Purple. Pink. Starlight. Space Gray. New design. Modern design. Air design. Smaller bezels. Bigger screen. 8.3-inch screen. Top Mounted Touch ID. Top Mounted volume buttons. Side-mounted Apple Pencil 2. No smart connector. No magic keyboard. No thunderbolt. But, USB-C. And landscape stereo. Wi-Fi 6. 5G. But only Sub-6 5G. A15 Bionic. 5-core GPU. Ultra-wide selfie cam. With center stage. Wide rear cam. With TrueTone flash. Same 10 hours of battery life. 64 and 256GB of storage. And $499 starting price.
So, should you upgrade?
The iPad mini has always been a mini Air. Or rather the Air has been a full sized mini. Same difference! That changed last year when the Air got its bezel snapping, home button blipping, everything in perfect color balance moment redesign, but only briefly. Because the mini is back, baby. With almost exactly the same redesign this year that the Air got last year.
Almost, because the mini being mini does change a few things. Like the mini having an 8.3-inch display compared to the Air’s 11-inch display means the similar sized remaining bezels look bigger. And quite a bit bigger compared to the 11-inch Pro. Because ratios.
The smaller size also meant Apple had to move the volume buttons to the top, next to the power button, to make room for the same-sized Apple Pencil 2 and its magnetic inductive charging system on the side.
I mean, they could have put the pencil on the opposite side, but then it would have prevented keyboard docks from working without blocking the charging system. And even though Apple hasn’t been cocky enough to make a tiny Magic Keyboard mini yet, you know someone like Logitech is just itching to do it.
So, yeah, all design remains trade-offs and compromise, and while it’ll probably make using the volume buttons to take photos a bit more awkward, the small size of the mini should keep them imminently reachable.
The only other downside is color. Kinda. Let me explain! Balancing SKU — shop keeping units, or all the different product combos — is tough. How many of what size and which color do you manufacture? Beyond tough. But the mini just didn’t get as taste-the-rainbow this year as the Air, much less the iMac. And I personally think it’s every bit as fun. Maybe even iPod level funner.
The previous mini came in silver, space gray, and a rosie gold. This new mini comes in starlight, which is somewhere in between silver and gold, space gray, pink, which is Rosie if not gold, and a new pale purple. In other words, one less color than the Air. Which didn’t get purple, stuck to silver, but also got blue and green. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good… but it could be product red or orange better!
Because the Home button got yoted, and hard, Touch ID has moved to the power button, just like it did last year on the Air. It’s not as instant, almost invisible as Face ID when everything is perfect, but everything hasn’t been perfect for a couple years now, and Touch ID on the Power button works a treat on the Air. Even with a mask on. But not with gloves on. Which is only the most foundational of the many reasons I really wish Apple would hurry up and include multiple biometrics in multiple devices already.
Lightning likewise got ripped and replaced with USB-C. It’s standard USB-C, like the Air, not Thunderbolt, like the Pro or the Mac. But it does open up the mini to all the USB-C peripherals available to more general purpose computing devices. And I’m here for it.
But either way, any way, this is totally the redesign mini lovers have been waiting for.
With the modern design, the iPad mini is jumping from it’s classic 7.9-inch Steve Jobs satisfying screen size to a more expansive, bezel busting 8.3-inches. It’s still standard dynamic rangeIPS LCD, not high dynamic range MiniLED like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, or OLED, like all recent iPhones.
MiniLED would have made it thicker and probably added $100 to the price tag, and OLED is likewise more expensive, and probably just on the cusp of being consistent enough at bigger than phone sizes… and Apple production scales, so it could go either way or both in the future, but it’s still in the best place for now.
The mini also didn’t get the slightly higher resolution of the Air, but still has a higher density. And with P3 cinematic color gamut and 500 nits, while you won’t get the inky blacks or ultra bright whites of HDR, but everything from comic books to games to photos to video streams should still look really, really good, mainly due to Apple’s exemplary color calibration and management.
Unsurprisingly, the mini didn’t get up to 120Hz ProMotion refresh rates. The Air didn’t get it last year either. Apple’s keeping that a Pro feature, at least for now, and probably until another major differentiator comes around, so that tech can be pushed down. Which is what’s happened with Retina, P3, TrueTone, and other display tech over the years. So maybe another couple years?
The new iPad mini has an A15 system-on-a-chip, which is Apple’s latest generation silicon IP. The 5 GPU core version, specifically. Same one as the iPhone 13 Pro. Though maybe clocked just a tad slower, we’ll have to see.
Because Apple didn’t name it during the iPad mini presentation, like at all, and because they didn’t spend as much time on it as usual, even during the iPhone presentation, there were some insta hot takes that were insta… bad? Just sub-par sub-stacks that A15 had hit some kind of silicon wall.
And I’ll get way deeper into it in my full review, so seriously, hit that subscribe button, but I’m betting we see typical non-process shrink big core improvements, but also that Apple is continuing to think different, and think smart, about the post-big-core world, and has spent a lot of the transistor budget this year on the photo and video pipelines, which includes everything from new custom encode/decode blocks to new storage controllers.
Now, it also means the mini currently has a newer, better processor than the Air, but the opposite was true last year, and unless and until Apple updates them both at the same time again, that’s just because of how the release schedules line up. You’ll get an extra year or so out of the mini, but you had to wait an extra year or so to get it.
What’s the same between the mini and Air, and what’s stayed the same between the last and latest mini, is storage. 64 and 256 and… that’s it.
64 is fine for streamers and large scale deployments where a school or company or agency wants to spend as little as possible for an iPad front-end to the internet. But 128 would be a sweet spot for a lot of people, and I’m sure hard core media hitters would love a 512 option. There just may not be enough of them… or Apple just may want to concentrate pros… on the Pro.
Battery life is still rated at 10 hours, which is what Apple has been rating every iPad since Steve Jobs held up the original back in January of 2010. It seems like every bit of efficiency Apple eekes out of the iPad, they invest back in features, not extending battery life. So, while I’d love to see a 20 hours iPad one day, I’m still not pained on 10 hours today.
The 6th gen iPad mini gets Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, which is an improvement over the previous gen’s Wi-Fu 5 or 802.11ac. Still no Wi-Fi 6E on any Apple devices, which is the 6Ghz version.
If you go with the cellular version, Apple’s dropping old 2G, GSM/EDGE networking, but keeping 3G UMTS/HSPA, bumping 4G LTE from 28 to 32 bands, and adding 5G NR. But only Sub-6 5G, which is the good if slower kind. Not mmWave, which is the obscenely fast but utterly fragile kind. The kind that forces those little side RF transparency windows on US iPhones…
Since I still don’t think mmWave will turn into a viable mainstream technology, sticking with Sub-6 on the mini makes the kind of sense to me that absolutely does.
The selfie cam is getting a big update. Or rather, a wide update. An ultra-wide update. From 7 megapixels f/2.2 to 12 megapixels f/2.4. It’s still 1080p, which seems weird given 12 megapixels, but can do extended dynamic range now, which basically shoots at 60fps but interleaves every second frame with that data, so you get a much richer 30fps recording. It’s where the iPhone was a couple or few years ago.
Also, weirdly, even though the A15 image signal processor gives 4th generation Smart HDR computational photography power to the iPhone 13, the iPad mini is only getting iPhone 12-style 3rd generation Smart HDR. Standard generational improvements aside, the biggest difference being support for semantic rendering on multiple faces at the same time. It might just be that the iPad mini 6 camera system can’t pull in anywhere nearly enough data compared to the iPhone 13’s way, way better camera system for Smart HDR 4 to make any difference at all.
Because of the ultra wide update though, the mini is also getting Center Stage. That’s what Apple calls its people tracking technology. In other words, cropping down within the frame to highlight the person in it, panning and scanning to follow them around, and the widening as needed if an additional person or people enter the frame. It debuted with the iPad Pro back in April, and it’s really great, especially for family or group calls.
The rear camera is also bumping up from 8 megapixel f/2.4 to 12 megapixels f/1.8. Literally bumping as in it has a bump now. And I morn that not, because I always want the best optics possible, the best optics usually require the most depth, and a case can flatten it back out if I really need it to. Plus, there’s a quad-LED trueTone flash now as well. And I will never shame anyone for taking photos with their iPad. Pros pay a fortune for viewfinders this size and with much lower build quality. So you shoot you.
Also, for the rear camera, 12 megapixels does indeed bequeath 4K/60 video recording, or 4K 30 with that extended dynamic range, because same reason.
You can’t record stereo audio with the iPad mini the way you can with the Pro, but thanks to the new speaker system, you can now playback stereo audio in landscape like you can on the Air. Which is better, because TikTok style vertical video just doesn’t have the same dependency on good spatial audio the way horizontal Hollywood video does.
There’s no Magic Keyboard for the new iPad mini, which I think everyone knew there wouldn’t be, but a lot of us were kinda still hoping we would see. Just the idea of John Ternus’ team figuring out how to fit all those keys into such a small space… it’s exactly the kind of problem we need Apple solving.
But there is the Apple Pencil 2, which is a big upgrade from the original. It attaches magnetically, charges inductively, and has a capacitive button on the side so you can switch states between writing or drawing and erasing, for example. I’ve been using and loving it since 2018. It’s just such a huge upgrade.
The updated iPad mini keeps the same price for the same storage, starting at $499 for 64GB. That’s $100 less than the Air. So, if you were to map things out, Apple has pretty much lined up the iPads with the iPhones now. iPad 9 is a much more frequently updated but still entry-level iPhone SE. iPad mini and iPad Air are the iPhone mini and iPhone… not Air. Nothing. iPad Pro 11 and iPad Pro 12.9 are iPhone Pro and iPhone Pro Max. Which, clever Apple.
Should you upgrade?
All the iPads did record-breaking box-office the first couple years out, because no one had them. But the update cycle quickly became very similar to PCs. You get it, you keep it, and it works fine for 3-6 years. Unless there’s some whiz-bang new feature you simply have to have. And I think the mini offers exactly that in a couple ways — the new design and, if you’re into it, the Pencil 2.
That aside, my always advice remains — wait as long as you can to upgrade, upgrade when you need to, get the best you can afford, and then enjoy the hell out of it with zero regrets because they’ll always be something new and something next.
It’s why build quality is such a priority for Apple and the iPhone…