Review: Apple iPad mini 3

It makes little sense to run down everything in Apple’s iPad mini 3 ($399-$729) that’s the same as what you’ll find in last year’s iPad mini with Retina display — a model that thankfully was renamed “iPad mini 2.” Why? Because almost everything’s the same. Rather than repeating last year’s review, we’ll point you back to it for most of the details. Once again, the iPad mini 3 is being sold in Wi-Fi ($399-$599) and Wi-Fi + Cellular versions, though only in 16GB ($399/$529), 64GB ($499/$629) or 128GB ($599/$729) capacities. With this “update,” iPad mini now finds itself assuredly a step behind the iPad Air 2 in terms of updated hardware, and we’re wondering if it will continue to stay that way in the future.

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Other than the new gold color option, Touch ID is the only notable change in iPad mini 3. We found the fingerprint scanner worked similarly to its implementations in other Apple devices — which is to say, it works well. Unlike the Touch ID found in newer iPhones, however, the iPad mini 3’s use of Apple Pay is currently limited to making purchases within apps, rather than at retail store cash registers. You can’t bring your iPad to the check out counter to make an Apple Pay transaction, and it’s worth asking whether anyone would want to do such a thing.

This answer is a slightly less obvious “no” with the iPad mini than it would be with an iPad Air, but pulling even a small tablet out of a bag to make an in-store purchase still doesn’t seem ideal. Of course, Touch ID still gives users increased device security and allows for quick purchases in Apple’s App Store. But is that enough to warrant paying a $100 premium when all else is equal? Very few people would say yes.

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We did a number of battery tests with the iPad mini 3 and the results were strange to say the least. The wi-fi web browsing time — run with the screen at 50 percent brightness — was somehow down to 8 hours and 51 minutes from 10 hours and 35 minutes we saw in iPad mini 2. Considering the devices have the same battery, we found this peculiar. We saw similarly odd results in our cellular browsing test — a drop from 9 hours and 46 minutes for LTE run time on the iPad mini 2 to 8 hours and 27 minutes on the iPad mini 3. Unless Touch ID is somehow wreaking havoc here, the only other explanation we can think of is that something else has changed under the hood with iOS 8, and significantly enough to eat battery life to an extent rarely seen in the past.

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Furthermore, a gaming test — running the graphically-intense Infinity Blade III at 50 percent volume and 50 percent brightness — gave us 6 hours and 16 minutes of run time, which is about a half-hour less than we saw with the last mini. Once again, we’re guessing that this is an issue with iOS, as the results should be nearly the same between the mini 2 and mini 3. Hopefully a software fix will arrive shortly.

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Using the 10W USB Power Adapter, we found the iPad mini 3 recharged in 3 hours and 45 minutes, which is just about on par with its predecessor. This is an example of how the battery performs the same way when the device is effectively idle.

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Overall, iPad mini 3 is a fine device by 2013 standards, but it’s disappointing for something released in late 2014. Historically, iLounge’s editors have preferred the mini’s form factor to the last two full-sized iPads, although our views have been shifting with the release of the iPhone 6 Plus — the mini often doesn’t feel like enough of a step up in screen size now to really make a difference. Nevertheless, we really wish Apple gave the mini some more attention this time around. An overhaul of the body wasn’t necessary, but a more color-accurate display would have been appropriate, improved cameras would have been appreciated, and a faster A8 processor seemed like a no-brainer. It’s still a good enough tablet, but if you’re willing to live with a color-compromised screen and last year’s A7 chip, we’d much sooner recommend buying the iPad mini 2 now. Whereas an iPad mini 3 starts at $399 for 16GB, you can get a 16GB mini 2 for $299 or a 32GB mini 2 for $349, losing almost nothing in the process. Touch ID is a nice feature, but it’s not worth an extra $100, nor is the gold color option. Neglected this year, the iPad mini 3 is the rare iPad to earn only our limited recommendation.

Table of Contents

Our Rating

Limited Recommendation

Company and Price

Company: Apple

Model: iPad mini 3

Price: $399-$729