Now that the mini is virtually as full-powered as the 5th generation iPad Air, the PC-free world Steve Jobs famously declared is almost upon us. In other words, it benefits from an A7, 64-bit CPU the same as the Air and the iPhone 5s, which means it's almost as fast as the 2007 generation of Apple's Macintosh desktop, the iMac. In a way, the convergence between the latest two iPads is closer than that - the full-sized Air has 28 per cent less volume than the iPad 4, while the new mini added a little weight and thickness (only .3mm and 29 grams, mind you) thanks to that beautiful Retina display - so they ended up a tiny bit physically closer, too. The Air lost a rather staggering 135 grams compared to the still-on-sale iPad 2: that's 22 per cent lighter.
All the specs are on Apple's iPad comparison page.
Not that you'd know it - in the hand, the mini is definitely a different form - it's clearly smaller than the Air. Actually, like the previous mini, if someone hands you one out of the blue and you've no full-size iPad to compare it to, it may not dawn on you that it's a smaller iPad.
That's even more so now that it has a Retina display, packing in twice as many tiny pixels per-square-inch of the original mini.
Thanks to the A7 processor with its 64-bit architecture, the mini can handle GarageBand's 32 tracks as handily (ha ha) as the Air. It has up to four times the performance of the original mini, up to eight times the graphics performance and yet it achieves this with a ten-hour battery life thanks to a much larger battery. Wireless performance has also been improved - if you have an Apple dual-band wireless device (AirPort Xtreme, Express and Time Capsule) the mini, like the Air, can use the 2.5GHz and the 5GHz bands at the same time, for more efficiency. Also, if you get a sim for this baby, you can use it with the 4G networks where availables ... if you got the wi-fi + cellular version, of course.
The display packs 326 pixels into a square inch, compared to 264 pixels per square inch for the Air. The original iPad mini of last year registered 163 pixels per square inch; the new one has virtually twice as many pixels. That means colours are bright, images look fantastic and text is super-crisp, so it's an excellent form all round for book reading.
Tech pundits didn't expect Apple to be able to achieve a Retina version so early in the mini format. The first mini (it came out in 2012) has a 1024x768 display - this one has a 2048x1536 pixel display in the same physical size. Apple managed this thanks to a much improved battery density (it's 44 per cent larger than the first mini's), and also managed to integrate a large 4MB cache on the A7 SoC, reducing the need for a super wide memory interface. This according to Anand Lal Shimpi on his highly respected Anandtech blog.
In general use, the iPad mini is a delight. Technical workers and doctors, for example, already loved the smaller form factor because it was easier to put into a lab coat or overall pocket - except now it's a pocket powerhouse. The only real difference is that the sound out of the speakers seems commensurably smaller to match the trimmer form - it's really not very loud, whereas the Air is ample in this department.
But anyway, back to that screen. Some controversy has emerged about the colour gamut: the range of colours able to be displayed. That's because the iPad mini with Retina Display has the same colour gamut as the original iPad mini, and that's narrower than the iPad Air's. It's less than the so-called sRGB gamut people have become used to. The contention comes from the fact that other small tablets in a similar price range offer sRGB coverage, including the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (according to Anandtech).
Smaller gamut, maybe, but I didn't notice any outstanding colour inaccuracy, as some sites say. According to Anandtech, the biggest deviations are in reds/blues and magenta.
I suggest 'suck it and see', as I'm not sure, in many applications, this would be a deciding factor, unless you're using your mini in some kind of high-end photography environment, somehow. I'm not even sure how likely and possible that is.
Personally, I can barely tell the difference. So look at the iPad mini alongside an iPad Air and decide for yourself whether this is a meaningful distinction for you. Choose an image to look at with a lot of colours and tones going on - some of Apple's wallpapers and backgrounds with suffice, in Settings. It's no deal breaker for me - I use iPads for web surfing, email, looking things up, reading books and magazines and finding and reading recipes. And when I'm travelling, I type articles on it, too.
Apple has created a range of SmartCovers for this new mini, in the same polyurethane with a flock lining for NZ$59 each. You can get these in black, pink, pale yellow, blue and green, or in product RED, in which case some money goes to charity. There's also the more expensive leather SmartCase. These are just the Apple covers - expect cases, keyboards and other accessories to hit the shops in time for the attention of the Christmas credit cards.
All the prices and options for Apple's stock, and some third-party cases and accessories, are at Apple online; otherwise raid your favourite reseller or tech outlet.
A lot of reviewers have concluded 'as good as the Air, just smaller'. For a lot of people, this actually spells 'better than the Air' as it's much easier to pack, to hold, and ... it's much easier to read books on it in bed!