Apple iPad Mini 4 Review: Apple’s latest compact iPad is basically a dinky iPad Air 2, replacing the iPad MIni 3 entirely while improving performance and slimming down the design.
Apple introduced the world to the iPad Mini 4 in roughly eight seconds during its September 9th launch event, which to be fair involved a hell of a lot of new kit. With the likes of the iPad Pro, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus and a new Apple TV box to get through, it’s little surprise that the Mini 4 was essentially an also-ran, which is a shame. After all, the iPad Mini is one of my favourite Apple devices, thanks to its highly portable design and no-compromise premium specs.
This fourth iteration has completely replaced last year’s iPad Mini 3 on Apple’s store, now rocking the same innards as the iPad Air 2. So is it worth a purchase, or should you opt for the cheaper iPad Mini 2?
Apple hasn’t exactly done anything revolutionary with the iPad Mini 4’s looks, although this is the skinniest and lightest Mini tablet to date, rocking a 299g frame that’s just 6.1mm thick. It’s hard not to be impressed and even a lethargic infant could happily clutch the Mini 4 all day, without achey arm syndrome kicking in.
Best of all, the Mini 4 never seems to heat up to worrying levels even when playing memory-intensive games. At worst it gets a little warm on the rear plate, which is actually quite nice when you’re clutching it on a freezing cold commuter train.
Of course, Apple’s tab feels as fragile as ever so I’d recommend grabbing a case or cover if you’re regularly carrying it around. You can get the usual snap-on Smart Cover which doubles as a stand, although this doesn’t provide much protection if the Mini 4 is dropped.
As with last year’s Mini 3, the home button doubles as a TouchID fingerprint sensor. This can be used to unlock the Mini 4, confirm App Store purchases, pay for goods online and so on. It’s impressively accurate and a very handy timesaver (as well as an extra layer of security when you’re on the move), something that’s missing from the cheaper iPad Mini 2.
As for colours, you can snap up the Mini 4 in the traditional silver and ‘space grey’ finishes as well as gold. I’m not usually a fan of ‘bling’ colours, but the gold paint job is more like a pleasingly subdued copper finish which is easy on the eye.
Screen and media
The iPad Mini’s screen hasn’t changed since the second version, so the iPad Mini 4 once again rocks a 7.9-inch Retina display packing 326 pixels-per-inch. That’s fine by me as it’s still a gorgeous, colourful panel that’s as sharp as you’d like; you’ll have to squint really hard to try and make out any individual pixels.
Good news if you want to use the Mini outdoors too, as it’s easily bright enough to counter any glare. Meanwhile viewing angles are nice and wide, so a couple can easily enjoy a movie without having to cram their heads together. And that square aspect ratio is well suited to web browsing and flipping through photos, although it does mean your video plays back in a letterbox window with thick black bars above and below.
My only complaint, and it’s a minor gripe at best, is that Apple has removed the dinky switch from above the volume rocker which locked screen rotation. I’m not sure where it’s gone, but it was a great way to keep the display from skipping erratically between portrait and landscape views. Now you have to bring up the control centre (or center, to give it the American bastardisation) to lock rotation, which is a bit more fiddly.
Wait, that was a lie; I have two complaints. As usual there’s no way to expand the on-board storage via microSD, so you’re basically stuck with however much space you can afford.
The 16GB model fills up fast, especially around iOS update time, so I’d recommend stumping up an extra 80 quid for the 64GB Mini 4 if you can. Or if you carry around a lot of media – for instance, dozens of Ultra HD movies – you might want to fork out another 80 quid on top for the 128GB model.
Features and iOS 9
We’ve already covered iOS 9 in some depth, so check out our iOS best features article, and five great iOS 9 features you may have missed for more info. So far I’m enjoying iOS 9, with the likes of the split-screen multi-tasking feature proving quite helpful (if a little inflexible).
However, I’ve also seen a few bugs so far, as you’d expect from such a fresh update. App crashes, App Store quirks and settings that don’t want to play ball are the biggest issues at the moment, but Apple will no doubt roll out a couple of swift updates in the coming weeks to rectify any complaints – in fact, the Mini 4 has already been updated to 9.0.1, which seems to have sorted the worst of the crashing. By Christmas, iOS 9 should be stable enough to not irritate everyone.
As usual, there are WiFi and WiFi/Cellular models depending on your connectivity needs.
Read next: iOS finally delivers smart maps and multi-tasking
Performance and battery life
Apple’s 64-bit A8 processor is packed inside the Mini 4, and just like last year’s iPad Air 2 you can expect smooth performance all day long. The likes of GTA San Andreas and other infamously processor-pounding games don’t pose a problem, showing no drop in frame rates. Video editing apps run well too, with only a little bit of warmth spreading along the back of the tablet.
Battery life isn’t quite as strong as previous Minis but you’ll still get an impressive eight and a half hours of video streaming per charge, which beats pretty much every other tablet out there. Great news if you’re always off on long-haul trips.
Okay, so taking photos with an iPad is now a secondary evil compared with the horror of selfie sticks. But that doesn’t make it a Good Thing To Do, right?
Still, if you absolutely must block everyone’s view of a gig, parade or famous landmark by waving a tablet around, at least the iPad Mini 4’s 8-megapixel iSight camera will produce some stunning results (as well as a heavy tutting from others around you). Photos are crisp and detail-packed (although contrast levels could be better and the lens struggles in gloomy conditions). Meanwhile the Full HD video recording produces home movies that look good on a big screen.
Much more useful is the 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera, which can also be used to Skype and take inevitable selfies. It’s sharp, it deals well with all kinds of horrendous lighting conditions and it’s even dependable in a dark environment – great news if you like to Skype your family from dingy casinos, for instance.
Apple hasn’t revolutionised the iPad Mini with this fourth model but it’s certainly one of the best sub-10-inch tablets you can buy right now. A desirable combination of slick performance and longevity, combined with some serious media chops, make the Mini 4 a solid choice for almost any user. And that super-slim, ultra-light design means it’s more portable than ever.
Of course, it’s quite a pricey little beast, and if you don’t have cash sprouting out of every orifice you might want to nab the iPad Mini 2 instead. Here’s our full iPad Mini 4 vs iPad Mini 2 comparison feature so you can see which is best for you.