When it comes to buying a small tablet you are faced with two compelling choices -- put up the cash for the premium experience of an iPad mini or choose the budget route and pay $50 for Amazon’s latest tablet and accept the shortcomings.
Apple is clearly of the opinion that people are still looking for a premium small tablet and with the iPad mini 4 it has finally brought the look and feel of the iPad Air to its smaller tablets. The iPad mini 3 -- now discontinued -- added the Touch ID fingerprint sensor but little else over the iPad mini 2, but this year Apple has made some significant upgrades.
Apple’s iPad Air is a beautiful piece of design and the company has brought that love to the new iPad mini, slimming it down to 6.1mm (from 7.5mm) and 298g (down from 331g) meaning that picking one up you immediately notice a big difference.
I reviewed a gold version (grey and silver are also available) and just like all Apple products, the sense of quality is immediately noticeable. Build quality, as you would expect, is flawless and the only misstep is the rather large white plastic section at the top of the rear cover -- a concession for connectivity -- but this is something which isn’t seen on the Wi-Fi-only models.
On the face of it, the screen of the iPad mini 4 has not been changed. It still measures 7.9 inches on the diagonal and has a resolution of 2046 x 1536 pixels, which is identical to the iPad mini 3. However, Apple has included a fully laminated display on its smaller tablet for the first time, which means the LCD layer, touch sensor and cover glass are optically bonded to remove the gaps between them. What this means in real terms is that black levels, color accuracy and brightness all improve.
The display is much easier to read in direct sunlight with reflections reduced and the muted colors many complained about in the last two generations of iPad mini are much more vibrant and closer to those seen on the iPad Air 2.
Performance And Battery Life
The iPad mini 4 comes with a version of the A8 chip, which was introduced with the iPhone 6 last year. Apple has also boosted the RAM to 2GB, making the iPad mini 4 significantly more powerful than the iPad mini 3. In typical use the difference isn’t immediately obvious, but it means that using iOS 9’s multi-tasking features isn’t a problem.
Anything I threw at it from the App Store, from 3D games to video editing, was no problem for the iPad mini 4, and there was no noticeable slowdown when I had multiple apps open at once.
Battery life has always been one of the iPad’s best features and the iPad mini 4 is no different, which is remarkable considering the size of the battery has dropped from 6350mAh in the iPad mini 3 to 5124mAh. Thanks to the efficiencies provided by both the A8 chip and iOS 9, I found that the battery life was actually longer than the iPad mini 3, giving you around 10 hours of video playback.
Another improvement Apple has made to the iPad mini 4 is an upgrade to the camera. The rear camera here has an 8 megapixel sensor (compared to 5 megapixel), which is pretty much the same sensor found in the iPad Air 2. It meant I was able to take better images, but don’t expect this tablet to replace your iPhone. The iPad mini 4 took good pictures in decent lighting conditions, but struggled in low light conditions and with fast moving objects.
The front-facing camera remains the same and the 1.2 megapixel sensor is fine for video calling and the odd selfie, but again don’t expect smartphone quality.
iOS 9 comes installed in the new iPad mini 4. Along with all the mainstream features of iOS 9 -- improved Siri, better search and a power-saving mode -- it has a range of iPad-specific features available on the iPad mini 4.
Slide Over, Split View and Picture-in-Picture all work as intended on the iPad mini 4. However, their usefulness is limited, both by the small screen, and the fact that not many apps aside from Apple’s own apps support the features so far. It should also be noted that these features have been available in Windows and Android smartphones and tablets for years.
The iPad mini 4 is a great tablet. It is powerful, beautifully designed and built, with a great screen and great battery life. At $399 the iPad mini 4 is expensive, but you cannot really compare this product to Amazon’s $50 tablet as they are aimed at entirely different markets.
There is little doubt that the iPhone 6 Plus is eating some of the iPad mini’s market, but with the latest model, Apple has made significant improvements that will appeal to many.
iPad mini 4 Key Features:
- 7.9in screen (2046 x 1536)
- iOS 9
- A8 chip with 2GB RAM
- 8MP camera
- Price: From $399