I had the first iPad when it was released in 2010 and when the first iPad mini launched in 2012, I never looked back. No more large tablets for me from that point onwards. The fact that I also had the Google Nexus 7 tablet proved that I am a small tablet person.
To me, the iPad mini’s 7-inch-ish screen was a perfect fit for my lifestyle. I am not a power user, btw; I use the iPad mainly for news, doodling (which I do quite a bit), and you know, media consumption.
Doodling is what spurs me to make the upgrade since the 6th-gen mini now supports second-generation Apple Pencil. But it is also timely because my iPad mini 3 is pretty much a relic at this point.
Before I share my thoughts about the device, here’s a rundown of its basic specs:
Model: 64 GB, Wi-Fi-only, Space Gray
Display: 8.3-inch LED-backlit IPS display
Chip: A15 Bionic chip (6-core CPU, 5-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine)
Camera: 12 MP wide camera with quad-LED True Ton flash
Camera features: up to 4K videoing at up to 60 fps, 1080p slo-mo at up to 240 fps
FaceTime HD camera: 12 MP ultra-wide, 1080p videoing at up to 60 fps
Battery: 19.3 Wh good for up to 10 hours of surfing over WiFi
Features: FaceTime audio, FaceTime video, Center Stage, built-in stereo speakers, dual microphones, digital compass, WiFi, iBeacon microlocation, Touch ID (on power button), USB-C port (USB 3.1 Gen 1)
I will be honest. I have adored the squared-off design since its introduction on the 3rd-generation iPad Pro 12.9-inch. Ever since I have wondered when it will be the mini’s turn to ditch the dated design. Then it happened to the iPad Air and now, the 6th-generation iPad mini!
That said, part of the motivation for getting the new iPad mini is the design. I’d say the design has a 20% weightage on my decision-making process and no, this review isn’t sponsored. I paid through my nose.
With the design, along with support for the new Pencil and a super-fast chip, the 6th-gen iPad mini is like a mini iPad Pro. Bar none.
The decision to go so-called “all-screen” (a debatable point) means the Touch ID has to be integrated with the Power button. While I appreciate the so-called all-screen, it really is not all-screen per se.
By ratio, it has a pretty sizable bezel going around the 8.3-inch display. TBH, the black band is not for everyone. Though to the bezel’s credit, it does leave you space for proper holding without triggering the touchscreen. So I guess all’s good?
The volume buttons are now located at the top, on the left. TBH, that’s not exactly the best spot for volume control when watching the movie in landscape position with the tablet placed on a stand.
Well, it’s an Apple. What are the odds it has build quality issues? OK. Not that Apple does not suffer from design and build quality issues (remember antennagate? And easy to bend design?) but that’s not the point.
My only griped is possibly relating to design and implementation. The first is the very narrow gap around the camera which can be a potential dirt trap and the second is the Touch ID which is a little finicky. That means the “aim” has to be pretty precise to get a smooth and quick unlock. Anyways, the build is just fine as expected of an Apple product.
The highlights here are the A15 Bionic chip and the Liquid Retina Display. The processor is very snappy and while the display is not of a high refresh rate, it is pretty smooth for what it is. It is good enough for my eyes. My Samsung Galaxy S21 is on 120 Hz, but TBH, I could see the difference. Perhaps, Liquid Retina Display is just good?
Anyways, with the A15 Bionic chip, it is like getting the new iPhone 13 but with much more screen real estate to play games, watch video and even make calls (FaceTime calls, of course).
It has the screen size and yet remains pretty portable. Blessed with the power of the A15 Bionic chip, running apps are faster (like, duh…). Moreover, movie watching experience is now a real joy thanks to the brighter display and louder speakers. Yes. Nobody actually mentioned this, but the speakers are louder – very much louder than my ancient mini 3.
Because of the 8.3-inch display, typing is much easier for gorilla hands like mine too. I don’t think it is stretch, but if you have got smaller hands, perhaps a keyboard would be nice for typing longer passages.
Actually, I have already kind of address the performance earlier. To recap, let’s just say that this little will take anything you throw at it. But what’s better to gauge the performance than putting through new, graphic-intensive mobile games? I tested with two games: Transformers Forged To Fight and the new Marvel Future Revolution.
Why these two games? Well, I had them on my Exynos-powered Samsung Galaxy S21 and it has difficulty keeping up. Imagine that. A flagship device having trouble dealing with a 4-year-old game. Anywho, not surprisingly, the 6th-gen iPad mini blazes through the game. There was no lack and there was certainly no stuttering like it had on countless occasions on my phone. In short, playing games on this little guy is pure joy.
Needless to say, less taxing things like surfing the web is now even more effortless, regardless of the number of tabs you have opened.
The new cameras are upgraded, but we heard no praises for it. However, coming from the mini 3, it is considered a huge leap. Low-light performance is not great, but I am sure if you get an iPad mini, superior photography is probably not on the wishlist. To cut long story short, here are some images were taken by the new mini in varying lighting conditions.
Let’s be honest. You are not going to miss anything if you upgrade from the previous generation mini. Oh, wait. Actually, you will miss a couple of things. The first and most noticeable is, the lack of the 3.5 mm headphone jack.
With the headphone jack gone, I fear the worst for the future of any tablets. It is inevitable that tablets may also go down the route of smartphones and if this goes on, it is possible that we may not see a charging brick in the future too. Ugh. But surely hope we won’t come to this.
Another miss for Apple small gadgets users will be the Lightning connector. It is good that Apple is transiting to USB-C for its tablet (the second device, I believe), but for those who already have several Lightning cables lying around and no USB-C cables, it will be a start-over accumulation. Though, it should not much of a deal for most people.
It will be nice that it has wireless charging since it has such a small form factor. Just saying…
Usually, we don’t talk about the battery but this being a tablet, we had to. On paper, the new mini has up to 10 hours. So far, I have charged it once every two days, but I attribute it to over-enthusiastic use due to the nature of it being a new product in my possession. You know how it is.
Believe it or not, my mini 3 can last for several days with daily Netflix, Prime Video, and YouTube fixes. And yes, I don’t have a life. iPad is life for me.
Another noteworthy thing for this review is, I never had a stylus to draw and so, I may have overdid it with this new toy. Gaming is also another aspect I never imagine doing with my iPad mini 3 and so, I may have over “tested” games on this little guy and result in me having to charge it more frequently.
Overall, I’d say you cannot go wrong with the 2021 iPad mini if you are in the market for a powerful, small form factor tablet. It will be a good fit for doodling on the road without weighing yourself down.
Best of all, you’d be getting a slightly larger display from a device that is almost the same size as the previous minis and weighing a tad less at the same time.
TBH, I felt that iPad mini has been in strange territory. It is not exactly a productivity device and yet it is too expensive just for multimedia consumption. But consider how long the last one lasted me, I made the leap. After all, I am quite a cinephile, and I trust this little guy to provide me the experience. That, and the doodling that I like doing.
If anyone’s interested, the 2021 Apple iPad mini is available now with a starting price of US$329 from Apple.com.
All images by Mike for Mikeshouts.com.