It’s been a few years coming, but the 2021 iPad Mini is here. In a world of very big phones, is Apple’s smallest tablet still very much in?
Take a look around at people using devices near you, and there’s a good chance they’re using a phone, and a big one, at that.
Big phones are in and everyone has one, and that’s leaving tablets on the side, gathering dust for so many as the big phone becomes our primary go-to device for most things, followed by a computer for so much else.
But the small tablet still has uses. If you use a Kindle or a Kobo, you have something akin to a tablet, it’s just one made for the specific purpose of reading, and occasionally scribbling in notes, as well. If you have a foldable, you have a phone that gets as close as possible to a small tablet, even if it’s not quite the same thing.
The point is the small tablet still has a purpose, and it’s likely why Apple has gone back to its classic iPad Mini, giving it a new look and feature set to wow and impress. And it more or less does that, provided you look past the hefty price.
The first revamp of the iPad Mini in quite some time doesn’t look quite like the old one. Rather, it’s a little more like what Apple has been making in the iPad Pro and more recently the iPad Air, with an aluminium flat edge wrapping around the tablet, and a design that emphasises the nature of this device as being almost entirely a screen.
The 2021 iPad Mini isn’t an edge-to-edge “all screen” concept like we’re beginning to see on phones. Instead, Apple manages to get within spitting difference, offering a slim bezel and frame around the display, and a look that basically makes the new tablet fit the size of the old, yet packs in more.
Inside, there’s Apple’s A15 Bionic, the same chip introduced on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Mini, and the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. There are differences between those models, with the Pro models getting five graphics chip cores versus the four on the standard 13s, and that’s what the iPad Mini is getting, too: five GPU cores, just like the 13 Pro and Pro Max. It’s a difference that should provide a little more grunt overall.
Apple has paired it with a choice of either 64GB or 256GB storage — nothing in between — and a choice of WiFi or WiFi and 5G, dealer’s choice.
You’ll find stereo speakers on either side — top and bottom — and a camera on each side, as well. Granted, the camera technology doesn’t quite offer what an iPhone has on tap, with only a 12 megapixel F1.8 standard wide camera on the back, similar to what’s in the iPhone but missing out on Portrait image captures, while the front is a 12 megapixel ultra-wide set fo F2.4. There are differences in video, too, with up to 4K capable on the back, but only up to Full HD 1080p on the front, showing you the Mini isn’t quite as versatile as its smartphone sibling.
The camera up front also comes with something extra, supporting the Centre Stage automatic cropping technology first seen on the iPad Pro earlier in the year.
That’s new, as is the USB Type C port at the bottom, a departure from the Lightning port typically seen on the iPad range, now only left on the standard iPad.
Touch ID is still very much a part of the package, however, included underneath the power button up top, while the volume buttons have been relocated to the top, as well.
And then there’s the display.
The display is a little different from the 7.9 inch screen found on the previous model.
A little bit bigger, the 2021 iPad Mini screen measures 8.3 inches and sports a more impressive 2266×1488 resolution, delivering 326 pixels per inch (326ppi) in line with what used to be the Retina resolution, plus support for the P3 colour space and Apple’s white-balancing True Tone technology, now found on the 9th generation iPad, as well.
It’s a crisp and clear display that makes good use of the compact size, and now feels more like a full-screen trade paper book that also happens to be much, much thinner.
Encased in a 6.3mm body, it’s a super svelte and stylish screen you’ll want to take with you, with a display that makes your content stand out superbly, even if it is the smallest iPad you can find.
A smaller take on the 2020 iPad Air, the 2021 iPad Mini is built in much the same style, but smaller. You’ll find a fingerprint sensor under that top-mounted power button — because Touch ID still matters when Face ID is a premium iPad Pro feature — plus support for the second-generation Apple Pencil, which clips to the side using the same magnetic mounting port to hold and charge the stylus.
The addition of the Pencil side-mounting strip is handy, and helps to make the iPad Mini feel more like a proper notepad that you can just take along with you anywhere. There’s no Smart Keyboard connector like on every other iPad, something we suspect you can attribute to the size and how uncomfortable a small keyboard might end up being.
However, as far as small tablets go, whether using the Mini with merely fingers or opting for a Pencil, the usability doesn’t feel significantly hampered because you’re using a smaller device in any way.
In fact, Apple’s inclusion of its 2021 iPad Pro technology “Centre Stage” is also quite handy, allowing the compact iPad to find a better angle for your video chats than its regular wide angle camera might normally have accomodated in the first place.
Armed with Apple’s latest chip, the 2021 iPad Mini is certainly no slouch, either, matched quite well with the iPhone 13 Pro, sharing the same chip from the high-end 2021 iPhone, and slightly ahead of the one in the regular iPhone 13.
That means you get the A15 Bionic with a six-core processor and five-core graphical processor, plus 16 cores for the machine learning-focused Neural Engine, which means apps and games are more or less fine for the next few years, for sure.
In benchmarks, the tablet holds up nicely, comparing well to last year’s iPad Air, beating out the bigger model which is still available and yet features the A14 Bionic.
While we wouldn’t put it past Apple to prep an update for the end of this year, it means there’s a lot of capability here, and basically means the 2021 iPad Mini is a little like an iPhone 13 embodied in a small-scale tablet form. Bizarrely, the A15 Bionic is underclocked in comparison to the iPhone 13, but manages to outperform last year’s 11 inch iPad Pro, which just tells you how much the smallest iPad has to work with.
Simply put, there’s grunt to spare, and not just in the system performance department.
While every iPad Mini also gets 802.11ax WiFi 6 for fast WiFi access (provided you have a decent router, of course), if you opt for the mobile and cellular model, you won’t get the ability to make calls, but you will be able to connect on 5G, something previously only available in the iPhone 12 and higher and the iPad Pro.
It means if you want to take lots of media to go, you don’t just have to download it beforehand, and can rely on 5G speed to get things downloaded quickly. And if you’re someone who likes to game, that 5G capability might mean the 8 inch iPad Mini is perfect for playing games on Xbox’s cloud gaming setup, provided you have a game controller to bring it together.
In terms of battery life, you can expect around 9 to 10 hours of life on the iPad Mini, dependent on what you use it for.
A smaller iPad, we found ourselves using it as the pure content consumption device the iPad originally was, carrying it as a movie viewer, eBook reader, and super handy for games on Apple Arcade and magazines on Apple News+. It’s just the right size for all of those.
However, those uses meant we weren’t using the iPad all day, and found a good two to three days of intermittent battery life were regular with the iPad Mini. That means you’ll probably get more than a day’s use if you’re using the iPad Mini sporadically for entertainment, though if you keep it with you all the time, you might want to charge it nightly.
Charging off the Type C USB makes it super convenient, too, because that’s something that is now so ubiquitous, you can find the connector on so many gadgets, from this iPad Mini to pretty much any other tablet, headphone, speaker, computer, and even most phones, save for the iPhone which is still Lightning and a few stragglers still using microUSB.
While you do miss out on wireless charging, it’s less of an issue on a tablet, especially when it’s a tablet made in a metal body, something that doesn’t play well with wireless charging, at all.
The value is where things take a bit of a turn, because with a starting price of $749 for the 64GB iPad Mini, Apple’s pint-sized tablet is certainly not inexpensive, and it’s value is hard to justify.
It’s pretty and cute and quaint and quite a great little update on a small tablet, something you don’t see very often these days, especially now that phones have become quite so big, but at $250 more than the $499 10.2 inch standard iPad, the price just seems like overkill.
We could see the 2021 iPad Mini making sense at $599 or even $649. You’re getting a new design, new chip, and support for the second-gen Apple Pencil, plus that Type C port we’re all loving, but at $749 it just seems like overkill.
The iPad Mini is great. It’s a lovely little tablet. But is it worth a full $250 on top of the standard iPad 10.2? That we don’t quite agree with.
What needs work?
That cost is the very thing we think Apple could do a better job with, even though we can see why the company has pegged $749 as that spot: the entry-level 64GB iPad 10.2 costs $499, while the 64GB iPad Air starts at $899, leaving the 64GB iPad Mini roughly in the centre at $749.
We get it, we just don’t agree that the iPad Mini is necessarily worth the price of admission.
It’s also a little frustrating that Apple still hasn’t made its tablet water resistant, especially given this is a small tablet ideal for by the pool or at the beach.
The small size makes it a perfect little entertainment machine for on the go, and yet while Sony offered a water resistant tablet way, way, way back in the day a good seven years ago in the similarly 8 inch Z3 Tablet Compact, water resistance is still missing in the 2021 iPad Mini.
That’s a real shame, as it means you can’t just grab your iPad Mini and go where ever having full confidence that the tablet will survive potential rigours for where you want to use it, and something that would have helped the tablet really stand out.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
There’s a lot to like about the newly refreshed iPad Mini, and the form-factor and style makes up a big part.
Appearing as a compact iPad Air, it’s the little tablet that could, doing more than you may expect. It’s as capable as pretty much anything else in the iPad line-up, even if it’s not quite the same as everything else.
Our only major quibble is the price, because $749 isn’t a cheap price for a small tablet, not by a long shot. While we’d love the iPad Mini to sport water resistance, the price is a bigger concern, especially given it’s higher than what many may be prepared to spend on a small-size device like this. As for water resistance, Apple is ironically resisting that request like no other, and it’s something we’ve asked in pretty much every iPad review and is still missing in action.
Ignoring the pool and beach resistance, the iPad Mini is still a lovely portable tablet for people who need something truly portable.
It might seem like the world has given up on small tablets you can take anywhere, but Apple has offered just that, with a compact device that’s just as good as any other iPad out there, only smaller. It’s not necessarily cheap, but it’s easy for wherever. Recommended.