Hardware

Craig Grannell swaps his iPad Pro for Apple’s smallest iPad – and is pleasantly surprised

I’ve been a fan of the iPad from day one – and for more than just watching TV, browsing the internet, and playing games. For me, Apple’s tablets are also about freeing you from being chained to a computer – their portability and ‘blank canvas’ nature enable you to think, create, and interact with content in new ways.

However, aside from being extremely tempted by the original iPad mini’s lack of weight (it felt more ‘Kindle’ than ‘MacBook with keyboard sawn off’), my attention has since then been squarely on Apple’s larger tablets. To my surprise, though, the latest iPad mini almost has me questioning keeping my iPad Pro…

The smaller screen

The ‘mini’ aspect of the device remains vital in every sense. Unlike Apple’s other iPads, which share a 264ppi screen density, the mini goes for 326ppi – it’s like the standard 9.7-inch iPad has been scaled down to 7.9 inches. This means everything’s sharper – in some ways, rather absurdly even making the iPad Pro’s screen look inferior – but also noticeably smaller.

If you have issues with your sight or dexterity, this is a problem. Apps designed for the larger screen can sometimes be fiddly to interact with, and some text can be tricky to read. Also, although you can use multiple apps in Split View, doing so borders on the comical. It feels like someone’s glued two iPhones together and handed them to you.

However, the quality of the display wins out over these gripes. The iPad mini now has True Tone technology for better colors across a range of conditions, and lamination to ensure you end up staring at what’s on the screen rather than yourself. It’s superb.

Power play


Despite being small, this iPad’s also powerful. Its innards are more or less taken from Apple’s flagship iPhones, albeit with notably inferior cameras. It blazes through whatever you throw at it – from games to pro-level apps. Apple Pencil support (albeit for the first-generation version) cements the new iPad mini as a device for work as well as play.

It doesn’t stop there. In portrait, the keyboard in its split mode makes thumb typing a viable, speedy way to enter text. Need to temporarily transform your mini into a sort-of laptop? Apple won’t help – there’s no Apple Smart Keyboard cover – but Brydge can. The result is cramped but usable.

So would you want to write a novel, edit a 4K video, or design a house on a new iPad mini? Probably not: the screen’s still too small for comfortably producing certain pro-level work. But for notes, sketches, and music-making – alongside typical media-consumption use (TV; browsing; reading; gaming) – the mini often feels ideal. In short, then, this iPad can do a lot more than you’d think.

Verdict: iPad mini (2019)

Whether you should actually buy an iPad mini comes down to form factor and budget. If you can handle (or even prefer) the scaled down screen, it represents better value than the standard iPad – which is $70 cheaper, but has less powerful innards, a far inferior display, and a dreadful FaceTime camera. And for our money, the mini beats the larger iPad Air ($100 more), except if you’re wedded to the larger form factor.

Against the iPad Pro, it’s not a fair fight. Apple’s flagship tablet looks better (smaller bezel; no Home button), is more powerful, supports the superior newer Apple Pencil, and has a speaker system that makes the iPad mini’s feel comparatively meagre. But it also starts at twice the price, has a less sharp display, and – unlike the iPad mini – lacks a headphone jack.

So if you’re looking for a new Apple tablet with an excellent combination of portability, power, and value, it really does often feel with the new mini that less equals more.

iPad mini starts at $399, and is available now.