The iPad mini, Apple is fond of telling us, is the most beloved of Apple’s tablets. Strange then, that it’s taken so long for it to receive an upgrade in line with the iPad Pro.
But here it is, the biggest change to the iPad mini since it first launched way back in 2012. It’s an upgrade that has been a long time coming, but is Apple’s much-loved iPad going to stay that way?
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: What you need to know
Gone, at long last, are the fat forehead and chin bezels of the previous five generations of iPad mini. The display has been boosted in size from 7.9in all the way up to 8.3in and the case has shrunk in overall terms as well. In appearance, the mini now looks more like a large iPhone than a tablet and it’s all the better for it.
That’s not the only key upgrade, however. The new iPad mini also comes with USB-C, leaving the standard iPad as the only Apple tablet to use the ageing Lightning connector. It has a fast, six-core A15 Bionic processor inside – the same as featured in the current range of iPhones.
It’s now compatible with the Apple Pencil 2 for sketching and, matching the iPad Air, it also comes with a Touch ID sensor built into the power button. There’s even room for the excellent ultrawide FaceTime HD camera, which comes complete with support for Apple’s superb face tracking Centre Stage technology, although it sadly doesn’t support Face ID unlocking.
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: Price and competition
Buying an iPad mini is mercifully straightforward since there are only two storage options to choose from: £379 gets you the 64GB model, while the 256GB variant costs £619. Cellular connectivity (5G) can also be added to both versions for an additional £150.
Apple is pretty much the only game in town when it comes to premium, small form factor tablets, so there’s no direct competition to speak of. Indeed, the only compact Android tablets we currently recommend are Amazon’s Fire tablets and those aren’t anywhere near as powerful or capable as the iPad mini.
At this price, however, there are alternatives if you’re willing to step up to a larger display. The standard 10.2in iPad is a snip at a mere £319, although this retains the old, broad bezel design and has the older, slower A13 Bionic chip inside.
The iPad Air, meanwhile, comes with a 10.9in display, the A14 Bionic chip and is compatible with Apple’s keyboard cases, although it costs £100 more than the iPad mini at £579.
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: Design
This lonesome situation is where the iPad mini has found itself in for a number of years now, so that’s no real change. However, the new design is a radical departure from the previous model.
The iPad mini’s all-recycled aluminium chassis now has flat edges – just like its iPhone and iPad Air/Pro stablemates – its corners are curved and the rear panel is completely flat, interrupted only by the slight protrusion of the single rear camera.
A size comparison with the previous-gen iPad mini (released in 2019) reveals the new model to be around a half centimetre shorter, with roughly the same width and thickness. There isn’t much between the two, in other words.
When you turn it on, however, the mini takes on a completely different feel and that’s because the 8.3in display now occupies most of the front of the tablet. It’s surrounded on all sides by a 9mm thick bezel and it all looks rather neat.
If you look hard enough, you’ll see a 12MP camera embedded in one of the short edges, and this is another area where the iPad mini has seen a significant upgrade. This time around it’s an ultrawide camera with a 122-degree field of view, which enables Apple’s clever, Center Stage feature.
This keeps you in frame on video calls, even if you get up and start moving around, and not just in Facetime calls, either. Third party apps such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams also benefit from this feature.
Cast an eye around the edges of the iPad mini and you’ll soon spot a host of other changes. To start with, the volume buttons no longer reside on the right edge in the corner next to the power/Touch ID button; instead, both the volume and power buttons are on the top edge – a welcome change I find makes taking screenshots easier. On the bottom edge is a USB-C port for charging and data transfers.
And there are a number of changes (not all upgrades, alas) on the audio front, too. Apple has removed the 3.5mm audio jack, which is predictable but nonetheless annoying, and the speakers have also been rearranged.
On the old iPad mini you had a single speaker on the bottom edge of the tablet; now there are two, with one grille on the top and one at the bottom. This delivers stereo audio when you hold the tablet in landscape orientation and sound quality is exceptional for a device this small.
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: Display
For your money, you’re obviously not getting an OLED or miniLED display with the iPad mini, just a good old IPS-based “Liquid Retina” panel instead.
This isn’t bad at all, though. It’s nice and sharp with a resolution of 2,266 x 1,488, delivering an impressive pixel density of 326ppi and it’s more vibrant than your average IPS screen as well, reproducing P3 colours when required.
A number of coatings keep fingerprint smudges and distracting reflections to a minimum and the display also comes equipped with Apple’s True Tone technology. This matches the white point on screen with that of the ambient light in the room to help reduce eye strain.
The iPad mini’s display is also pretty darn good from a technical standpoint. Peak brightness hit 489cd/m2, the contrast ratio reached 1,220:1 – which is about what I’d expect from an IPS panel – and colour accuracy was excellent. Against sRGB, I measured an average delta E of 0.98, which is pretty much as good as it gets.
It’s not entirely perfect, however. The 489cd/m2 peak brightness means HDR material doesn’t look as it does on, say, an iPhone 13 Pro. Plus, the iPad mini lacks the 120Hz ProMotion display of the higher end iPhones and iPad Pro tablets so the OS animations don’t feel as slick.
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: Performance
Surprise surprise, the iPad mini’s six-core A15 Bionic processor is an absolute beast.
It’s backed up by 4GB of RAM here and a five-core GPU and, as you can see from the graphs below, the iPad mini delivers a very similar set of benchmark results to the iPhone 13 Pro, which is a handset that’s nearly £500 more expensive.
This level of performance makes the iPad mini a candidate for anyone wanting a big screened mobile device for gaming or watching films on the go, who maybe can’t quite justify spending £1,599 on a folding phone like the Samsung Galaxy Fold3 5G.
Indeed, if you’re happy to also carry a small phone around with you – an iPhone SE, for instance – to cover calls and act as a data gateway, then you could happily use the iPad mini as a smartphone substitute. It’s more than capable enough to deal with most jobs you’d normally use a phone for, that’s for certain.
There are two caveats to this, however. The first is that, if you do start using your iPad mini like a phone, you’re going to find that the battery depletes a lot quicker.
In our video rundown battery test, the iPad mini’s battery ran dry in 10hrs 26mins. Now, that’s two hours longer than its predecessor – quite some feat considering the display is larger and the processor far more powerful – but well short of what a typical smartphone will deliver. The Apple iPhone 13 Pro, for instance, lasted 20hrs 39mins in this test.
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: Cameras
The second caveat is that the camera isn’t a patch on what you’d get from a premium iPhone or, in fact, any mid-range Android handset.
Yes, it’ll capture 12MP images and 4K video but the iPad mini’s camera isn’t as good in low light and photos captured with it lack presence, detail and vibrance. Plus, there’s only the one camera on the rear; there’s no ultrawide or telephoto shooter here.
The good news is that the ultrawide camera on the front is excellent and represents a big leap forward over the previous iPad mini.
My mug on Facetime video calls looked far sharper than on the iPad mini (2019) and, what’s more, the image processing algorithm seemed to be able to cope much better with bright areas of the frame, with far less blooming.
Apple iPad mini (2021) review: Verdict
The iPad mini is a fine little tablet. It’s quick, neatly designed and strikes a fine balance between screen size and function. I can’t think of anything bad to say about it.
That said, I’m still not 100% sure who the iPad mini is for. It’s clearly not a productivity machine. Although you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard, the lack of smart contacts means there’s no official Smart Keyboard Folio or Magic Keyboard to go with it and, in any case, I think the screen is probably a touch too small for working on documents and spreadsheets on a regular basis.
As I’ve suggested above, the iPad mini (2021) could be seen as an alternative to a smartphone for those who want a larger screen but who can’t face forking out big money for a Samsung Galaxy Fold3 5G. But this also seems a bit of a niche use case.
In the end, I’m certain that plenty of folk will end up buying, and loving, the iPad mini (2021). But on the flip side, either of its siblings – the iPad Air or 10.2in iPad – would make a more practical purchase.