Pros: Powerful processor. Solid screen. Broad LTE options. Apple Pencil support. Light and easy to carry.
Cons: Compatible Apple Pencil isn’t the better model. Aging design.
In General: Apple’s iPad mini is the only small, premium tablet you should consider buying right now.
iPad mini Use Cases
Who’s the iPad mini for? That’s going to color a lot of the judgment from here on out. It’s not for people who want a “cheap iPad” or a “cheap tablet.” There is a better cheap iPad for your kids to play Toca Boca games on—the $329, sixth-generation, 9.7-inch iPad—and much cheaper tablets for basic use.
But if you look around, there are a lot of iPad minis in business. Smaller tablets work well on vehicle mounts, as point-of-sale systems, for taking your restaurant order, for writing a prescription by a bedside, for getting your signature for that FedEx package, or for augmented-reality-lensing a house on the market to check its Zillow status. The iPad mini is for people who are standing up a lot while holding their tablet, and for businesses that don’t want to pay for an iPhone and service plan for every device.
Design and Pencil
This iPad mini looks a lot like previous iPad minis. It measures 8.0 by 5.3 by 0.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 10.5 ounces. It comes in gray, rose gold, or silver. The 64GB model costs $399 and a 256GB model costs $549. You can add an unlocked gigabit LTE modem, the same one that’s in the iPhone XS, for $130 more.
It has big top and bottom bezels, a Lightning port, dual speakers on the bottom, and a SIM card slot. There is a physical home button with Apple’s simple, accurate Touch ID fingerprint sensor. It can be easily carried in one hand. The design works, but it’s starting to feel pretty dated.
The screen is a bit different. It’s still a laminated 7.9-inch LCD with 2,048 by 1,536 pixels. But this time around Apple adds True Tone, which changes the white point based on ambient light.
Screens are measured by using SpectraCal’s CalMAN for Business software and a Klein K-80 colorimeter. The iPad mini showed 559 nits maximum brightness, which is noticeably brighter than older iPads, and almost exactly the same color accuracy as the fifth-generation iPad and the 11-inch iPad Pro. Apple tunes its screens very tightly. In all of their cases, blues and reds are absolutely spot-on, greens are just a touch desaturated, and yellows tend a little bit toward red. Compared with, say, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 screens in Natural mode, colors have similar distances from their ideal but reds are more accurate.
This is the first iPad mini to support the official Apple Pencil or the $69.99 Logitech Crayon. We’re talking about the first-generation Pencil, though—the one with the Lightning port on the back and the cylindrical body that rolls away—not the nicer second-gen model, with the inductive charging and one flat side.
The Pencil is a little too long, proportionately, for the iPad mini. Its pressure and tilt sensitivity come through clearly in apps like Procreate, and its responsiveness is great for taking notes, but for simple tasks like signatures, you should probably get a cheaper capacitive stylus. For what it’s worth, when you compare the Pencil here with the second-generation Pencil on an 11-inch iPad Pro, you can definitely see the difference. The iPad Pro’s 120Hz refresh rate makes the digital ink noticeably smoother; there’s a tiny amount of lag with the Pencil on the mini (and on the sixth-generation iPad, as well).
Like other iPads and iPhones, the new mini runs iOS 12.2. iOS 12.2 has a bunch of small-scale improvements over the base version 12, but the big deal is going to be support for Apple’s new streaming service. Will that mean a total revamp of Apple’s music and video apps?
In any case, iOS 12.2 will also come to all other current iPads, and to older ones back to the iPad mini 2. The biggest difference between this mini and older models is performance. Apple has jumped from an A8 processor on the last mini to an A12. The A8, which was in the iPhone 6, is more than halfway through its useful life. It will probably be supported by two more OS generations, but third-party developers aren’t targeting it any longer. The A12, on the other hand, is the latest chip and will have at least a four-year lifespan.
The performance difference between the A8 and the A12 is comical. On the Antutu system benchmark, the iPhone 6 scored 80,620 when tested. The iPad mini got 373,092. On Geekbench multicore, a pure CPU benchmark, the fifth-generation iPad got 4,494. The sixth-generation iPad got 5,934. This one gets 11,548.
It’s not just about the CPU; the image signal processor has been significantly boosted as well and there’s a special machine-learning unit, so things like bar code scanning and object identification will go speedily.
Rendering a movie in iMovie also shows the difference in power. Boiling a minute of 1080p footage down to 360p on the iPad mini takes 5.4 seconds; it takes 10.21 seconds on the A9-powered iPad, and it will take even longer on an older mini. And of course, the older mini doesn’t support the Pencil, which requires an A10 processor.
You don’t need this kind of power if you’re just going to be watching videos. You do need it if you’re going to be doing serious work. Just don’t try to do it all day with the tablet on maximum brightness. The mini is very slim, with a 19.1-watt-hour battery, and we only got 5 hours, 7 minutes on our video rundown test over Wi-Fi. That’s almost exactly the same as we saw on the iPad mini 4. Apple claims 10 hours of usage time; that should be possible at half brightness.
The mini comes with a 12w power adapter, which charges it pretty slowly; only got to 20 percent in half an hour. You can speed up charging by using a USB-C PD adapter and a USB-C-to-Lightning cable, but they don’t come with the tablet.
The iPad sports an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 7-megapixel front camera. Both record 1080p video at 30 frames per second. Compared with the fifth-generation iPad’s 8-megapixel camera, images taken with the main camera are aggressively sharpened, bringing out more details but also more noise. Low-light images are also stippled with noise from a somewhat straining sharpening algorithm, but aren’t otherwise much better than shots from the earlier iPad. It’s clear that the differences here aren’t in the camera,but in the image signal processor.
The front-facing camera of course has a lot more pixels than the previous iPads, but they aren’t necessarily better pixels. You get more detail, but it’s kind of grainy, noisy detail.
The front-facing camera, meanwhile, is for video calling with devices that have high-resolution screens, and it does a good job at that.
Comparisons and Conclusions
This year’s iPad mini and the new iPad Air ($499) are basically bigger and smaller versions of each other. Here’s how it steps up: The existing $329 iPad (just called iPad) is for all of your basic tablet needs. The $399 iPad mini is for people who specifically need a smaller, lighter tablet. The $499 iPad Air is for if you intend to run apps that will be too slow on the $329 iPad, or if you’re crazy about Apple’s keyboard case. The $799, 11-inch iPad Pro (or the $999 12.9-inch model) is a primary creative machine, especially for people who intend to use the Pencil.
For basic form-filling and media playback, there are a ton of inexpensive Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab A, the Lenovo Tab 4, and the Amazon Fire HD 8. Those are all sluggish compared with the iPad mini, and while they work in basic ways with capacitive styli, none of them have a stylus as good as the Pencil. But they’re all fine for, say, the backseat entertainment and corner-of-the-couch web browsing that are all many people demand tablets for.
The mini shines when you need a tablet that runs powerful applications, but is still handheld. That could be in many enterprise contexts, such as retail, navigation, logistics, law enforcement, education, or real estate. It’s much easier to hold up a mini for AR viewing applications than to hold up a larger iPad. Its performance is vastly superior to the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 2, another enterprise-focused tablet. The tablet is also the right size for taking notes and sketching, if you tend to stand up a lot while you’re doing that. And you can get it with on-demand LTE.
If you have an existing iPad mini of any generation that’s been acting sluggish, it’s because the processor is just too old for today’s apps. It’s understandable the reluctance to get a new device that looks the same as your old one, but the processor change makes the 2019 iPad mini more than a worthy upgrade. And for anyone who wants an iPad, but finds the $329 model a little unwieldy, you now have an excellent alternative.
(Source PC Magazine)