We all can agree that the iPad mini probably never should have existed without a Retina Display. For many, it was a step backwards for Apple, and something Apple once said it would never do.
In fact, calling 7-inch tablets dead on arrival, Steve Jobs, elaborated:
“While one could increase the resolution to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. Apple has done extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.”
This quote has made its way around the Internet plenty of times. Point being, we found it odd that just two years later, Apple was going all-in on the tiny tablet market. Yet, at the very same time, it was cutting profit margins and corners to make it happen.
As excited as we were to see the iPad in a smaller form factor, the original iPad mini was a compromise in more ways than one. Apple fitted the tablet with dated specifications – a non-Retina Display, A5 chipset, half the RAM of the larger model, etc.
Apple’s iPad mini with Retina Display announcement today was a long time coming. Rumors of the Retina Display in the 7.9-inch tablet date back to upwards of a year ago. And although the original is still for sale, we can begin to forget about how terrible its display and performance was, in respect to its peers.
We now have a serious, high-end miniature tablet from Apple. And that begs one question: iPad mini with Retina Display or the 2013 Nexus 7?
That’s no simple question to answer. It’s as loaded as they come. But I’m going to break it down the best way I know how.
Build quality and design
On the outside, we reason to say the iPad mini is the best designed of the two. Made almost entirely of aluminum, its chassis is as premium as we could possibly ask for. Its super thin, lightweight, and offers very minimal bezel along the sides of the display.
The Nexus 7, on the other hand, is almost entirely covered in a soft touch plastic. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it certainly feels cheaper in the hand than the iPad mini.
Both tablets are 200mm tall. The Nexus 7 is lighter (by 41g) and 20.7 mm narrower, but the iPad mini is 1.2mm thinner.
This section is more personal opinion than anything. So I’ll add my own personal take. In general, I like the size and shape of the Nexus 7 a little more. It’s easier to hold one-handed with a relaxed grip and feels natural in landscape or portrait mode. The iPad mini is a bit too wide for my personal tastes.
The Retina Display on the iPad mini measures 7.9-inches from corner to corner and bears a resolution of 2,048 by 1,560 pixels for a total density of 324 pixels per inch. The Nexus 7 similarly offers 323 pixels per inch with a 7-inch display at 1,920 by 1,200 pixels.
We haven’t had a chance to get our hands on the new iPad mini yet, but if its larger sibling or any other existing Retina Displays are any indication, it will be incredibly accurate and sharp, with great contrast, fair black levels, and wide viewing angles. In other words, we expect it will be just as great as all the other Retina Displays. Apple can’t afford to release another iPad mini with an awful display.
The new Nexus 7 also has a great display. The color reproduction is fantastic, contrast is great, viewing angles are wide, brightness is fair, and black levels are respectable.
In terms of display quality, chances are, you can’t go wrong with either tablet.
Specifications are somewhat difficult to directly compare, such as the 64-bit Apple A7 chip with the Snapdragon S4 Pro with the Krait 300 CPU. But we can try to make this rather black and white.
The Nexus 7 has double the RAM of the iPad mini – 2GB to the mini’s 1GB. The iPad mini, however, comes in twice as many storage options (16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB), offering four times the max capacity (32GB) of the Nexus 7. Both have 5-megapixel primary cameras and 1.2-megapixel front cameras. And the Nexus 7’s battery is rated 15Wh, while the iPad mini’s is 23.8Wh.
Take those for what you will.
The Nexus 7 can muster some pretty impressive battery life in use. It’s not the greatest ever, but the 3,950mAh battery is sufficient for a full day of use … and then some. And the original iPad mini offered stellar stamina, as per usual.
The problem with the Nexus 7, as many can attest to, is the standby time. The battery life drops dramatically after a few hours of inactivity.
The new iPad mini with Retina Display, like every iPad before it, is rated at 10 hours of use. With 7.5Wh more than the last model (to accommodate for the extra pixels and A7 chip), we’d be surprised if it offered anything different. In this category, the iPad has a slight advantage.
After all is said and done, however, the Nexus 7 is the better deal, hands down. It’s a fantastic tablet at a great price. The 16GB Wi-Fi model starts at $229 – a full $100 cheaper than the original asking price of the iPad mini. The 32GB model is only $40 more at $269. And add $80 to that price for the 32GB LTE model.
The Retina Display iPad mini starts at a staggering $399. Each capacity is an additional $100: 32GB for $499, 64GB for $599, and 128GB for $699. To add cellular connectivity, add $130 to each model, meaning the iPad mini ranges from $399 to $829.
What does this mean? The most expensive Nexus 7 (32GB with LTE) is still $50 cheaper than the least expensive iPad mini (16GB Wi-Fi only). The comparable iPad mini (32GB with LTE) is $280 more than the LTE Nexus 7. That means you could buy an LTE Nexus 7 and a 32GB Wi-Fi Nexus 7 for the price of one 32GB LTE iPad mini with Retina Display. Ouch.
So which should you buy? If you’re using Apple’s ecosystem and don’t mind stomaching the extra cash, the new iPad mini is not a bad way to go. It’s the same iPad mini as before, but significantly better in both sore areas from before: display and horsepower. If, however, you want the absolute best bang for your buck, go with the Nexus 7 … or two.