Apple’s bite-sized iPad Mini has never gotten the love it deserves. Ever since it launched, it’s been a step behind its bigger brother in terms of processing power and screen resolution. This year’s iPad Mini 4 is no different, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an excellent tablet. With its high-res screen, small form factor, and zippier A8 processor, the Mini 4 is a truly great 8-inch tablet that’s on par with Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S2 and the Dell Venue 8 7000.
Although those who own an iPad Mini 3 or even the 2 don’t have any reason to upgrade, new users looking for a smaller tablet and those who still have the first Mini should take a peek at it. However, it must be said that the iPad Air 2 is an equally great deal, which offers a larger screen and zippier processor. To make matters even worse for the Mini 4, the iPad Pro is a true powerhouse, and in our opinion, the best iPad you can buy.
With this level of fierce competition from other iPads and new Android tablets, the Mini 4 has a hard time keeping up.
The case for the iPad Mini 4
I’ve always loved the iPad Mini. When the first one came out, I was so excited; it went to the top of my Christmas list. This was in 2012, before I was a pixel snob and a tech addict – I was just a student who wanted a smaller tablet to bring to class. To this day, I still have my original Mini, and I’ve never upgraded, even as it’s slowed and stuttered.
If declining tablet sales prove anything, it’s that people don’t upgrade their tablets every couple years like they do their phones. For those of you who are still rocking the original and aren’t interested in the larger iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro, the Mini 4 is worth your consideration.
It’s significantly faster than the original Mini, thanks to the A8 chip inside. It doesn’t suffer from any of the hiccups or crashes that the aging A5-powered Mini experiences daily. The screen is a mile prettier, with its 2,048 x1,536 pixel resolution and 326 pixels per inch (ppi) density. It’s also got a fingerprint sensor for security and in-app Apple Pay purchases, which is a big bonus for multi-person households and avid online shoppers.
Otherwise, it’s the same tablet in terms of look and feel. The Mini 4 is ever so slightly thinner than the original at 6.1mm thick, and weighs a touch less at 0.65 pounds. It retains the same magnificent, all-metal aluminum build that feels smooth and cold to the touch.
Related: Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 review
Dell’s Venue 8 7000 Series tablet is the only Android slate that comes close to mimicking the premium feel of the iPad. But even so, certain aspects of its design, like the odd camera placement and edgier corners, aren’t as appealing. Samsung’s 8-inch Galaxy Tab S2 manages to be thinner and lighter than the iPad Mini, but the cost of that incredible lightness is a plastic back, which — no matter how you slice it — just doesn’t feel the same.
The compactness of the Mini and other 8-inch tablets feels like a throw back to another time.
The 7.9-inch screen size is ideal for reading news or e-books, though it feels small for video. Now that many phones have 5.5-inch screens, including the iPhone 6S Plus, carrying around a small tablet for watching video can feel redundant. The iPad Pro quickly replaced the Mini 4 as my tablet of choice for Netflix and for drawing, which is something I used to do quite often on my original Mini. With tablets nowadays, it’s “go big and leave it at home.”
The compactness of the Mini and other 8-inch tablets feels like a throw back to another time, but there are plenty of people who truly prefer the smaller screen. For them, the iPad Mini is still king.
Good specs, but not the best
The iPad Mini is the most neglected device in Apple’s tablet portfolio. It has always lagged a processor generation behind the 9.7-inch iPad, and now the A8-powered Mini 4 is three chips behind the flagship iPad Pro, which runs the A9X. Although the A8 performed well and we had no complaints with it, Apple should have futureproofed the Mini 4 with the A9 that’s in the iPhone 6S, or at least the A8X that’s in the iPad Air 2.
The Mini 4 didn’t get a bump in screen resolution over last year’s iPad Mini 3 or the 2, which is still on sale. To be fair, it really didn’t need one. The 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution looks crisp and bright on the Mini 4, and the screen is more pixel dense than the stunning iPad Pro’s huge 12.9-inch panel. Long story short, it’s a gorgeous screen.
Although we don’t recommend using tablets to take pictures, the 8-megapixel shooter on the back of the Mini 4 is nothing to sneeze at. The 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, which only does video in 720p, is pretty standard for a tablet, though not ideal. Apple has also added a Touch ID fingerprint sensor this year, which quickly authenticates your print.
Although the $400 base model comes with 16GB of storage, we recommend you pony up the extra $100 for the 64GB version. You will run out of space very quickly, especially if you download movies, tons of apps, or take lots of pictures. It’s absurd that the 16GB model is still in existence – the base model really should be 32GB.
Great battery life
Apple says the iPad Mini 4 lasts for 10 hours, and that did seem to be the case. I rarely had to charge it, though the frequency of charging will depend on how much you use it. For Web browsing, email, and other basic functions, you won’t use up too much juice. As always, it’s video that drains the battery. Regardless, you can safely binge watch more than enough episodes of your favorite show on it without hitting empty.
Sadly, Apple hasn’t added quick charging to its lineup of devices, yet, so it will take a while to juice up. Of course, unless you’ve used an Android phone recently, you won’t know what you’re missing.
iOS 9’s multitasking works on small screens, too
Overall, iOS 9 is an incremental update to Apple’s mobile operating system, but it has one particularly awesome feature for iPad users: Split-screen multi-tasking. Android users and Windows fans are used to the advantages of a split-screen view, but it’s new for iPad owners. A simple swipe from the right of the screen when you’re in an app will bring up a scrolling menu of other apps that you can pull up next to your current one.
Once you’ve found the other app you want, you simply pull over until the new app takes up the desired amount of screen real estate. From then on, you’ve got two apps open at once. Finally, you can watch your favorite show on one side of the screen and check Twitter on the other! Also, if you want the other app available, but not onscreen, you can dismiss the second window and pull it back open at any time.
Obviously, this feature works better on the larger iPad Air 2 and best of all on the iPad Pro, but it still works on the Mini 4 smoothly and effectively.
Every iPad comes with one year of hardware repair coverage, thanks to the limited warranty. You also get 90 days of complimentary support. Should you want more coverage for your iPad, you can always buy AppleCare+ for $99 to extend your coverage to two years. The warranty covers two incidents of accidental damage coverage, but you’ll pay a $50 service fee.
Other warranty plans from third parties may be cheaper and include more extensive coverage. Check out our warranty plan comparison piece for more details. Although it’s for smartphones, it should also give you a good idea of what might work for your tablet.
The iPad Mini 4 is still among the best 8-inch tablets you can buy, although the Galaxy Tab S2 and Dell’s Venue 8 7000 give it a run for its money – especially now that they’ve been discounted to $350 each (for 32GB model). If you really want a small iPad and don’t mind spending money, you can’t go wrong with the Mini 4, despite its expensive price tag of $500 for a decent amount of storage (64GB).
Before you buy, you should carefully consider whether it’s really worth much more than cheaper Android alternatives, and whether another iPad would suit you better.
Both the Samsung and Dell are viable options, and they’re cheaper, so if money is a concern, Samsung’s 8-inch Galaxy Tab S 2 is your best bet. It’s thinner, lighter, powerful, and has a sharp screen – you won’t regret it. When it comes to 8-inch tablets, we recommend Samsung’s tablet over the iPad Mini 4 because of its slightly higher resolution screen and much lower price tag.
Even if Android is out, we still recommend the iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro over the Mini 4. If you have the cash, the iPad Pro is a truly marvelous tablet, whether you’re an artist or just a Netflix addict. If you don’t, the Air 2 is only $100 more than the Mini 4, and higher-powered. We’d recommend that most iPad fans considering the Mini 4 go get an Air 2 instead, or wait for the Air 3.
It’s sad to say, but the iPad Mini has always lagged behind its bigger brother, and now its spec sheet is looking pretty stagnant. Apple barely mentions the Mini anymore, and when it does, the smaller tablet feels like a tiny footnote in comparison to the bigger better iPad announcement of the day.
The iPad Mini 4 may be the best 8-inch tablet, but its older processor, cheaper competitors, and Apple’s own superior iPads make it difficult to recommend with enthusiasm.
- Small and compact
- Strong and attractive all-metal design
- iOS 9’s multi-tasking is useful
- Faster A8 processor
- It’s pricier than Android alternatives
- iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro offer more