Review: Apple's iPad Mini delivers style, functionality and good looks in a tiny package

Is it a big iPhone or a small iPad? The new iPad Mini had a lot of work to do to convince this reviewer.
Is it a big iPhone or a small iPad? The new iPad Mini had a lot of work to do to convince this reviewer. Photo credit: Newshub

Up until this week I had never seriously considered the iPad Mini as a gadget I needed to own. They were barely even on my radar.

I have various computers, ebook readers, a large-screened phone and an iPad Pro that allows me to write on the move - what would I need with another gadget, besides more space on my bedside table?

And yet the announcement last week had me intrigued. It's clear from the upgrades the Mini is something Apple wants to be taken seriously, so maybe it was time for me to reconsider my position.

So what is the iPad Mini? Previously I had thought of it as just a very limited tiny iPad or an extremely large iPhone. But could it be more?

It had taken quite a while to convince the sceptic in me to fully embrace touchscreen technology in devices other than phones, so maybe the upgraded Mini could do the same if I wiped away my preconceived notions.

I've been using the iPad Mini for a few days now and here are my thoughts.

The good

Despite knowing in advance the Mini has an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, nothing could prepare me for just how small it feels when you take it out of the packaging for the first time.

All those doubts were coming flooding back. I just couldn't imagine how I could use such a tiny tablet as I used my iPad Pro.

And then, after about an hour, it clicked - I'm not supposed to use it in the same way. They're not the same device and they have very different uses.

iPad Mini
Photo credit: Newshub

With that flash of inspiration - about five years too late - I was able to thoroughly enjoy using the sixth-generation of this device, the first upgrade it's had since the 2019 model.

Touch ID has been moved to the power button on the top of Mini, leaving an unadulterated screen to wow the eyes. And does it!

Thanks to Auckland's weather, I was able to test it's use it in bright sunshine and dark grey skies within a few minutes.

The 500 nits peak brightness, anti-reflective screen and True Tone display meant the experience never wavered and the 2266x1488 resolution was just right for my aging eyesight.

Streaming Coco on Disney+ and The Office on Netflix looked as stunning as I hoped it would - even if the black bars on top and bottom make the viewing area smaller than ideal. It's better to have the right aspect ratio than missing details, right?

iPad Mini
Photo credit: Newshub / Disney Pixar

It's the little things that really impressed me, though, from the dual speakers on both sides of the Mini so you get great sound in landscape mode, to asking me to set up a second finger to be able to unlock it.

I couldn't work out why I was being asked that until I was lying in bed and realised I used that secondary finger all the time in landscape mode. It saves me just a few seconds but it just makes the whole process seem more natural.

Of course, if it had FaceID then that wouldn't be necessary, but more on that soon…

The processor in the Mini is the same as in the new iPhone 13 range, the A15 Bionic, with a 6-core CPU and 5-core GPU here to make this as ridiculously fast as you would expect.

iPad Mini
Photo credit: Newshub

I downloaded and played Divinity: Original Sin 2, released on the iPad earlier this year and designed for high-end versions only. It worked flawlessly here, with zero lagging issues, stutter or any other issues - besides my complete lack of gaming ability.

It even added a whole new dimension to games I've previously played on both my iPhone and iPad.

Layton's Mystery Journey and Pinball Party are so much better on the Mini than on the other two devices. The screen really is the perfect size for gaming on the go.

I found myself losing sight of the pinball on my phone so many times, to the point of frustration. And bigger devices are just too unwieldy to be used for handheld games like that.

It's not a coincidence I started setting all my best scores on those classic Williams Pinball machines in the last few days.

Last, but certainly not least, it took just a few minutes late at night to realise I could replace the two eReaders at the side of my bed with this.

Review: Apple's iPad Mini delivers style, functionality and good looks in a tiny package
Photo credit: Newshub

Not only do I get access to my already existing Kobo and Kindle libraries on the iPad, I can also read my graphic novel collection in full colour and access all of Auckland Libraries' eBook collections though the Libby app.

Bigger tablets, I find, are just a wee bit too big and heavy to use in bed. I've fallen asleep with one previously, and it ended up smashing me on the nose.

The weight is perfect, the apps and screen combine to maximise your reading ability while minimising the impact on your eyes and I started re-reading Y: The Last Man because it looked so great and it was so convenient.

And with all day battery life, there was no worry I was going to run out of juice before finding out what Yorick and his monkey were getting up to next.

Throw in USB-C connectivity rather than Lightning, the easy to use, charge and store Apple Pencil 2 and decent, if not game changing, 12MP cameras front and rear then you've got a pretty damned good package.

The bad

There's really not much to dislike about the iPad Mini, not a sentence I was expecting to write.

iPad Mini
Photo credit: Newshub

It was only when forced to use a button to unlock the Mini did I realise just how used to FaceID I've become. Even in pure darkness at 3am I know I can pick up my phone and it'll unlock straight away.

Whether it's cost-related or due to some issues with space, I really do miss the functionality more than I thought. The finger sensor is great, and works as expected, it's just that wee bit slower because it's not automatic. Maybe one for the next generation.

I was also ready to lambast Apple for the lack of type cover, until I realised there really was no use for one. Any keyboard would either stick out or be too small to be useful. And, frankly, if you're looking for a device for writing on, it's not this one.

I was easily able to add an external Bluetooth keyboard to test it out, and it worked fine. But for short typewritten notes, I found two-finger typing on the on-screen keyboard more than adequate. If I needed to write more, I'd simply switch devices.

Even with my aging eyesight, there were only a couple of occasions where the diminutive screen proved to be a little bit of an issue - and that's when I was multitasking.

With two different apps splitting the screen it just felt there wasn't quite enough room for both. It wasn't a terrible experience, it's just one I can't see myself using that much. To be fair, I haven't used it much on the iPad Pro either.

The verdict

I can't recall the last time a device went so quickly from 'hmmm, I'm not sure about this' to 'OMG, I need this NOW'. If I had to guess it was either the first generation Samsung Galaxy S phone I ended up parallel importing or the first iPod Touch.

Regardless, in just a few short days I find it hard to imagine not having this beautiful wee device with me.

Not only did it prove useful for note taking, watching movies and embracing my inner Picasso, it immediately replaced devices I previously used for gaming and reading.

iPad Mini
Photo credit: Newshub

I've loved eBook readers since they first arrived on our shores, and recently I was seriously considering paying NZ$699 for one with only reading/note taking capabilities

The basic Wi-Fi iPad Mini comes in at $849, with the Apple Pencil costing NZ$239 and the Smart Folio case NZ$109 on top if you want the full experience. If you want a cellular connection included then those models start at NZ$1,099.

Even at those prices, the additional functionality offered means no more stand alone book readers for me.

The Mini is easy to hold one-handed, whether you're lazing on the couch or lying in bed - both of which I am incredibly proficient at - and, without wanting to anthropomorphise it too much, it's just so damned cute.

I can't wait for the current lockdown to be over so I can start travelling again, with my new best friend in my pocket. Okay, bag - it's not quite that small.

There are too many devices that are jacks of all trades and masters of none.  It's never been more of a lie when applied to this device.

So what is the iPad Mini? Simply it's the master of many.

Newshub was supplied an iPad Mini, Apple Pencil 2 and Smart Folio case for this review.