The sixth-generation iPad mini launched a few weeks ago, with Apple's new A15 Bionic processor and a design that makes it look like a more compact and portable version of the current iPad Air and iPad Pro. These updates make it look and feel quite different from the previous tablet in the series, the 2019 iPad mini, and from the new iPad (9th generation) which was launched alongside. As a long-time iPad user (I've bought five and used eight different models since the first generation launched in 2012) I've always found the iPad mini to be an interesting device, but not really for me. With the latest iteration though, Apple has bumped up the display size and performance, making the choice between models harder than before. Having now used the new iPad mini for a couple of weeks, there's no arguing that this tablet is a delight to use, but you also can't ignore the fact that it's still significantly smaller than the entry-level iPad, and costs 50 percent more.
For many of us, a tablet is still a luxury; a third device that you use aside from your smartphone and PC, which are both essentials. This is changing though, and many people do now find that their workflow can be fully accommodated on a tablet. Still, for most of us, an iPad will find the greatest use in reading a book or magazine, browsing the Web, playing games on the go, or making sketches or taking notes. It's this portability and flexibility that makes tablets so appealing, and the huge app ecosystem that exists for iPads makes them some of the most appealing choices in the category.
Apple sent me the new iPad mini with 256GB of storage and Wi-Fi plus cellular connectivity options, along with a Smart Folio cover and Apple Pencil (2nd generation). This tablet has a USB Type-C port instead of the proprietary Lightning port, which means that your older chargers aren't going to be useful. At least there's a charger in the box — a 20W one, in fact. At 8.3 inches, the display is slightly bigger than the 7.9-inch one on older models, but the iPad mini remains small enough that you could almost slip it into your trouser pocket (but you probably shouldn't).
Although Covid means that I didn't get to use it out and about too much, the little on-road testing that I did manage to do went just fine. For the most part though, I used the iPad mini at home alongside my own sixth-generation iPad and put it through much the same usage situations to see how it handled my three main activities: reading, streaming videos, and playing games. I expected that (mostly) staying indoors would put the iPad mini at a disadvantage because of its smaller display, but read on to see how the actual experience measured up.
The iPad mini (2021) has an 8.3-inch screen with narrow borders and no physical home button
Apple iPad mini 2021 India pricing and variants
The iPad mini (2021) starts at Rs. 46,900 in India for the 64GB Wi-Fi only model. It comes in four colour options: Space Grey, Pink (which is more salmon), Purple (which looks more like lilac), and Starlight (a creamy champagne colour). The 64GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model is priced at Rs. 60,900, which is the same price as the 256GB Wi-Fi only model. The 256GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model that Apple sent to me is priced at Rs. 74,900. Add to that the Smart Folio cover at Rs. 5,500, and the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) at Rs. 10,900, and the overall package can go up to Rs. 91,300.
These prices are nearly 50 percent higher than those of the entry-level ninth-gen iPad: while the 64GB Wi-Fi iPad is priced at Rs. 30,900 in India, the Wi-Fi + Cellular model starts at Rs. 42,900, and the 256GB versions cost Rs. 44,900 and Rs. 56,900 for Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi + Cellular, respectively. This means that the choice between the two iPad models isn't necessarily easy and doesn't just come down to use case, as you'll have to decide what aspects you assign the most value to, but more on that later.
Apple iPad mini (2021) design
If the previous generation of the iPad mini looked like a scaled down iPad, the 2021 model looks pretty much like a smaller iPad Air (2020) (Review). The home button is gone now, and instead the display fills up nearly the whole front face. There's a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera on the front, and the iPad mini now supports Centre Stage, which uses machine learning to crop and adjust the front-facing camera's view to keep you and anyone else with you in the frame.
One thing that's missing here is a 3.5mm port for headphones — while this isn't as much of a loss on a phone, on an iPad it is certainly annoying. One of my uses was to watch movies or shows at night, and not having to keep Bluetooth headphones charged for overnight use was definitely a plus.
The iPad mini (2021) will even fit into a trouser pocket
The power button doubles up as a fingerprint sensor for Touch ID, and it does a good enough job, although it would have been nice to have had Face ID on this tablet as well. The volume buttons are not on the side anymore, having moved to the top (in portrait mode) to make space for the Apple Pencil (2nd generation), which sticks magnetically to the iPad mini and charges; a huge improvement over the first generation Pencil. The Nano-SIM tray is along this face of the iPad mini, and is hidden when you place the Pencil on the magnetic connector.
The USB Type-C port is on the bottom. There are four speaker grilles; two on the top and two on the bottom (in portrait mode), but unlike the Pro series, this has only two speakers, so you get stereo sound only when you're holding the iPad mini in landscape mode. This is fine for watching videos and playing most games. The rear camera also has a 12-megapixel sensor, and features a True Tone flash. The rest of the back is plain, with only a large Apple logo in the middle.
With an 8.3-inch display, the new iPad mini now has more screen area than the 7.9-inch models we had earlier. The Wi-Fi variants weigh 293g while the Wi+Fi + Cellular ones weigh 297g. Despite the larger display, the body of the new iPad mini is slightly smaller overall. It's 10mm shorter along the longer side and is also 7g lighter than the 2019 model.
The Liquid Retina display is an LCD panel with a 2,266x1,488 resolution at 326 pixels per inch, which is actually pretty close to the resolution of the 11-inch 2021 iPad Pro. The result is a very crisp-looking screen, with a thick distinct bezel surrounding it. It's actually a little narrower than the one on the entry-level iPad, but once you start using this tablet you very quickly realise that it probably can't be much smaller without resulting in lots of accidental screen touches.
Inside the box, there's the iPad mini, a USB Type-C charging cable, and a 20W USB Type-C power adaptor. There's also a small amount of documentation about the iPad mini; pretty much the standard experience with new Apple products.
The iPad mini is comfortable to hold in one hand while scribbling notes with the other
Apple iPad mini (2021) specifications and software
The new iPad mini is built around the same A15 Bionic SoC as the iPhone 13 series, though clocked slower, as compared to the A12 Bionic in the fifth-generation iPad mini (2019), which was also used in the iPhone XS. The new chip is fabricated on a 5nm process, versus the 7nm of the A12 Bionic, and it has an integrated 5-core GPU along with six CPU cores. Apple says that the 6-core CPU delivers a 40 percent jump in performance, and the 5-core GPU delivers an 80 percent leap in graphics performance compared to the previous-generation iPad mini.
Having used the new iPad mini for 12 days now, I haven't come across any use case that actually strains this device. Playing games without the tablet heating up the way my iPhone XS does, and running multiple apps such as Pages and Safari side by side, went without any hitch. If you swipe in from the bottom right corner with the Apple Pencil (2nd generation), iOS 15 will open up a Quick Note, allowing you to pen something down in your handwriting. I could do this, and then copy and paste it as editable text in Pages without the slightest pause.
Coming back to the specifications, there's a 12-megapixel camera on the rear with a quad-LED True Tone flash. It supports 4K video recording at up to 60fps with video stabilisation. The 12-megapixel front camera has an ultra-wide 122-degree field of view. You also get stereo speakers and dual microphones for FaceTime and other VoIP calls. For connectivity, the new iPad mini has simultaneous dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi 6, and it can connect to 5G or LTE networks with either a Nano-SIM or an eSIM.
The iPad mini came running iPadOS 15 out of the box, and at the time of writing, we're running on iOS 15.0.1. This adds the SharePlay feature that allows you to share your screen over FaceTime calls, and a grid view for multiple callers on FaceTime. You can also add Windows and Android users to calls using a Web link. There are new Memoji characters, and a new Focus feature that lets you control the number of notifications you're getting.
If you've been using an iPad, you already know what to expect. There are the usual quibbles that some power users will have about the lack of multiple user accounts, restricted access to the file system, having to rely only on the official App Store for approved apps, and so forth. There are multiple points of view on this, but as a long-time iPad user, I'm fairly happy with things right now.
Some apps, like Instagram, look and feel like phone apps running in a blown-up window on the iPad, but otherwise almost every major application you need has an iPad version, and these work well with the iPad mini. Multitasking features such as Split View and Slide Over are intuitive and easy to use, and the ability to quickly swipe in from the side to go back to an app opened in multitasking mode is highly convenient. Of course, the smaller screen means that things are more cramped on an iPad mini than they are on a full-sized iPad, but with the increase from the 7.9-inch display on older models, this feels like less of a problem., and Wworking in landscape mode with two apps open is quite comfortable.
The Apple Pencil also enables a number of cool features — swipe in with the Pencil (or a finger) from the bottom-right and you can pull up a new Quick Note to begin scribbling. Swipe in from the bottom left (Pencil only) to take a screenshot and quickly add markups if you like. The Pencil settings also allow you to choose whether you want to auto-minimise the toolbar, disable palm input, write in any text box, and convert handwritten notes to text. You can choose whether a double-tap on the Pencil near the tip switches to the eraser or last tool used. You can also choose whether to see a colour palette in supported apps like Notes.
The Apple Pencil's functionality is deeply integrated in iPadOS
Apple iPad mini (2021) performance
So the question is — how will you use your iPad mini? The good news is that it's powerful enough to handle just about anything that you're throwing at it. As for use cases, well, that depends on how a tablet fits into your day-to-day routine.
Apparently, the iPad mini is particularly popular among flight crew, because its small size makes it suitable for use in the cockpit, and interactive flight plan apps on an iPad mini are more useful than using a paper map or the small display of a phone. This makes sense, and the iPad mini would also probably be a great device to take along on a long flight — something I obviously didn't get to try during the pandemic. On all previous flights, I've carried a full-sized iPad to clear the many, many articles I have saved using Pocket, or to catch up on my video queue, or to play a few quick rounds of whatever games I've been playing. This works great, and as planes pack us closer and closer together, the smaller size of the iPad mini could be much appreciated.
The iPad mini has a more powerful processor than the same-generation iPad, so if you're looking for something that falls between the new iPad Pro models and the base iPad, then this might be what you need. I played Bastion, Civilization VI, and ARK: Survival Evolved on the iPad mini, and everything ran perfectly without any noticeable issues. Games like Wingspan, which leave the iPhone XS feeling somewhat uncomfortably hot in my hands, made so much more impact on the iPad mini. In fact, in my day-to-day usage, I didn't run into any scenarios that made the iPad mini seem short on power.
The biggest upside it has over the entry-level iPad is that it supports the Apple Pencil (second-generation). This is a huge step up from the first-gen Pencil, which you can use on the iPad. The first-generation Pencil can't be attached to your iPad, so you're always worried about misplacing it, and it needs to have its back unscrewed (and potentially lost) and then plugged into the iPad in a very unwieldy manner in order to charge it. That means that more often than not, it's low on power when I'm trying to use it. The second-generation Pencil is always attached to the iPad mini, ready to be used. When it's like this, it's also powering up, so I almost always started using it at 100 percent charge.
This sounds like a small thing, but it made it much more likely that I'd even want to reach for the Pencil. Coupled with just how good Apple has gotten at turning my scribbles into legible editable text that can be copy-pasted into any field, this is a real game changer. There were more than a few times when I was making notes like I would in a real notebook, and then just copied and pasted these into my email. It's completely natural, and if you're used to taking a lot of notes with pen and paper, then you'll absolutely love using the iPad mini.
The other use case that I have for an iPad is watching videos and reading books and comics. The Shonen Jump and Marvel Unlimited apps are two of my favourites, and I have a large collection of books in the Kindle app. I was pretty confident that my sixth-generation iPad with its larger screen would fare better than the iPad mini. However, although display size obviously does matter, I realised that the weight difference (the iPad, at just a hair under 500g, is almost the same weight as two new iPad minis) meant that I was actually much more comfortable reading on the iPad mini for extended periods. At the same time, the bump in display size over previous iPad mini models also means that it is now big enough that reading books and comics, and watching videos, is significantly better than on a phone.
The rear camera delivers pretty good results even indoors with less-than-ideal lighting. The front camera, on the other hand, is best left for video chats. It's very capable for that task; I used it several times and got only positive feedback.
iPad mini (2021) camera samples (Top: rear camera, indoors; bottom: front camera, indoors) (tap to see full size)
Apple iPad mini (2021) battery life
Just like the 2021 base iPad model, Apple says that the battery on the new mini will last for up to 10 hours — and by now Apple has gotten its battery-size-to-performance ratio down to a very exact science, because that's what I found as well. Coupled with fast charging, I don't think I ever experienced any battery anxiety with the iPad mini. This is also my experience with most of the older iPad models I have used. Apple gets this balance just right, so that you can get good use out of the device.
Despite using some of the new iPad mini's power to charge the Apple Pencil (2nd generation), I got a little more than 10 hours of use between each charge. The iPad mini also does a great job of holding its charge when not in use. When the screen is off, you'll barely notice any change in the battery percentage. This means that you actually get to use that battery life between charges. Using the 20W charger in the box, the iPad mini charged from 10 percent to 100 percent in just about two hours.
I went into this process convinced that while I really liked the look of the new iPad mini, I would find it a less capable alternative to the base iPad. After all, the first-generation iPad Pro with its huge display had completely overshadowed the standard iPad for me, so it followed that the smaller display on the iPad mini would be a letdown. Instead, what I found was a tablet that is much more portable, and at the same time, is still good for media use.
Where I thought I'd quickly stop using the iPad mini and instead switch back to my own sixth-generation iPad at night, I instead found myself almost exclusively using the smaller tablet. Typing with my thumbs on the small display was not only possible but actually comfortable; I have to hold the larger iPad in one hand and type with the other. Holding the iPad mini up for long stretches of time while reading books and comics was also just so much easier. The design is smart and convenient, and I ended up really finding it much more comfortable.
The more powerful internals are also nice to have, but honestly, on a day-to-day basis, this won't impact people much. After all, it's not as if the new iPad (2021) is underpowered. With that said, there will of course be certain workflows for which the power difference matters, so that really depends on how you're planning to use your tablet. Similarly, the importance of the Apple Pencil (2nd generation) will also play a huge role in whether or not this is the right pick for you.
If you're fine without a Pencil, or using it only sparingly, then the entry-level iPad again makes more sense. It's significantly less expensive, and with its larger display, will work well if you're planning on watching a lot of streaming video. However if you'd like to make handwritten notes or sketches, I would suggest considering the iPad mini instead.
If you're wondering whether this is a good upgrade from the 2019 iPad mini, then the answer is a lot simpler — yes it is, if you are comfortable with the price. It's better in almost every conceivable way.
With the new iPad mini, Apple now has a solid lineup of tablets, from 8.3 inches to 12.9 inches. There are a few niche use cases which could make you choose one over the other, but from a generalist perspective, I've come away thinking a lot more highly of the iPad mini than I did initially, and will probably be spending more than I had planned, in order to update my old iPad.
This week on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast, we discuss iPhone 13, new iPad and iPad mini, and Apple Watch Series 7 — and what they mean to the Indian market. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.