A mighty upgrade for Apple’s Mini tablet

iPad Mini review: Apple’s sixth-generation tablet comes into its own

Apple iPad Mini (6th generation)
    
Price: €569
Where To Buy: www.apple.com

If I’m honest, I’ve never really been sure where the iPad Mini fit in my personal technology line-up. It was nice to have while travelling, but it was basically a TV screen; any work I did was typically better suited to the larger iPads, especially when the iPad Pro launched.

But then Apple launched the new iPad Mini. The new generation of the tablet comes with an 8.3 inch screen, Centre Stage for video calls, and crucially, the support for the second generation Apple Pencil. Combine that with its compact size and the iPad Mini has a new purpose: pretty much everything you can think of.

It can be comfortably held one handed, making it ideal for reading books, digital newspapers and magazines, or using as a notebook. The upgraded front facing camera works well for video calls, with the Centre Stage support tracking your movement in the wider field of vision.

Because of its design, the iPad Mini feels more like a really large iPhone or shrunken iPad Pro. The screen has been increased in size from 7.9 inches to 8.3 inches, but without too much of a size bump. Instead of increasing the size of the device itself, Apple has trimmed down the borders, ditched the home button in favour of putting TouchID in the lock button, and given the extra space over to the display instead.


Speaking of the display, Apple has designated the iPad Mini’s display as “liquid retina” instead of its predecessor’s “Retina” display. It’s an Apple trademark, but it basically denotes a high definition display. The iPad Mini is superbly sharp, with decent brightness of around 500 nits, so no matter what you are using it for - video, text, photo editing - you should see vibrant colours and sharp text.

On the inside, it has Apple’s latest A15 Bionic chip. That’s a bit of a jump compared to the A12 that is in the fifth generation of the iPad Mini, so you should notice a boost in power and speed.

The 4G connectivity in the wifi and cellular version has been swapped out for 5G, and the lightning connector has made way for a USB C connection instead. The Mini is future-proofed on all fronts.

The upgraded camera works well for video calls. The front facing camera is now 12 megapixels instead of the previous 7MP, and it has a wider angle than before. That is especially useful for its Centre Stage capabilities, which essentially tracks you in shot, like a mini cameraman.

The rear camera has also been given a bit of an upgrade, jumping to 12 megapixels from the previous 8, and getting a quad LED True Tone flash. It’s a step up from the previous iPad, and although it won’t take over from your smartphone, it’s a viable option if you need a quick photograph for a work project, for example. It also records 4K video, should you feel the need.

So what have I been using it for over the past few days? Primarily as a notebook, with streaming video a close second. Then a bit of magazine reading, followed up by Kindle e-books.

It may sound like overkill to use a €570 tablet as a notebook, but it works. I currently use GoodNotes 5 on the iPad; you can install the app on your iPad, iPhone and Mac, and keep your notes synced across all three platforms. It’s an end to lost or misplaced notebooks, because you always have your notes with you in digital form. The size of the iPad Mini means it can go into almost every bag I own, along with the second-gen Apple Pencil.

It's also come in very handy for watching Netflix or Disney+. As a streaming video device, the two speaker audio in landscape mode seems like a small change, but a very noticeable one.

The good

The new iPad may not change a whole lot of the Mini’s fundamentals, but it feels like it does. The bumped up camera quality, the second-gen Apple Pencil support and the extra screen space make it feel like a fresh take on Apple’s smaller tablet.

The not so good

The device still relies on TouchID for biometrics rather than using Face ID; the camera may have been upgraded, but it still doesn’t compete with the iPad Pro’s TrueDepth camera. Also, the device may be mini but the price isn’t.

The rest

There is no battery boost for the mini, but it still puts in a respectable 10 hours or so of battery life.

The verdict

Should you upgrade? Probably. Will you want to? Definitely.


Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist