By What Hi-Fi? Review Source
Apple has gone back to the drawing board for this, the sixth generation of the iPad Mini, and the result is a real triumph of design. The home button has been scrapped and the screen extended to more closely follow the edges of the diminutive slate, with a steady 9mm bezel running all the way around. The Touch ID fingerprint reader has moved to the power button on the side.
That takes the screen up from 7.9 inches to 8.3 inches while actually reducing the length of the device by the best part of 8mm. That might not sound like much – particularly when the new model is a tiny bit thicker too – but trimming the fat around the edge of the screen makes the whole thing feel a lot more compact and modern. That’s also aided no end by the squarer-cut, utility-chic styling, which compares very favourably to the love letter to chamfering that was the yester-generation.
This once again has that look and feel of a unique device rather than one that, if you rubbed off the Apple logo, could get lost in the line-up of small tablets from other manufacturers.
Naturally, there are plenty of other more functional improvements to the build. The fast-charging and universal USB-C port has replaced Apple’s previous penchant for the proprietary Lightning, and that makes for one less charger and cable to remember to put in your bag. There are also stereo speakers on both short edges of the device, which should offer an improved sans-headphone audio experience.
IPAD MINI (2021) TECH SPECS Screen 8.3in LED screen with IPS, 2266 x 1488px at 326ppi, Storage 64GB/256GB RAM 4GB Connectivity Wi-fi, 5G, Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C Peripherals Support for Apple Pencil (2nd generation) Processor Apple A15 Bionic chip Dimensions (hwd) 20 x 14 x 0.6cm Weight 293g / 297g (wi-fi / cellular) Cameras Front-facing 12MP, rear-facing 12MP Battery life Up to 10 hours Finishes 4
The cameras are also now a much more significant part of the device, with the pin-prick of an 8MP rear camera from the previous model now replaced by a 12MP shooter with True Tone flash. The front-facer has also seen a resolution boost, going from 7MP to 12MP.
The build of the insides is just as significant, with the A12 Bionic chip having been replaced by the considerably more powerful and up-to-date A15. That’s third in resources only to the two iPad Pro models. According to Apple, the A15 brings a six-core CPU that’s 40 per cent faster than that of the older iPad Mini and a five-core GPU that brings an impressive-sounding 80 per cent faster graphics operation.
The other major internal upgrade is for those who want the cellular model. The sixth generation iPad Mini is now 5G-enabled. Maximum storage size is still 256GB but there are more colour choices with Space Grey, Pink, Purple and Starlight all options for your brushed aluminium finish. Delightful one and all.
Sadly, there is one almost inevitable piece of bad news, and that’s that the 3.5mm headphones socket has vanished. You’ll need a USB-C adapter for wired cans. Thankfully, they’re surprisingly inexpensive at the moment.
The iPad Mini 6th generation comes with iPadOS 15. Combined with the Apple A15 Bionic chip, it’s a typically slick experience. The GUI has a liquid-like flow and almost seems to respond to our will microseconds before we’ve even touched it.
You can add all sorts of interesting widgets to the home pages, such as those pertaining to battery life, Chrome searches, contacts, the Game Center, podcasts, Apple TV and more, depending on the other apps you choose to download. Those apps are displayed in a typical tray but also auto-sorted into a series of relevant folders in the App Library section.
The newly added multitasking feature is certainly handy too. You can choose to put two apps together in either a splitscreen (half and half) or slide-over (a small one laid over a larger one) views. We’re not convinced that we've uncovered its very best uses but having a music player slide over a web browser is good and we can imagine one or two people might sneakily want to stream something on Netflix while splitscreened with a Zoom call.
One of the big sells of the iPad Mini experience is its support for the Apple Pencil (second generation). In fact, it’s more of a nice extra and not something that everybody is going to want or need.
The iPad Mini will recognise your Pencil handwriting and turn it into text. That includes editing documents or entering forms. You can select words pretty quickly with a swipe of the nib, make gaps in the copy and add in your own notes. It all works pretty well but we’re not convinced that it’s any quicker or more convenient than doing it with a finger and the soft keyboard instead, particularly if you’ve lost most of your handwriting skills in the digital age.
Where it’s really nice is for creative work – sketching, embellishing photographs, designing and doodling – where the choice of colours, pens and responsiveness of the Pencil on the screen are really pleasurable. If you’re no artist, don’t expect the Apple Pencil to turn you into one, but there is at least the opportunity to practice if you’re willing to speculate the £119 / $129 / AU$199 cost.
The Pencil charges magnetically from the iPad battery when you attach it to the side of the tablet. Do be warned that this will nibble away at the 10-hour power reserves of your device. It’s also quite easy to knock the Pencil off, so be careful when taking it out and about.
On the viewing front, the iPad Mini 6 supports Dolby Vision, even if the maximum resolution on apps such as Disney+ and Netflix is only HD. You can also get Dolby Atmos and enjoy Apple’s Spatial Audio system, but only if you’re listening through Spatial Audio-supporting headphones such as the AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, or AirPods 3.
Tablets aren’t the best for photography compared to their mobile phone cousins but the 12MP front and rear shooters on the iPad Mini are very decent. They can record smooth-looking and colour-accurate video at up to 4K resolution with 60fps or even slo-mo in HD at up to 240fps. Our stills of quite heavily backlit scenes come off pretty well, without any over- or under-exposure. Heavy sunbeams coming through the windows cause a slight lens flaring but we are pleased to see that there is no discernible noise in the darker areas. That only kicks in for night-time photography, but then that’s what the flash is for.
More useful than any of this, though, is the addition of the Center Stage feature to video calls. When using FaceTime or other video conferencing apps, the software will track your face and then zoom and pan the camera to automatically keep you in the middle of the picture. It’s even smart enough to manage when there’s more than one person in the frame. We can imagine that being very handy if you’re trying to do some kind of moving presentation or if you’d like to keep the grandkids in the picture while they’re haring around the room during family chats.
Lastly, the gaming experience is well worth a nod. The GPU in the A15 is more than a match for even the triple-A type games you’ll find in the App Store. Playing Call Of Duty 2 online, there’s not so much as the thought of a hiccup or glitch as we stalk the battlefields.
This iPad Mini’s screen isn’t any brighter than that of the last model. Liquid Retina or just plain Retina, it’s still at 500 nits. The larger 8.3-inch display brings a raised resolution at 2266 x 1488px, maintaining the 326ppi pixel density of the previous generation.
There’s also still the True Tone colour mode, which adjusts the white point according to the temperature of your ambient light. It’s certainly effective, although we tend to prefer it switched off for film and TV viewing. Colours feel a little more accurate that way and it’s the screen that our eyes tend to take as correctly balanced.
What has changed is that this LCD panel is less leaky for light. While black depth is still a long way off what you’ll find in the iPad Pro 12.9, it has improved significantly on the previous generation.
Watching Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 in HD and Dolby Vision from Disney+, it’s a punchier performance than before, with items such as the Guardians’ aero-rigs far richer and darker than the comparatively hazy renditions of the past. The trade-off is that there’s some small loss of contrast. Some of the clouds in the opening scene of the Missouri countryside are a little too bright and the areas where shadows turn to light could be a touch more carefully drawn but, on balance, this is a compromise that’s well worth making for the added sense of excitement to the viewing.
That change of approach is still present at SDR as we watch Ice Road on Prime Video, with the added pop that you get with the new Mini well worth the small amount that's lost in the details on the snowy landscape.
With both films, there’s a healthy amount of insight to enjoy, and there’s no faulting Apple for colour. Faces of the characters look believably peach (or green or blue), foliage looks natural, with skies, fields and rocks appearing exactly as we would expect.
As is almost always the case with portables, movement can be a little bit juddery but, watching Spider-Man: Far From Home through iTunes, there’s a definite improvement on iPad Minis of old, with little loss of sharpness with the more moderate camera pans across scenes such as those in Peter’s high school.
Regardless of any niggles, the fundamental fact that this latest iPad Mini offers the biggest screen of all that have shared its name is the take-home message. This bigger screen is simply better. It lifts the experience from something close to that of a large mobile phone to one that’s altogether more tablet-sized and cinematic. The fact that it has improved black depth and punch is a pleasant bonus.
So, the missing headphones socket is irritating, if on-trend, but it doesn’t take long for this latest iPad to convince us to forget all about it because the audio performance is excellent.
It just goes to show how seriously Apple has taken sound over the last two and a half years when one compares the performance of this Mini to the previous generation. One need only take a look at developments such as Spatial Audio, lossless streaming on Apple Music and the launch of premium headphones such as the AirPods Max in the inter-Mini period for hard commercial evidence. Tablet specs might be easier to ape but focusing on qualitative advantages is what Apple does best.
Listening to Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, the sixth generation Mini still has the excellent sense of precision of its predecessor. The basic but pivotal beat still ticks over with pace, driving the fun of the track all the way through to its end. The hand claps are clear and on the money to such a degree that you can almost guess just how many people are performing them.
It’s when we switch to something a little more musically involved in the form of Little Bird by Goldfrapp that we get a sense of the leaps and bounds with which this device has sonically moved on. It’s a complicated track from the get-go with lots going on: backwards samples, demanding vocals, stringed instruments and a soft beat all rendered with a feel of body and intricacy that just doesn’t exist in the previous model.
There’s so much more depth to the sound, leaving enough space for the different instruments to separate and be heard and felt more fully. Goldfrapp’s vocals come across all the more ethereal, entwining with the violins and the corkscrewing samples that come and go in the build to the first verse. Combine with a decent pair of headphones and you’ll find a performance that’s both expressive and crisp – something you’ll only find in more premium portable devices.
Even without headphones, this tablet is pretty decent. The landscape stereo speakers offer a lot more volume than the previous model and the added dynamic abilities translate here too. The biggest improvement is the speaker placement itself, though.
Having speakers on each end of the iPad Mini means that there’s a far better soundfield for TV and film. Propped up on its case/stand we get a very decent feel of the spaceships zooming about from left to right and back again at the beginning of chapter 3 of Guardians Of The Galaxy 2. Headphones remain the way to do things properly but the speakers make viewing perfectly enjoyable without them, in a pinch.
This bigger-screened, better sounding iPad Mini is a huge improvement on the last model and just the ticket if an 8-inch tablet is what you’re after. It's just about small enough to carry around in a jacket pocket while offering a viewing experience that’s way beyond that of even a large mobile phone.
Price-wise, you won’t find anything that can match it. Throw in its class-leading audio performance, its super-slick user experience, the rather handsome looks and the interesting addition of the Pencil support and you’ve got yourself a little five-star winner.