Apple launched two new iPads this month, the full-sized iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display. Given the current popularity of mini-tablets, I ordered the new mini as soon as they became available last week, but it didn't arrive until today. It won't surprise you to discover that it's quite beautiful, and arguably worth the heady price tag.

Among my complaints about the original iPad in 2010 was that it was too big and that a device with a smaller screen size would be preferable. But later that year, Amazon launched the 7-inch Kindle Fire, jumpstarting the mini-tablet craze. And now everyone's doing it, including Apple, which launched its own iPad mini in 2012.

I liked the original iPad mini quite a bit—still do, actually—and described it as the ideal mini-tablet, thanks to its build quality and elegant design. Only two things were holding it back, iOS, which was at the time a very old-fashioned system, and, to a lesser degree, the curiously low-resolution 1024 x 768 display. (To be fair, I found the iPad mini display to be quite good, but this is an obvious complaint.)

The iPad mini with Retina display fixes both of these issues, and the result, predictably, is best-in-class.

This mini ships with the significantly updated iOS 7 mobile OS, which I previously described as a software platform that is as pretty as the hardware on which it runs. That was never true before, but it is now.

And of course it delivers a Retina-class display, in this case a 2048 x 1536 stunner that delivers a stellar 326 pixels per inch, so high that you can't actually see the individual pixels. To give you an idea of how impressive this is, consider that the bigger screen on the iPad Air provides exactly the same resolution. So the mini screen is even sharper.

Retina-class: A portion of the iPad mini with Retina display home screen

That said, the iPad mini with Retina display enters a market that is crowded excellent devices, all of which are much less expensive. I'll be comparing this mini, in particular, to the Dell Venue 8 Pro, the first excellent Windows mini-tablet, the Google Nexus 7, and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. But I think I can dispense with the mystery and state right up front that—if you can get by the mini's luxury-class price tag—this one is pretty much pre-ordained.

Dell Venue 8 Pro, Google Nexus 7, Apple iPad mini with Retina Display

Put simply, the iPad mini is better looking and better made than its competition. And it is backed by the strongest digital ecosystem there is. If you want the most apps, the best apps, the best digital media services, and the best and most extensive collection of hardware accessories, there's no need for testing. There's the iPad and then there's everything else.

But there's a reason Apple's vaunted tablets are struggling in the face of high-quality but low-cost alternatives. After all, if BMWs were affordable, we'd all drive one. So the trade-offs between cost and versatility—or perhaps between want and need, as it were—will perhaps tilt the balance for you, as they are doing in the real world.

Apple iPad mini with Retina Display (top), Dell Venue 8 Pro (middle), Google Nexus 7 (bottom)

As always, I need to actually spend time with the iPad mini with Retina display before reviewing it, a necessity I see ignored on many other blogs and web sites. I'll report back with a more complete review as soon as possible.

In the meantime, here are some photos of this stunning device, including some featuring the Smart Cover, which I also purchased to protect the device.