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iPad Mini review: Size is its charm

Apple's fifth generation iPad Mini packs the power of the iPad Air in a smaller case. That compact size is the secret of the Mini's appeal.


You may wonder if there’s a market for a 7.9-inch iPad when you can buy a 6.5-inch iPhone. After all, the iPhone XS Max is almost a tablet.


Apple say iPad Mini sales have been steady since the format was first introduced. It’s not for everyone, yet some people who like the Mini are fanatic about their favourite tablet.


One reason is the cost. At NZ$680, the base model iPad Mini costs less than one-third the price of the cheapest iPhone XS Max. It’s not the cheapest iPad, but it’s good value.


Sweet spot


Price is not the only explanation for the Mini’s popularity. The size hits an important sweet spot.


At 7.9-inches, Apple's 2019 iPad Mini comes in about halfway between the iPhone XS Max and the 10.5-inch iPad Air.


While having a bigger screen than a phone is an advantage, the iPad Mini is still small and light. It weighs 300 grams. It’s handy and very portable.


At a pinch you can fit it in a pocket. OK, a big pocket. Cargo pants could come back into fashion to accommodate iPad Minis. It also slips into a handbag or any other bag. You can hide it in a car glove compartment.


Pythagoras understood


We measure screen sizes across the diagonal. Thanks to Pythagoras' theorem a 7.9-inch display has 50 percent more viewing area than a 6.4-inch screen. In other words, it’s a big leap.


Among other reasons, the iPad Mini is the right size for people who work on the move. Think of police officers or health professionals. It helps that most people can grip it in one hand.


IPad mini
fits one hand


I also find typing on the larger iPad Mini glass keyboard is easier than tapping on a phone screen. That’s because I’m a big bloke with big fingers.


Thumb typing


Apple’s bigger 12.9-inch iPad Pro keyboard works well when laid flat. The Mini keyboard is at its best when vertical. If you hold it up with your hands and hit the keys with your thumbs.


The action is like phone typing, but there’s more room.


This is an effective way of typing when you're on a crowded bus, train or airplane. I haven’t had the chance to test it on a plane yet. I’m sure if I did I could be productive even in a cramped seat.


The extra screen real estate makes it better than a phone for reading complex information and maps or for inspecting photos. It's roughly the same size as an e-book reader like the Kindle.


iPad Mini beats phone for web


There’s no question the iPad Mini does a better job of displaying every kind of web or app content better than a phone.


Although you can, at a pinch, run side-by-side apps on the iPad Mini, that’s not its strength. In practice I found I only ever used one app at a time.


In all other respects except the screen, the new iPad Mini uses the same technology as the current iPad Air model. It even has the same A12 chip as the iPhone XR. That means there’s a lot of computing power.


There's a laminated screen, support for Apple Pencil and True Tone. The last of these means the iPad will adjust screen whites to compensate for lighting conditions. Apple says you get 10 hours battery life. We found that’s about right when we tested the Mini.


Lightning strikes


A couple of quirks: there’s a headphone jack and a lightning port for charging. New Apple devices don’t all have the jack and prefer USB-C over Lightning.


At times the Mini feels more like a big phone than a small iPad1.


The new iPad Mini costs NZ$680 for the basic wi-fi model with 64GB of storage. Boosting the storage to 256GB takes the price to NZ$929. Adding cellular puts another NZ$120 on the price. You might also consider the Apple Pencil at NZ$160.


iPad Mini verdict


My few niggles with the 2019 iPad Mini are minor. The design is the same as seven years ago. There’s less screen and more bezel, the case edges around the screen, than on more modern looking iPads. It also supports the old first generation Apple Pencil, not the new version.


Should you buy the iPad Mini? It's not the right thing to buy if you're looking for a laptop replacement. If that's your goal, get an iPad Air or an iPad Pro model.


If you want a tablet for reading and writing while you're on the go, it’s ideal. The iPad Mini is a good choice for taking notes and consuming media. It’s also a great upgrade for owners of long-in-the-tooth first generation iPad Minis. I suspect this will follow its ancestor to become another classic.





  1. For perspective, Huawei's Mate X folding phone has an eight-inch screen.


iPad Mini review: Size is its charm was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

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