Like it or not, ready or not, Apple has rolled out the follow-up to the (mildly) successful first-generation iPad mini, causing a stir in the entire tech landscape and forcing a recalculation of how things stand in the smaller than 10-inch tablet arena.
Though in good old Cupertino fashion the Mini 2 (aka Mini Retina) takes more than a few design cues from its predecessor and looks to be an incremental update in many ways rather than a full-blown page-turner, the bumps that the fresh 7.9-incher does pack are undoubtedly major and bound to bring about trouble to the Android side.
Also, if I’m to be completely honest the screen resolution ante upping took me a little by surprise, signaling for once that Apple feared the Android threat and thus had to bring something new (well, kind of) to the table.
Adding a souped-up battery and the all-hailed 64-bit A7 processor in the equation only makes Google aficionados sweat some more, as their, nay our 7-inch heroes, the 2013 Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7, will need to fend off a much mightier rival than last year’s iPad mini to conquer the throne.
Are they able to keep it at bay? What are the two’s advantages and flaws in a face-to-face smackdown with the latest and possibly proudest member of the iPad family? Let’s see, shall we?
You know what the ultimate tell is in regards to Apple’s changed attitude to Android slates and their anxiety of Google and Amazon catching up? That, unlike the full-sized iPad, the Mini leaves aesthetics out of the “upgrade”, being heavier and ever so slightly thicker than its forefather.
Android players should be flattered, albeit I’m sad to admit that, purely from a visual standpoint, the iPad mini Retina is clearly the most striking fellow of the three. Despite rocking significantly extra screen real estate compared with the 2013 N7, it’s just as tall (200 mm) and over an inch thinner (7.5 vs. 8.7 mm).
As for the Fire HDX, that bad boy manages to shrink the bezels and keep the overall package a little shorter than the iPad mini 2. Too bad it’s all in all chunky, tipping the scales at 311 grams (vs. 290 for the N7) and measuring 9 mm in thickness.
Oh, and let’s not get started with build materials and quality. The two Android competitors are clearly at a disadvantage there and there’s no point in denying it.
“Retina” is a sneaky, deceptive and void-of-all-meaning marketing term coined by Apple to fool fools, but the reality is staring us in the face and we can’t refute it without losing credibility. iPad mini 2’s display, unlike the one on the first-gen, is spectacular. Period.
Is it better than Kindle Fire HDX’s? On paper, not exactly, since the pixel density is nearly identical: 324 vs. 323. But in reality, it most likely is, as plenty of reviewers have complained of lack of crispness on Amazon’s new tablet, as well as shady viewing angles.
Meanwhile, pitting the other two panels against one another is virtually impossible until the Mini 2 reviews start trickling in, so for the time being let’s call it a draw between Nexus 7’s 7-incher with 1,920 x 1,200 pix res and Apple’s 7.9-inch 2,048 x 1,536 unit.
Processing speed, RAM and cameras
As it seems to be universally accepted nowadays that the 64-bit Apple A7 SoC inside the iPhone 5s makes the petite 4-incher much zippier than its Android rivals (I’m not convinced, but what do I know?), it’s to be expected that it will also push iPad mini 2’s raw speed clearly ahead of the N7 2013 (packing a quad-core S4 Pro CPU) and Fire HDX 7 (with Snapdragon 800 inside).
Moving on, Apple’s 7.9-incher is reported to come with an apparently modest 1 gig of RAM in tow, so half of the other two’s memory, but even the most biased Android fans have to admit multitasking has never and will probably never be a problem in the iOS decor.
Finally, I’m afraid we can’t put one in the win column as far as cameras go either, with iPad mini 2’s 5 MP/1.2 MP snappers defeating N7’s equally as pixel-filled but more modest feature-wise cams by a whisker. Amazon’s Fire HDX? It doesn’t even play in the same league, lacking a rear-facing shooter.
Software and battery life
Could Apple have done everything right for maybe the first time in half a decade? It certainly appears so, as the iPad mini 2 runs iOS 7 out the box and features an outstanding 23.8 Wh battery supposedly capable of running for up to 10 hours on a single charge.
That’s at least 60 minutes better than N7 and Fire HDX’s autonomy, though we’ll of course have to put the 7.9-incher to a test or two before taking the 10-hour number for granted.
Turning our attention back to the software for one last second, let’s reiterate what we’ve covered so many times before. Android is better than iOS in many, many ways, but the tablet-specific ecosystem is just more functional and richer in Apple’s backyard. Trust me, that’s not an easy fight to concede.
Pricing and availability
Finally, one duel where I’m ecstatic to say Android wins by a mile: pricing. Phew, it was this close for it all to end with a humiliation. So hands down, the $230 N7 is the slate with the best bang for buck factor, as Apple’s iPad mini 2 is set to start at $400, right?
Not so fast. No, I haven’t gone crazy and I’d never, ever, ever splash that kind of cash on a 7.9-incher. But if the first-gen iPad mini sold like hotcakes… for a while at $350, do you honestly think the much better Mini 2 won’t become a blockbuster in no time just because it’s 50 bucks pricier? Exactly.
And this leads me to the conclusion. The iPad mini 2 is better than the Nexus 7 2013 and Kindle Fire HDX 7. End of story. Granted, it’s expensive and so if you can’t afford it, the N7 becomes your best choice, but otherwise I say go for it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to drown my sorrow in a bottle of scotch and burn the keyboard I wrote these lines on.