better score than the Retina iPad mini.
That may sound awful, but it’s all about that screen and the brightness (which is always set to the maximum for our tests). An hour of listening to Beats 1 with the screen off resulted in a much more acceptable 2% drop. The tablet also holds its charge well when it’s not in use and stuffed away in a drawer somewhere.
With the brightness lowered 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 two-to-three days, even with the added bonus of it being so portable, and for a tablet that’s easily enough.
It’s only if you’ve got the screen on constantly, with the brightness ramped up, that you’re going to run into problems after 3-4 hours.
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), which uses a load more antennas to give a really strong and stable connection to your router.
I tested this against the iPad mini, and close to the router speeds were relatively similar. However, as I moved further away things started to drop quickly on the original smaller iPad, while the new Retina-shod version managed to hold on more than admirably.
We’ve seen two iPad mini models since the second-generation one of course, but if you’re in a house that struggles to get Wi-Fi signal to the outlying rooms, this iPad will certainly help.
4G bands have also been supercharged in the same way as we saw on the iPad Air, and low-power Bluetooth is also on board, making the mini 2 an extremely well-connected device.
Apple has thrown in reams of free software with the iPad mini 2 (and other iOS devices too), so you now get access to the likes of Pages, Numbers, Keynote from the iWork tribe, as well as iMovie and GarageBand for free.
These are incredibly powerful tools for what is still essentially a cut-down mobile device – I can’t say that I’d recommend using them regularly without a keyboard (in the case of iWork) but elements such as GarageBand really give you the chance to express yourself fluidly.
When you consider the iPad mini 2 as an ideal gadget to gift someone else, 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 Garageband when you want to be precise in your chord strumming or drumming – the larger iPad Air models are more adept here.
That said, the portability of the mini 2, despite not being that far ahead of the slimmed down iPad Air slates, is a real help when you want to be creative on the go.
On top of that, I still feel the need to laud the Apple App Store for offering 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 usability thanks to constant upgrades – it even has public transit directions for a limited number of places (including London).
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 (8-inch)
With the Google Nexus 7 now officially discontinued, the Galaxy Tab S2 is arguably the closest Android challenger to the iPad mini 2 in terms of size and price.
It’s thinner than the iPad mini 2 (5.6mm vs 7.5mm), although sticks with the same 4:3 dimensions and indeed an identical 1,536 x 2,048 pixel resolution. The screen size is a shade bigger at a round eight inches.
The AMOLED screen looks nice and bright, and Samsung’s usual excellence in the display manufacturing department is in evidence again here.
On the downside, the Galaxy Tab S2 has a terrible camera, and a battery life that’s pretty underwhelming. Perhaps the biggest negative, however, is Android: it just doesn’t work as well on a tablet as it does on a phone, and developers seem reluctant to optimize their apps for the larger screen sizes.
Considering that the iPad mini 2 is faster, has a better design and a richer and more robust apps catalog, and is significantly cheaper, it’s still beating the best Android has to offer.
Amazon Fire HD 8
Amazon has bought out such a wide variety of tablets since the iPad mini 2 debuted, you’d be forgiven for not remembering them all – it’s a sign that Apple has got its formula right while Jeff Bezos continues to experiment – but right now the Fire HD 8 is closest to the iPad mini 2 if you’re thinking of making a purchase.
It’s ridiculously cheap at £129.99/$149.99, but that ends up being its biggest plus point; otherwise it’s a bit of a disappointment, unless you’re a huge fan of Amazon’s online content offerings.
The point I made earlier about a premium price being worth it for a premium experience really applies here: the Fire HD 8 has a low-res 800 x 1,280 screen, a maximum of 16GB internal space (although you can expand it via microSD card) and no cellular data option.
You don’t even get the best of the Google Play Store, as Amazon offers its own app store instead, so apps is another area where the Amazon slate can’t really compete.
The Fire HD 8 isn’t available in Australia, but you can pick up the slightly smaller Fire HD 7 tablet for AU$179. Again, it’s worth paying extra for the iPad mini 2.
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 facilitates 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 I 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 I’d say they should definitely check out the Air first – after all, not much more money for a 1.8-inch jump in screen size is nothing to be sniffed at.
If money is no issue there’s also the newer iPad Air 2 of course. It’s significantly more expensive than the iPad mini 2, but packs in more power, a bigger screen and Touch ID.
iPad mini 4
The iPad mini 4 is the tablet the mini 3 should have been, and the first real successor to the iPad mini 2.
A faster processor, Touch ID and a brilliant screen top the list of reasons to choose the mini 4 over the mini 2, but it also has a slimmer build, a better camera and comes in larger storage sizes.
The iPad mini 2 is arguably the better value of these two tiny tablets, but if money is no object the iPad mini 4 is the better option, and will likely remain the best small slate around until the iPad mini 5 lands.
Hands on pictures
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when looking at the Retina iPad mini 2. 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 managed to really raise the bar set by the first iPad mini, creating a new standard in the mini iPad arena. There would be no iPad mini 4 without the iPad mini 2, and the latter is still arguably better value.
The design of the iPad mini was great the first time around; 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 me with the all-encompassing aluminum design.
I’d also like to applaud Apple for managing to get large battery and powerful processor under the hood to make a tablet that led the market when it first appeared, and both of those features still work very well.
Battery life remains strong with iOS 9, 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 I’m 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 makes for a tablet that’s beyond par in so many ways.
Talking of things I’m tired of talking about, I’m 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 their ecosystems, Apple is taking that normal route of charging a bit more to make a profit – albeit the cost is much more palatable now.
And forcing you to use its ecosystem, of course.
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 on some competitors’ screens, but I can’t really call that a problem.
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.
I’m 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 is well worth the investment.
The iPad mini 2 was almost flawless in so many ways when it launched. The rich app catalog meant it was a device that will grow with you, and the 64-bit A7 chip and Retina display were certainly future-proofing users from finding themselves with an outdated device.
The design is still the best in the tablet category, even though it’s been a couple of years since launch.
The update to iOS 9 has improved things too – you can read about all the new features here, but in short it’s helped bring some lovely tweaks to the system.
Even gaming is decent on this tablet, which is essentially all the first mini should have been… and a little more.
The upshot is that, despite being a couple of years old, it’s a decent tablet for the money. Apple is going to keep supporting it for a couple of years, and it’s packing the same screen resolution as the current iPad mini 4 (although with inferior technology).
It feels great, it’s still fairly rapid at opening and closing apps, and thankfully there’s still a 32GB variant on offer.
It’s definitely the best budget tablet out there, and still worth a look as a gift – even if you might have to think about upgrading in a year or two.