We all knew it was coming. There was reason to be skeptical last year, because we iPad fans have heard the Mini would be refreshed before, only to be left disappointed. There have even been convincing arguments made that the Mini was a death’s door and that Apple would kill it off after releasing larger screen iPhones. There was a time when I believed it was a dead device fading off into obscurity like the Classic iPod did.
However, when the rumors of a new version of the Mini continued and they actually started coming out of the supply chain, things started looking good. Today, long-suffering iPad Mini fans FINALLY got a device worth waiting for.
The rumors leading up to today’s press release announcement were pretty modest. They basically said the new Mini would be an internal refresh only. There were brief rumors of Pencil support, but they were never fully accepted. However, it turns out the modest expectations were a little undercooked. Apple had bigger plans for this small tablet.
The new Mini does retain the same shape and size as the original. The screen is still 7.9″ and yeah, it does still have what feel like massive bezels today. It also keeps the holdover headphone jack and TouchID support from the Mini 4. It will still feel very familiar because of this.
However, that is where the similarities end and its also where we diverge from most of the rumors leading up to today’s announcement. First of all, the Mini did get Pencil support. It’s the first-gen Apple Pencil, but this is still a nice upgrade for the device. It gives iPad fans who prefer the smaller form factor additional flexibility to get stylus support. It also turns the new Mini into a perfect digital steno pad, which I’m sure many users will find quite useful. One more thing- this also means that all currently-sold iPads now support an Apple Pencil, which is notable. It took four years, but Apple finally got there.
Pencil support isn’t all the new Mini got. The real surprise is that Apple went with a much bigger than expected bump in screen technology and processor. The screen on the Mini 4 was a Retina display with 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution for a pixel density of 326ppi, so it didn’t suck by any means. However, the new Mini brings better lamination and Apple’s True Tone color correction. It’s a nice bump up that wasn’t rumored and is a solid upgrade over the previous gen.
The current 6th Gen iPad has an A10 processor, so many expected Apple to either go with that and push the cost of the iPad Mini lower, or go one step up to the A11. Instead, Apple brought the Mini up to current specs with the A12 Bionic. This is a huge improvement over the A8 in the iPad Mini 4. Current Mini owners who have been waiting to upgrade will love and appreciate this big performance boost when they get their hands on the new device.
Apple also threw a little love at the Mini’s cameras. The rear camera doesn’t change substantially, but the front-facing camera gets a huge boost over the Mini 4’s 1.2 MP 720P model. The new Mini has a 7 MP 1020P front camera, which is perfect for FaceTime and selfies. Considering how people are going to use the new Mini, this was definitely a smart choice on Apple’s part.
I have complained several times over the last two years about the iPad Mini’s price. I know that Apple bumped the default memory up to 256 GB a couple of years ago, but a $399 price tag for a device with a smaller screen and inferior internals to the cheaper iPad at $329 made absolutely no sense whatsoever. This disparity was really highlighted after the iPad got Pencil support last year. It did not fit in the lineup at all, which is one reason I thought it was headed for the sunset for a while.
After today’s announcement, the iPad Mini makes sense again. Apple kept the starting price the same at $399, but delivered hardware that is now worthy of that amount and place in the iPad line. While it is still more expensive than the 6th Gen iPad, which remains for sale at $329, the new Mini is superior in two important aspects. It has both a better screen and a better processor by 2 gens. That’s worth $70 in my book. The new Mini also slots in nicely under the new iPad Air, which has better specs and a bigger screen. It took Apple WAY too long to do this, but they finally fixed their mess. The iPad is a cohesive and sensible lineup of tablets from top to bottom for the first time in many years.
iPad Mini fans have been some of the most passionate I have heard from during my three years at iPad Insight. Many of you have plead the case for your device and why Apple should continue with it, even when I disagreed with you. I have gotten more questions about the Mini than any other model, even as it slipped further and further behind the pack. I am genuinely happy for all of you today. Like Mac Mini fans late last year, you guys FINALLY got the love from Apple that you deserve.
As with the iPad Air, I have already pre-ordered a new Mini and will start reviewing it as soon as I have it.