Apple iPad mini 2 review: Moving up the ranks

Orlin Milinov, 22 November 2013.

Tags: Apple, iOS

Double the Wi-Fi speed and more LTE bands than you can shake a stick at

The Apple iPad mini 2 comes in Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular options. The latter version supports quad-band GSM, CDMA, quad-band 3G, CDMA200 1x EV-DO, plus a plethora of LTE bands (note that all of these are data-only). The LTE modem in the iPad mini with Retina screen supports all bands needed by carriers simultaneously, so you don't need to worry about which model you have to get (unlike the iPhone).

If you have the Cellular+Wi-Fi device, iOS also supports tethering, but it's up to your wireless carrier whether you'll be able to use it.

Both versions of the iPad mini 2 supports dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n (that's 2.4 GHz as well as 5 GHz). Two wifi antennas and MIMO technology can potentially double the data speeds, compared to the original iPad mini. We didn't have the premise to conduct proper Wi-Fi speed tests, but the iPad mini with Retina screen indeed connected to our wireless router at 300Mbps as opposed to the 150Mbps we got from the older iPhone 5 and the original iPad mini.

There's Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP support, but that's hardly any good for data transfers. Apple has never allowed sending and receiving files via Bluetooth like you would do on any other non-Apple device.

There's a new feature in the connectivity department of iOS 7 called AirDrop, a system-wide file sharing service between supported iDevices, which needs to have both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned ON to work.

AirDrop is available in every share menu throughout iOS 7. You can send pictures, videos, App Store and iTunes links, Notes, Maps links, all kind of files from file managing apps (i.e. Filer, Flash Drive, Air Disk, etc.), Office docs, and more.

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AirDrop in Photos, Browser, Notes

If there are people with AirDrop service around you, they will automatically appear in the dedicated AirDrop field. You just mark your files, select the recipients and hit the send key.

AirDrop won't work with other phones and PCs, but will work on Macs running on OS X Mavericks.

Regular USB mass storage isn't available but there's a workaround using the iTunes computer software. You can transfer whatever files you want, but those are only made available to the app that you've dropped them onto. Good thing is you are not restricted to files compatible with said app and you can simply drag & drop files that you would download on another computer later on.

Sadly, hardware storage expansion is still off limits in Apple's policy.

The iPad mini 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular has a built-in A-GPS receiver with GLONASS support, but the Wi-Fi only tablet does not (this is standard for iPads).

Apple is continually improving its Find My iPad service. The latest iOS 7 updates it with the so-called Activation Lock. Once activated, this will not only protect your personal data but also make your iDevice inoperable once wiped, unless you enter your own Apple ID. This means the stolen or lost iGadgets will be of no use to thieves or finders as long as you have Find My iPad setup on your slate.

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Find My iPad

iCloud is an integral part iOS since version 5. It syncs all of your important data between all of your devices running iOS 5 or above.

You get 5GB of free storage but you can buy more if you want. Selecting which apps to sync is pretty easy. iCloud even remembers each device you've backed up so you can restore them separately if you wish. You can naturally delete older backups to free up space.

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The iCloud menu

Apple has records on exactly what apps you've purchased, what you have installed on an iDevice and what you've deleted for some reason. Apple keeps tabs on this for each of your iDevices.

So if you chose to sync with iCloud, Apple will sync only the app's personal data, not the entire IPA file (as iTunes did).

Here is an example: Say, you have Angry Birds installed on your iPhone and it has 1.5MB worth of saved data. Apple will sync only this file. If you delete the game and later install it again (free, from the Purchased list), your iPhone will download the original IPA from the App Store and will get back this 1.5MB file too - a lot more natural to sync the app data rather than keep the entire image. If you use an app as USB storage (Filer or even CineXPlayer), then, by default, the whole content will be backed up too, eating your backup quota quite fast.

There is one more thing with the iCloud app sync - when you buy a new app, it will be pushed to all of your iDevices automatically (if available and if you have enabled this feature in the AppStore settings).

The mobile Safari is an excellent browser

The iPad mini with Retina screen comes with the latest Safari browser, which is part of iOS7. It has new looks and several new features.

The first thing you'll notice is the unified search/address field. Just as on today's modern computer browsers, you can enter a search term straight into the browser address bar.

Then, you no longer need to use the Back button of the browser. As of iOS7, there is a really nice gesture that can do that instead. A right swipe across the screen but starting offscreen would instantaneously open the previous page that you had opened.

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The updated Safari web browser

Safari finally supports more than 8 simultaneously opened web tabs. The tabs on the iPad's Safari are always visible as opposed to the iPhone, which makes moving between them easier. You can also rearrange the tabs, you can add new ones or switch to private browsing.

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Switching Private browsing on and off

When you switch to private browsing, you'll need to either close all current tabs or migrate them to Private as well. It's not possible to have private and non-private tabs open simultaneously like in Google Chrome. When you are browsing in Private mode, Safari switches to a dark gray color scheme.

Speaking of tabs, you can also use iCloud to sync tabs between your Safari-running devices.

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iCloud Tab sync

When you open your History you'll find a new tab called Shared Links (those come from social networking apps, so you'll need one installed). Here you'll find all links from your Twitter timeline, with authors and comments. If you hit the Share button you can bookmark a page if you'll need it long term or add it to the reading list for articles you want to read later.

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Bookmarks • Shared Links

Safari in iOS 7 supports the iCloud keychain where you can store all of your passwords and credit card info (sans the security code). There is also a password generator available, in case you are out of ideas. What's good about this setup is that all your saved content from the computer version of Safari is now available straight on your phone as well.

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Safari settings

Much like before, if a page is compatible with the integrated Reader (most of the article pages out there are) you get a Reader button right into the address bar as soon as the page loads. The Reader strips the webpage of ads and makes the layout and font size more suited to a smaller screen. And best of all, if you are reading a multi-page article (such as our reviews) getting from one page to the next is automatic as soon as you scroll to the end.

Unfortunately, the Safari web browser on the iPad doesn't have a fullscreen mode as the iPhone does. The addressbar and the tabs are always visible both in landscape and in portrait mode.

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