At its October 22 media event, Apple announced a new iPad mini with Retina display, as well as lower prices for the original iPad mini, giving its smaller tablet much-anticipated upgrades to its screen, processor, cameras, and more.
New iPad mini with Retina display
For starters—and as we had hoped and expected—the new iPad mini with Retina display ups the screen resolution to Retina quality, going from 1024 by 768 pixels to 2048 by 1536 pixels at the same 7.9-inch (diagonal) screen size. This change raises the iPad mini’s pixel density from 163 pixels per inch to 326 pixels per inch—a density almost identical to that of the iPhone 5s.
The new mini gets some upgrades on the inside, as well. Whereas the original mini used the same dual-core A5 processor, at the same clock speed, as the two-and-a-half-year-old iPad 2, the new mini line bumps its horsepower significantly by using Apple’s 64-bit A7 processor, similar to the one in the iPhone 5s. During Tuesday’s media event, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller said that the new processor makes the Retina iPad mini up to four times as fast as its predecessor for processor-intensive tasks, and up to eight times faster for graphics-intensive tasks. Like the new full-size iPad, the iPad mini with Retina display also features Apple’s M7 motion coprocessor, which can monitor the device’s various motion sensors (accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope) without having to wake the main processor.
The new mini also gains upgraded wireless capabilities thanks to dual Wi-Fi antennas and support for MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology. Apple says this change allows the new iPad mini to communicate at up to twice the bandwidth: 300 Mbps (megabits per second). The cellular-equipped versions of the new iPad mini also include expanded LTE capabilities, allowing them to work on more LTE networks around the world.
Apple has also upgraded the iPad mini’s cameras slightly. Though the resolution of those cameras hasn’t changed (5 megapixels for the rear camera, 1.2 megapixels for the front FaceTime HD camera), the company says the new iPad mini gains larger pixels and improved backside illumination sensors in order to take better low-light photos. In addition, the improved image-signal processing of the A7 processor should provide better overall camera performance.
(It’s not yet clear how much RAM the new mini gets. Apple never publishes this particular spec, so we’ll have to wait for the inevitable iPad mini teardowns. iFixit’s teardown of the original iPad mini revealed 512MB of RAM.)
Apple says the new iPad mini with Retina display offers the same 10-hour battery life as the original iPad mini. However, it appears that accomplishing this feat while adding the additional power drain of a Retina display required Apple to increase—ever so slightly—the size and weight of the new iPad mini. The new version is exactly the same height (200mm) and width (134.7mm) as the original, but it’s a tiny bit thicker (7.5mm compared to 7.2mm) and a little bit heavier: 331 grams versus 308 grams for the Wi-Fi model, and 341 grams versus 312 grams for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version.
The iPad mini with Retina display will be available in silver/white or Space Gray/black “later in November,” according to Apple. The Wi-Fi versions will cost $399 for 16GB, $499 for 32GB, $599 for 64GB, and $699 for 128GB—a first in that capacity for the iPad mini. Cellular versions add $130 to each: $529, $629, $729, and $829, respectively.
By all accounts, the original iPad mini has been a big hit for Apple, even though other small tablets, such as the latest Nexus 7, have debuted with better specs or lower prices. The new iPad mini line should blunt some of that spec-sheet-based criticism.
Original iPad sticks around
While Apple is introducing a brand-new iPad mini line, the company is keeping the original iPad mini around—in a single configuration—as a lower-price option. Specifically, the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad mini is now priced at $299, rather than its original price of $329, with the Wi-Fi + Cellular version at $429. The cellular version is available for the U.S. networks of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
Apple did make one minor change to the original iPad mini: It’s now available in Space Gray or Silver, rather than the original black or white. It is available now.
Both iPad mini versions (Retina and non-Retina) ship with iOS 7 installed, and—as with all devices running iOS 7—allow you to download Apple’s iLife and iWork suites for iOS free of charge.
New iPad mini cases
Finally, Apple announced new cases for its new Retina iPad mini. The new iPad mini Smart Cover, made of polyurethane, will sell for $39. A new leather iPad Smart Case will cost $69.
Updated 11/4/13, 4pm, to correct Wi-Fi speed.