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Apple iPad Mini (2021) review: This one's just right
Apple iPad Mini (2021)
Retail price: $499.00$499.00 at Amazon
What we like
What we don't like
In years past, the iPad Mini has always fit into a strange nook in Apple’s iPad lineup. It didn’t feature the most powerful processor, it didn’t support the latest accessories, and it took design cues from Apple devices that were already several years old. The only truly unique selling point was its size.
With the release of the 2021 sixth generation iPad Mini, Apple has flipped the script. It keeps the same small footprint, but packs some features that are only found on the high-end iPad Pro models.
But is that enough to sway buyers away from larger tablets, or encourage existing users to upgrade? Find out more in Android Authority’s 2021 iPad Mini review.
What you need to know about the iPad Mini (2021)
- iPad Mini (Wi-Fi only, 64GB): $499 / £479 / €549
- iPad Mini (Wi-Fi only, 256GB): $649 / £619 / €719
- iPad Mini (Wi-Fi + Cellular, 64GB): $649 / £619 / €719
- iPad Mini (Wi-Fi + Cellular, 256GB): $799 / £759 / €889
The sixth generation iPad Mini launched on September 24, 2021, a year and a half after the release of the previous model. It represents a significant redesign, with improvements to both external and internal components of the device.
The screen, while still a 60Hz LCD panel, now measures 8.3 inches and features rounded corners like other modern Apple devices. The edges of the device are now flat, and the Touch ID reader has moved from the front of the device to the top, alongside the volume rockers.
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Despite the larger screen, the 2021 iPad Mini is slightly lighter and smaller (apart from an unnoticeable 2mm increase in thickness), and keeps the same 10-hour battery life. It achieves this thanks to the powerful and energy-efficient A15 Bionic chip, which is the same chipset found in the latest iPhone 13 lineup.
Other notable changes include support for the Apple Pencil 2 ($119), which attaches to the side of the device to charge. It also drops Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector in favor of the now-ubiquitous USB-C. That means all of your USB-C accessories now work with the iPad Mini, and there’s even a USB-C charger in the box, in case you don’t already have one. These days, a charger in the box is almost a luxury feature in Apple products.
However, all of this comes at a higher cost than previous models. The cheapest iPad Mini will run you $499, and the most expensive model with cellular connectivity runs $799. That’s scratching at the heels of the 11-inch iPad Pro, which also starts at $799. That said, one is designed to be a laptop replacement and the other a more portable, pocketable tablet experience.
The Apple iPad Mini comes in Space Gray, Pink, Purple, and Starlight. It is available to buy from Apple, Amazon, and other major retailers globally.
How is the new design?
Speaking as someone who has used the previous iPad Mini every day for the past two years, the new design is a much-needed breath of fresh air. The curved edges and physical home button were already out of date in 2019, and now the iPad Mini looks like its counterparts in the upper echelons of Apple’s products.
Initially, I was worried that the larger screen would make the device more difficult to hold, but the bezels on the side of the screen are the same size as before, with only the top and bottom bezels reduced. It’s still very easy to hold with one hand. I’m not totally sold on the flat edges from a usability perspective (there’s very little grip), but they certainly do look nicer.
The 2021 iPad Mini now takes design cues from Apple's premium iPad Pro lineup.
The screen itself is considerably larger than its predecessor. A jump from 7.9 inches to 8.3 inches doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually significantly more real estate. Plus, the added space makes the display longer and more suited to streaming media consumption. You’ll still see black bars on the 14:9 display, which is somewhere between 4:3 and 16:9.
Unfortunately, the screen itself is… fine. Despite the supposed upgrade from a “Retina” display to a “Liquid Retina” display, it’s still just a 60Hz LCD panel (now with rounded corners). It maintains the same high 327ppi (higher than even the iPad Pro) and great brightness of the previous model, but apart from the size increase, it isn’t much of an improvement and sadly lacks the smooth “ProMotion” adaptive refresh rate of Apple’s Pro tablets and smartphones.
Although there’s no Face ID here, it does have a fingerprint unlock located on the power button at the top of the device. This is much more convenient than the previous location at the front of the device, and it’s every bit as fast.
What’s it like to use iPadOS 15?
Apart from the physical redesign of the iPad Mini, it also launched with a new software update in iPadOS 15. It isn’t a big change from previous versions of the tablet-only OS, and most of the new features are fairly irrelevant on the iPad Mini.
iPadOS 15’s keystone additions all have to do with multitasking. It’s now easier to create split views with several apps and switch between apps with a new app shelf. There are other productivity features like focus mode (essentially a fancy do not disturb) and additional keyboard shortcuts.
Many new iPadOS 15 features only apply to larger, productivity-focused iPads.
These are fantastic on the larger iPads, and push them closer than ever to becoming true laptop replacements. The iPad Mini, however, is still simply too small to use with split-screen. Get a larger iPad if that’s primarily what you’re after.
Of course, there’s much more to iPadOS 15 than just multitasking. Widgets are now directly on your homescreen (instead of in a wonky pull-out menu), and other features like Quick Notes pair perfectly with the Apple Pencil 2. Just swipe up from the bottom left corner of the screen to scribble down a note which is then accessible from all of your Apple devices.
Like iOS, iPadOS also now supports app drawers, so you can keep your home screen organized and streamlined. You also gain access to the App Store ecosystem, which for all its faults is still incredibly robust. If you use an iPhone, Mac, or Macbook, there are even more integrations to explore. This is in addition to all of Apple’s services like Apple TV Plus, Apple Music, and Apple Arcade.
How is the battery life?
Like the previous iPad Mini, Apple promises 10 hours of battery life, and that was largely the case in our testing. After a few days of heavy use with video conferences and graphically intensive games, it achieved well over seven hours of screen-on time. Under more typical use cases like web browsing and media consumption, it easily achieved 10 hours or more.
Granted, these numbers are for the Wi-Fi-only model we used for testing. The cellular models may see slightly worse battery performance.
Charging is a bit of a mixed bag. As someone who doesn’t use an iPhone, the switch to USB-C charging meant I could finally eliminate Apple’s proprietary Lighting chargers from my life entirely. Good riddance.
The iPad Mini achieved seven hours of battery life in heavy use and over 10 hours in standard use.
However, the included 20W charger isn’t the fastest and took about 90 minutes to charge from 10 to 100%. Charging from 10 to 50% took just 30 minutes. Apple isn’t known for being at the forefront when it comes to fast charging, with even its premium iPhone 13 lineup using 30W chargers.
Related: The best charging accessories
That said, tablets should be held to a different standard than phones when it comes to charging. You’re much less likely to need a quick top-up of a tablet you use for a few hours a day than you are a phone that you use all day every day. I typically read and browse the web for an hour or so before sleeping, and under those conditions, the battery lasted for well over a week.
How powerful is the iPad Mini (2021)?
In a word, the iPad Mini’s performance is spectacular. It uses the same A15 Bionic processor as the latest iPhone 13 lineup, which is heads and tails above the previous model’s A12 Bionic processor. This tablet punches far above its weight limit, and should be capable of handling everything you can throw at it, both today and for years to come.
Although it isn’t listed on the official specs, it also includes 4GB of RAM, up from 3GB in the previous iteration. This might sound low, but Apple’s software is remarkably efficient. Even the top-of-the-line iPhone 13 Pro Max only has 6GB of RAM. In everyday use, you won’t notice a thing.
The biggest disappointment here is the limited 64GB of base storage.
The iPad Mini never missed a beat when streaming video, playing demanding games, or opening multiple apps in split-screen. It won’t handle truly professional apps as smoothly as the iPad Pro lineup will, but then again, it isn’t really designed to.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment here is the limited 64GB of storage on the two base models, with no expandable storage. While this is serviceable for those who primarily stream content, it’s woefully unequipped for downloading media and installing several storage-heavy apps. To make matters worse, the next step up is 256GB and runs a full $150 more.
There have been reports that the device suffers from jelly scrolling, where one side of the screen scrolls more slowly than the other, but I didn’t experience this at all when testing the iPad Mini for this review. Either way, it’s not something that should stop you from buying this device.
- Front-facing camera: The 12MP ultra-wide front-facing camera is more than serviceable, and combined with the new Center Stage tech it makes the iPad Mini an excellent device for 1080p HD video chatting on the go. When activated, it will focus the camera on any face it detects to give you a tighter shot. Note that it’s placed in the center of the top bezel, so you may appear to be staring off into the distance in landscape mode.
- Rear camera: The 12MP rear camera is a slight improvement over the previous model, but still not a big performer. There’s also none of the cool LiDAR support found in premium iPad Pro models. To house the larger sensor, a slight camera bump sticks out from a corner of the device, although it’s not large enough to cause the iPad Mini to rock when sitting on a table.
- Connectivity: All iPad Mini models support Wi-Fi 6, and the cellular models all support 5G. However, they don’t support mmWave, which is a slight hit to futureproofing. Still, this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for virtually anyone right now while the advanced networking is so scarce (especially outside the US). The cellular models feature a slightly different design to the aluminum edges that house the antennae, but nothing that you’d notice without putting the two side by side.
- Audio: The iPad Mini features capable stereo speakers, one at the top and one at the bottom for loud and clear audio. Like the 2020 iPad Air, it drops the headphone jack, which is now found paradoxically only found on the cheapest iPad.
- Keyboard case: Unlike the rest of the iPad lineup, Apple does not sell a compatible keyboard case, although iPadOS will work with most Bluetooth keyboards and mice.
iPad mini specs
|Apple iPad Mini (2021)|
|Display||8.3-inch Liquid Retina LCD|
1,488 x 2,266 pixels
|Processor||Apple A15 Bionic|
12MP camera (wide)
Rated for 10 hours
|Dimensions||195.4 x 134.8 x 6.3mm|
|Colors||Space Gray, Pink, Purple, Starlight|
Value and competition
Starting at $499, the iPad Mini costs a full $100 more than the previous model. That puts it in a precarious position just below the 2020 iPad Air ($599). Both devices are excellent tablets, and which one you choose will depend more on what size you want rather than any price difference.
However, if you want to step up from the base 64GB of storage, the value is considerably worse. You’ll need to drop $150 more for 256GB, which is the same premium charged on the iPad Air (though that too only has 64GB storage). Bear in mind that the new USB-C charging port also makes it easier to use with external hard drives for those who need heaps of storage and you can also sign up for iCloud storage plans, but that won’t cut it for apps.
The iPad Pro lineup, while exceptional devices, are in a completely different category. They’re best paired with accessories like a Magic Keyboard ($279) and Apple Pencil 2 ($119), which will put the total cost at well over twice an iPad Mini. Plus, they’re designed with productivity in mind, whereas the iPad Mini is more for play.
On the Android side of the fence, the Samsung Galaxy Tab A8.4 ($279) is the closest you’ll find to the iPad Mini experience. It’s just a hair larger, and despite the paltry 32GB of onboard storage, it supports microSD cards up to 512GB. That said, it’s more of a budget device, so don’t expect many premium trappings. If you can wait a bit longer, the expected 2021 Galaxy Tab A8 refresh is expected in the near future and may provide a more compelling alternative.
The larger Samsung Galaxy Tab S7/S7 Plus ($579) and Tab S7 FE ($599) are a decent value and include a stylus in the box, but size-wise they’re more in line with the iPad Pro lineup than the iPad Mini. The latter is also considerably underpowered compared to Apple’s iPads, especially the 5G variant. The smaller, more rugged Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3 ($489) might fit the bill, but with aging specs and a chunky design, it doesn’t quite match Apple’s offering.
If you’re truly on a tight budget, the Amazon Fire HD 8 ($89) is roughly the same size and costs significantly less. However, it’s built like a budget tablet, and you’ll have to suffer through Amazon’s heavy-handed advertising. Plus, it doesn’t have Google apps.
iPad Mini review: The verdict
For anyone in the market for a small tablet, there’s no doubt that the iPad Mini is the best tablet you can get. Aside from the middling display, the diminutive tablet does it all with very few compromises.
The larger screen means it’s no longer relegated to niche uses and can serve as a capable media companion. The wider aspect ratio is now much more streaming-friendly, and the small size means it won’t tire your arms during long streaming or reading sessions.
The iPad Mini is easily the best small tablet on the market, finally offering something for everybody.
Unlike the iPad Air and iPad Pro, the iPad Mini doesn’t try to be anything but a tablet. Despite being every bit as powerful as its larger cousins (barring the ultra-premium M1 iPad Pro models), Apple doesn’t even try to upsell you with a magic keyboard to turn the iPad Mini into a mini laptop replacement.
And it’s all the better for it. It’s not a productivity powerhouse, but it is an absolute delight to use.
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