We knew a Retina display was on the cards, but the iPad Mini wrong-footed us: it's also taken a massive step-up in power, thanks to the A7 chip out of the iPhone 5s.
We got 10 minutes' stroking time in Apple's demo area: read on for our first impressions of Apple's new baby.
This is the best screen we've seen on a small tablet
Apple reckons the iPad Mini 2's 7.9in, 2048x1536 screen packs a resolution of 326ppi, the same as that of a modern iPhone. Although not quite as sharp as the latest Android handsets, this is as crisp a screen as we've ever seen on a tablet.
The incandescent bulbs of the test area didn't provide the best environment to appraise the screen's quality, but from what we saw, it's a bit of a stunner. Colours look as rich and accurate as they do on the iPad Air, and the difference in the quality of rendered text between this and the previous generation of the iPad Mini is vast. That's what comes from increasing the resolution by 300%.
The screen was always a point of contention for us: the one spec that prevented us from whole-heatedly recommending the Mini over its cheaper Android rivals such as the Google Nexus 7 and Asus MemoPad. There's no such problem any more. If you have a Mini, you're going to want to upgrade. Sorry about that.
Still a beaut
There's not much to say about how nice the iPad Mini looks and feels that hasn't already been said. It's a tiny bit (0.2mm) thicker, it's as aluminiumy as ever, and the space grey finish is fetching (albeit somewhat less fetching, we think, than the silver). Want more detail? Read this.
The big surprise for us was that the new Mini has the 64-bit A7 chip made famous by the iPhone 5s. For those familiar with the slight stutter more demanding tasks result in on an iPad Mini, this will be welcome news. The experience is universally slick and fast, and Infinity Blade 3 didn't miss a beat in our playthrough.
As you'd expect there's no discernible difference between the operation of the Mini 2 and the iPad Air. In the demo area conditions web pages seemed to load at the same pace, even though the Mini lacks the Air's performance-boosting WIMO Wi-Fi antenna. Real-life use may prove slightly different, but it's unlikely you'll find the Mini a slouch.
Again, bad news for current-gen Mini owners: you're going to covet this one quite a lot.
More after the break...
Curiously limited camera
It was impossible to test the 5MP camera in the demo environment of the Apple event, but what we did notice was a couple of missing functions you might expect given the presence of an A7 chip.
The iPhone 5s uses the A7 for speedy image processing, which means it can do 120fps slow-mo video and fast burst mode photography. No such luck in either case here, and we're not sure why - the Mini is just about small enough to encourage owners to use it for the odd photo or two. We think Apple should man up and give the camera app just a few more tricks.
Wow, it's expensive
If its somewhat bigger screen doesn't put the Mini out of the running to pick up sales from cheaper Android tabs, the price will: $548 is significantly more than what a Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire HDX costs.
Of course, the original iPad mini is more competitive at $408, but as far as our Top 10 rankings are concerned, it's beaten by its cheaper rivals.
Will people still buy the new Mini? Once they try it, yes. But not as many would if it were $100 cheaper.
The new iPad Mini is a hugely desirable device, answering all our criticisms of its predecessor and then some.
Its biggest competition actually comes from it's big brother, the Air: now it's just as gorgeous, not all that much bigger, and provides the additional screen estate it forefathers always did. And at just $140 extra for the 16GB Wi-Fi variant, it's going to be seen by many as a tempting upgrade. Which would you prefer? Let us know below - and stay tuned for a full review in the near future.