Read ahead to compare and contrast would one writer argues are the best tablets in the world at their size.
Specs and Design
Apple's iPad Mini with Retina Display has incredible specs. The 7.9-inch LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology has a 2048 x 1536 resolution and a record 326ppi pixel density. Under the hood is the company's proprietary A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor, allowing the tablet to be futureproofed to a certain degree at least for the coming generation of devices.
Additionally, the tablet is just 7.5 mm thick and weighs in at just 0.73 pounds, making it quite portable and light. Standard connectivity options include the proprietary Lightning port and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n); dual channel (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0.
From a design standpoint, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone, even hardcore Android fans, that don't agree about the premium feel and design of the iPad, for which the new iPad Mini is no different. The chassis is fully aluminum, and the metallic feel of the side buttons all give the aesthetics a boost. The bezels remain thin, and the speakers, Lightning port and iSight camera are really the only entities on the minimalist design.
Apple has stuck with their 4:3 aspect ratio, which makes one-handed holding of the tablet in portrait slightly harder than 16:10 rivals, but really unless your hands are smaller than average, it is manageable. Reaching across the screen will usually require two hands. That being said, two-handed and landscape usage are excellent, as they should be, with no issues.
LG came out swinging with their G Pad 8.3, as well. The tablet has an 8.3" Full HD IPS display with 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution and 273 ppi density. While the device has a larger display, the resolution and pixel density do not match that of the iPad Mini Retina, although both tablet screens are excellent.
Powering the G Pad is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 clocked at 1.7 GHz, 2GB RAM, an Adreno 320 and Android 4.2.2 highly modified with LG's own user interface. One major differentiation is the fact that the G Pad offers a microSD slot, allowing the small 16GB internal storage to be expanded for cheap. None of Apple's products allow for storage expansion without breaking the bank.
The tablet is just 8.3mm thick (negligible from the iPad Mini) and weighs in at 0.75 pounds, also a negligible difference although both are larger thanks to the bigger screen size. On the design end, the company has put together a premium feeling device, with plastic edging leading to a metallic back. The bezels are thin, and the curved design gives a pleasing aesthetic look. The buttons do not have the same premium feel as the iPad, feeling like regular cheap buttons, and the speakers are placed on the back, which leads to worse audio than the tablet is actually emanating.
Connectivity is identical to that of the iPad Mini, with the exception of the G Pad using a standard micro USB Slim Port instead of Apple's own proprietary and expensive Lightning. Additionally, the G Pad can also be used as a remote control thanks to its built-in IR.
For one-handed usage, the G Pad is preferable due to being longer and less wide than the iPad Mini. For two-handed portrait typing, the iPad Mini is great as the keyboard feels less cramped, but this is very, very minor. Landscape mode proves to be great for the G Pad, given the extra screen space and aspect ratio. There is more to be said about the keyboard in the software section of the review.
Overall, both tablets have taken design to a point where other tablet makers should be emulating. From a pure look and feel standpoint, the iPad Mini with Retina wins, but the LG G Pad 8.3 needs to be commended from moving away from the uninspiring, plastic, large bezel form factors of nearly every other Android tablet on the market. The iPad Mini also boasts notably better specs, both for the display and under the hood, but at a premium price.
Display and Performance
Let's be honest. When purchasing a new tablet, most people only care about two things: the display and the operating system.
The iPad Mini Retina display is in a world of its own in regards to text, icon and graphic clarity. Everything is crisp, reading is a pleasure, and you cannot view a single pixel unless your eye is literally right up to the display (which we hope it is not), and even then it's nearly impossible to see single pixels.
Brightness was well above average for the iPad Mini, but contrast did seem to lack when compared to the G Pad. Color accuracy was average, as well, and there was a slight lack of saturation, but in all honesty an average tablet consumer will not notice such things and will remain in awe of the clarity of the Retina Display. The display also features anti-glare coating that makes outdoor use a breeze, especially when brightness is turned up.
Image quality when watching media was great from all angles on the iPad Mini Retina, with colors/brightness/saturation remaining the same despite shifting angles. This is great as the iPad Mini has been marketed as a media consumption device. As stated, reading is an absolute pleasure on the Mini, due to the clarity and sharpness.
By contrast, the G Pad has lower resolution to go with its larger screen size, leading to less clarity and unfortunately, some very mild fuzziness around the text and icon graphics and pixels that can be viewed with the human eye.
Color representation, contrast and saturation were better on the G Pad, however, with colors appearing more vibrant and full when compared to the toned down iPad Mini. Image quality was excellent, no matter the angle, on par with the Mini. Brightness may be an issue, as the tablet can not reach the brightness of the iPad, and outdoor performance suffers because of it.
Overall, the iPad Mini with Retina has the superior display, but I'm not entirely sure it was a fair competition. The G Pad 8.3 has an excellent, vibrant display, as well, but in this case, the pixels matter.
Performance for both tablets was fantastic. The 64-bit processor under the hood of the iPad proves its worth, with no lag of any kind. Everything works seamlessly; gestures, apps, loading times, all of it. The new A7 chips have their own tier when it comes to performance. The G Pad, with its quad-core Snapdragon 600, was also powerful but there was the occasional lag, which may or may not have been due to LG's software not being properly optimized. Regardless, I have no complaints about the performance of either tablet, although the iPad is better future-proofed.
Software and Battery Life
Hardware is not the complete story. The iPad Mini with Retina Display runs on the latest iOS 7 variant, while the LG G Pad 8.3 runs on Android 4.2.2, with LG's own user interface integrated. Android 4.2.2 is not the most recent operating system, but LG has made a Google Play Edition of the tablet available for those that love the latest stock updates. For this review we used a non-Google edition, due to LG's excellent software features that enhance the tablet experience.
While many are not fans of the new iOS and its interface, I found it to be refreshing when it was launched, bringing an aging operating system on par with Android 4.1 (but not with the ongoing updates to Android, such as KitKat).
iOS 7 brought easier multitasking, new icons/fonts (floating with flattened design), a new notification bar, easier swiping gestures, and a new Control Center that Android users should be well accustomed to. Perhaps most importantly for this comparison, and iOS in general, is the optimization of larger screen space. The App store has over 400,000 apps carefully customized for screens double the size of the iPhone, including nearly all of the top apps. Some notable apps not optimized for iOS? Lots of Google's applications, including the new Google Play Music. Apple's own apps are perfectly integrated, as expected, and Safari outperforms Chrome as does Apple's Mail app over Google's Gmail. This is one downside to being a staunch Google supporter using an iPad: Your apps are great but just not as great as Apple's own.
The G Pad 8.3 runs on last year's Android 4.2.2 but more importantly includes LG's own interface and built-in apps. I will run through a few of the better apps, all of which I find to be extremely useful. The "Slide Aside" function allows for a three-finger swipe to the left to save up to three active apps. By three-finger swiping to the right, you can access all of the open tasks in a tabbed fashion, allowing for easier multitasking than iOS and multitasking on par with the new Android operating systems.
QSlide allows some apps to be overlayed, adding adjustable sizing and transparency options when need to move between apps. Qremote lets you access the IR blaster and control compatible TVs, Blu-ray players, cable boxes, set-tops and more. The setup is so easy a caveman could do it, and I had no issues connecting to my devices at home. KnockOn was one of my favorite LG features, letting you hit the display twice with your fingertip to turn on the display (or turn it off) rather than needing to hit the power button. Finally, being an Android smartphone user (LG Nexus 5), QPair allows you to use Bluetooth to connect the two devices and share texts and phone calls. Being able to respond to texts and see when phone calls are coming in without using a third-party app is a great feature.
The ability to type quickly on tablets is becoming a more necessary feature, and the G Pad obliges, using its own finger-tracing functionality (think Swype, Android's built-in keyboard and SwiftKey) to make typing easier. Additionally, numbers are on the top line of the virtual keyboard, meaning no unnecessary flipping between keyboard pages just to add numbers and symbols.
Unfortunately for the G Pad (and all Android tablets) is the lack of tablet optimized apps as compared to the iPad. Although I find that most Android smartphone apps scale very well and usability is unhindered, it is clear that the apps were not created for the larger screens. In terms of scaling, Android is much better than iOS in my opinion, but the App Store has more tablet apps, plain and simple. Finally, it is unknown to me why Apple does not allow widgets, which are extremely useful for not only apps like Twitter, but even for simple things like weather and setting tasks. Widgets are a game-changer for Android.
Functionality-wise, the LG G Pad 8.3 has more to offer, and this is a major, major win for the tablet. The reading experience is not as great on the G Pad 8.3 as it is on the iPad, but the other functionality is enough to give the G Pad the edge.
Battery life was significantly improved from the original iPad Mini, and it shows. With normal use you can get the standard iPad battery life of 10 hours, which includes reading, video playback, some streaming and Web browsing. The G Pad offered good battery life, as well, but drainage seemed to be an issue as compared to the iPad. Without using, the iPad would lose maybe 1 percent every few hours, while the G Pad lost half a percent every hour or slightly more if Bluetooth was left on and idle. Altogether, the G Pad 8.3 offered 8 hours of normal use, which gave me no complaints.
I've tried tablets of every size, iteration and operating system and must say that these two have been my favorites to date. The 8-inch range is the sweet spot for portability, functionality and price and the LG G Pad 8.3 and iPad Mini with Retina are the best in the market for the size.
The iPad Mini with Retina has an incredible display, with clarity unseen yet on a tablet. The tablet is also backed by the A7 64-bit processor, which is the new standard bearer in the industry and has Qualcomm already announcing new 64-bit chips for next year. iOS 7 continues to improve, and the Apple App Store is a haven for tablet-optimized apps that look gorgeous on the iPad. Developers know this and many apps just simply look and perform better on iOS than they do on Android.
Battery life is great, as is performance and the software ecosystem. The only issue is price, with the iPad costing $400 for a 16GB model that does not have a chance for expansion. This is the price one has to pay for the premium hardware and software of the iPad and it is certainly expensive given that the iPad Air is just $100 more, and Google's Nexus 10 sells for the same price. When weighed together, the iPad Mini with Retina is worth the price but is the G Pad a better alternative when taking price into account?
The G Pad 8.3 has a larger display, albeit with lower screen resolution, and its internals match other high-end Android tablets. The screen itself is great, offering better colors and saturation than the iPad, but with worse brightness and less clarity. Under the hood, the quad-core processor works as expected, with speedy performance and average battery life.
LG provides some excellent functionality outside of Android's normal goodies like widgets, including the aforementioned QPair, KnockOn and IR blaster. At a retail price of $300, the tablet offers great functionality, a larger display (in 16:10 if you are not an Apple 4:3 fan) and a premium feel when compared to nearly every other Android tablet. With adding in the ability to expand the internal storage another 64GB for cheap, at its price tag the LG G Pad 8.3 is also certainly worth the price.
Choosing between the two will be dependent on your daily tablet usage, but more importantly, how much you are willing to spend and whether you can look away from the Retina Display long enough to make an informed decision.
It's the SD card that's makes the LG a clear winner.