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Apple’s tiniest tablet gets its biggest upgrade

The iPad mini is a curious thing. It goes for years without a revision, but updates then propel it beyond other iPads in the line-up. That’s more evident than ever this time, with the end result being more iPad Air mini than iPad mini.

From a design standpoint, the new mini looks premium. In aping the iPad Pro and iPad Air’s all-screen display, you end up with something that feels expensive. And it is expensive, given that the price has gone up $100/£80 and now starts at $499/£479. Still, it works. The device feels great in the hand, being almost unreasonably light at 0.65 pounds/293g. If you’ve long used a weightier iPad, it’s a revelation.

iPad mini can now easily connect to USB-C devices

Moreover, this iPad doesn’t compromise to meet its goal of portability. It’s running the same A15 chip as this year’s flagship iPhones. There’s Touch ID baked into the power button. It has the sharpest display of any iPad, with superb color reproduction, and surprisingly beefy audio output from stereo speakers that are now optimized for landscape use. There’s USB-C for fast data transfer and accessories connectivity, a snazzy 12MP front camera for crisp video chats, and second-generation Apple Pencil support.

The last of those things is important, because if there’s one area the iPad mini doesn’t excel at, it’s text input. You can tap away at a virtual keyboard, but doing so is fiddly, and said on-screen keyboard takes up too much space. (Similarly, although you can work in Split View, using two apps simultaneously, you mostly won’t want to on an 8.3in display.) But with a mix of Siri and an Apple Pencil, input concerns quickly fade.

You get the full iPadOS experience, but Split View is a squeeze

The flip side of the form factor is almost everything else. The device isn’t immersive enough for long-form video, but the screen’s more than adequate for YouTube – and better than staring at a smartphone. It’s solid for reading – even magazines and comics are fine, if you avoid two-page spreads in landscape. And for games, browsing and creativity, the lack of weight is a boon.

We happily sat with the iPad mini for long sessions in various games, drawing apps and music packages, barely realizing the device was there – something that’s patently not the case when holding a hefty iPad Pro. And although app interfaces are smaller on the mini, they’re still broadly usable. For the most part, that’s equally true for games, although when playing in landscape, it’s easy to muffle the speakers unless the volume buttons are pointed to the right.

iPad mini (2021) verdict

There’s loads of great technology packed into this new iPad mini, but it comes at a price: starting at $499/£479 for the 64GB Wi-Fi model, which is a substantial increase from before. But then this is objectively a much better iPad mini than its predecessor and, if you buy now, it will last you for years.

But is it the right iPad for you? That depends. If you prize portability and a device that is lightweight – and if you don’t rely too much on a keyboard – it should be ideal. And the lack of heft makes for a much more fun experience than any other iPad Apple has ever sold.