It’s hard to work out what Apple’s up to with its iPad range. You’d have said that the mini selection of tablets was being retired after the mini 3 got the minimum upgrade possible… but then the iPad mini 4 was quietly rolled out.
And it’s actually rather good.
OK, you can easily argue that it’s the tablet the mini 3 should have been, and there’s an infuriating drop in spec compared to the iPad Air 2 (the mini 2 and the iPad Air were almost identical except in size, and it was awesome) but it’s still one of the better tablets around.
This is the iPad Air 2 in a smaller frame, which is a great base to begin with – even a year on, the Air 2 is the best tablet on the market without doubt. It’s a shame we didn’t get the iPad Air 3 this year, but the whole digital slate market is in flux right now, so perhaps you can forgive a level of caution on Apple’s part.
In fact, I could argue that Apple has too many products out there now – after all, this is a brand that only does one (ish) phone a year. With the addition of the iPad Pro, there are now three in the line up, with the bigger models taking the attention at the launch.
Despite that the iPad mini 4 is obviously the best smaller tablet Apple has ever created – well, I say obviously, but last year’s mini 3 was actually something of a backwards step. That device was just the mini 2 with a new colour and TouchID, but the mini 4 is a much better device.
If you’re torn between the large and smaller models, the key thing to know about the mini range is it’s a tablet that can actually go in your pocket. Not easily, admittedly, but it’ll slip easily into a jacket for on-the-go slate action.
Coming in at £319 / $399 / AU$569 for the base 16GB Wi-Fi-only model, this still isn’t the budget option we’ve been after from Apple (and will probably never get, given the brand’s lust for premium, high-cost devices) but it’s much closer than the larger variants, and the mini 2 exists for those looking for a lower-price iPad.
So what’s Apple up to? Is the mini tablet market being eaten by phablets – in fact, is the iPhone 6S Plus cannibalising the mini 4? Or is it that we’re not replacing tablets at the same rate, thus making it harder for Apple to justify constantly creating a premium model each year?
It’s a shame – with the holidays coming up the lower-priced iPad mini becomes a real consideration for so many partners, so this review is essentially now going to look at whether, despite the older components and last year’s tech, the iPad mini 4 can be considered a decent ‘new’ tablet.
The design of the iPad mini 4 is going to come as no surprise to most, as it’s still borrowing the same design language from the original iPad mini. The same swooping curved edges are used once more, and the ceramic-like back of the tablet feels brilliant in the hand.
The mini 4, like the iPad Air 2, has had a little bit of thickness shaved off compared to its predecessor to make it even more portable, and the weight is reduced accordingly. The iPad mini 4 is down to 299g, from 331g, which makes it even easier to slip into the inside pocket of a jacket or hide in a bag.
The screen is still encased with the same large bezels from all other iPads, with less down the horizontal sides (when you’re holding the mini 4 in portrait) to make things look a little sleeker.
Is that a good thing? Will you not rub your palms all over it and interact with the screen unwillingly when you’re trying to browse the web or read a book on the go? Thankfully, the screen is more intelligent and can work out when you’re going to want to do this and when you’re not, so you won’t have to worry too much about accidental taps.
The rest of the tablet is pretty much as expected, with only the silencer switch missing. This has been gradually eradicated from most of Apple’s devices of late, with the silencer finding a home in the Control Center section (found by dragging up from the bottom of the screen) and works just as well when you need to shut the iPad up.
Some people think that Apple gets kudos for its design language simply because of the brand, but there’s still the same hallmark craftsmanship present throughout this tablet, with ergonomics carefully thought out. The volume and power buttons are just prominent enough to be found without looking, yet still don’t catch on pockets or bags when being flung about.
The iPad mini 4 is one of the most robust and premium feeling tablets on the market – it’s probably not going to survive a fight with barbed wire, but the casing can handle some rough treatment in a bag, that’s for sure.
It always makes sense to pick up a case or cover to protect the screen, but that display too has got some strength to it. I’m not suggesting you throw it out windows regularly (not just for damage purposes – that’s just a dumb thing to do. Why are you even considering it?) but it’s going to handle the odd drop off the bed.