Bottom line: With a modern design, USB-C, and the power of the A15 Bionic chip all packed into a super-portable form factor, fans of the iPad mini should rejoice at the sixth-generation model.
Super portable form factor
Larger 8.3-inch display
Gorgeous new design
Powerful A15 Bionic chip
Apple Pencil 2 support
Improved cameras + Center Stage
No Smart Connector
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Apple resisted making a small tablet for a long time, with Steve Jobs arguing that 7-inch tablets were not big enough for great tablet apps. In addition, every tablet user is also a smartphone user, making small tablets redundant. Fast forward to the fall of 2012, and Apple was ready to unveil its first tablet in that size class.
The first iPad mini was effectively a shrunken-down iPad 2 in terms of the specs. Still, its 7.9-inch display allowed new types of buyers to get in on the iPad action, eschewing cheaper Nexus and Amazon slates for the premium Apple hardware and software experience. Since 2012, the iPad mini hadn't received that much attention from Apple. The design effectively remained the same through the now previous-gen iPad mini 5, with specs bumped incrementally every few years.
That pattern ends with the iPad mini 6. The 2021 model is the most significant update to the iPad mini line since the introduction of the first-generation model with a complete redesign, larger display, huge processor boost, and much more. There's so much for iPad mini fans to get excited about and virtually no reason not to upgrade to it from a previous-generation model.
iPad mini 6: Price and availability
Though we've grown accustomed to Apple keeping prices the same when it releases a new product iteration, that's not the case with the iPad mini 6. Unlike its $399 predecessor, the sixth-generation iPad mini starts at $499. Of course, for that extra $100, you're getting the all-new design and incredible power, as we'll go into below. Still, it's a considerable jump in price as Apple leans into this being a niche product for those that value portability.
Your $499 gets you the 64GB capacity with an additional $150 bumping the storage up to 256GB. If you want a cellular variant, that's also a $150 premium with $649 and $799 price tags for the 64GB and 256GB Wi-Fi + Cellular models, respectively. Of course, we'll keep our eyes peeled for iPad mini deals, but it's not a cheap tablet purchase.
iPad mini 6: Hardware and design
The all-new look of the iPad mini 6 is the first thing you'll notice about the 2021 model. For the first time, we see a radical redesign in the iPad mini lineup, with the iPad mini 6 taking clear design cues from the iPad Air and iPad Pro models that came before it. The result is one adorable device.
Apple has given the iPad mini a Liquid Retina display that allows the device to squeeze in an 8.3-inch screen, up from 7.9 inches previously, without expanding the overall footprint (in fact, it's a tad smaller). While Apple will call the iPad mini 6's display edge-to-edge, there's still a decent amount of bezel here, but removing the "forehead and chin" makes the display feel much more expansive.
The bezels are the same thickness as those on the iPad Pro and iPad Air, though, of course, the display is smaller, which makes them appear chunkier in comparison. The bezels are needed to have somewhere to hold the device, and they effectively disappear as you focus on the content when using the device.
The display itself has a resolution of 2266 x1488 pixels making it 326 pixels per inch. As a result, it is much more pixel-dense than the other current-gen iPad models in the lineup, all 264 PPI. Though it doesn't have the mini-LED tech or brightness level of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, text looks sharp, images clear, and with P3 wide color and True Tone, whatever you have on the iPad mini 6's screen will pop.
However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for the new display, as there is a definite issue with "jelly scrolling." Some noted it, but not all, that had pre-release iPad mini hardware, and it's a clear issue with my device. It's easily observable when scrolling text-based apps in portrait orientation and was one of the first things I noticed when reading in the News and Books app. Though Apple says it is not an issue, I hope the company addresses it in a future software update.
|Category||iPad mini 6|
|Operating System||iPadOS 15|
|Display||8.3 inches, 2266x1488 (326 ppi) resolution, Liquid Retina display|
|Processor||Apple A15 Bionic|
|Rear Camera||12MP Wide camera, ƒ/1.8 aperture, True Tone flash|
|Front Camera||12MP Ultra Wide camera, ƒ/2.4 aperture, Center Stage|
|Dimensions||195.4 x 134.8 x 6.3mm, 293g|
In addition to a new display, the whole chassis of the iPad mini got some design love and has been refreshed with the flat back and sides found in Apple's other premium iPad lines, plus some new colors — space gray, pink, purple, and starlight. Unfortunately, the colors are mostly muted, and the purple on my device looks gray in most lights. However, this isn't a problem since the tablet resides in a Smart Folio cover most of the time.
At 0.65 pounds, the iPad mini 6 remains super light. Its weight combined with its form factor makes it a delight to carry around, even with the Smart Folio attached. For reading, browsing the web, watching videos, or playing games, it has the perfect screen size to weight ratio, meaning you can be immersed in your content for long periods without your arms getting tired.
One iPad Air feature carried over to the iPad mini 6 is a Touch ID top button, rather than incorporating Face ID like the iPad Pro. Face ID's absence is likely due to cost and physical space constraints, but I would have preferred Apple to go the Face ID route on the mini. The Touch ID button works fine, great even, but I still find myself swiping up on the display as I am so used to doing with my iPhone and iPad Pro that it becomes jarring when switching between devices (first world problem, I know).
Also on the top of the device are the volume buttons. These controls have shifted from the previous iPad mini model spot on the side of the device to make room for Apple Pencil wireless charging. One neat thing about the volume buttons is that when you have the device in landscape orientation, the button layout switches in software so that the button on top is always volume up, and the one beneath it is volume down.
Apple Pencil wireless charging, of course, means that iPad mini 6 supports the second-generation Apple Pencil. While some were expecting a smaller Apple Pencil made explicitly for the new mini, I'm glad Apple just allowed the same Apple Pencil 2 to work across all its supported devices. You can even switch it between devices pretty seamlessly by simply placing it on the wireless charging spot on the iPad you want to use it with for a moment. If you like to take hand-written notes, the iPad mini 6 is the perfect digital field notes device with Apple Pencil 2 and the Quick Notes feature in iPadOS 15.
For the first time, iPad mini has moved to USB-C, making the 9th-gen iPad the only current model still rocking Lightning in 2021. As well as unifying Apple's charging standard across the high-end iPad lines, USB-C also enables iPad mini to connect to a whole host of USB-C accessories and enjoy data transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps. Of course, it's only a matter of time until all our tech adopts USB-C, so it's nice to see iPad mini get in on it with this update.
Another first for the iPad mini is the inclusion of 5G in the Wi-Fi + Cellular models. It's not the fancy mmWave version that the best iPhone models have, but it's still an upgrade on LTE in areas that have it. Unfortunately, my iPad mini 6 review unit is Wi-Fi-only, so I can't comment directly on the 5G performance, though it's a nice feature to have.
One thing lacking on the iPad mini 6 that its lookalike big siblings have is a Smart Connector. Since it enables keyboard and trackpad devices like the Magic Keyboard, I understand its absence in the mini since a similar product would be cramped. Still, other exciting use cases like the pass-through charging that the iPad mini 6 will never benefit from should accessories adopt it.
iPad mini 6: Software and performance
The physical form of an iPad is only half the story, though, with iPadOS making up the rest. Apple's tablet operating system got even more advanced with iPadOS 15 and, with the A15 Bionic chip powering the iPad mini 6, it can benefit from all that iPadOS has to offer.
The A15 Bionic is the same chipset found in the latest iPhone 13 lineup meaning Apple hasn't scrimped on the specs for the iPad mini here, though it does have a slightly lower clock speed than the iPhone 13 Pro. Nevertheless, it packs a six-core CPU, five-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine onto a single die. According to Apple, it delivers a 40% jump in performance and 60% graphics boost over the previous-gen iPad mini.
While the numbers are impressive, what matters is how it performs in real life, and, fortunately, the iPad mini absolutely sings. In my testing, it felt superbly responsive, edited photos like a dream, handled demanding games with aplomb, and never felt like it was being pushed to its limits. For most people, the A15 Bionic is overkill in terms of performance, but the chip means the device will keep up with iPadOS and the demands of new apps and features for years to come.
Thanks to its size, I use the iPad mini differently than my larger iPad Pro, mainly leaning towards it being a downtime device for video, gaming, web browsing, and reading. It excels and justifies its place in my tech setup for those last two, with much more content viewable on the screen than my phone. In Books, it's an extra two to three paragraphs meaning fewer page turns, and in Safari, it means I get a desktop-class browsing experience. Though these are minor differences, they make for a much more pleasant experience.
There are some unusual quirks of iPadOS on this new screen size, though. Many third-party apps, mainly games, are yet to update for the new size and feature black letter-boxing on the edges in landscape mode. This is understandable since no one outside of Apple knew this device was coming before it was announced, and it has a new aspect ratio. Still, the problem extends to all Apple Arcade titles, which you might think would be among the first to get updated.
More serious than that in terms of usability is the small icons on the Home Screen and the Dock. While you can choose to use large app icons via Settings, this is not on by default which means the tap targets for icons are tiny. Toggling that setting also doesn't change the size of icons in the Dock. So if you have more than eight or so icons down there, you might have a hard time tapping them when using the iPad mini in portrait orientation.
There's also a lot of padding around the app icons and widgets on the Home Screen. It seems to me there's an unusual amount of wasted space between the items on the Home Screen and the bezels, so much so that everything could be made just a fraction larger without looking cramped. On top of that, the on-screen keyboard takes up half of the screen when used in landscape mode, making for a less than stellar user experience. Hopefully, Apple will address these quirks in a future iPadOS update.
Multitasking also feels cramped very quickly. It's not so bad in landscape with two apps taking up 50% of the screen each, but add in Slide Over, a picture-in-picture window, or a Quick Note, and you soon feel boxed in. In portrait orientation, Split Screen feels almost pointless to try and use.
Further, apps that support three-column views on larger iPad screens do not offer it in iPadOS 15 on the iPad mini 6. That means you have to work slightly differently with apps like Notes and Mail.
iPad mini 6: Cameras
People using iPads as cameras have been the butt of many a joke since the iPad 2 brought cameras to Apple's tablet lineup in 2011. While I don't advocate for anyone using the iPad mini 6 as their primary camera over their recent iPhone, it is a more than adequate option in a pinch, especially given its super-portable size.
With the sixth-generation model, the iPad mini has been upgraded to a 12MP Wide rear camera with Focus Pixels and a four-LED True Tone flash. In settings with good light, you'll get some lovely, detailed photos out of the camera. In low light or when the subject is backlit, it's a little more hit and miss, but you can still get some passable photos thanks to the wider aperture and the new ISP in the A15 Bionic. Sure, there's no Ultra Wide, Telephoto, or LiDAR here, but it's a good camera with accurate results for the most part.
The real area the camera excels is in the front-facing department. Gone is the old 7MP camera for a new and improved 12MP Ultra Wide sensor that enables Center Stage. That feature still feels like magic on a FaceTime call to me and would make me pick up my mini over my iPad Pro for the next digital family gathering.