iPad mini with Retina Display: Hands-on preview

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I've seen the iPad mini as a tough sell for a while now, and I'm concerned that the new model doesn't make things any easier for Apple. The new mini is slim, sleek, and fast – it's a smooth little tablet. However, it's not competitively priced by any measure, so it'll be a real test of how much people want those iOS apps.

I feel like I wrote this last year – indeed, I probably did. The mini's key problem is that it keeps pace with the competition, but at £319, it costs £120 more than the £199 Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. This year's model matches the competition's screens and beats them on processor power, but it doesn't change the game in any way.

This year's mini is slightly thicker and slightly heavier than last year's, due to the bright new Retina screen. I didn't feel the difference – it's still a very slim, very light tablet – but I noticed it later when I checked out the spec sheet.

I'm still not a big fan of the wide-ish screen, which I find harder to hold in one hand than the Nexus 7, and it's a little heavier than the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HDX.

The sharp 7.9in, 2,048 x 1,536 screen has 326 pixels per inch, the exact same density as the iPhone 5 and 5S displays, and pretty much the same as the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX, which show 323 pixels per inch. The graininess of the old mini's screen is gone, that’s for sure.

Text and images appear super-smooth. You can pinch-and-zoom incredibly quickly, and incredibly sharply. Off the top of my head, I don't remember other tablets being quite so smooth, especially at scrolling or zooming – but this is something I'll really want to compare side-by-side to be sure of, though.

Want to show off something new? I looked for something that would show the glory of the 64-bit A7 processor and settled on Star Walk, an augmented reality astronomy app. Star Walk can redraw star maps in glorious high-res as quickly as you can whip the camera around, which is quite a feat (as you’ll see in the video below).

The new iLife and iWork apps are also handsome. The new mini runs all of the same apps, in the same resolution and I'm pretty sure in the same way as the big iPad, which is its major selling point. Everything I could do with the full-size iPad, I did on the mini, just as smoothly.

But when handling the iPad mini, I didn't feel the same surprise and joy that I did with the iPad Air. Maybe it's the opposite of the Air's experience: Picking up the Air after years of handling "regular" iPads, it practically flies out of your hand. Its light weight is a happy shock. Picking up the new mini, on the other hand, brings you back down to Earth.

Also, £319 is a harsh price to pay for the mini. Unlike the larger iPad, the mini has good-enough competitors that are much cheaper. The aforementioned Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX are powerful, easy-to-use tablets with a good array of apps. Phablets also compete with small tablets, with tempting offerings like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 which you can bag subsidised on contracts.

That makes the question levelled at the new iPad mini very different to the one directed at the iPad Air. With the mini, you have to ask – why should I pay much more for an Apple product? Without anything really disruptive here, the answer has to be the apps and the pure smoothness of the software experience. How long can Apple rely on that lead?

Be sure to watch the hands-on video above for more info on the iPad mini, and you might also want to have a gander at our hands-on with the iPad Air. For a direct comparison of the two new iPads, see our iPad Air versus iPad mini Retina spec comparison.