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Apple iPad Mini review

Despite the various larger, more expensive, more powerful iPads, Apple has remained committed to its iPad Mini, and we’re very glad it has.

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5
£399
Apple iPad Mini lock screen

Our review

Great buy for those looking for an easy and accessible way to watch TV shows and movies.
Pros: Impressive performance and battery life for a smaller tablet
Bright, sharp and vibrant display
Easy to setup and use
Beautiful design with easy-to-use controls
Support for Apple Pencil
Cons: Expensive
Feels fragile/not very robust
No microSD support
Oddly placed speakers dull the sound

When Apple first launched the iPad Mini in 2012, it received a mixed reaction. Critics said a smaller iPad would never last. Fans praised Apple for offering a wider option of tablets to suit different needs and budgets.

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Almost a decade later, the iPad Mini has been refreshed a handful of times – 2013, 2014, 2015 and then not until 2019. By the time the latest, fifth-generation model was released, many analysts thought the days of the 7.9-inch tablet were finally over.

In our iPad Mini review, we look at whether there is still a place for a smaller iPad, especially one that costs as much as it does when similarly sized tablets are available for a lot less. We look at how suitable it is for children and see where it fits in within the wider iPad range.

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Apple iPad Mini review: summary

Price: £399

Key features:

  • 7.9-inch Retina display iPad powered by Apple’s iPad OS
  • TouchID sensor built into the physical Home button
  • Support for the first-generation Apple Pencil (sold separately)
  • Built-in Siri voice controls
  • Pre-installed apps and the Apple App Store give you access to a host of entertainment and productivity tools, including games, TV shows, music, podcasts, books, notes, reminders and more
  • Can be used for browsing, streaming, games, drawing, and note taking
  • HomeKit app allows you to control compatible smart devices via the tablet

Pros:

  • Impressive performance and battery life for a smaller tablet
  • Bright, sharp and vibrant display
  • Easy to set up and use
  • Beautiful design with easy-to-use controls
  • Support for Apple Pencil

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Feels fragile/not very robust
  • No microSD support
  • Oddly placed speakers dull the sound

What is the Apple iPad Mini?

The fifth-generation iPad Mini – or as it’s often referred to as iPad Mini 5 or iPad Mini (2019) – had a relatively muted launch in March 2019. Instead of being revealed at a live event, as has been the tradition for more than a decade, Apple chose to email the announcement. The launch was also lumped in with the release of a then-new iPad Air. On the same day, Apple discontinued the previous fourth-generation iPad Mini/iPad Mini 4.

Hardware-wise, little separates the iPad Mini 4 and the iPad Mini 5. They share the same 7.9-inch Retina display, same dimensions and same colourways. The rear camera on the iPad Mini 5 has an 8MP sensor, copied over from the iPad Mini 4, and – on face value – they look identical side-by-side.

The iPad Mini 5 does come with some upgrades, of course. It has a souped-up processor, called the A12 Bionic chip, backed by 3GB RAM. The front-facing camera leapt from 1.2MP on the iPad Mini 4 to an impressive 7MP. Well, impressive for such a small, relatively cheap Apple device.

You can buy the iPad Mini 5 with Wi-Fi only or with Wi-Fi and cellular. The latter not only costs more for the tablet itself, but you’ll also need to pay separately for a mobile contract.  This may be the preferred option if you want to use the iPad Mini on the go, yet we’d recommend buying the Wi-Fi option and then hot-spotting off your phone when in the car or out of the house.

The iPad Mini 5 is only available with 64GB or 256GB storage – previous Mini models offered a wider range, including 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB – and there is no option to expand this storage via microSD. You can upgrade this storage virtually via iCloud for an extra monthly fee.

Notably, the biggest change with the iPad Mini 5 is that it’s the first 7.9-inch iPad to support the Apple Pencil.

What does iPad Mini do?

The smaller form factor of the iPad Mini positions it more as an entertainment-focused device than its larger iPad siblings. You can use it for work or similar, but its display and size means it excels at being a portable way to play games and watch shows.

  • Media streaming with the Apple TV app installed by default. This app acts as a remote control for Apple TV streaming boxes; a library for any video content purchased from the iTunes store; and a hub to find and watch Apple TV Plus shows (for subscribers)
  • Netflix, BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Hub, SkyGo and Disney+ available from the Apple App Store, as are thousands of mobile gaming apps
  • Apple Books and Podcasts have their own apps, as does the iTunes Store
  • iPad Mini additionally comes with Apple’s productivity apps (Numbers/Keynote/Pages/Files) pre-installed. Plus GarageBand, iMovie and more
  • The iPad Mini can be used to control and manage smart home devices via HomeKit
  • iCloud support means you can sync all content, purchases, and downloads across multiple Apple devices, including Macs, other iPads and iPhones
  • Support for the first-generation Apple Pencil (sold separately for £89) turns the iPad Mini into a notebook and sketchpad

How much is iPad Mini?

The iPad Mini comes in two storage sizes – 64GB and 256GB – and is available with Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and cellular.

The prices are as follows:

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Is the Apple iPad Mini good value for money?

Apple products are expensive. Even when the company has branched out into “cheaper” devices – the iPhone SE, for instance – they are still beyond the reach of many budgets. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said, time and again, that the vast array of features, their premium design, and the wider ecosystem of hardware and software justifies these prices. Yet the fact remains; spending £400 on a 7.9-inch tablet when Amazon’s 8-inch devices retail for as little as £90 may seem both excessive and unnecessary.

In the case of the iPad Mini, however, you really do get what you pay for. The iPad Mini ticks a huge number of boxes from the design to its features, battery life, and performance. The fact it now works with the Apple Pencil elevates its appeal and versatility further. You’ll get the most value for money if you’re an existing Apple customer, but even if you’re not, there is enough here to hit the sweet spot of functionality and portability.

Apple iPad Mini TouchID sensor

Apple iPad Mini 5 features

The iPad Mini 5 runs on iPad OS, the tablet version of the regular mobile iOS. This means it can do anything an iPhone can do, albeit with a number of tweaks that mean apps render better on the larger screen.

It offers the full catalogue of apps via the Apple App Store. If you’re an existing Apple customer, the iPad Mini can be connected to your iCloud account, meaning you get full access to all your settings, downloads, shows, games, purchases and more on every device.

You don’t need to be an existing Apple customer, but this is just one of the benefits if you are.

As you’d imagine, Apple loads up its products with its various apps and services. This includes Music, Apple TV, Podcasts, Books, GarageBand and News on the entertainment and hobby side of things.

It has Clips and iMovie video creation and editing tools; Fitness and Health apps to keep track of all things exercise, health and wellbeing; plus a host of productivity apps including Voice Memos, Reminders, Notes, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and Files. There is also an Apple app aimed at helping university students organise their notes, view courses, manage assignments and more called iTunes U.

On the downside, these pre-installed apps automatically eat into your device’s storage. On the plus side, there is seemingly an Apple app for anything you need or want to do on the iPad Mini. Plus, you can remove as many or as few of these apps as you like.

Security-wise, there is a Touch ID sensor embedded into the physical Home button. Apple has largely done away with physical buttons on its other devices, instead opting for FaceID and screen gestures. This makes the iPad Mini 5’s button unique and welcomed. There’s little danger of accidentally swiping an app away, and it makes the tablet much easier to control for our toddler.

The standout feature for us with the iPad Mini, compared to both its predecessors as well as its rivals, is support for the Apple Pencil. The first-generation Pencil lacks some of the smarter gesture controls as seen on the latest, second-gen model, but it’s still a fantastic addition.

Being able to use a stylus on a smaller screen makes a lot of sense. It gives you more precision when selecting apps, when typing, or writing notes.  It also elevates the iPad Mini 5 beyond just a casual streaming device.

If you work in a creative job or have a creative hobby (as just one example), the tablet’s portability means you can easily create on the go. If you then have a Mac or larger iPad (or even iPhone), syncing your account across devices means you can design on one screen before switching to the smaller one when you’re out of the house.

Apple iPad Mini screen and sound quality

Although the iPad Mini 5 has the same 7.9-inch display seen on its predecessor, the screen quality is better.  It’s also head and shoulders above the displays found on rival 8-inch tablets, particularly those from Amazon. This is due to a number of reasons.

The first is that the screen is what’s classed as a Retina display. This is an Apple display technology that crams a greater number of pixels into a smaller frame. The result is brighter colours and sharper text.

The screen on the iPad Mini 5 additionally uses something called True Tone. True Tone technology uses sensors that measure the ambient light colour and brightness. The iPad Mini uses this to automatically adjust its display, so whites and colours are shown more accurately. Desktop monitors have had such a feature for a while, but having it on such a relatively affordable, compact device makes a big difference.

The balancing of whites and colours also helps visibility in bright sunlight, although only marginally, so this is more of a nice-to-have than a dealbreaker.

In reality, all of this means that no matter what you’re doing on the iPad Mini 5 – watching videos, playing games, taking notes, reading and so on – you’ll find crisp, sharp lines and vibrant colours. We don’t think the display lives up to that found on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, but the iPad Mini 5 is also half the price.

Onto sound quality. The iPad Mini has stereo speakers along its bottom edge. When held in Portrait mode, sound is somewhat muted as it’s directed towards your body. If you flip the tablet around the other way, the sound is dulled by the fact it’s broadcasting away from you. In landscape mode, sound only comes out of one edge. There is no ideal position from which to listen to the Mini, which impacts our overall impression of its sound quality.

As a result, you end up turning the speakers louder to get better audio, but, thankfully, they handle raised volume well. The sound is crisp and well-rounded, and voices are clear. This sound quality shines through best when connected via decent headphones, and the addition of the 3.5mm headphone socket – a rarity these days – is welcomed.

Apple iPad Mini design

For all of the criticisms sometimes thrown at Apple for its pricing choices, or the fact it “ties” people into its ecosystem etc. – you can never fault the design of its products. This is as true for the iPad Mini as it is for its devices that cost five times as much.

Apple always makes well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing products. The iPad Mini is comfortable to hold. It’s lightweight enough to be portable and to be held for long periods but is heavy enough to make it feel luxurious and expensive. As with all Apple products, we recommend you buy a case or stand as it feels a tad fragile, as if it would smash easily if dropped on a hard surface.

The bezels are large, which cheapens its appearance slightly, but the plus side is that you don’t end up knocking the display by accident, which improves your grip and adds to the comfort.  As mentioned, the speakers are oddly placed. The other ports include a headphone jack and a Lightning cable charging point.

You can buy the iPad Mini 5 in grey, silver and rose gold.

Apple iPad Mini set-up

Setting up the iPad Mini – as with all Apple products – is simple and quick. A step-by-step guide takes you through the process of connecting the tablet to your Wi-Fi, adding TouchID fingerprints, setting up Siri voice controls and enabling various Privacy settings.

You can choose to set the iPad up manually or use a backup. If you’re an existing Apple customer, it’s incredibly easy to sign in to your account and get access to all your downloaded apps, past purchases, photos, and more. This saves a huge amount of time.

If you’re not an existing Apple customer, you’ll need to create an Apple ID and manually download the apps you want. This can take some time but may be a preferred option if you’re looking to buy the tablet for a child and you don’t want them having access to all of your iCloud data.

Apple iPad Mini App Store

Apple iPad Mini battery life and performance

Apple claims the Mini will last up to 10 hours when surfing the web on Wi‑Fi, watching video or listening to music. This drops to nine hours when using mobile data. In our looping video test, in which we play an HD video on repeat at 70% brightness and with aeroplane mode enabled, the iPad Mini took a little under 8 hours to go from full charge to flat. Quite a bit below the promised time.

However, when the tablet was used less intensely and more as we would in everyday life  – this included a couple of YouTube videos, a couple of hours of browsing, half an hour playing SimCity and three hours of Spotify – the iPad Mini lasted all day. We didn’t have to plug it in to charge until we went to bed.

This does fall short slightly short of the battery life we got out of the Amazon Fire HD 8 and Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus – both of which lasted well into the second day. Yet the iPad Mini’s bright display will play a major factor here, and we’ll take that sacrifice for the more vibrant screen.

The iPad Mini 5 also performs much better than its rivals. We experienced very few lags when scrolling through pages, opening apps, streaming videos and general browsing. If we had too many apps open or were trying to switch quickly between various tasks, the speed suffered ever so slightly. Yet, it never crashed or ground to a halt like the Amazon rivals tend to do.

The high-quality front-facing camera is great for video calls, and our toddler uses it to take selfies. We can’t remember the last time we used a tablet for a standalone camera, especially not since cameras on phones improved considerably. However, it’s a nice touch to have an 8MP on the rear, even if it’s largely redundant. Something that Apple seemingly knows, judging by the fact it has consistently improved the selfie camera while leaving the rear camera how it is.

Our verdict: should you buy the Apple iPad Mini 5?

When Apple launched the iPad Mini 5, many questioned whether there was still a place for a smaller tablet from the tech giant. Not just because tablet sales have been on the decline, but because the increasing size of Apple’s iPhones is blurring the boundaries between the two.

From our experience, we can confirm there is very much a place for a smaller iPad for both adults and children. It’s a place aimed more towards entertainment than the work and powerhouses of the larger iPad, iPad Air and iPad Pro. We have regularly caught up on Ru Paul’s Drag Race and GlowUp on it while cooking dinner or used it to play SimCity. We also used the Apple Pencil to sketch out how we wanted a fitted wardrobe in our loft conversion to look.  When given a choice between the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition in its colourful case and the iPad Mini, our toddler opts for the latter every time and switches between YouTube Kids and Disney+ with ease.

The screen size may not be significantly larger than the screen on the iPhone – the iPhone 12 Pro Max comes in at 6.68-inches – but those couple of inches do make a big difference. Especially when watching shows or playing games. As does the iPad OS. An operating system that feels incredibly familiar if you’re an Apple customer already but has enough little tweaks and back-end design changes to create a different experience on the iPad Mini.

Performance-wise, this tablet can do almost anything you want it to do. Hardware-wise, it’s easy-to-hold, easy-to-use and versatile. The price is the only real sticking point, but if you can afford it, you – and/or your kids – will be getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Rating:

Features: 5/5

Screen and sound quality: 4/5

Design: 5/5

Set-up: 5/5

Battery life and performance: 4/5

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Where to buy Apple iPad Mini 

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Interested in comparing other products from the brand? Check out our iPhone 11 vs iPhone 12 guide. You can also check out our review for the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus