Apple's iPad mini gets a powerful, pricier makeover

Apple‘s latest iPad mini gets a serious power improvement and larger display, but you’ll have to pay more for the upgrade compared to the previous generation mini. (Image: Howley)

Apple's (AAPL) newest iPad mini is here. And the 6th-generation version of the pint-size iPad brings major changes. Not only does the latest iPad mini get a redesigned look with a larger display, but it also gets a powerful new processor, and upgraded front and rear cameras.

The tablet also gets a not-so-mini price increase from $399 to $499. That's more than the newly updated 9th-generation iPad, which starts at $329 and gets a larger 10.2-inch display.

For my money, the mini is still the go-to iPad for people looking for a tablet that's easy to schlep to and from the office or just around the house — and also packs a performance punch.

The mini's major makeover

Let's start with the iPad mini's new look. Gone are the large bezels surrounding the mini's display. In their place, Apple has stretched out the screen toward the mini's edges, allowing for a much larger panel.

The mini now gets an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display in place of the old mini's 7.9-inch Retina display. The change is incredibly welcome, as the mini now fits in with the majority of the iPad line's styling. And let's face it. The prior generation mini was starting to look, well, old.

Despite the changes to the mini, its size hasn't changed all that much. It's actually a hair shorter than the 5th-generation tablet and ever so slightly thicker. It's just as easy to hold and lightweight as its predecessor, albeit with that bigger screen.

Speaking of which, I use my 5th-generation mini for watching the New York Mets lose while simultaneously playing video games with my wife, and as a means to stream “Jeopardy” while I run on the treadmill. I also bring it with me on trips to serve as my TV, because I need one to fall asleep at night. Don't judge me.

The iPad mini’s larger display means you get more content on screen at once without having to hold a significantly larger device. (Image: Howley)

For all of those reasons, I've always wanted the mini to get a larger screen, and the new version delivers. If you use your iPad as a secondary computer, the screen will give you more space to write up reports and compile spreadsheets (or whatever it is people with real jobs do).

That said, if you're looking for an iPad to completely replace your laptop, the mini might not be your best bet simply because it's far smaller than a traditional 13-inch laptop or even the 11-inch iPad Pro. Other iPads like the 9th-generation iPad and its 10.2-inch screen — or 4th-generation iPad Air and its 10.9-inch display — are better choices as full-on laptop replacements.

Power, performance, and Apple Pencil

Beyond its updated look and screen, the iPad mini also gets Apple's powerful new A15 Bionic chip. The same silicon found in the upcoming iPhone 13, Apple says the A15 Bionic provides an 80% performance boost over the 5th-generation mini, and based on benchmarks I've run, that about adds up.

Using Geekbench 5, a benchmarking app that measures CPU and GPU performance, the A15 in the new mini handedly beats out the prior generation mini and its A12 Bionic chip.

In real world use, the new iPad mini is as zippy as you'd expect. While using the photo editing app Pixelmator, I erased objects from shots in a blink, while the older iPad mini took a beat or two to make those same objects vanish. Games like 'Genshin Impact' also ran a bit smoother on the 6th-generation mini than on the 5-generation.

The iPad mini is now compatible with the Apple Pencil 2, meaning it can pair with and charge the stylus wirelessly. (Image: Howley)

All of that is to say, the new mini won't hit you with any slowdown while you’re using apps, playing games, or streaming video.

The 6th-generation iPad mini is also compatible with Apple's 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, so you can wirelessly charge and sync the pencil to the tablet to take notes or sketch.

Center Stage and USB C

Like the iPad Pro and new 9th-generation iPad, the mini's FaceTime camera gets Apple's Center Stage technology. The feature automatically centers you when you're making FaceTime calls. During a call with my parents and my nephew, I was able to move around near the tablet, and the camera quickly recentered me. If you have more than one person on your side of the conversation, the camera will zoom out to capture you both.

One important thing to point out about the iPad mini is that it now uses USB C rather than a Lightning connector. That means if you're coming from an older iPad mini, you're going to have to ditch your old cables.

While it's a pain, the new connection will allow for faster data transfer rates, as well as the ability to connect additional accessories to your tablet. For instance, if you're a photographer, you'll be able to connect it directly to the mini and instantly see your photos on the tablet.

Finally, battery life for the iPad mini is more or less unchanged from the prior generation model, meaning it will last you all day and let you stream movies without dying before the final act.

Should you get it?

The iPad mini has been my personal favorite iPad for years. And while its new $499 price tag is a little rich, for many people it's likely still worth it for the larger display and improved performance.

Still. if you're looking for something a bit less expensive, there's always the $329 9th-generation iPad. For my money, though, the iPad mini is a winner.

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