For the past week1, I’ve been using Apple’s sixth-generation iPad mini, which is officially launching this Friday. I’ll cut right to the chase: I’ve been waiting for this kind of iPad mini refresh for years, and the device absolutely delivers on all fronts. The new iPad mini fulfills my longstanding dream of an iPad Pro/Air-like device in a diminutive form factor, providing a highly portable experience unlike anything else in Apple’s lineup.
The iPad mini was already in a class of its own; with this redesign, Apple has made the best small iPad I’ve ever tried – one that is a joy to use on a daily basis. Whether you’re looking for a companion device to your iPad Pro or a portable iPad to complement your Mac experience, this little iPad is worth the price of admission.
The new iPad mini was the missing piece to my iPad workflow; now that I have it, I want to use it as much as possible.
At today’s Apple event, the company unveiled updates to the iPad mini and the 10.2” iPad. The 10.2” version continues to serve as Apple’s entry-level iPad at the lowest price point of any iPad, while the mini takes a more pro-like turn compared to its predecessor.
The new iPad mini was my favorite announcement of today’s Apple event. In the 18 months since I wrote The Mighty mini: Adapting Apple’s Diminutive Tablet to Work and Play, I’ve heard from many MacStories readers who have the same affection for Apple’s most portable tablet that I do. However, the trouble was that that iPad, which was released about 2.5 years ago, came with a lot of compromises compared with any other iPad you could buy until today.
Make no mistake, whether it’s a Mac, iPhone, or an iPad, I prefer big screens. I think most people do. A big, bright screen makes reading easier, and a larger canvas for the apps you use is rarely a downside.
Still, there’s a reason we carry mobile phones when a tablet, laptop, or desktop could accomplish the same tasks: portability. Smaller is often better, even as the compromises start to pile up when you shrink a device.
Portability is why foldable phones have captured the imaginations of so many people. They promise the portability of a traditional smartphone with a screen that’s closer to a tablet’s.
Just over one year ago, in March 2019, Apple released two new iPads: a 10.5-inch iPad Air and the first new iPad mini in over three years. The 5th-generation mini was a big surprise, largely because the mini hadn’t been updated in so long, leading many people to write it off as dead.
Perhaps an even bigger surprise, however, was the mini’s hardware. The design didn’t change, but the 5th-generation mini upgraded the device to an A12 processor, the same chip in the then-current iPhone XR and XS. The update also added a Retina laminated screen with True Tone, P3 color support, and the highest pixel density of any iPad. The mini doesn’t support ProMotion, it only supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, and still relies on Touch ID for security. Still, in terms of raw horsepower, the mini is more similar to the 10.5-inch iPad Air than it is different, allowing it to hold its own in Apple’s iPad lineup despite its diminutive size.
The previous fall, I had ordered a 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro and fell in love with it for writing and other tasks. As much as I enjoy the iPad Pro’s big display, though, it’s not suited for every task. For example, the size of the iPad Pro makes it awkward for reading in bed. Also, although I love to play games on my iPad Pro with a connected controller, that only works well if the iPad is sitting on a table.
When the mini was introduced, I immediately wondered whether Apple’s smallest tablet could be the perfect complement to its largest iPad Pro: a powerful but tiny device that could work well where the Pro doesn’t. I also figured the mini could be a great ‘downtime’ device for activities like games, reading, chatting with friends, and watching TV, movies, and other video content. So, I sold some old gear I no longer used and bought a mini with 256GB of storage, so I’d have plenty of space for games and locally-downloaded video.
The plan was for my new mini to serve almost exclusively as my downtime iPad. What’s happened in practice during the past year is very different than I anticipated originally. My use of the mini has expanded far beyond what I’d expected, despite the compromises that come along with its small size. The iPad Pro remains the device I rely on for most of my needs, but as we approached the iPad’s first decade, the time felt right to consider how far the mini has come and how this unassuming device fits so neatly into the spaces between the other devices I use.
I’ve always preferred using a Kindle to read books, but I have to admit that the iPad mini is a pretty great size if you’re primarily planning on using it to read books, newspaper apps, and websites. The screen may feel a bit cramped when using productivity apps, but switching to the iPad mini from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro was like going from a coffee-table book to a trade paperback. Reading from apps while holding the iPad mini in vertical orientation in one hand was easy and pleasant.
However, the increased screen density of this device means you’ll probably need to crank up the default text size in your apps and in the Text Size setting in the Display & Brightness section of the Settings app. As on previous iPad minis, everything’s just a bit smaller, and unless your eyes are particularly keen (and young) you’ll need to slide that text size up a notch or two in order to get it back into comfortable territory.
While the 12.9” iPad Pro is my main work iPad, in December I bought a base model of the 11” version that I use exclusively as a media device to read books and articles, watch videos via Plex and YouTube, and play iOS games. I love the design and gesture-driven UI of the new iPad Pros, but I’m also intrigued by the extreme portability of the new iPad mini. I don’t plan on switching because I value the design and better screen of the Pro, but I definitely want to go to an Apple Store and play with the new mini for a bit. As someone who used to work on an iPad mini years ago, I’m glad Apple brought this product back.
I’ve been testing iOS on old devices for six years, and I’ve never seen a release that has actually improved performance on old devices. At best, updates like iOS 6, iOS 9, and iOS 10 didn’t make things much worse; at worst, updates like iOS 7 and iOS 8 made old devices feel like old devices. Anyone using an older device can safely upgrade to iOS 12 without worrying about speed, and that’s a big deal. You’ll notice an improvement most of the time, even on newer devices (my iPad Air 2, which had started to feel its age running iOS 11, feels great with iOS 12).
As I noted in my review, I was hoping someone would run actual measurements for different system features on older devices running multiple versions of iOS. Cunningham did exactly that, going all the way back to iOS 10 on the iPhone 5S.
First of all, the colors and color accuracy of the iPad mini 4 now match all of the recent full size iPads and also the recent iPhones (5 and 6 including S and Plus). So across the entire mobile iOS product line you’ll now see color matched photos and screen images. The mini 4 is an excellent super size upgrade to the iPhone 6(S) and Plus and now truly qualifies as a small version of the iPad Air 2.
But in terms of real-world viewing conditions, the record low 2.0% screen Reflectance actually makes a bigger visual difference for the image colors and image contrast that you actually see because ambient light washes out and degrades the displayed images and reduces screen readability - so its record low Reflectance actually makes a bigger difference!
A major change in the new iPads that Apple didn’t mention on stage today is the Apple SIM, which will come preinstalled on the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. As we mentioned in our overview, the Apple SIM will be initially limited to the US and the UK.
The cellular-equipped versions of the new iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 can be bought with a single SIM card that supports multiple carriers, meaning that customers don’t have to decide at the time of purchase which cellular carrier they want. Customers buying previous versions of the iPad were bound to one carrier from the outset, since the SIM card was only compatible with that service.
Over at Quartz, Dan Frommer argues that the Apple SIM could potentially be a big deal on the iPhone and even disrupt the wireless industry:
It’s early, but it’s easy to see how this concept could significantly disrupt the mobile industry if Apple brings it to the iPhone. In many markets—especially the US—most mobile phones are distributed by operators and locked to those networks under multi-year contracts. People rarely switch operators, partially out of habit and satisfaction, but mostly because it’s annoying to do so.
There have always been rumors (see: 2010) of Apple setting itself up as a MVNO to change the way customers “interact” with carriers. It’s interesting that Apple has started to experiment with Apple SIM on the iPad and I’m curious to see if and how this will expand worldwide.