The Retina display on the iPad mini 2 is overdue. It should have appeared on the first version, but either Apple was struggling to get that technology in at the right price 12 months ago or just wanted to give it something to upgrade to. Whatever the reason, it feels very late now.

Given there are multiple rumors of Apple's iPad mini 2 screens being hard to produce, leading to the delay we're seeing for this tablet, we can perhaps believe the earlier version of events - but given Apple's larger profit margins, we reckon that if it had wanted to it could have launched a Retina iPad mini a year ago.

Anyway, the good news is that it's here now and it looks stunning. The crisp characters, the more realistic colors, the sharpness of the icons - all excellent and well represented.

iPad Mini 2 review

Some have criticized the mini 2 for having a slightly more washed out colors compared to the Air, but only in side-by-side comparisons is this evident - we couldn't help being impressed by the added sharpness every time we turned on the smaller tablet.

It's so much better that when we handed this device to an iPad mini owner, they were instantly upset - you could see they wanted to upgrade from a device that cost a fair amount only a year ago.

We're still torn on the issue of screen ratio - the iPad mini 2 follows Apple's tablet strategy of keeping the 4:3 screen, which is the same as seen on TVs before widescreen came in.

This means that video needs the black bars above and below - and sounds horribly last-generation when you consider that most other tablets (the Nexus 7 being the most popular) are in 16:9 widescreen.

However, while video watching is a large portion of what you're going to do with the mini 2, it isn't the primary reason to buy the tablet. For web browsing, swishing through the home screen or using some of the 425,000 dedicated iPad apps, the larger screen (at 7.9in) is excellent, offering more space by expanding the sides a little more.

So while the video experience seems a little marred, we do appreciate that the additional pixels make scrolling through the web that much nicer, and gaming becomes more immersive.

When you've got a graphics chip as capable as the one on offer here, you'll see that's a real plus point.

So Apple: we're still irked that you took this long to deliver us an iPad mini with a Retina display, but by making it the same resolution as the iPad Air (1,536 x 2,048) and higher-res than the competition (the LG, Google and Amazon options all come in at 1,920 x 1,200, albeit offering the same 325PPI) you've given a really cracking screen that goes far beyond what would be acceptable on a tablet.

Some have claimed it's hypocritical to criticize the iPhone 5S for not coming up with new screen technology and not do the same with the mini 2 - but to our minds, the distinction is clear.

The mini 2 needed to only make the step up to Retina to be considered a success, as tablets are held to a different standard to phones. And to pack this many pixels into a sub-8-inch screen, bringing the same PPI as the iPhone, is really impressive too.

However, let's get a bit more technical now: the only problem, if we were to identify one, is that Apple hasn't made the best screen on the market, according to DisplayMate. Ray Soneira of the same laboratory testing facility has run the three displays through a variety of tests, and while the Mini 2 performs fairly well in most scenarios, it's often bested by the competition.

Nexus 7 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

For instance, that while all three have a really good level of sharpness at distance and differing viewing angles, and critically performed well when being calibrated, in many cases the iPad Mini 2 came up short. For instance, the color reproduction wasn't as good compared to the other two, and the contrast wasn't as accurate.

The iPad Mini 2 definitely errs on the more 'natural' when it comes to color reproduction, according to DisplayMate's findings, and in our own side by side tests we noted the same thing. The iPad Mini 2 takes things too far at times, where the others show a clear and rich picture, especially when viewing photos.

This leads to lower color accuracy too, where the others managed it quite happily; again, natural options are too the fore here. We noticed that the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has the best screen for movies and photos, which is down to two things: dynamic contrast and using quantum dot technology.

Google Nexus 7 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

The former you'll be able to see easily - lower the brightness on the screen when looking at a photo, and the decrease won't be uniform. This might sound bad but what it does is keep the darker scenes well lit so you can still make out all portions of the screen without losing the overall visibility. For a tablet that some might say is only there to allow users to buy more things, the technology is very effective.

But what of Quantum Dots? Here's what DisplayMate had to say on the subject: "Quantum Dots are almost magical because they use Quantum Physics to produce highly saturated primary colors for LCDs that are similar to those produced by OLED displays.

"They not only significantly increase the size of the Color Gamut by 40-50 percent but also improve the power efficiency by an additional 15-20 percent. Instead of using White LEDs (which have yellow phosphors) that produce a broad light spectrum that makes it hard to efficiently produce saturated colors, Quantum Dots directly convert the light from Blue LEDs into highly saturated primary colors for LCDs."

You can head over to the DisplayMate report to see the full findings of the tablet test, but the results were that while the Amazon and Google tablets were matched in terms of performance, the iPad Mini 2 had less accurate color reproduction, and lower peak brightness while still drawing the most power - it was also the most reflective.

That said we do like the natural reproduction of the iPad Mini 2 - the other two did err one the 'impressive' side when it comes to display type, which can grate slightly at times but wow most others.

Verdict

We're really splitting hairs here - all three tablets have an incredible screen, which is a big step forward over last year. Apple might struggle with things like color reproduction, and color accuracy is a worry, but it's not a bad effort, despite sitting well in third place.

The other two tablets just have great screens and offer brilliant value for money as a result - there's nothing to choose between them in our eyes, but we do prefer the dynamic range of the Kindle Fire HDX in day to day tests, although we can't really get on board with the UI. Overall the Google Nexus 7 is our pick - but we urge you to try all three and see which suits your tastes most.