One Day with Retina iPad mini: The iPad I’ve Always Wanted

| Dave Hamilton's Blog

For a year now I've known that I'd get the Retina iPad Mini. Apple sent me the first (non-Retina) model to test last year and I fell in love with the size. I traveled with it (even took it on a cruise) and it was downright perfect. But I had to send that one back to Apple, and just 6 months prior I had purchased a perfectly-acceptable 3rd generation Retina iPad. There was no good excuse to trade that in, plus I'd become somewhat attached to its Retina screen. I resigned myself to waiting a year and knew I'd get the Retina iPad mini as soon as it came out.

...Until I touched the iPad Air at Apple's Event a few weeks ago. That gave me pause. The Air is so light, and it really does fit my main requirement for wanting the mini: I can hold it in one hand and read. I hemmed and hawed about that for a few days and finally decided I'd hold out for the mini. In a sense it was the safe bet in that I knew the size worked for me, but it was a bit of a gamble: how would I feel truly living on the smaller iPad?

The answer: It feels great. And now it looks great, too, thanks to that crystal clear Retina screen. I got lucky and scored one of the first LTE models to make it to my neck of the woods. All day yesterday I refreshed the iPad mini inventory tracker we found, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw the Space Grey 64GB T-Mobile model come up green. I canceled my original ship-to-me order and off to the store I went!

Just One Night

I restored from a backup of my iPad 3, so everything was exactly as I had it previously, which makes for a great test. Within about five minutes I had completely forgotten that I was looking at a smaller screen. It really doesn't feel any smaller. Perhaps this is because I'm holding it a little closer to my eyes, I'm not sure. Either way, it simply works and I don't notice the decrease in size despite using it in exactly the same way.

Well, I noticed the decrease in size, but only in a positive way: I'm able to hold the device in one hand while using it. This made for an especially different experience as I lay down in bed: reading was no longer a chore where I needed to balance my iPad and/or feel my wrist get tired from holding it. This truly is the perfectly-sized iPad for me, and I haven't even taken it out-and-about yet. Reading alone makes the case for me.

How About All Those Old Cases?

As has been detailed on Apple's site, the Retina iPad mini is 0.3mm thicker than the original, non-Retina model. This is certainly noticeable when trying to fit one of the cases I have piled here in my office, but all of them fit, just perhaps a bit more snugly. I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of Folio cases people come up with specifically for the Retina mini and how they fit. I've long been a fan of Speck's MagFolio cases for my larger iPads, and am eager to see what they and others come up with for the Retina mini in coming months.

I did have an extra ClearProtector Nitro screen for the original iPad mini here, and that fit on the Retina mini perfectly. I've become enamored with the glass shields for my iPad and iPhone: after years of putting up with those nasty plastic shields it's a real treat to have glass to touch while still knowing I'm protected.

That Retina Screen

Indeed, it would be a shame to cover the Retina screen with anything but clear glass. Because the iPad mini has the same resolution as its larger-screened cousin it means the Retina mini's 326 pixels per inch (ppi) are an even better Retina screen than I had with my 264ppi iPad 3 (the iPhone 5 and 5S both are 326ppi, for reference). And yes, it shows... but only a little because the iPad 3's screen never felt pixelated to me (nor should it have: that's the point of Retina displays). But it is, quite obviously, markedly better than the original iPad mini where you easily can see the pixels in text and icons.

Who Needs More Speed?

I'm quite happy my new Retina iPad mini has an A7 processor and all of the latest tech. In theory this new one is more than twice as fast as my 3rd generation iPad. It certainly renders web pages faster than my previous iPad did, but that's almost irrelevant to me. The 3rd gen iPad never felt slow to me (even with iOS 7 on it). The Retina mini is certainly faster, and I'm sure down the road I'll care about that, so I'm glad I have the speed. I just don't notice it all that often... yet.

Why T-Mobile?

Because 200MB per month Free, that's why. And if I start with T-Mobile they give me a free nano-SIM with my iPad. I can always replace it with an AT&T nano-SIM (which AT&T will give me for free because I'm an existing customer with all my iPhones), but I figured this gives me some options. Adding the mini to AT&T would cost me $10/month to share my existing data plan, and 200MB free from T-Mobile saves me that expense. If I ever need more data I can either buy it from T-Mobile or simply Bluetooth (or Wi-Fi) tether from my iPhone's AT&T data.

Setting up my T-Mobile account was a breeze and, contrary to popular belief, I did not have to put a credit card on my account. It just works. Free. Moreso than beer, even (and I'm a gigging musician who gets a lot of free beer!).

The Perfect Mix

As I said above, the Retina iPad mini is the perfect iPad for me. It's the one I feel like I've been waiting for since the first iPad arrived. I am not someone who can usually travel with just an iPad, so for those types of trips I'll always have my 11" MacBook Air (Mid 2011 vintage) with me. That screen, like the iPad mini, is plenty big for me, and the size of the whole laptop is awesome. At the office, I go the other direction with a 27" iMac (Mid 2011 vintage, as well).

Those two computers serve me perfectly, and the iPad mini is the right size to fit into that mix. My iPad is the device I grab most often when on the couch, and even based on my tests last year the mini is quite comfortable to use watching movies in the cattle-class airplane seats in which I often find myself. It's entirely possible I'll be happy with this iPad for longer than the 18 months I lasted with the iPad 3. I'm curious to find out!

Popular TMO Stories



Funny; the space grey Mini with T-Mobile cellular is the same one that I’m almost certain that I’m going to buy. I’m leaning heavily towards 32gb though.

This year’s iPad updates has turned out to be pretty remarkable. With the new iPad Air, it looks like the only real argument for one or the other (aside from price) is the screen size.

I’ll be a first-time buyer; the one thing that will make me decide on an Air or Mini is how well you can type on one or the other. I’ve heard that the Mini is really good for thumb typing in portrait mode, and basically impossible to type with in landscape. Can you tell me what your experience has been with typing on it vs. a regular iPad, Dave, or do you mostly use yours for content consumption?

Dave Hamilton

@xmattingly I tend to be a thumb typer on the iPad. And yes, in portrait mode the mini (which I’m using as I type this response) is awesome. Rotating it creates a thumb-challenged scenario. In full keyboard mode one must either touch type or index-finger tap. If you prefer to thumb type, then split keyboard is the key, and it works quite well (I’m using that now smile


I have to completely agree…  I used a 3rd gen since the day it was released.  I was insanely lucky and got a Retina Mini 128 on release day (yes Tuesday) from the local BestBuy.  They had five 128s and nothing else. 

This little beauty is snappy with a beautiful display.  Like Dave I’ve not really noticed the size difference at all.  It just feels right.

I bought a 64 gb Air on opening day, used it for almost two weeks and was very happy with it after my 3rd gen.  I still thought it might be nice to have an even smaller, lighter device and was intrigued by the thought that the 128gb mini was the same price as my 64gb air. 

BestBuy was incredibly cooperative, they let me open and check out the Mini before I bought it, then let me use their wifi to do my initial configuration.  Within about 15 minutes I had seen the little beauty, fallen in love, wiped my Air and had the Mini set up then gotten out the door.

I dropped by the Apple Store for a black leather SmartCase which is an awesome companion.  My similarly cased 5S and the Mini look great together.

Two day with the Retina Mini and I know there is no going back.  This one is certainly the right iPad for me.


I guess it is great when one’s eyesight is still good but .....



Actually I’m 55 and wear bifocals.  I use the RetinaMini with little/no trouble even when I’ve forgotten my glasses. This one’s easier on my eyes than my full-sized 3rdGen Retina iPad.  The only explanation I’ve got is the increased pixel density on the smaller screen.  I’m not sure I could make a stronger statement that that.


Thanks for the insight, Dave & Terry. My current one-and-only iOS device is an iPod Touch, so this will be a very nice step up for casual computer use. But being the very capable device that it is, I’m sure I’ll eventually start using it more out of the house… it may even be promoted to a sometimes-replacement for my laptop. smile

Mark Withers

Nice review!

Really like the size and form factor of the iPad mini. Wish I had waited for the retina, but was using an original iPad last year and was anxious to upgrade. Still love my non-retina mini.

Maybe sometime next year I will upgrade or wait it out for the next super product as I get a few years usage out of my current mini.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account