Perhaps a sign that the mighty iPad’s popularity is waning, Apple announced the iPad mini 4 (and iPad Pro) alongside the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus rather than hosting a separate event this year. But if you’re in the market for a new tablet, the new models have plenty to offer. Here’s our iPad mini 4 review.
Glance at the new 8in tablet and you might not immediately spot the subtle changes in its chassis. But just as Apple made the iPad Air 2 thinner than the original iPad Air, the mini 4 is now 18 percent thinner, a little taller and lighter.
203.2×134.8×6.1mm, 299g (+5g for cellular model)
While the old Smart Cover will physically fit, you really need one designed for the mini 4 because the magnets appear to have been repositioned and the old covers don’t connect as well.
Specific-fit cases for older iPad minis are unlikely to work with the mini 4 either. Apple hasn’t made a Smart Case for the new tablet, but you can pair the new iPhone-style silicone case with a Smart Cover to get all-round protection.
If you missed it on the Air 2, you’ll also miss the mute / lock rotation slider on the iPad mini 4, because it’s gone. Those settings are now only in the Control Centre which you get to by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.
It still has a 7.9in diagonal and a 2048×1536 resolution, but the screen on the mini 4 is a big upgrade. It’s the upgrade we’d hoped for on the mini 3, but at least it’s here now. Apple has removed the air gap between the cover glass and LCD which not only improves the build quality – the tablet feels more solid – but it also improves contrast (a lot) and makes everything look noticeably better.
The screen also gains the anti-glare coating of the Air 2 and while there are still reflections, it makes a noticeable difference and really helps to cut down on glare and improve the screen’s perceived quality.
Measuring the new display with our Spyder4, we’re pleased that the iPad mini finally matches its bigger brother and has – as near as makes no difference – 100 percent sRGB coverage.
What that means in the real world is that colours are vibrant instead of a bit muted: put an older iPad mini next to an iPad mini 4 and it’s obvious that it has an inferior quality screen. They’re also more accurate, so photos and videos will look the same on an iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4.
PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY LIFE
Many will think of the iPad mini 4 as a shrunk-down Air 2, but it’s not quite as powerful. Instead of the A8X chip, Apple instead furnished the new tablet with an A8 out of the iPhone 6 – or at least a very similar version.
Put simply, the mini 4 is not as fast as the Air 2. In Geekbench 3, it managed 1719 (single-core) and 3101 (multi-core).
The Air 2 scored 1816 and 4523 respectively. So in some apps, which take advantage of more than one processor core, the Air 2 is considerably faster. Those that don’t will run with roughly the same performance. According to Geekbench 3, at least.
Again, in real-world use, the mini 4 zips along and feels every inch the premium tablet. Which it is. There’s a slight hesitation when using two apps at once in the Split View mode, but it’s smooth for the most part and we absolutely love the iOS 9 picture-in-picture mode where you can watch a video (or iPlayer show) in a small window that sits over another app (yes, we know it’s also available on older iPads when you update them to iOS 9).
What it means is you can browse the web while the news or a football match, say, plays in the corner.
When it comes to 3D, the Air 2 also strikes out ahead. It scores 52fps and 25fps in the T-Rex and Manhattan GFXBench tests respectively. The mini 4 can manage only 37- and 15fps.
It’s still a lot faster than the iPad mini 2 and 3, which share the same graphics chip, which score 22fps in T-Rex and 9fps in Manhattan.
But if you were hoping for an iPad mini with the power of an Air 2, you could be a tad disappointed.
In better news, the smaller battery in the mini 4 actually lasts longer than its predecessors. In our initial tests, it lasted roughly an hour longer than the iPad mini 2.
Another upgrade is the rear camera. This has made the leap from 5Mp to 8Mp, and by all accounts is the same camera as the iPad Air 2’s. It’s not half bad, either, if you’re taking photos in good light. And with the iPad mini, you don’t look quite as strange holding a tablet up to snap videos or photos.
The jump to 8Mp is only part of the story. There are multiple benefits of the extra processing power from the A8. First it means you have the extra luxuries of burst photos and slo-mo video (120fps at 720p). Hold the button and photos are taken at a blistering 10 per second. And while slo-mo isn’t as slow as the 240fps available on the iPhone 6 and later, it’s still a nice feature to have. What you don’t get is the option of shooting 1080p video at 60fps, but 30fps is enough for most people.
Panoramas are captured at up to 43Mp – the same as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Stitching is seamless and dynamic range is good, too, making this a feature you’re likely to use more than once.
Auto-focus is quick, and face detection is better than before so you’re less likely to end up with photos where people are blurry and the hedge in the background is nice and sharp.
As you’d expect, video looks good. Colours are accurate, sound is clear and details are sharp. Software stabilisation is quite effective, too. Things only start going downhill in low light, with noise creeping in to photos as well as videos. But even then, it’s hard to think of a tablet that does a better job.
The two photos below have only been resized to 1600×1200 pixels, down from 3264×2448:
The 100 percent crop below shows what the camera is capable of in a handheld macro shot:
The front camera has a 1.2Mp sensor – again the same as the iPad Air 2. Its larger aperture (than the iPad mini 2) lets in more light, although the increase in quality is not always obvious. Maybe next year we’ll see a proper upgrade to the FaceTime camera.
PRICE, STORAGE AND COLOURS
When buying an iPad you have a choice of space grey, silver or gold. No change there, but the fact that nothing has moved on the storage front is more of an annoyance. The base 16GB model is even more inadequate in 2015, especially with the higher-quality camera.
The 32GB option disappeared with the iPad mini 3, so you have to choose between 64- or 128GB versions. As ever, there’s also a Wi-Fi + Cellular option in all three storage capacities which costs £100/$150 more (and also adds a GPS receiver as well as 4G LTE).
So, you’ll pay a minimum of £319/$478, and a maximum of £579/$869. Our pick, though, is the 64GB Wi-Fi only model which costs £399/$598.
And before we get into the “year-old innards argument”, don’t forget that these are the same prices Apple charged a year ago for the highly inferior iPad mini 3.
Yes, you can buy a 16GB iPad Air 2 for £399/$598, but we’d rather have the smaller mini 4 and 64GB for the same price. Despite the shortfall in performance.
The mini 4 also gets the upgraded Wi-Fi first seen in the Air 2 – 802.11ac which can run (theoretically) up to 866Mbps. There’s also Bluetooth 4.2 and thanks to Touch ID you can use Apple Pay to pay for things in certain apps.
We won’t go into the features of iOS 9 since we cover many of these in our iOS 8 vs iOS 9 comparison. It’s enough to summarise and say iOS 9 is superb and is a major reason to choose an iPad over any other tablet. It adds loads of useful features and tweaks compared to iOS 8, and the app store is the best stocked of all its competitors.
- Apple A8 processor, M8 motion coprocessor
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB / 64GB / 128GB onboard storage
- iOS 9
- LED-backlit IPS LCD, capacitive touchscreen, 2048×1536 pixels, 7.9 inches, 326ppi pixel density
- Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi hotspot
- 8Mp, 1.2Mp cameras
- 203.2×134.8×6.1mm, 299g
There are cheaper tablets – cheaper iPads even – but if you can afford to buy the iPad mini 4 you won’t be disappointed. It finally has a great screen and while it can’t match the more powerful iPad Air 2, it’s got more than enough poke to satisfy demanding users. The rear camera is decent and a big step up from many cheaper tablets. With great build quality and battery life on top, it’s hard to fault the new mini so unless you want to wait to see if Apple launches an iPad Air 3, or you want the Air 2’s bigger screen, it’s a good buy.