Apple’s announcement of the iPad mini 2 with Retina is one that has shocked no one, after rafts of rumors over the past year. Now we can see which were true, and compare Apple’s latest small-screen tablet offering against its three biggest rivals, the Google Nexus 7 (2013), the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 and the LG G Pad 8.3. How do they all stack up?
The iPad mini 2 with Retina unsurprisingly comes with Apple’s latest, and possibly greatest, mobile OS. iOS7’s radical new look made waves when it launched with the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. Icons are flatter, and there are plentiful new features. Google similarly launched its latest mobile OS, Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, with the launch of the new Nexus 7 device. It comes packing a completely unskinned version of the OS, offering Android in its purest form. Amazon, as always, has taken a completely different tack. Heavily subsidizing costs, Amazon aims to recoup a lot of money through the sale of its various media items – be it apps, movies or books. In order to maximize this, the Fire UI laid over the top of Android 4.2 is focused on the Amazon store, with no Google Play offerings in sight. The LG offering also runs Android 4.2, with an LG skin over the top. Unlike the Kindle Fire HDX 7, though, there is a lot less customization. This means that Android shows through a lot more, and the Google Play store offerings are still available.
The iPad mini 2 with Retina comes with an all new screen, although it’s measured at 7.9-inches. The update brings across Apple’s Retina screen technology that was infamously omitted from the first iPad mini iteration. Packed into those 7.9-inches is a whopping 2,048 x 1,536 resolution. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX come with 7-inch Full HD screens. They match each other pixel for pixel, meaning 1,920 x 1,200 displays with 323ppi. The Korean offering is a little larger, with 8.3 inches of screen on offer. This may be the largest of the bunch, but it’s also the smallest for pixel density as the 1,200 x 1,920 resolution is stretched out resulting in 273ppi.
With measurements of 200 x 134.7 x 7.5mm, the iPad Mini 2 with Retina fits neatly in the size gap between the Android based offerings. It weighs 331/341 depending on whether you pick the Wi-Fi or 4G model, once again placing it in the mini tablet middle ground. Google’s Nexus 7 measures 200 x 114 x 8.65mm, making it (in landscape) shorter than the Kindle Fire HDX 7, but wider. The Kindle is also a little deeper, with dimensions of 186 x 128 x 9mm. The Nexus is the lighter of the two, with the Wi-Fi only weighing in at 290g compared to the 303g of the Kindle. The LTE Nexus is also lighter at 299g compared to the Amazon’s 311g. The larger screen of the LG means that it measures in at the largest of the bunch, at 216.8 x 126.5 x 8.3 mm. It also comes in at the heaviest, weighing 338g.
When it comes to sheer processing power, Apple hasn’t left the iPad mini 2 with Retina wanting. It comes with the latest 64-bit processor – the same one powering the iPhone 5S and new iPad Air. This means that it is four times faster, with eight times faster graphics processing. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro powers the Google Nexus 7, meaning that it provides 1.4GHz of quad-core power with 2GB of RAM to support. There is an equal level of RAM in both of the other Android tablets, although they also differ when it comes to what CPU is inside. The Kindle Fire HDX 7 has the quad-core Snapdragon 800 chip, clocked at 2.2GHz, with the LG G Pad 8.3 running the older Snapdragon 600 chip clocked at 1.6GHz.
Would you believe that the iPad mini 2 with Retina doesn’t come with microSD support? We all knew that it wouldn’t, so there were no surprises there today. The iPad Mini 2 with Retina comes in the same 16, 32 and 64GB sizes that the original iPad Mini came with. MicroSD support is also omitted from the Google Nexus 7, with 16 and 32GB versions available. The only tablet with microSD support is the LG G Pad 8.3, as the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 comes with storage locked at 16, 32 and 64GB versions. It can be argued, though, that the LG is the only one that needs the 64GB support it as it comes with only 16GB internal storage.
Again, following typical Apple traditions, there is no official quoted battery size. Instead, they offer up a 10 hour use time, which fits with the same use times as the original iPad mini. Battery size is published for the Google Nexus 7, with Google stating that there is a 3950mAh power pack sat inside. This is apparently enough for “up to nine hours of active use.” For the Kindle Fire HDX 7, there are quoted battery times, although again there is no quoted size. Amazon claim that you should be eke out 11 hours of mixed use, or 17 hours of reading. The LG G Pad 8.3 comes with a 4600mAh battery, although there is no word on how long this should last.
Perhaps the most controversial of topics when it comes to these tablets is the camera. There is a certain stigma attached to holding up a tablet to take a photo, although there is a definite need for a front facing snapper to make video calls. The iPad mini 2 with Retina display comes with the same 5MP rear snapper as the iPad mini. The forward facing camera takes a boost, gaining the same FaceTime HD camera as on the iPhone 5S. This means that it matches the one in the Nexus 7, as Google has equipped its tablet with a 1.2MP forward sensor, and 5MP on the rear. There is a front-facing HD camera on the Kindle Fire HDX, although we have no word on how many MP that is. As for the rear sensor, Amazon has chosen to completely omit it. The LG is on par with the Google offering, offering a slightly larger 1.3MP forward facing camera, and 5MP sat on the back
Three out of the four tablets being compared here come with both Wi-Fi only and 4G connections. The exception is the LG G Pad 8.3, which comes with only Wi-Fi options. In the UK, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 is only being offered on 4G on Vodafone. 4G is currently only available in London, with 12 other cities getting access by the year’s end. US users can get the Kindle Fire HDX 7 on AT&T and Verizon.
When it comes to buying the tablets, there are some obvious differences in price, much of which down to the myriad options available regarding storage size and connectivity. The iPad mini 2 with Retina is the most expensive of all 4 tablets, with Apple saying that the tablet will retail at £319 for the Wi-Fi only model, with £419 for the 4G enabled versions. The Nexus 7 is available from £199 for the 16GB version, with the 32GB costing £239, or £299 if you want the 4G enabled version. The Kindle Fire HDX is available for £199, £229 or £259 for the 16, 32 or 64GB versions respectively. These prices increase by £70 to gain 4G access. Pricing gets more complicated for the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7, as you can pay extra to opt out of having ads pushed to your device. This currently costs £10. The LG G Pad 8.3 meanwhile is going to be £259 in the UK.
Does Apple’s latest mini tablet have what it takes to compete against the big boys of the tablet world right now. As with everything, put simply, yes. Short of hitting the same sort of problems that Apple has hit with the colourful iPhone 5C, the iPad Mini 2 with Retina will sell in droves. By not including the Touch ID scanner that was so popular on the iPhone 5S, Apple may well have missed a trick. That said, the inclusion of the Retina display will make the screen sparkle and appeal to all those that passed on the original because of screen issues. Price should also not prove to be too much of an issue, with the original iPad mini showing that there is market for the smaller tablet with the higher price. This time around, the iPad mini 2 with Retina justifies its higher price tag, making it more irresistible. We can never say with 100% confidence whether a new product will succeed or fail, but we’d buy a hat just so we could eat it if the iPad mini 2 with Retina failed.