Trading Down: Retina iPad vs. iPad Mini

While I’m the CTO of the Zatz household, my wife Melissa is also capable of making tech purchasing decisions… and living with the consequences. What follows are her thoughts on swapping the iPad 3 for an iPad Mini.

Living with a tech expert I’ve come to appreciate (and depend on) the latest gadgets. Dave understands what we all might like or need. And when the iPad Mini was introduced, he knew that the smaller size was going to be more comfortable for me (yes, size does matter!). While I enjoy taking my tablet to Starbucks or Panera, I also love lounging on the couch with it. My iPad 3 was incredibly uncomfortable and difficult to hold in this position and I frequently found myself putting it down – reaching for my iPhone instead.

So Dave took me to see the iPad Mini, thinking Apple’s newest product addressed my need for a smaller device. Dave was confident I would walk away with a new toy (and maybe secretly hoped I would want one so he too could play around with it while he decided what gadget changes to make). While I was impressed with the Mini’s form and size, I was disappointed in the quality of the screen. I recall removing my sunglasses thinking that maybe they were dirty, causing the screen to appear blurry! Unfortunately, my specs were not to blame. And I walked around the display table comparing units hoping that first one was defective. The Mini’s screen resolution is just weak compared to my iPhone and iPad 3, fuzzy-looking and not sharp or gorgeous like a retina display. We walked out of the store empty handed.

Following our visit to the Apple store my love-hate relationship with my iPad 3 was growing. Dave and I were getting ready to leave on an overseas vacation and I was thinking more and more that I would appreciate having the compact Mini for our 20 hour journey. Unfortunately, when I ultimately made the decision to replace my iPad 3 with the Mini, they were out of stock and my new toy would only arrive upon our return. But I pulled the trigger.


I’ve been using the Mini for a few weeks now. While I’m not overly excited about it there are a few things I love:

  • The size. It fits perfectly in one hand – it is both light and comfortable. Perfect for lounging around.
  • The portability factor. I can easily throw it in my purse and not notice it is there.
  • It’s pretty fast, unlike Dave’s new Kindle tablet.

The things I don’t like:

  • Lack of retina display.
  • Tiny font (probably my biggest complaint). It is actually very annoying to have to constantly adjust/pinch the screen. It makes my morning routine of having coffee while reading Online Newspapers or reading up on the latest celebrity news in the evening less enjoyable.
  • I find it uncomfortable using Apple’s Smart Cover as a stand.

Overall, the portability factor of the iPad Mini outweighs my complaints. I love being able to hold it comfortably in one hand whether I am lying down or sitting up. I’m looking forward to taking it on an upcoming trip and suspect I won’t miss my laptop or iPad 3 during our getaway. While there is plenty of room for improvement (primarily with the display), this Apple fangirl and novice tech user will continue to appreciate the overall simplicity of the iPad Mini…..until the next best thing comes along.

46 thoughts on “Trading Down: Retina iPad vs. iPad Mini”

  1. She’ll be first in line for the retina iPad Mini…

    For reference, I sold her 16Gb iPad 3 to a pal for $300 and we bought the base iPad Mini for $329. So not exactly a 1:1 trade, especially once you factor in the Smart Cover (which she doesn’t like) and taxes.

    As for me, no way am I going pixelated. And I traded my iPad 3 for a Kindle Fire HD (for recreation) and a Chromebook (for blogging). Need to write that up one day, I suppose.

    Also, by the way, that self professed Apple fangirl was a Blackberry fangirl first and still runs Windows 7… ;) Also, the photo above was staged – that’s my iced coffee. She drinks it hot.

  2. “The things I don’t like: Lack of retina display.”

    Of course, when the ‘retina’ iPad Mini gets released, it’ll weigh twice as much and burn your hands when you use it…


    I continue to think the best use-case scenario for the iPad Mini is not as a portable reader – that’s why god created the Chromebook – but instead as a TV room snazzy remote control.

    And more generally, kudos to you for gracefully putting up with the WAF burdens Dave must place on you.

  3. Speaking of TV-related stuff and lack of a retina display, playing video isn’t so bad on the Mini – it’s the text where the display really suffers.

    Chucky, for the record you’re off to a great start in 2013 with the first comment (by someone other than me). My 2012 WordPress summary had you as the top commenter at 447. We may need to put you on the payroll. Or send that Redeye remote I still haven’t looked at.

  4. Nice! So it sounds like it’s worthwhile with a little bit of compromise?

    How about compared to some of the 7″ Android tablets? Would you have considered those or are you too ingrained in the Apple ecosystem? :-)

  5. Chucky, I’m actually the luckiest woman! As for the future retina Mini, I’m hopeful the size and ability to still hold it in one hand will outweigh any weight increase.

  6. “We may need to put you on the payroll. Or send that Redeye remote I still haven’t looked at.”

    My rate is likely far too high for payroll. Plus, I’m trying to avoid the 39.6% tax rate. I don’t want to have to move to Belgium.

    But I’ll certainly write you up a nice review on the Redeye, assuming it’s the freestanding model, and I get to keep it. (Setting it up seems far too time-consuming if I have to send it back to you.)

    Regardless of potential swag, I’m just pleased to be named a top commenter on a Critically Acclaimed Tech Blog™. Merely being nominated would be honor enough, but to win?

  7. I’ve been using an iPad 2 for over a year now and when I saw the iPad 3 in the store I agree the picture was much better, but I said to myself I didn’t need this upgrade. I’m satisfied with my iPad 2. I have an iPhone 4 and I do plan to be upgrading to an iPhone 5 soon, but if Apple would have made an iPhone 5 without their retina display I wouldn’t buy it… dumb analogy, but it’s just an example. I can’t go down in quality from something I’m purchasing again and I consider the screen to the most important feature of the device and for it to be a lower quality than what I’ve been using for years now would make no sense to me. An ipad mini is perfect for the person who has never own an iPad 3 since they don’t know what they are missing should they buy an iPad mini. If apple can put retina in a super thin ipod touch, they can certainly put retina in their ipad mini. this was just a ploy to get people to upgrade this year (hey, its 2013 all!) just like they didn’t include a camera on the iPad 1, which everyone groaned forever about, but alas people forget.

  8. Joel, for Melissa, the size and weight reduction was ultimately worth the lower ppi. But it still somewhat frustrates her. She wouldn’t consider an Android tablet – she’s seen mine and took a look at Kevin Tofel’s Nexus 7 a few months back. It’s not the ecosystem, it’s the familiarity at this point.

    Chucky, our ad revenue doesn’t support Mari’s or my rates either. Although after reading our pal Brad’s Lilliputing end-of-year summary announcing 2 million monthly page views, which I assume generates “real” money, maybe we’ll work a bit harder in 2013. Or not. Email me your shipping info again, I’ll send you a few remote solutions to tinker with.

    Melissa, “outweigh the weight” ? ;)

  9. I did a similar swap this holiday (ZNF spouses unite! ) with one crucial difference: the iPad I was coming from was an iPad 2, rather than 3. The mini is essentially a shrunken iPad 2. The screens aren’t that much different, so I have not had the same reaction to the pixellation. Instead, the screen (though smaller) seems slightly more clear than the iPad 2’s.

    That makes the much lighter weight and smaller size all the more outstanding, and I find myself using my new mini a lot more than I did the 2.

  10. I did an inadvertent swap. I misplaced my playbook (which I got as swag, so not too upset) and got a nexus 7 for x-mas.

    I’ll say I think the hardware for the PB is better, but the lack of apps was so pathetic that I am happy with the trade. It will be mostly a travel toy, as the playbook was.

    I am planning to try out the gps in the nexus 7 and see if that will due for travel nav. My phone is corporate and is an outdated blackberry, so I can’t use a phone that way. At least until bb10 comes out (high hopes), and my company adopts it. It could be a while.

    For my purposes 7″ is the better size. Anything bigger, give me a laptop.

  11. It’s too bad Microsoft doesn’t have a play in this mid-size category. I got a Surface RT and really like it compared to my Android-isized HP TouchPad. I actually prefer the Surface over both Android and iOS options at the moment, even with the piddly app store. Maybe it’s just the newness. Or the versatility–it can be a tablet or a mini laptop (dare I say netbook) for actual productivity.

    But it is large. The smaller iPad mini or Kindle or Nook or Nexus 7 does have a benefit over the larger siblings.

  12. I’ve settled on the Note 2 to take care of my prior tablet needs, and its always with me. There hasn’t been one time I’ve needed to go back to the iPad for something.

  13. Mike, I’ve been wrestling with that as a possible solution too… my iPhone 5 return window is closing rapidly though. Hmmm. Wish it were a narrower form factor, like the HTC Droid DNA. I’d probably have fewer reservations.

    And the meta analysis here is that one form factor clearly doesn’t fit all and not all use cases are created equal. Variety is good and many compact computing solutions will coexist.

  14. The utility of the Note outweigh the few times I get irritated by the girth. From speed to awesome battery life it is set apart from other Android devices.

  15. I haven’t tried the ipad, I have a feeling I would find it incredibly oversized.
    I believe my mini’s case is the “Belkin Dot Cover with Stand for the New iPad mini (Blacktop/Gravel)”. I haven’t tried any others so I cant compare, just mentioning what works for me.

    Then again, what do I know. I prefer my generation 1 Kindle for reading.

  16. I actually own the Note 2 myself. I really like it. My one big complaint is that the messaging seems to crash quite often. Otherwise it is one awesome device. The size doesn’t bother me at all because if I need to actually use it as a phone (rare) I have a BT headset.

    I skipped the iphone 5 and it was tough but when I get a business call and can take notes with the stylus while talking I think I made the right choice.

  17. Chucky said “I continue to think the best use-case scenario for the iPad Mini is not as a portable reader.. but instead as a TV room snazzy remote control.”


    The Wolk family has iPads 1 and 3 and a mini, and I don’t really notice the difference between the retina display and others. Sometimes, but not usually.

    On the other hand, I never taste “notes of oak and pear” in wine – it just tastes like grape juice – so I may not be your best sample for that ;)

  18. I was actually considering getting the Note2 instead of a tablet…

    2 of my kids have the iPad 2 and I think it’s too big actually, my youngest has the Kindle Fire, and I played around with it and I think it’s a good size…

    but I don’t really *need* a tablet, I would just use it to surf the web while watching tv more or less…. so this is where I think the Note 2 would work for that

    …also… first post!

  19. FWIW … 3 Nook Color devices for the Mrs. and for the 10- and 11-year old kids. The 8-year old got a new Nook Tablet ($175) for Christmas. The old NCs are unusable for web surfing, but the Mrs. loves the new Nook Tablet for that purpose. Even though the Nook app store is limited, it’s good enough to have a few games. A gazillion apps does not necessarily mean a better market. The older kids got their first cell phones, Galaxy S2. They love that the screen is bigger than iphones.

    I like seeing the comments here on the Note. I am considering it, but worried about the size being too big for cell phone purposes.

  20. I prefer the Kindle Fire HD. The interface is amazing and it’s very easy to use. It’s a great combination of functional and simple.

  21. I’ve been using a touchpad with CM9 on it.

    App compatibility is a problem with the touchpad so I’m thinking about a Nexus 7.

    I already have a kindle keyboard.

    Basically, I don’t know which way to go.

  22. Any Android or iOS tablet could fulfill your needs. You can get the Kindle app for any of those and even the new Windows 8 tablets.

    BTW, what app issues do you have with CM9 on the TouchPad? Have you updated to the latest nightly builds? They even got the camera working with a patch released in November. The TouchPad has been very workable since then. A little bulky though.

  23. Happy with the mini. About what I expected–much much lighter in the hand than the iPad 2.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath for that retina iPad mini myself. I do think they’ll figure out a way to get there, perhaps with the new Sharp IGZO panels since they supposedly reduce the brightness penalty. We’ll see of course given the financial troubles Sharp has been having. Assume Apple is spending some of their cash to stave that off…

    I’ve been using the Snugg case for the iPad Mini and while I *love* the material quality of these cases, I’m thinking I’ll return it. Just too bulky/heavy. The whole point of the mini is to be small and light so I’m going to try something else…

  24. I’m a little late to this article, but here is my 2 cents.

    I also got the mini and the ipad 4 when I finally upgraded from the iPad 1. I had bought and returned the 3 due to poor wifi.

    I love both the 4 and the mini. I find myself using the mini more than the 4. I bought the monoprice case for both with the smart cover. Cheap and functional. The speed of these devices is astounding. I don’t really notice / miss the retina on the mini.

    I’m not at all satisfied with the iphone 5 form factor other than its weight. All things being equal, I’d rather have the updated design / materials / weight in the 4s form factor.

    I’m starting to think that we’ll see a hybrid phone / tablet hit the market. I really think that a cellular iPad mini with an affixed, but removable bluetooth headset would / could be a killer device. Sort of a mini with an ipod mini like device. Or maybe an iphone mini /w cellular that docks with an iPad mini.

  25. Got my kids Mini’s and my wife an iPad 4. I still use a iPad 2 daily (work machine). When I hear all the complaints about “how could Apple put such a horrible display into a device” i just laff my little bubkis off. Let me ask…would we be saying that if there WEREN’T Retina Displays?

    The display on the Mini is top-notch. If the only complaint is that it isn’t a Retina, I file that under “Rich Nerd Problems”. My kids could care less, and they are technophiles of the highest order.

    My wife’s iPad 4? Well, she’s my age, so the resolution helps reading, but my eyes are worse, and my iPad 2 is just fine. Sure, it would look crisper, but does that make it a bad product now? It was the best thing since sex when it shipped (for some), and the Mini kicks butt for a lot of people who never owned a tablet.

    Think we are all a bit jaded.

  26. Joel Ward,

    You asked which applications have trouble with HP TouchPad on CM9. I hardly use my TouchPad because it has always been frustrating. The few apps I’ve tried to use have problems based on the 4:3 screen aspect (except for Netflix). It seems that many Android apps are rarely tested at 4:3 because it’s rare to find a 4:3 Android tablet. Even the native YouTube app has problems with it. I could never use Words with Friends because it simply doesn’t fit properly on the screen. UI elements are overlapping and non-functional or it just hangs and crashes. I have the same sorts of issues with TiVo for Tablets.

    My roommate has been using my TouchPad exclusively for Netflix and just activated a Hulu trial. I updated to the latest nightly and downloaded the Hulu app, but it says the device is unsupported. Comments online say that an updated build.prop file will not fix it (though I’d still like to get the build.prop from the Vizio 4:3 tablet that promotes Hulu). I found a hacked APK that skips the device check, but it’s meant for phones and just doesn’t work right (UI hangs and keyboard won’t appear when I try to search; when I do get a video to play, it’s low-resolution and there’s no option for captions/subtitles). I followed a tutorial to make Hulu work through the web browser (modifies the Flash plugin) and it’s unusable (unresponsive almost immediately after a video starts).

    Meanwhile, the mini is an absolute dream. The form factor is absolutely perfect. I would love to have a Retina display and A6-series processor, but, even without those things, the mini is still the best tablet I’ve ever used. Even though I’m always near a computer and an iPhone 5, I still use the mini for almost 100% of my web browsing at home.

  27. My two cents:

    I liked the old layout better. It ain’t my blog, but I did want to chime in a vote.

  28. We have a few visible and under-the-hood WordPress-related reasons for upgrading. Tell me what bugs you. I’m not 100% sold either. But I need to modernize and this was what I thought to be a practical and relatively attractive way to do it.

  29. Well, two very specific issues:

    – Commenting now requires JavaScript. Now gotta switch browsers if I want to comment. (I do fully realize this is likely to be a rather uncommon issue.)

    – RSS comments feed broken. (I assume/hope the URL simply has changed.)

    More broadly:

    Now we’re down to aesthetics. I just far prefer the previous theme for readability/UX reasons. It was more compact, (important), and less busy to my eye, making it easier to focus on content and discussion. In fact, to hit a recent conversation topic, the new theme looks less professional to me. More noise and less signal. But once we get down to design aesthetics, de gustibus non est disputandum, and all that.

    And, like I say, it’s your blog. Just wanted to register a vote.

    (I’ve seen brief glimpses of this theme for months now when you’d be fooling around in the background, always reacted in horror, and was always quite relieved when the old theme quickly returned.)

    “We have a few visible and under-the-hood WordPress-related reasons for upgrading … I need to modernize”

    Can you modernize the under-the-hood without changing the basic design theme? Or is it all part of the same package? (I know nothing of WordPress.) Or did you actually want to ‘modernize’ the design theme, separate from the under-the-hood changes?

    The old theme seemed rather timeless to me. Levi’s 501’s never go out of fashion…

  30. Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of the more compact approach. But maybe surprisingly, we had several requests, inquiries, complaints over the years to take advantage of more screen real estate. Not that it had much bearing on the decision. Our prior post body was 420px wide, which was somewhat too narrow, and the new one is 620 – probably too wide. I’d be more comfortable in the 500px range. Not sure if it’s possible to tweak. Also, we needed a wider sidebar (for advertising, sadly) and the prior theme would break at the slightest modification.

    That “theme” is also probably 5 or more years old. In that time, there’s been many enhancements and deprecations to WordPress and the theme hasn’t been updated by the author and my tweaks were minor. But there are presentation, beyond visual, and performance enhancements we want and newer themes have the requisite hooks. One of the reasons we also went with Standard, versus some of the others, is their willingness to help customers like us customize and troubleshoot – which is priceless for a venture of our size and resources.

    The comment form below is not part of the theme, but an add-on from the folks behind I’m not sure if there is value or not it allowing folks to link some other online identities as the comment. At the very least, there’s an annoying delay as the comment is processed through their servers. Hm.

    What URL are you using for the comment feed? I will research that.

    In terms of other stuff, I do think I’ll darken the text font at least for better readability. In terms of noise, is it just the white space? It’s not like I flipped on 100 ad units (yet). Unfortunately, we need something new and the well coded, flexible options that look good are few and far between, and as I mentioned the ability to receive ongoing support is pretty huge.

  31. “What URL are you using for the comment feed? I will research that.”

    But I see the ‘post’ feed has shifted to a “” address, so I imagine the comments feed would be somewhere around there, though I couldn’t guess it on my own.

    “In terms of other stuff, I do think I’ll darken the text font at least for better readability. In terms of noise, is it just the white space?”

    Hmmm… I’d suggest:

    – Darker text font.

    – Smaller text font. (I believe the old theme had a smaller text font, but perhaps my eye is being tricked by something else.)

    – I do suspect all the white space might be what’s repelling me, but I’m not 100% sure without being able to compare the two side-by-side.

    To be honest, I’m not really sure what precisely bugs me about the new theme. Lack of compactness is likely the main culprit, but design is tricky, and without the older design to compare the new one to, I’m stuck with mostly unhelpful vague advice at the moment.

    (If this goes thru, at least the no-JS comment post issue is fixed…)

  32. Something bugs me too. Too impersonal and white. Maybe I’ll put it all back and deal with it later. As I’ve been doing the last two years. ;)

  33. Aha! After posting that, I can now see the old design, (at least for a moment?)

    So, now I can address what I thought was good about the old theme that is lost with the new theme:

    The dark bands on the right are very good at directing the eye to the post and discussion. Can you easily implement them on the new theme while still getting in your ads?

    The colored bordering of each comment is very good, as it helps with readability of the discussion. Again, dunno if you can easily implement such a thing with the new theme.

    “Our prior post body was 420px wide, which was somewhat too narrow, and the new one is 620 – probably too wide. I’d be more comfortable in the 500px range.”

    The smaller the better, IMHO. And isn’t that better for you in terms of reserving space for ads? I actually like 420px, but 500px wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. 620px was the worst thing in the world.


    At the end of the day, I think the loss of the dark bands on the right bothered my eye the most, and the loss of the comment borders was a close second.

    And I think the loss of the dark bands on the right is what gave my eye the sense of more amateur than professional.

    The old theme really is pretty visually perfect to my eye. Again, I know nothing about WordPress, (Go Terps!), so I don’t know if you can easily flip switches with the new package to make it visually more resemble the old theme while getting the back-end advantages and the ads you need all at the same time. Hope that’s been helpful…

  34. Someone can. But not I. Not if I want time to write. Well a simple, square border around a comment should be easy. I can also change the background color beyond the main area and/or of the sidebar area. But not sure how it’ll look as it may not have been deisgned with that in mind. Again, problems with the old theme are mostly internal – related to performance, flakiness, and new functionality we can’t tap. Ideal post width for me is 468 – which lines up a compact readable column with a standard ad size. A 300px wide sidebar would be beneficial for ad serving – the most lucrative unit is a 300×600. Then again, I wasn’t offered the most lucrative rate yesterday when given the new tags. So maybe it’s a wash. Not to mention revenue has always been secondary.

  35. “how late am I on noticing the redesign? I miss the old blue”

    As always, do whatever you must do to keep the site up and running within your available time allocation, but that’s what I was talkin’ bout…

    (Also, Fox is going to keep you from broadcasting your website if you’re not careful.)

  36. We’re at the tipping point where the programmatic improvements outweigh the generic and imperfect design aesthetic. So we’re going to have to collectively suck it up and move on. Unless I change my mind again. ;) It’s not like we’re writing much anyway these days and if I get to it, I can improve the font contrast and such. I did test out the other theme linked above, but it’s got it’s own set of problems to overcome – different but maybe equivalent.

    Did you see the company behind RedEye is shutting down? One less item for you to review…

  37. Am I the only one who thinks the difference between iPad non retina and iPad retina are not so dramatic? It’s not that I can’t tell the difference, but it is just not so huge imo. My brother has an iPad 4 and i still have an iPad 1 and the difference isn’t all that big to me objectively. I’m going to get an iPad mini next month and a nice case. I’m sure I’ll be thrilled.

  38. Dude. Seriously. You’re discovering in 2013 not to upgrade to an Apple OS X update with a .0 suffix?

    My honest sympathies. Enjoy your beer. But again, seriously?

  39. The laptop that’ll require a fresh OS, perhaps via the Apple Store, belongs to my employer and was required testing. Whereas my personal Mac ultimately escaped unscathed. :) “Free” was too much temptation on the home front I suppose.

  40. “Whereas my personal Mac ultimately escaped unscathed.”

    BTW, on that front, if you’ve really been running the Java browser plug-in on that Mac over the past year, (Chucky smacks his head with his palm. That’s really why god invented VM’s), the likelihood of you being rooted is pretty decent, y’know.

    Clean out, (with invisibles visible):

    ~/Contextual Menu Items/
    ~/Internet Plug-Ins/
    /Contextual Menu Items/
    /Internet Plug-Ins/

    And that’ll clear out or verify the absence of most of your potential problems, after a restart. (There are still demons that could lurk in /private and /system, but the easy pickins vectors are in the folders I noted. If you don’t know it, nuke it. Especially if invisible.)

  41. Thanks for the cleanup directories. Perhaps I’ll get to it. Or perhaps Sophos did what it was supposed to, when previously installed. I usually rebuild every year or 18 months. May do so soon.

  42. “I usually rebuild every year or 18 months. May do so soon.”

    Only really “sure” way to do a rebuild is to wipe the drive, install a fresh OS, and use Apple’s Migration Assistant to restore your data from a backup while automatically weeding out any infections. Only problem is that the Migration Assistant process is often buggy. (Alternately, you can migrate your data back by hand, but that’s quite time consuming, and requires some knowledge.)

    As far as anti-virus, I’m dubious, considering all the zero-day stuff. Pro-tip is to install Little Snitch. That way, if you’ve been rooted, and the infection invariably tries to call home, Little Snitch will let you know something is up. And even better, many of the OS X infections check for the presence of Little Snitch, and remarkably abort their infection if they detect it. (Both because they realize that LS will likely defeat their scheme, and because they realize that LS users will discover their scheme and publicized it.)

    There’s a small bit of a learning curve with LS, as you’ll occasionally need to Google an unknown process that is trying to access the net, in order to see if it’s kosher or not. But it’s the one essential OS X utility, IMHO, if you care about maintaining sole control of your system administration.

    (Also, VMWare really is a good investment. Not only does it let you do unsafe things like browsing with the Java plug-in without risk, but it also lets you install something like Mavercks on day one, if you need to do so for work, without risk.)

Comments are closed.