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Review: Apple’s new iPad mini is an iPad Pro mini in all but name

Apple has thrown the technical kitchen sink at its redesigned iPad mini. While the results are impressive, the sharp increase in price means that it may appeal to fewer casual iPad users.

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Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

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Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Is it worth upgrading to the iPad mini? Who does it best suit? Would you pick one over a different type of iPad? Here’s our review of the powerful new tablet, which costs from €569 (64GB wifi) to €909 (256GB wifi + cellular).

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Of all Apple’s new Autumn products, the updated iPad mini is arguably the most distinct. While the new iPhone 13, Apple Watch and refreshed basic iPad are all almost physically identical to their immediate predecessors, the new iPad mini is a complete redesign.

Indeed, it now handles like a mini iPad Air or, in some circumstances, even a mini iPad Pro.

Before I get into its new features, here are answers to five basic questions that people might have.

(i) Is it worth upgrading to from my current iPad mini? Yes.

(ii) Between this and the new base iPad, which is better to get? If it’s just browsing or movies on the couch or in bed, this iPad mini is better. If you sometimes need a keyboard, the cheaper base iPad (or pricier iPad Air) is preferable.

(iii) Is this a good option for kids? It may be too expensive for a kids’ tablet — the base model costs €569 (64GB), way pricier than the last one.

(iv) Can I use it for video and Zoom calls? Yes — it’s excellent.

(v) If you were buying one, which model specification would you get? 256GB (wifi-only) with smart folio cover (€804 total).

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Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

When it’s in your hand, the new iPad mini is indisputably pleasing. It has the handsome flat-sided frame of the most recent iPad Air and iPad Pro. And the advantage to its ‘mini’ size is that it’s handleable in a way that no other tablet really is. This is despite its 8.3 inch screen being larger than the previous mini model, despite the overall device being no bigger.

So it’s far easier to grab as a digital companion on the couch or as something to casually plonk on a coffee table without it looking like a computer. For the same reason, it’s also much handier to drop into a bag in case you think you’ll need something bigger than your phone out and about, whether it’s a specific work app or watching a Netflix episode on a train.

The question is, how many people are seeking that kind of specific device?

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Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Having used it for a week, I’ve experienced its advantages and its limitations. And there are still questions in mind as to who exactly this tablet perfectly suits.

Apple is positioning it as much as a productivity or professional tool, of use to engineers, architects and artists, as for a home user.

I can see why — with all of its technical upgrades, it now starts at €569, a huge bump over the (already high) price of the previous iPad mini.

So that all but rules it out as an affordable tablet that, for example, parents might consider for kids.

From my use of it, it’s clear that you’re getting what you pay for. The iPad mini has Apple’s second most powerful chip under the hood — the same one as in the new iPhone 13 Pro. It also has 5G, a bigger screen and an excellent front-facing video call camera.

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Apple’s new iPad mini. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini. Photo: Adrian Weckler

For anyone who needs to use a stylus, that new flat-sided design means that it’s compatible with the magnetic Apple Pencil 2 — a big advantage over the previous iPad mini (and the base iPad model, which can only use the slightly Apple Pencil 1).

And its the switch to USB-C means that it’s faster and more flexible for working with external peripherals, as well as being faster to charge. (Apple supplies a 20-watt charging plug with it, by the way.)

So as a mini iPad Pro, the only thing it’s really missing is a 120hz high-refresh screen.

In other words, this is a huge upgrade with high-end features.

The question is whether these will benefit users outside the professional and niche industrial classes that Apple has identified.

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Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Apple’s new iPad mini with smart folio case. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Having tested it a lot over the last few days, I think its main audience is one of two people. The first, as stated above, is someone who works in the sort of niche industry that needs powerful mini-tablets. That could include pilots, telecom engineers and others who find themselves ‘in the field’.

I can imagine this type of person, or their employer, paying €569 (64GB) or €739 (256GB) — or up to €200 more, with a (necessary) cover case and a useful Apple Pencil — for this kind of device.

But I think that the other interested buyer is someone who simply wants a screen big enough to watch things or browse casually at home on the couch or in bed. This person doesn’t quite fancy the weight and size of a 10-inch tablet or the awkward hassle of a laptop and doesn’t like giant-screen phones. Will this person fork out over €600 for such a device?

While the iPad mini does have some of the X factor — delight — that Apple is known for bringing to its products, I was reminded of its limits in my own use of it. For starters, it isn’t a laptop substitute — there’s no keyboard accessory from Apple, for example, as there is for all other iPads.

And sometimes its screen size was an inadvertent barrier to my using apps. I found that some apps don’t know whether to keep text in scale with a 10-inch tablet (making it tiny on an 8.3-inch device) or to treat it more as a phone app. The result, for me, was a little more fiddling around with settings and font sizes than I’d like.

Admittedly, this isn’t a problem for things like reading (via the Kindle app) or videos (via YouTube, Netflix, Disney or Apple TV+). If that is a large chunk of what you use a tablet for, this is a lot more comfortable to hold in the hand than a larger tablet, while still giving you a much better watching experience than whatever phone you have.

As for its other upgrades, USB-C is very handy in some circumstances. It charges a little more quickly than previous iPads with Apple’s Lightning connection. And for photography hobbyists like me, iPads are now a primary tool to edit photos and videos; they’re much quicker and more flexible than laptops or desktop PCs. They’re also as powerful for all but a tiny handful of photo editing requirements. Given the choice, I’d still choose to load and edit photos on a larger iPad (any of the 11-inch Air, the 11-inch Pro or the 13-inch Pro are ideal). But if I’m out and about and bag space is at a premium, this is a godsend.

The A15 Bionic engine upgrade, too, is crucial. This is the same chip that’s in the iPhone 13 Pro — it’s by far the fastest on the market and more than matches what you get in the larger, pricier iPad Air or last year’s iPad Pro models. It means that the iPad mini can render the likes 4K videos fairly easily. Even though I’m not a gamer, it will help significantly with this, too.

I also appreciated the significant upgrade in cameras. While the rear camera now shoots 4K video, it is the front-facing lens that is really important because it is supports the same decent videocall quality as the iPad Pro. It also has ‘Centre Stage’, Apple’s excellent feature that keeps your head in the centre of the frame, even if you move around a little.

As for battery life, I found it to be reasonable at around a day’s use under normal conditions.

If I were buying one of these iPad minis tomorrow, one saving I’d probably make is by choosing the wifi-only version.

As is normal with iPads now, there’s a choice of wifi-only or 5G cellular models. The latter model costs a whopping €170 more, not including whatever monthly mobile tariff you opt for.

While this set-up may make sense in countries like the US, which have restrictive mobile data markets, it seems superfluous here in Ireland, where you can get unlimited data from your phone for €15. In 2021, who doesn’t use their phone’s hotspot for wifi access on a tablet or a laptop? It’s possible that an employer-mandated iPad mini on a construction site or architectural project may require cellular access without leaving on the worker’s private phone. But for the rest of us, I’m not sure it makes much sense.

Other than the question of who exactly might choose this over another kind of tablet, the only drawback you might ascribe to the new iPad mini is that it doesn’t have a higher-refresh screen, but sticks with regular 60hz. It’s a decent bet that the next version will have a higher-end 120hz ProMotion display.

Other than that, and even at its higher price, this is easily the best sub-10-inch tablet you can buy. Nothing else really comes close.


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