Apple iPad mini review: The sharpest pocket-sized tablet yet

Our tester dubbed this the “Goldilocks tablet” – not too small, not too large (iStock/The Independent)

Dear iPad, this isn’t an easy thing to say, but I’ve met another and I think they might be the one. You were great, and I hope we’ll stay friends but my heart is taken. It’s not you, it’s me…

The latest Apple tablet, the iPad mini, has just been revealed and it has a super-fast processor, a display with the highest pixel density of any iPad, and 5G connectivity, which last year’s iPad air can’t match. If you thought the day of the small-screen tablet had been dispatched by big-display smartphones, think again.

This is the new iPad mini and it’s smaller, and bigger at the same time, as the last iPad mini, which, to be honest, hasn’t been updated significantly for years. The dimensions are similar to the previous iPad mini, but the display is a lot bigger. Where the previous mini had a 7.9in display, here it’s 8.3in.

And the design has changed, along with the processor, the cameras and the capabilities of the software.

The Apple iPad mini is the ideal tablet for smaller hands, a great gaming device, a good video conferencing device and a solid performer. Here’s why it’s such an appealing tablet.

    Apple iPad mini: From £479, Apple.com

    (Apple)

    Rating: 9/10

    • Price: From £479 wifi only, from £619 wifi + cellular

    • Display: 8.3in, LCD, 326 pixels per inch

    • Processor: Apple A15 Bionic

    • Storage: 64GB or 256GB

    • Dimension: 195.4 x 134.8 x 6.3mm

    • Weight: Wifi only 293g, Wifi + cellular 297g

    • Camera: Front 12MP ultra wide, Rear 12MP wide

    Design

    This is the Goldilocks tablet, not too small, not too large. It’s a perfect fit in the hand or bag, light enough to be easily carried, and big enough to be highly usable.

    It’s available in four new colours which, for the first time on an iPad mini, doesn’t include silver. Instead, Apple has chosen starlight (silver with hints of gold), space grey, and pink and purple (the most fetching colour of the group). The new device is slick, speedy and effective. You can buy cheaper tablets, for sure. But no affordable tablet can match the build quality and uptown design of the iPad (mini, regular, air or pro). The mix of inviting display and tactile aluminium is hard to beat.

    The new mini looks like a shrunken version of the iPad pro or iPad air and includes features common to those bigger tablets, such as a flat-edge design, compatibility with the second-generation Apple pencil (which snaps on to that convenient flat edge magnetically to charge) and an all-screen front. The fingerprint sensor is now mounted in the power button on the top edge, a design introduced on the iPad air last year.

    Read more: 10 best tablets for kids for learning and playing games

    It’s a superb way to unlock the tablet: touch the button with your finger and it recognises it instantly, unlocking the display. Or, rest your finger on the button just a moment longer and the tablet both unlocks and opens the display to the last-seen app or window.

    The volume buttons have been moved to the top edge alongside the power button, in order to provide room for the pencil on the long side. It’s a perfect fit, by the way.

    Display

    Since it was first introduced almost nine years ago, the iPad mini has had a high-resolution display. In fact, from the second-generation iPad onwards it had a higher pixel density than other iPads and it looked great as a result. Where even the priciest iPad pro has a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi), the iPad mini comfortably beats this with its 326ppi resolution. Look as close as you can, you won’t see the dots that make up the picture.

    Although the dimensions the new iPad are smaller than its predecessor, the screen display size has grown from 7.9in to 8.3in (David Phelan)

    This time around, the display, freed because there was no need for a touch ID or a home button for the first time on a small-screen iPad, has grown. Not only does it now fill the front of the tablet, but it has curved corners.

    If there’s a downside to this smaller size, it’s that the app icons appear especially small. They’re still legible, but they just look tiny. Happily, there’s a setting for bigger app icons, which I recommend.

    Camera

    This iPad mini has a 12MP rear camera, complete with a flash for the first time on a mini iPad. Now, a flat sheet of glass and metal doesn’t make a great camera, so it really isn’t ergonomically useful for taking photos – though the big screen is sumptuous when it comes to framing shots. But, just as importantly, it has an upgraded front-facing camera. So what, you say? Well, this camera isn’t about selfies, it handles a feature called “centre stage”, found on the latest iPad pro, and the newest entry-level iPad as well as this iPad mini.

    Read more: Can Dell’s XPS 15 give the MacBook pro a run for it’s money?

    It uses an ultra-wide camera and advanced chip to work its magic on video calls. Stand up, move around the room, and the algorithms and neural engine are smart enough to follow you, ensuring you stay front-and-centre at all times. It’s even smart enough to adjust when others move into the camera’s eyeline. In other words, while I don’t recommend the iPad mini as a regular camera substitute, its chip means it can deliver real value as a video calling device.

    Performance

    Speaking of the chip, it has the most advanced, fastest processor yet from Apple, the same one that’s found in the latest suite of iPhones. It’s the A15 bionic, and it’s remarkable. Try whatever you like on the iPad mini, you can’t faze it, even when playing demanding games.

    Read more: Our buying guide to choosing a laptop that’s right for you

    And, oh boy, it’s an amazing gaming machine, with its 8.3in display proving the perfect size whatever you’re playing. Big enough to be immersive, small enough to fit in your pocket. The super-fast processor has an extra graphics core to help deliver exceptional game images, too.

    Battery life

    The truth is, battery life on the iPad has never been an issue, and it’s not here. It lasts the regular 10 hours or so that iPads have always lasted between charges, which is almost always long enough.

    The verdict: Apple iPad mini

    The iPad mini is like a smaller version of the iPad air, but it’s also more powerful than that and has features the air can’t match such as “centre stage” for video calls. It has the best unlock set-up of any iPad – a sophisticated and convenient touch ID button. It has a super-fast processor, and it’s amazingly convenient and pocketable. Of course, the iPad air has a lot to offer, and if you fancy a larger screen, it’s still a hard tablet to beat. And the entry-level iPad remains the best-value tablet from any manufacturer. But in terms of a slick, capable tablet that you can take anywhere, the iPad mini has the lot.

    Apple iPad mini

    Buy now £479.00, Apple.com

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      We also put Apple’s iPad pro and iPad air head to head – read out review to see which one comes out on top

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