Cutting edge meets classic. That's the easiest way to sum up the new iPad mini, which is a long-overdue update to the iPad mini 4. How overdue? It's been nearly four years since Apple updated its smallest tablet. Fortunately, most of the upgrades here are impressive, and the selection of iOS tablet apps continues to be best in class. But the design of this slate is a little too classic.
The updated iPad mini boasts a fast, A12 Bionic processor and support for the Apple Pencil, which makes taking notes and sketching on the go easy. You also get a brighter and more colorful screen, better cameras, and the ability to run a growing number of augmented reality apps. Overall, I really like the iPad mini, and it's the best tablet on the smaller end of the scale, but Apple could have done more to bring this device fully into the present.
- Update: We've posted our iPad Air 2019 review if you're looking for a bigger screen, and we've compared the iPad mini vs iPad Air in a face-off to help you decide.
iPad mini price and availability
The iPad mini starts at $399 for 64GB of storage on the Wi-Fi version. Stepping up to 256GB means the device will cost $549.
The cellular model of the iPad mini costs $529. That's a lot of extra money to spend when you could always just use your phone as a hotspot, but some people prefer to have the convenience of logging on instantly without draining their phone's battery.
The Apple Pencil costs an additional $99, and the iPad mini smart cover costs an additional $39. So, an iPad with key accessories will run you $537 if you stick with the base storage and Wi-Fi.
"Oh, boy -- those are some bezels." That's what popped into my head as I unboxed the new iPad mini. The large, white border around the 7.9-inch display is borderline offensive compared to what you'll find on the iPhone XS and iPad Pro. I got used to the new mini's old-school look and feel after a couple of days, but this slate definitely doesn't scream modern.
That also applies to the charging port. While the iPad Pro has a USB-C port for connecting peripherals, the iPad mini sticks with the same old Lightning port. The good news is that the iPad mini is just as portable as ever, at 0.7 pounds (or 10.6 ounces), and it's compact enough to easily hold with one hand.
The iPad mini sports a Touch ID button for unlocking the device, authenticating Apple Pay and more. This also seems like a step back, now that Face ID is on the iPad Pro and latest iPhones, but Touch ID is fast and reliable.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous screen on a small tablet. The 7.9-inch Retina Display is bright, colorful and sharp. When watching Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix, I could make out every nook and cranny in Thanos' weird, purple beard-chin as Star-Lord fired bubbles from his gun.
On our lab tests, the iPad mini's display reproduced an excellent 135 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is an improvement over the iPad mini 4's showing of 99.8 percent. By comparison, the much cheaper Amazon Fire HD 10 hit 104 percent.
The iPad mini's panel registered a Delta-E color-accuracy score of 0.48, which is close to a perfect score of 0. The more-premium 10.5-inch iPad Pro scored an even better 0.2.
This small iPad's display gets plenty bright, too, as we recorded an average of 490 nits. That's well above the 412 nits the iPad mini 4 turned in and the 405 nits from the Fire HD 10.
For the first time, the iPad mini supports the $99 Apple Pencil, which can really change the way you work. This accessory makes it easy to jot things down in the Notes app or in more-robust third-party apps such as GoodNotes 5.
Those who like to illustrate or draw will really appreciate the precision, force and tilt detection offered by Apple Pencil. I handed off the iPad mini to my colleague Remy, a graphic designer, and she effortlessly sketched a girl using Procreate and not-so-quietly wished she could replace her old iPad with this new one.
While the Apple Pencil is easy to pair with the iPad mini, you can't store and charge the stylus by magnetically attaching the Pencil to the body of the tablet. That's how you do it with the iPad Pro.
Instead, you have to plug the Pencil into the mini's Lightning port to charge and then put the stylus in your bag or pocket for storage. I'd prefer having a way to dock the Pencil so that it would be harder to lose.
Powered by the A12 Bionic chip with Apple's Neural Engine, the iPad mini is easily the fastest small tablet ever. I easily juggled a few apps on screen at once, thanks to iOS 12, and I enjoyed fluid gameplay in Injustice 2 as I played as Superman to put the beatdown on Scarecrow.
In Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the iPad mini notched a multicore score of 11,515, which unsurprisingly matches the result from the iPhone XS, which has the same processor. That makes the iPad mini one of the fastest mobile devices, period.
The Lenovo Tab 4 10, with its Snapdragon MSM8953 processor, isn't even half as fast (4,097). While the Amazon Fire HD 10 is not in the same league as the mini, because of its $150 price, it's interesting to note that the Amazon device scored 2,916. The iPad Pro and its A12X Bionic chip is still the champ, as it reached 17,995 on this test.
One of the best reasons to get an iPad has not changed. It's about the vast ecosystem of tablet apps in Apple's app store, including those that take full advantage of the iPad mini's performance.
For example, I tried out the new Pixelmator Pro app in beta, and it has a special ML button that uses machine learning to automatically enhance photos. (Pixelmator fed the app's algorithm thousands of before and after images to better gauge what makes a great shot.)
After I pressed the ML button while viewing a photo of a Gandhi statue in a park, the statue itself got brighter, the saturation increased and the highlights were boosted by 19 percent. You can go in and make further tweaks from there, but overall, this is a godsend for photo editors in a hurry.
Another great iPad mini app is the Flow by Moleskine, which makes it easy to create drawings, notes and works of art on the iPad mini. There are lots of paper types, colors and tools on board, and it truly does feel like drawing on real paper when paired with the Apple Pencil. Plus, the iPad mini's size makes the tablet an ideal stand-in for a Moleskine notebook.
If you want to experiment with augmented reality, a great place to start is in JigSpace, which lets you place 3D objects in front of you and explore them from every angle, learning some fun facts along the way. I enjoyed quick lessons on the Earth's core and the anatomy of a lightsaber.
The 8-megapixel camera on the iPad mini gets the job done, but it's not great indoors or in low light. At least you won't feel too awkward holding up a 7.9-inch device to snap shots, as this tablet isn't much bigger than today's supersized phones.
In this photo taken in Bryant Park, the iPad mini's camera did a pretty good job capturing detail in this row of trees on either side of the path. You can also make out the reflection of the clouds in the glass windows of the building in the background.
The iPad mini's camera also fared well with this photo of the curved Grace Building. I like that the blue sky didn't get blown out in the background, and you can make out the text on the flag pretty clearly in the foreground.
However, the iPad mini struggled a bit with this indoor shot of our photo editor, Shaun. The colors are accurate, and his skin tone looks pleasantly warm, but there's a fair amount of noise in the frame.
The camera did just a so-so job capturing this statue. Even with HDR on, the statue itself came out dark, though the sun-dappled building in the background is fairly clear.
Apple rates the iPad mini for 10 hours of battery life when surfing over Wi-Fi, but we saw even better results in our testing. On the Laptop Mag battery test, which involves web surfing over Wi-Fi, the mini lasted 12 hours and 40 minutes on our first run. We will run the test again and update this review, but so far, the endurance looks very impressive.
iPad mini vs. New iPad Air: What should you buy?
The biggest reason to get the $399 7.9-inch iPad mini over the new $499 10.5-inch iPad Air is the former's more compact size. The iPad mini is ideal for carrying between meetings or taking notes using the Apple Pencil while you hold the tablet in your other hand.
The iPad Air is the slate to get if you want a bigger canvas for working on multiple apps at once, watching TV or movies, or doing drawings. Plus, you can pair the iPad Air with Apple's Smart Keyboard ($159), so it's a better substitute for a laptop.
The iPad mini doesn't have the smart connector required to attach Apple's keyboard, but Logitech sells an Ultrathin Keyboard Folio for the iPad mini for $89.
As phones get bigger and bigger and bigger, there seems to be less of a need for a small tablet. But lots of people love their iPad minis, including younger kids who are not yet ready for a phone, execs on the go and creative pros who want to have a digital sketchbook always at the ready. With the new iPad mini, Apple has given its slate enough oomph to justify the device's $399 price.
However, there is a disconnect between the iPad mini's modern specs and its throwback design. With thinner bezels, Apple could have easily fit a 8.5-inch display into this chassis. You shouldn't expect stellar photos, either. Overall, though, the iPad mini is the best small tablet you can buy.
Credit: Laptop Mag