The iPad mini has always occupied a rather strange spot in Apple’s product lineup. In the beginning, the smallish tablet did not look too out of place - but that was back when the iPhone’s display was just 4”. We are looking at whether this is still the case today.
Now, with the omission of an iPhone mini in this year’s iPhone 14 lineup, users have a choice between a big and a bigger (6.1” or 6.7”) iPhone, which is more in line with the options on Android’s side of the market. It is precisely this size creep that has really taken a toll on the iPad mini’s form factor.
Now you might ask, why are we bothering to put side-by-side the screen sizes of the iPad mini and the iPhone? After all, should we not be pitching the iPad mini against the other iPads? The answer to this question is not as clear as you might think.
iPads (and tablets in general) in 2022
The reason why the currently common dimensions of smartphones have an impact on the iPad mini’s appeal is largely due to the way tablets as a whole have evolved over the past couple of years.
When tablets first appeared, they were initially hailed as the natural successor to laptops. A quick look at the recent market trends indicates that this aspiration was rather short-lived. Tablets as a whole failed at this endeavor because, for the most part, they have developed as upscaled versions of smartphones.
As a result, their sales suffered greatly as the average screen size of smartphones began approaching 6-7”. Few would spend money on a device that is just a slightly upscaled version of a smartphone, especially given the fact that tablets are commonly perceived as tertiary devices - something you use alongside a laptop and a smartphone
This issue is particularly pertinent when considered in the context of the iPad mini. Apple did increase the size of the device last year to 8.3”, but it still remains closer to the dimension of the iPhone 14 Plus than those of the iPad Air.
Hence, the iPad mini’s form factor could eventually be driven to obsolesce by the trends that define the smartphone world. However, there are cases in which the iPad mini still excels in 2022 - it is just a matter of identifying them.
The iPad mini 6 - a closer look
But Before we do that, a more detailed overview of the latest generation of the device - the iPad mini 6 - is in order. Of course, this will not be a detailed review as we already have one from when the device first made its debut and virtually nothing has changed one year later.
The iPad mini 6 still offers excellent performance, courtesy of the A15 chipset powering it. The leap from 15 to 16 was not all that significant, and, as a result, the iPad mini 6 has only marginally lower performance than what you would find on an iPhone 14 Pro Max - which is plenty for a tablet.
Furthermore, the more major improvements of the A16 chipsets were in the energy-efficiency departments to begin with. However, the iPad mini 6, with its relatively big battery, boasts a very impressive battery life as it is and it easily lasts a full day on a single charge.
Hence, the main perks of the iPad mini are still very much obvious in 2022 - unrivaled portability, excellent performance (on par with most newer Android tablets) and superb battery life. Did we mention that the mini comes equipped with a USB-C port? Good luck finding that on an iPhone.
Nevertheless, after the good come the bad and the ugly. In this case, the display of the iPad mini 6 fills both of the latter categories. Okay, maybe this is a bit extreme. However, the unimpressive IPS panel coupled with a low refresh rate make for a largely mediocre display. Not to mention, the “jelly scrolling” phenomenon is an affront for a device at this price point.
Now, you might say that at 8.3”, a subpar display is to be expected. I would disagree - the iPad mini 6 is a tablet, and tablets live and die by their displays. It is rather unsurprising that Apple cheaped out given its general approach to pricing, but panels of better quality can be found on devices that cost a much less than the iPad mini 6.
In a sense, the display is the one aspect of a tablet in which you simply cannot make too big of a compromise. Tablets are the premier content consumption devices. The extent to which they can facilitate this function depends much more on the screen that it does on the processor.
In summary, the iPad mini 6 is nearly perfect hardware-wise, but has one potentially fatal flaw - its screen. The size and quality of the latter are the biggest potential impediments to the success of the device. The question is under which circumstances do they not matter.
When should you go for an iPad mini 6?
Up to this point, we have assessed the merits of the iPad mini through the lens of theory. But what works in theory, seldom does in practice. So now it is time for a more hands-on approach. When does it make sense to buy an iPad mini 6?
We have outlined three particular scenarios in which it makes sense to invest in a tertiary device such as the iPad mini.
When portability is truly a concern
This goes beyond saying - the iPad mini is the most compact and portable iPad there is. After all, which other iPad can fit inside your hand. However, you need to ask yourself, how important portability truly is for you. If you are going to be using your iPad primarily at home or for school, does it truly need to be that small?
If you find yourself carrying a backpack most of the time, it also does not make much sense to care for the smaller footprint and weight of the mini. In a typical backpack, it would hardly make a difference.
However, if you are always on the go and do not have a dedicated tech bag, the fact that you can easily hold the iPad mini in one hand cannot be understated. Sometimes, less is more.
When you need an advanced e-reader
Most people would laugh at the idea of spending $500 on a glorified e-reader. However, those same people are unlikely to have faced the struggles of trying to use an e-reader for tasks beyond reading standard e-books (which is also a breeze on an iPad mini).
Firstly, the bigger screen real estate truly opens the way for many more possibilities. Most PDF files are unreadable on a typical Kindle screen. On the iPad mini, this simply is not the case. Quite a lot of publications - like textbooks, academic journals and newspapers - are only available in a PDF format. Being able to read them on a tablet is always a welcome experience. Additionally, the fact that the mini has a color display does not hurt either. For reference, most 8”+ e-readers with color displays are already hovering around the price point of the iPad mini.
Secondly, much of the reading nowadays happens online. As a person who has tried to browse the web with a Kindle, I can tell you - this experience is not for the faint of heart. Having the option to easily open Safari, find what you are looking for in a matter of seconds, and proceed to read (comfortably) at length is invaluable. Of course, an E-ink display will always be better for novels, but if you work in academia or read content online voraciously, the iPad mini is definitely worth a look.
When you are wondering which iPad to give to your kids
We all know how useful owning an iPad is when you have a child. It is an investment that can save you a lot of headaches and money (which form of entertainment can beat the App Store after all).
Now, you might say that the $499 price tag makes this a rather expensive “toy”. This much is, undoubtedly, true. That is why I would almost always recommend buying a cheap Android tablet for your child, regardless of circumstances. But if the entire family is deep into Apple’s ecosystem and the parents are willing to splurge, the question becomes “which iPad”, as opposed to “which tablet”.
Still, many consider the vanilla iPad the premier device for child entertainment purposes. Nevertheless, I believe that the iPad mini makes more sense for two main reasons. Firstly, it is easier to handle and is thus less prone to accidental damage. Secondly, the portability factor comes into play, because your child will likely not be the one carrying it around.
Furthermore, the best Apple alternative to the iPad mini 6 in this regard is set to receive its biggest update in nearly a decade. It is very likely that the new design will come at a higher price tag, which will further narrow the gap between the mini and vanilla iPads and sway consumers towards the latter.
Apple iPad mini 6
- Perfect size and weight for reading and jotting down notes
- Unrivaled performance on a small tablet
- Punchy stereo speakers
- USB Type-C
- 2nd-gen Apple Pencil support
- Unimpressive display, wavy scrolling in portrait mode
The iPad mini 6 is far from perfect and will never be for everyone. Are most people better off sticking to their smartphone? Yes. Does this mean that the iPad mini is obsolete? No.
There is a rationale behind preserving the mini lineup in its current state. Additionally, there will always be use cases (much more that the three outlined above) that call for the use of a device of the iPad mini’s caliber.
The point is that the iPad mini is not a jack of all trades and should not be regarded as one. That spot in Apple’s lineup is filled by the iPad Air and for a good reason. However, the iPad mini will invariably do some things better than even the 12.9” iPad Pro.
Hence, for some, the iPad mini will always be worth it. It all depends on what your primary device cannot do. And this is what you need to consider before making the purchase.