New Apple iPad Mini is most exciting iPad of 2021, so far

Apple didn’t really hold back with the new iPad Mini, with the A15 Bionic chip as the beating heart. This is the same chip that powers the Apple iPhone 13 series in slightly different states of tune
iPad Mini 2021 is availabel in Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + Cellular specifications and it comes in 4 colours. (Image countesy-Apple)
iPad Mini 2021 is availabel in Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + Cellular specifications and it comes in 4 colours. (Image countesy-Apple)
Published on Oct 11, 2021 05:22 PM IST
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ByVishal Mathur

The Apple iPad Mini has gained a completely new identity, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, but the scale of the changes does make it more wholesome, which make a lot of potential iPad buyers take another look at the smallest iPad in the line-up. And to be fair, the under-the-hood updates give this the sort of power that potentially leaves the iPad Air half a generation behind. If none of this has made you sit up and take notice already, this most certainly will—the latest generation iPad Mini is a tad less expensive than the 5th generation iPad Mini, which was launched in 2019.

As always, you’ll get the iPad Mini 2021 in multiple spec trims. Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + Cellular, that is. The cellular variant is 5G ready, so that ticks off the future proofing aspect. Two storage options to choose from—64GB and 256GB. The 64GB storage variants carry sticker prices of 46,900 (Wi-Fi) and 60,900 (Wi-Fi + Cellular) while the 256GB options will demand you invest 60,900 (Wi-Fi) or 74,900 (Wi-Fi + Cellular). Four colour options across all trims—the well-known Space Grey, the familiar Pink while Silver has been replaced with Starlight and there is the completely new Pink colour too. Do note, the prices of the 2019 launch, the 5th generation iPad Mini, started at 54,900 (Wi-Fi) and 66,900 (Wi-Fi + Cellular).

A quick competition check takes us to the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 series, albeit those displays are larger—11-inch for the Galaxy Tab S7, is the closest alternative. That is priced at 63,999. It is the best Android has to offer around these price bands, and the smallest screen size you’ll get in the Android space for a powerful tablet.

It may be difficult to fathom 64GB storage space for an iPad Mini that costs as much as this, and if you intend to keep this for many years, your worries may very well be on point. Unless you rely heavily on cloud services for data storage (Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox, for instance), on music streaming (Apple Music, Spotify and others) and don’t intend to download a lot of movies and TV shows for offline viewing from Netflix and Amazon Video, you may just be able to get by. If you aren’t very sure, bite the bullet, look at that credit card once again and spend on the 256GB storage option. It just makes more sense. But we expected Apple to have the base storage at 128GB, particularly when the iPad Mini is almost being positioned as a compact iPad Pro.

Before we get to the big upgrades on the spec sheet, it is impossible to ignore the significant experience difference that the new design language brings. The iPad Mini 2021, with the flat sides and the slab-like design looks, feels the same as the two iPad Pro siblings, as well as the iPad Air. With no physical button below the display, the iPad Mini 2021 takes advantage of the significantly thinner bezels that this design brings. That has allowed Apple to give this an 8.3-inch display, replacing the 7.9-inch display from earlier. This, while the new iPad Mini has a smaller footprint than the one it replaces.

Speaking of the larger screen size, it is a 0.4-inch increase in real estate. Computing device wisdom suggests the larger a screen size, the more adept it becomes for productivity tasks. In this case, there is no step back with portability either, which has always been the highlight of the iPad Mini. In that sense, the iPad Mini’s strengths remain very much unaltered. If you need a computing device for a field job, for instance, this still fits the bill. Anyone who needs a tablet that can do a bit of everything—access emails, quickly edit a document, web browsing, social media, catch up on e-books and even a spot of gaming to calm down the nerves—the iPad Mini with its slightly larger screen, and indeed more power under the hood, still does all that very well.

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The display itself is now a Liquid Retina type, which is basically a LCD panel, with bells and whistles added on. There is no getting around it—you will notice some of the typical LCD behaviour on display here if you touch the display a bit harder. You would have noticed this on LCD TVs and monitors from the yesteryear. It may have shocked a few people to see this on an iPad, more noticeable if you keep the dark mode enabled. That aside, this display packs in more pixels and while the previous iPad Mini had a good display to work with, the new iPad Mini expectedly takes it a step forward with a higher resolution (2266 x 1448 pixels now vs 2048 x 1536 pixels in the predecessor). Colour vividness has been dialled up ever so slightly, but do not expect this to dazzle your eyes like some Android tablets with super-rich displays do.

Apple didn’t really hold back with the new iPad Mini, with the A15 Bionic chip as the beating heart. This is the same chip that powers the Apple iPhone 13 series in slightly different states of tune. In a way, this probably gives the headroom to take a break from updating the iPad Mini next year, continuing the once in two years upgrade pattern. The A12 Bionic in the previous iPad Mini was no slouch and never once slowed down on us, but the A15 Bionic is just in a different league in terms of multi-tasking smoothness and longer battery life. The switch to USB-C means that now it is just the iPhones which are still holding out with the Lightning port for the time being.

With the new design, there was always going to be the challenge of how to integrate Touch ID, something existing iPad Mini owners would have been very used to. The fingerprint sensor is integrated within the power key. Also, the Apple iPad Mini 2021 works with the latest Apple Pencil, which meant the volume keys had to be repositioned to the other side—but the entire package looks really slick with the Pencil magnetically docked on the iPad. All this repositioning has had a bearing on where the FaceTime front facing camera sits—it is still on the top of the display, in portrait orientation. Still feels a tad out of place if you have kept the iPad Mini sideways (landscape orientation), and you end up looking to one side. The big addition is Center Stage, which allows the camera to follow you around for a fairly wide area, so that you are never really out of frame in a video call. That works well in the iPad Pro, and that works well here too. Not a fancy feature once you get down to using it, but very useful and relevant at a time when we are spending more time on video calling apps than before.

There may be the chance that an iPad may be shared between family members. Admittedly truer for the larger iPad options that can double up as laptop replacements, but the iPad Mini isn’t entirely immune to that scenario. This is where Apple’s insistence on not adding support for multiple users, feels limiting. All of its rivals, across form factors, allow this basic functionality—Windows, Android and Chrome OS, all allow multiple users to configure their experience and keep their data separate.

The fact of the matter is this—the Apple iPad Mini is a niche within the larger iPad family. The screen size makes it a good fit for specific usage scenarios and for some users. But while tablets have kept growing in size (even the entry spec iPad is now has now grown to 10.2-inches), smaller tablets have become rare. That is the gap the iPad Mini is still filling, with a screen size that is a tad more versatile than before. And it is absolutely not short on power.

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