I’ve been using the 1st gen iPad mini for about a year now. My main issue was the display quality and recently -after iOS 7 release- its speed. When Apple released the retina iPad mini this year, I thought that they finally released the mini as it should be since last year: an iPad with the same specs as the full size iPad but with smaller -and not worse- display.
I got the black and space gray 32GB iPad mini. From the outside it seems the same as the previous generation. The only difference is that it is a little bit thickier than the 1st gen (unnoticeable if you don’t put them side by side) and a little bit heavier. The same happened to the full size iPad when it got a retina display. The other two hardware differences that are noticeable is the back (if you get the black model) which is now gray. This change is probably because of manufacturing issues as anodizing aluminum can be a tough process. The other difference is the addition of a second microphone on the back for noise cancelation and better facetime call quality.
Biggest change in the new mini of course is the retina display. This is the same display that is used in the iPad Air which means 2048×1536 resolution, but due to the smaller form factor of the mini, it translates to 326 pixels per inch. The difference between the old and the new display is huge. Text now looks sharp (reading in the old mini was painful for the eyes, text was fuzzy) and images have vivid colors and crystal clear quality. The A7 processor seems to have no problem driving all those pixels and the best of all is that battery life is not affected either. To achieve that battery life with the new display, Apple made a lot of changes under the hood. Battery in the new mini is a two cell battery with much higher capacity than its predecessor (there comes the extra weight and thickness). Energy consumption is also benefited from the new M7 co-processor (the same as in the iPhone 5s). M7 collects data from the accelerometer, the gyro and the compass offloading work from the A7 chip and because it is designed for that purpose only, it much more energy efficient in these tasks compared to the A7. In real everyday usage I get the same battery life as the 1st gen mini.
Talking about the chips inside the new retina mini, I have to mention how far the processing power of these machines has come. The A7 processor is fast. Actually is so fast and powerful that Apple didn’t need an “X” version (like the A5X and A6X in previous iPads) to give its tablets enough horse power for the demanding retina displays. Compared to the previous generation mini the difference in performance between the A5 and A7 chips is huge especially if you’ve used your 1st gen mini with iOS 7. Animations and transitions feel much smoother, applications launch extremely fast and graphics performance is top of the class. Actually you can play Infinity Blade 3 for hours without a single lagging frame. You have to see this in person, but even with such processing power hungry games, the A7 shows that it can handle much more. The A7 is also the first 64-bit chip in mobile devices. Of course not all the apps have been optimized for 64-bit but it is a move in the right direction. In the near future all iOS apps will have been optimized to take full advantage of the 64-bit technology. With the latest Xcode Apple has made it a piece of cake to compile for both 32 and 64-bit and retain support for iOS 5 and 6. Suddenly not all 3rd party libs have been updated for the new architecture (best example is google analytics) and in my opinion this is the main reason why there are so few 64-bit apps in the App Store.
Overall I am extremely happy with the new mini. I was also happy the 1st gen because of it portability (I think that 8-inch tablets are the best) but I missed the retina display and after updating to iOS 7 it became also a little bit laggy. Another point here is that because iOS 7 makes heavy use of thin fonts and thin UI elements, it looks too fuzzy and corrupted in non retina displays. On the other hand in the retina display of the new iPad mini, iOS 7 looks elegant and extremely sharp. The Retina mini solves all these issues and from now on, deciding which iPad you will get is just a matter of taste regarding the screen size.