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If the standard 2021 iPad is the “best” iPad for most people, then the 2021 iPad Mini is the “perfect” iPad.
That designation of “perfect” is subjective, to be sure — the iPad Mini and its 8.3-inch screen might be too small for some. On the other hand, the standard iPad and its 10.2-inch screen might be too large for others.
What’s objective, however, is that the iPad Mini still offers a bigger screen than any phone I know about, thus fulfilling its purpose as a tablet. It’s also incredibly light and portable, making it the easiest tablet to carry around anywhere — much easier than the comparatively bulky and cumbersome 10.2-inch iPad.
These are just some factors contributing to the iPad Mini’s perfection. Read on to get the whole picture.
The 2021 iPad Mini adopts Apple’s modern iPad design you’ll find on the iPad Air and iPad Pro series. That means the tablet is sleek, thin, and it has flat edges and a flat back. It also has uniform bezels around the display rather than the thicker top and bottom bezels from the classic iPad design.
Again, the iPad Mini is also lightweight, and combined with its smaller overall size, it’s noticeably more portable than larger tablets. That extra portability, I’d argue, is more useful than a larger display. I found myself using the iPad Mini more often than larger iPads simply because it was easier to bring from the couch in the sitting room to the kitchen, or any other room in the house.
And just by virtue of its smaller size, it takes up less room than larger iPads. The iPad Mini is more akin to a large phone than a standard iPad, which has the footprint of a small laptop.
The iPad Mini is often known as a pocketable powerhouse, or “pocket-size,” and it does fit in my jeans pockets. But it doesn’t fit in all the pockets on certain pants and shorts. Your pockets really need to be quite large to fit the iPad Mini, but it’s possible — more so than any larger iPad.
All of this is to say that the iPad Mini is perfect in its portability compared to its hardware inside.
The iPad Mini has an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, which is the same type of Retina display panel you’d find on the iPad Air, and even the 11-inch iPad Pro. It’s not the biggest deal — colors are only slightly bolder compared to the regular Retina display on the standard iPad. Still, it’s a higher-quality display.
Sharpness-wise, the 2021 iPad Mini has a 1448p resolution that’s technically sharper than the iPad and even the iPad Air’s display. You get 326 pixels-per-inch (PPI), which outclasses the 264 PPI with those aforementioned iPads. To be honest, it’s not that noticeable, as the screen is smaller.
There’s no getting around the fact that apps, videos, and photos are, indeed, smaller on the iPad Mini’s 8.3-inch display compared to the 10.2-inch display on the iPad and the 10.9-inch display on the iPad Air. Still, I’ve been using the large iPhone 13 Pro Max with a 6.7-inch screen, and the iPad Mini still offers the larger display experience I seek from a tablet.
However, the iPad Mini’s smaller screen starts to truly feel smaller for productivity. It’s fine for simpler productivity, like writing an email or a simple document, but larger screens are definitely more useful for more complex tasks, like research, especially with a more convenient keyboard cover.
Note that, with the iPad Mini, you don’t get Apple’s ultra-smooth ProMotion display feature that you get with the iPad Pro series, or the iPhone 13 Pro series. ProMotion runs the display at a 120Hz refresh rate, which means it refreshes the screen 120 times per second compared to the 60Hz on the iPad Mini, iPad, iPad Air, and standard iPhone 13 line. That higher refresh rate makes animations appear smoother, which gives off the impression that the device is faster and more powerful.
It would have been nice if the 2021 iPad Mini came with ProMotion, but it’s fine that it doesn’t because of the display’s relatively small size, especially if the omission helps keep the cost down.
The 2021 iPad Mini runs on the same A15 Bionic processor as the iPhone 13 series, which means apps and games of all levels of intensity run smoothly and flawlessly.
Running on Apple’s latest mobile processor surely counts towards the iPad Mini’s $170 premium over the standard iPad, which runs on the two-year-old iPhone 11 A13 Bionic processor. While I wouldn’t say there’s a noticeable performance difference between these iPads today, I expect that the iPad Mini will remain snappy and responsive for at least two years longer than the iPad, thanks to its processor that’s two generations newer.
As expected, benchmark scores using the Geekbench 5 app show the iPad Mini as having similar performance as the iPhone 13 series. Indeed, both devices run on the same A15 Bionic processor.
In our usual battery test where I continuously stream a YouTube video at the iPad Mini’s full brightness streaming at 1440p resolution, the 2021 iPad Mini lasted six hours and two minutes. That’s the best battery test result when compared to the standard iPad’s five hours and 25 minutes, and the iPad Air’s four hours and 53 minutes.
The 2021 iPad Mini uses a USB-C port to charge, which is good to see, considering Apple’s laptops also use USB-C to charge, and consumer electronics overall have adopted USB-C as the latest standard.
The 2021 iPad Mini is compatible with Apple’s second-generation Pencil, which is more responsive than the first-generation Pencil that the standard iPad supports. That’s to say, the iPad Mini is a better note-taking and drawing device than the iPad.
Apple doesn’t make a keyboard case for the iPad Mini, and third-party options are pretty slim, possibly because a small keyboard that fits within the iPad Mini’s footprint is uncomfortable to type on. Rather, you can connect a normal or compact Bluetooth keyboard to the iPad Mini for typing.
The iPad Mini also supports mouse input, so you can connect a Bluetooth mouse for finer control, which is especially useful for productivity. However, it’s not quite as convenient as a keyboard case or cover.
For $100 more, you can get the 2022 iPad Air, which is essentially a bigger version of the 2021 iPad Mini. Apart from its larger 10.9-inch display, the iPad Air’s main draw is its powerful, computer-grade M1 processor. It’s the same processor you’d find in the iPad Pro series, as well as the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini. It’s certainly tempting for an additional $100, especially if you don’t think the iPad Mini’s 8.3-inch display is big enough.
If spending more than $500 is out of the question, but you still want a bigger display, the standard $330 iPad offers a larger 10.2-inch display and perfectly capable performance. Just note that the standard iPad runs on an older processor that will show its age sooner than the iPad Mini or the iPad Air.
Again, the 2021 iPad Mini is the “perfect” iPad for its balance of portability and performance.
Due to its small size, it’s more useful as a tablet for video watching, gaming, and quick messaging than a true mobile productivity machine. For instance, I wouldn’t recommend the 2021 iPad Mini as a replacement for a laptop — larger iPads, like the standard iPad or iPad Air, are better suited as laptop replacements.
The iPad Mini’s high $500 price tag may seem overpriced compared to the standard $330 iPad, which also has a larger screen. But the 2021 tablet’s design, performance, and features make it more a smaller version of the $600 iPad Air than a smaller version of the standard iPad. Plus, for a $170 premium, you’re getting a tablet with longer legs for the future, too.
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