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Why the 2021 iPad Mini Is One of Apple’s Best Tablets Yet – How-To Geek

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Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He’s invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf. Read more…
Apple’s smallest iPad got a big update in 2021. If you’ve been holding out for a better iPad mini, the 2021 revision announced alongside the iPhone 13 is a tantalizing prospect. Here’s what we love about the new iPad mini.
One of the standout features of the sixth-generation iPad mini is the addition of Apple’s latest A15 Bionic system-on-chip (SoC). This is the same chip that powers Apple’s flagship smartphones like the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, marking a huge leap in performance over the prior iPad mini.
The fifth-generation iPad mini had an A12 processor, first introduced in 2018 alongside the iPhone XS. While the A12 is still performant and receiving software support, the A15 includes three years’ worth of performance and efficiency improvements.
While the A15 Bionic in the iPad mini is fundamentally the same chip as the one found in the iPhone 13, early benchmarks show a performance penalty of 2-8% compared to the iPhone 13. This suggests the chip is slightly down-clocked by Apple (binning, anyone?), but the performance difference will be hard to spot in real-world usage.
The A15 Bionic in the mini also lacks the additional GPU core that Apple saw fit to put in the iPhone 13 Pro. This led to Apple calling the iPhone 13 Pro’s SoC to be the world’s most powerful mobile chipset, but at twice the price of an iPad mini, that’s to be expected.
Buying an A15-powered iPad mini right now is a great option if you want to get many years of support out of your tablet. We don’t know when Apple will update the tablet again (it could be sooner than three years this time), but the A15 will likely be finding its way into iPads and iPhones for years to come.
The iPad mini’s form factor is its biggest draw, with a physical size that’s close to a generously sized notebook (only much thinner, at only 6.3mm (0.25 inches). While the previous model was svelte, the design was dated compared to its contemporaries like the iPad Air and iPad Pro line.
That’s no longer the case as Apple has taken the time to redesign the mini. Despite being slightly shorter than the previous model, the 2021 iPad mini has a larger 8.3-inch display with much smaller bezels than the fifth-generation model.
This shift also sees Apple ditch the Home button, as it has done on other iPad and iPhone models. While the iPad mini lacks the Face ID facial recognition array seen on the iPhone 13, you can still unlock it with your fingerprint thanks to the embedded scanner in the power button on the side of the unit.
It’s got more screen real estate than any iPad mini that came before it while being the smallest iPad mini Apple has ever produced.
Taking photos on your tablet may be criminally uncool, but photography is often a sporadic pursuit and you never know when the perfect photo opportunity will present itself. The iPad mini has a new 12MP wide camera on the rear of the unit, up from 8MP on the previous model.
The camera is better than the old model in almost every way, with a larger sensor that lets in more light, a faster aperture of f/1.8, and for the first time (on the mini) a Quad-LED flash for better shots in the dark.
Don’t underestimate the addition of the A15 Bionic SoC here either. Image processing is often one of the things Apple improves year on year, so expect cleaner results from the improved image signal processor on the newer silicon.
On the front of the unit is a new 12MP ultra-wide lens, which enables one of Apple’s new standout features: Center Stage. This feature allows you to be tracked around the room while on a FaceTime call by using an ultra-wide perspective and software perspective correction.
Apple’s Lightning port is one of the last proprietary connectors in the industry. Other iPad models including the iPad Air and premium iPad Pro line have used USB-C connectors for a while now, and it’s finally time for the iPad mini to join them.
This means you can use any old USB-C cable to charge your iPad mini or connect USB-C peripherals like keyboards and mice directly to your tablet. If you use an external drive or sync your iPad mini with a computer you will be able to take advantage of faster transfer speeds, since Lightning connectors are still ultimately operating at USB 2.0 speeds.
If you like your iPad to have a cellular connection, the cellular version of the iPad mini now comes with 5G support for even faster roaming internet speeds. Unfortunately, 5G coverage is limited to sub-6GHz wavelengths (there’s no mmWave support as yet), but it’s still faster than 4G in supported regions.
For future-proofing home wireless connections, Apple has updated the tablet to support Wi-Fi 6, too.
Apple’s best stylus now works with the iPad mini, with support for the Apple Pencil 2 on the sixth-generation portable. The stylus snaps to the side of the tablet for charging and safekeeping, though you’ll have to cough up an extra $129 for the pleasure.
The second-generation Apple Pencil uses a new snap-on design for easier storage and charging, with greater sensitivity and an improved design to stop the stylus rolling away on a flat surface.
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This makes the iPad mini perfect for handwritten notes, annotating documents, or doodling in apps like Paper and Procreate. With a screen size of 8.3-inches when measured diagonally, the iPad mini isn’t much of a canvas for serious digital artists, but it has its uses nonetheless.
You can even turn your iPad mini into a makeshift drawing tablet for use with your Mac or PC.
While the similarly powerful iPhone 13 starts at $799, the iPad mini is $300 cheaper at its starting price of $499. You don’t get as much storage as an iPhone, the chip is slightly slower, and there’s no cellular support unless you opt for the more expensive model but the two devices are surprisingly well-matched in terms of raw performance.
Apple’s smallest and most powerful tablet to date, the 2021 iPad mini is powered by the same A15 Bionic chip that’s in the iPhone 13, with an all-new thin-bezel design, better cameras, and support for the second-generation Apple Pencil.
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Using an iPad mini as a smartphone isn’t practical or recommended, if you don’t need a new iPhone and would instead prefer a larger form factor with just as much bite, the iPad mini is a compelling choice. Wondering how it stacks up to the rest of the iPad range? Check out our rundown of the best iPads.
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Abhinav Breathes and Bleeds Technology. He's a humanoid with a passion for Gadgets, Cars, Gaming. You can usually find him on PSN Blabbering about his FIFA skills.