Apple iPad mini (2021) full review

The iPad mini has been a long-time favourite among fans, and after a period devoid of meaningful updates, the small-screen tablet has finally got the love and attention it deserves. Sporting a reinvigorated design similar to that of the rest of the premium iPad collection, and performance to match, the sixth-gen iPad mini is better looking and more capable than ever. The catch? There’s a new price tag to reflect the upgraded smarts on offer.

The question is, is the sixth-gen iPad mini worth the £479/$499 asking price? Keep reading to find out. 

Design and accessories

  • Refreshed design similar to the iPad Air
  • Increased display size without an increased footprint
  • USB-C & Touch ID
  • Second-gen Apple Pencil support, but no Magic Keyboard

The iPad mini 6 is the redesign of Apple’s small-screen tablet that fans have been waiting for, bringing the design more in line with that of the iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro range. In fact, it’s so similar to the iPad Air that it could’ve been called the iPad Air Mini if that wasn’t such a mouthful, sporting the same near bezel-free look, Touch ID-enabled Power button and more, though there are a few crucial differences. More on those in a bit.  

The key design change is a larger display, jumping from 7.9in on the iPad mini 5 to 8.3in on the iPad mini 6, but thanks to the slimmer bezels, it measures in at a near identical 195.4 x 134.8 x 6.3mm. That means the iPad mini is just as dinky and portable as it was before, but with a much-improved display experience.

Combined with a weight of just 293g, it’s the only iPad that you can comfortably use one-handed. While I love the big display of the 458g iPad Air and 682g iPad Pro 12.9in, there’s something refreshing about having a one-handed tablet experience. Plus, the ability to carry it around in a large pocket is also a big win for portability. 

The iPad mini is also available in a variety of new colours including Pink, Starlight, Space Grey and the Purple of our review unit. While it looks beautifully purple in Apple’s renders, the finish is more muted in real life, not looking that dissimilar to the Space Grey model in some lighting conditions. That said, the English Lavender folio case (sold separately) does help the colour pop. 

Regardless of colour option, you’ll find stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the iPad mini, providing a stereo experience that’ll adjust depending on the orientation of the tablet with a surprising amount of power, accompanied by the Touch ID-enabled Power button and volume buttons on the top and a USB-C port on the bottom.

It’s the first time the volume buttons have appeared on the top of an iPad, and while it initially took a bit of adjustment, I now prefer the convenience of having all the buttons in one place. 

Why move the volume buttons at all? It was to make way for second-gen Apple Pencil support, bringing the upgraded stylus experience to the small-screen tablet for the first time, including magnetic wireless charging. The small dimensions of the tablet meant that, unlike the iPad Air and its ample space at the side, the volume keys would get in the way of the Apple Pencil when docked. 

The second-gen Apple Pencil is a joy to use on the iPad mini, whether you’re jotting down notes using Quick Notes while working on a project or cooking up your next creative vision in Procreate, with impressively low latency, accurate pressure and angle detection and a no-fuss charging system. 

Though the new Apple Pencil experience is a welcome change for iPad mini users, it doesn’t get the equally impressive Magic Keyboard experience despite the accessory being available for the iPad Air.

It’s down to a lack of Smart Connector on the rear of the iPad mini, meaning you’re relegated to standard iPad mini keyboards. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, with great third-party keyboard cases available, but it won’t provide the same premium experience as Apple’s official accessory. 

Display

  • Best pixel density of any iPad
  • Bright, vivid colours are perfect for movie-watching
  • 60Hz refresh rate limits the experience
  • Small display isn't suited to split-screen multitasking

Packing a larger display with thinner bezels than its predecessor, the 8.3in LED IPS display of the sixth-gen iPad mini is phenomenal for a tablet of its size.

The visuals produced are vivid and crisp whether you’re catching up on Marvel’s What If? on Disney+ or doodling on Procreate, with respectable brightness that allows for outdoor use (albeit with reflections) - up to 518cd/m2 in benchmark tests.

Colours pop with impressive vibrancy, so much so that I almost forgot that it’s not actually an OLED or Mini-LED powering the experience, with only the not-quite-deep blacks giving the game away. 

Still, it’s detailed. More detailed, in fact, than any other iPad in Apple’s product line - and that includes the iPad Pro - thanks to its miniature size.

The combination of an 8.3in display and an impressive 2266 x 1488 resolution provides a pixel density of 326ppi, far surpassing the 264ppi standard across the rest of the iPad collection, as well as smoking most of the Android competition too (yes the 179ppi Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 Lite, I’m looking at you). If you’re a self-confessed pixel-chaser, the high pixel density of the iPad mini 6 will likely appeal to you. 

But while it’s sharper than its siblings, the small display does have its downsides; namely when it comes to multi-tasking.

Despite offering the same split-screen and floating window multitasking features as the rest of the iPad range (complete with new easier to use toggles in iPadOS 15), the smaller dimensions of the display mean that text can quickly become small, and icons become hard to tap. So while you can multitask on the iPad mini, the larger display of the iPad 10.2in, iPad Air or either iPad Pro would be better suited. 

With such a premium display experience on offer from the iPad mini 6, it’s a shame that it doesn’t offer the 120Hz ProMotion display tech available on the iPad Pro range and recent iPhone 13 Pro models to complete the experience. It’s not a surprise - it’s not available on any iPad aside from the Pro range, as it’s very much a Pro feature in Apple’s eyes - but the enhanced refresh rate would’ve truly made the iPad mini display the one to beat in the small-size tablet market. 

Features and performance

  • A15 Bionic provides flagship-level performance
  • Stellar performance when gaming and working
  • Improved Neural Engine provides new AI features including Live Text
  • iPadOS 15 provides the best tablet software experience 
  • Optional 5G connectivity available

Despite its tiny size, there’s flagship-level performance on offer from the sixth-gen iPad mini. At its heart you’ll find the same A15 Bionic chipset as the latest iPhone range, comprised of a six-core CPU, five-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine, and it’s safe to say that it offers a lot of power.

In real-world use, the iPad mini could handle anything I threw at it, be it playing Genshin Impact on the highest settings with a floating Twitter window playing a viral video (not something many people would do, but y’know, testing) or throwing together a 4K edit in iMovie, without a hint of stutter or lag.

Even exporting the finished 4K masterpiece was a snappy process, perfect for creatives that want to share their artistic vision on the go, although the M1 on offer from the 12.9in iPad Pro will likely serve you better.

That experience is backed up by benchmark results too, blowing the iPad Air 4 - and practically every Android tablet - out of the water. The iPad mini scored a respectable multi-core score of 4476 in Geekbench 5, and topped out most of the charts in GFXBench too, making it a capable tablet for both work and play. In fact, I’m confident that the iPad mini could’ve pushed the frame rates even further if the refresh rate technology allowed it.  

You can take a look at the full benchmark breakdown right here:

The improved Neural Engine brings improvements to machine learning (ML), powering the contextual experience on offered by Siri along with a few new iPadOS features.

One of my favourites is Live Text, which analyses photos in your gallery for text, allowing you to copy and paste (or even call phone numbers) with a single tap. It’s an impressive experience only made possible by ML, though it’s not alone. There are plenty of other apps that take advantage of the Neural Engine of the A15 Bionic including Seek, an app that helps identify species of plant, and Canvas, an app that creates a virtual map of your home, and it’ll only expand over time. 

Fancy new features aside, iPadOS 15 provides a top-tier tablet experience with a raft of features exclusive to Apple’s iPad range, including Quick Notes, intelligent handwriting recognition and split-screen functionality, and the range of tablet-optimised apps available from the App Store is second to none, both in terms of quality and functionality. If you want the best tablet experience, iPad is the way to go, regardless of model. 

When it comes to storage, you’ve got fewer options than you might expect, with Apple only offering 64- or 256GB of storage. That’s a big jump between the two, with no 128GB sweet spot, and it took a similar approach with this year’s entry-level iPad.

Given the £160/$170 price difference between the iPad 10.2 and iPad mini, a bump to a base 128GB of storage would’ve been a win for the small-screen iPad, but 64GB should be enough for most casual users - only power users and creatives might feel the need to stretch to the top-end model. 

When it comes to connectivity, expect the latest and greatest including Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5, and there’s 5G support for those that opt for the cellular model too - as long as there’s 5G coverage in your region, anyway. 

Battery life

  • Charge via USB-C
  • 20W charger in the box
  • All-day battery life

The iPad mini’s small form factor makes it portable and versatile, but that also means it can’t quite compete with larger iPads in terms of battery life - there is a finite amount of space inside that small case, after all!

That’s not to say it’ll run out of juice after just a few hours - the iPad mini comfortably lasts all day with a mix of social media, light gaming and internet browsing, and it’ll go for a couple of days with more sporadic use - but power users won’t make it through a full second day of use without a top-up. 

That’s backed up by benchmark results too; the iPad mini lasted a respectable 8 hours and 19 minutes in testing, which beat the 7:13 of the similarly-sized Samsung Galaxy Tab Active 3, but fell behind the 9:07 of the latest iPad Air 10.9in, and well behind the 11:07 from the iPad Pro 12.9in. 

That said, I don’t feel short-changed by the iPad mini’s battery life; it’s more than enough to get me through the day or two without worry, and it’s easy to top it up overnight when required, though power users may disagree. 

Unlike with the iPhone and Apple Watch, Apple is still shipping charging bricks with the iPad mini. You’ll get a decent 20W USB-C charger in the box, up from the 12W charger bundled with the previous-gen iPad mini, and that’ll provide 34% charge in 30 minutes and a full charge in just under two hours in my experience. 

Camera

  • Upgraded 12Mp FaceTime HD camera
  • Center Stage works well most of the time
  • Rear-facing camera performance is fairly standard

It’s all about the rear-facing cameras on smartphones, but it’s all about the front-facing camera on tablets, be it for selfies on social media or chatting with friends and family via FaceTime, and its importance has grown exponentially over the past couple of years with an increased reliance on remote communication.

Apple recognised that, and decided to upgrade the front-facing camera of the iPad mini. Gone is the disappointing 7Mp sensor of the iPad mini 5, replaced instead by a higher resolution 12Mp FaceTime HD camera that’s noticeably crisper with much less noise. The improved quality is immediately noticeable both in selfies and in video chats, especially in well-lit environments, and you can toggle between a cropped and ultra-wide selfie too. 

There’s also another benefit for video chats; Apple’s Centre Stage technology. It first made an appearance on the iPad Pro range earlier this year, but has since come to the iPad mini, entry-level iPad and it’ll likely be on the next-gen iPad Air too. 

Using the expansive 122-degree field of view on offer from the front-facing camera, the iPad mini can keep you in the centre of the frame even if you’re moving around the room, and it’ll automatically reframe if other people come into view too. It’s not available in the main Camera app, but it’s a focal point in FaceTime and other supported apps (including the likes of Zoom and Filmic Pro). 

It’s impressive stuff, and feels much more reactive than similar tech on offer from the Facebook Portal range, though it does sometimes leave a little more headroom than I’d like, and videos seem a little darker with the tech enabled. If Centre Stage isn’t your cup of tea, you’ve also got the option of disabling it during FaceTime calls. 

It’s much the same story with the upgraded rear-facing 12Mp camera; it’s great for quick point-and-shoot photography, and excels in well-lit environments, but it won’t beat snaps taken by similarly-priced smartphones in terms of detail or contrast, and you won’t find any advanced camera effects (including Centre Stage and Night Mode) either. Besides, who really uses the iPad mini as a giant camera anyway?

Price

The one iPad mini 6 change that fans might not appreciate is the increase in cost compared to the £399/$399 iPad mini 5, with a £479/$499 RRP for the 64GB model and £619/$649 for the 256GB model, with an additional £140/$150 if you opt for cellular connectivity.

That’s quite a bit more than the iPad mini 5, but it’s arguably money well spent; the iPad mini has never before been positioned as a powerful, capable tablet, but rather an entry-level tablet for small-screen lovers. The iPad mini 6, with its updated design, flagship-level A15 Bionic, compatibility with Apple Pencil and more, is very much a flagship-level device, even if there are a few missing features that strip it of a Pro moniker.

It’s a premium tablet, yes, but there’s an equally premium tablet experience on offer to match. 

If you are tempted to buy the new iPad mini, it’s available from the Apple Store along with third-party retailers like Amazon and John Lewis in the UK and Best Buy in the US. 

Verdict

The sixth-gen iPad mini ticks a lot of boxes; it’s good looking, boasts a larger display without an increased footprint and it’s among the most capable of tablets of any size thanks to the inclusion of the A15 Bionic. That power provides a top-notch tablet experience free of stutter or lag, even in top-end mobile games and when running multiple apps simultaneously, and it’ll likely stay that way for quite some time. 

It’s great for one-handed use, making it the perfect portable iPad for catching up on social media and watching YouTube videos, and the small dimensions mean the display has a greater pixel density than any other iPad, though the lack of a 120Hz refresh rate means there’s still room for improvement. 

The 8.3in display offers extra screen real estate that’s perfect for both gaming and social media, but it’s not the best for split-screen activities, with text becoming too small to comfortably view - especially in portrait orientation.

That, coupled with the lack of a Smart Connector for a Magic Keyboard means the iPad mini probably isn’t the iPad if you’re looking for a work-focused device, even if there is second-gen Apple Pencil support. 

But, if you’re looking for a portable tablet for watching movies, browsing social media and video calling your buddies that’ll last all day, the iPad mini 6 is an ideal option. 

Specs

Apple iPad mini (2021): Specs

  • 195.4 x 134.8 x 6.3mm
  • 293g
  • 8.3in LED display
  • 2266 x 1488 (326ppi)
  • Stereo speakers
  • Touch ID
  • 64/256GB storage
  • A15 Bionic
  • 5G, Wi-Fi 6 & Bluetooth 5
  • 12Mp ultra-wide front-facing camera with Center Stage tech
  • Rear-facing 12Mp camera
  • USB-C port
  • iPadOS 15
  • Available in Space Grey, Pink, Purple & Starlight

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