Review: Apple iPad mini 4

Pros: The thinner, lighter design is even easier to hold than past iPad minis. A more powerful processor boots up the iPad and opens apps faster. Rear iSight camera has been upgraded to 8MP, with slo-mo video recording and burst mode shooting. Colors are sharper and more accurate in updated display. Wi-Fi is noticeably faster. Speakers are louder and better than before. Battery recharges faster. Only iPad mini that supports iOS 9’s new Split View.

Cons: Still often feels like a step down from iPad Air 2. No 3D Touch display. 16GB capacity will be too small for most users. 1.2 MP iPad FaceTime camera feels outdated. The design has been tweaked enough that old iPad mini cases won’t fit. Smaller battery meets Apple’s estimates, but doesn’t quite measure up to iPad mini 2 test results. The mini has a questionable role in current Apple lineup without any standout feature.

Apple’s iPad mini 4 ($399-$729) occupies a strange place in the company’s expanding lineup. While the company’s most recent event introduced the super-sized iPad Pro, a new Apple TV, and new iPhones with 3D Touch tech, Apple spent roughly 30 seconds of its keynote on the new iPad mini 4. Not even Apple could get excited about the new mini. Caught in between the iPhones and the larger iPads, it’s tough to see exactly who the iPad mini 4 appeals to, other than users who specifically seek out the device’s form.

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That being said, the iPad mini 4 still represents a significant upgrade within the smaller iPad lineup. Last year, the company’s iPad mini 3 offered one notable new feature — Touch ID. Other than that, the iPad mini 3 was pretty much just the iPad mini 2 with a higher price tag. It was so underwhelming that it was the rare Apple device to only earn our limited recommendation.

Prices for the new iPad mini remain the same as for the prior generation — as the now-current model, iPad mini 4 is $399 (16GB), $499 (64GB), or $599 (128GB) for Wi-Fi editions, and $529 (16GB), $629 (64GB), and $729 (128GB) for the Wi-Fi + Cellular versions of the device.

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On the following pages, we’ll put Apple’s newest iPad mini through the paces, taking a closer look at the tweaked body, the new camera, the battery, the processor, the cellular speeds, and more. And we’ll try to answer the question: why get an iPad mini in 2015?

iPad mini 4: The New Body

All the scuttlebutt regarding the iPad mini 4 going into Apple’s event said the newest mini would resemble a smaller version of the iPad Air 2, and that’s exactly the case. Continuing Apple’s obsession with thinness, iPad mini 4 has slimmed down from 0.29” to a depth of just 0.24”. The Wi-Fi iPad mini 4 now weighs only 0.65 pounds, down from 0.73 pounds, with the Wi-Fi + Cellular version weighing slightly more. A less discussed aspect of the redesign? iPad mini is now 8” tall, a jump up from iPad mini 3’s 7.87” height. It’s enough of a change that there won’t be any shoehorning the new mini into old mini cases — you’re going to have to get a new case.

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New cases would have been needed anyway, however, due to the other design changes on iPad mini 4. (Though the size change does nix any plans case companies may have had to accommodate iPad mini 2, 3, and 4, as we’ve seen with iPad Air/iPad Air 2 cases.) Just like the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4 now has two mics near each other — one on the back of the device by the camera, and the other on the side just above the volume controls. The ringer switch is gone as expected, too, with its functionality replaced by iOS’ Control Center. Also, the speaker grille has been tweaked — one row on each side of the Lightning port, to match the iPad Air 2. Touch ID is still present, of course.

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Another design change isn’t evident at first glance, but it probably matters most in the grand scheme of things — it’s the iPad mini 4’s display. Though the Retina display is the same size with the same 326 ppi, Apple used the same manufacturing process as in the iPad Air 2, fusing the LCD panel, touch sensor, and cover glass together. As with iPad Air 2, the icons on iPad mini 4 now look like they’re floating right on top of the glass. When looking at apps and photos, you’ll also see that the colors are a bit sharper and more accurate on the iPad mini 4 as compared to past mini models. The display also now has an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare.

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What’s missing? Well, the 3D Touch display coming to iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus isn’t included in the new iPad mini. This means the new mini won’t be able to take full advantage of iOS 9 like those devices. Considering how those devices are being released within a few weeks of each other, it’s a disappointment, and it doesn’t do much to change any perception of the iPad mini being a bit of an afterthought now.

iPad mini 4: The A8 processor + iOS 9

iPad mini 4 is powered by Apple’s A8 processor. While the chip is more powerful than the A7 found in iPad mini 2 and 3, it’s still a step down from iPad Air 2’s A8X, and a few steps back from the A9X found in the upcoming iPad Pro. The motion coprocessor has been moved up to the M8 from Apple’s M7. There’s also 2GB of RAM in the new iPad mini, a big step up from the 1GB found in the last mini. The speed difference is notable when booting up the device, and within apps.

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Though the A8 is also used in Apple’s iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Geekbench testing shows the processor is slightly faster in the iPad mini 4 than in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The multi-core score was 3099, and single-core was 1716, lagging behind only the iPad Air 2 in the Apple lineup as of right now.

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With the overclocked processor and 2GB of RAM, it’s a not a surprise — though it’s very welcome, considering how Apple passed on 3D Touch for the device — to see iPad mini 4 able to run iOS 9’s multitasking features. iPad mini 4 can run Split View with side-by-side apps, as well as Slide Over and Picture-in-Picture (which iPad mini 3 can also run with iOS 9). Though the screen is relatively small for using two apps at once with Split View — you might have to squint at times — it’s still a useful feature.

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Outside of a few minor hiccups here or there, we didn’t find many lingering issues using iOS 9 with iPad mini 4. We recall having far more problems with iOS 8 when it was first released, though this may just be anecdotal.

iPad mini 4: Camera + Audio

iPad mini 4’s rear iSight camera gets the bump up to 8MP, just like iPad Air 2. The camera isn’t as advanced as the current or upcoming iPhone cameras — one can make the argument that the iPhone should always have the most advanced cameras — but it’s a definite step up from the last iPad mini camera. The differences are best seen up close. Below are two shots of tree bark — the first photo comes from the iPad mini 4, then the iPad mini 3. You’ll notice more definition on the first shot. It’s sharper.

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iPad mini 4 is also now capable of shooting slo-mo video for the first time, and burst mode has been added to the iSight camera. Below, here’s another photo comparison between the iPad mini 4 and iPad mini 3 cameras. Again, first comes the iPad mini 4, then the iPad mini 3. Notice the differences, especially around the dog’s mouth and nose — it’s much clearer on the newer iPad camera.

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The FaceTime camera remains 1.2MP, with 720p HD video recording, as is the case with all current iPads. But iPad mini 4 adds Burst Mode to the FaceTime camera as well, for better selfie shots. So there’s that.

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Our speaker test revealed some interesting and unexpected results. Though we’d always recommend headphones or a speaker for long-term listening, when you’re watching one or two videos, or maybe listening to a song or two — which happens quite often for many users — the speaker matters. iPad mini 4’s speaker is a step up from the mini 3. It’s louder and clearer. And although the iPad mini 4 speaker doesn’t get as loud as the iPad Air 2 speaker, we found the mini speaker actually sounded clearer than the iPad Air 2 speaker, especially at higher volumes. It’s a nice upgrade.

The headphone jack provided no noticeable difference from the prior iPad mini. It’s also worth noting that iPad mini 4 is Bluetooth 4.2 compatible, but that will matter more in the future than it does today.

iPad mini 4: Battery + Cellular Performance

The iPad mini 4 notably has a smaller battery than the prior mini, but Apple makes the same battery life claims. We encountered some strange results in our iPad mini 3 testing, which we chalked up to iOS 8.0, so we’ll rely on our iPad mini 2 review for comparison.

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Apple claims the iPad mini 4 can browse the web for 10 hours on Wi-Fi, and we found that to be mostly spot on, as our test came up just a few minutes short of 10 hours when browsing at 50 percent brightness. It’s a slight decrease from the 10 hours and 35 minutes run time of the iPad mini 2, but it’s not far off.

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Apple makes the same 10 hour battery life claim for video, but we found iPad mini 4 to overperform in this regard, clocking in at nearly 12 hours at 50 percent volume and 50 percent brightness. That’s a decrease of about two hours from the mini 2 (which ran for nearly 14 hours in the same test), but it should more than suffice for extended video watching. In our gaming test — again, the iPad mini 4 was set to 50 percent volume and 50 percent brightness — the new device ran for 7 hours and 18 minutes. That’s about a half-hour better than iPad mini 2 — a number of factors may play a role in the uptick, including the A8 chip, 2GB of RAM, and iOS 9.

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In the Wi-Fi + Cellular model, cellular speeds didn’t quite measure up to our iPad mini 2 results, but there are so many factors in play that it’s hard to really knock a device on this count without extended testing. Apple claims the iPad mini 4 should get 9 hours of cellular web browsing, and our tests found that estimate to be accurate, as we were a few minutes north of that (the iPad mini 2 overperformed in the same test, getting 9 hours and 46 minutes of run time on LTE). iPad mini 4 adds six additional LTE bands to what the iPad mini 2 had to offer, which should offer better overall coverage. An Apple SIM is still included with four carrier options — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and GigSky, which offers international connectivity.

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One benefit to a slightly smaller battery is a faster recharging time. Using the included 10W adapter, iPad mini 4 recharged in 3 hours, right on the button. That’s 38 minutes faster than our iPad mini 2 test, which is significant.

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Regarding the iPad mini 4’s advanced 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which Apple claims can reach speeds of 866 Mbps — it’s very fast. When browsing side-by-side with an iPad mini 3, the differences are obvious. Users who primarily access web content on the iPad will be pleased.

iPad mini 4: Conclusion

Overall, the iPad mini 4 is a very good device, and a return to form of sorts for the mini line. It still lags behind the iPad Air 2 in a number of ways, but for those who prefer the mini’s smaller form factor, it’s an appealing tablet. Other than a smaller battery — which has minimal effects — iPad mini 4 is a definitive step up from the last two iPad minis. We do recommend getting at least the 64GB model — with the increasing size of apps, and the ability to take better pictures on the mini than ever before, 16GB won’t be enough for most users.

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But who are those users, exactly? We at iLounge used to be big fans of the iPad mini, but after using the larger screens of the iPhone 6 and (especially) the iPhone 6 Plus, the iPad mini doesn’t feel like enough of a step up in display size. Whereas the larger iPad Air 2 — and likely the upcoming iPad Pro — feel more useful for video and reading digital books and magazines. iPad mini 4 can easily perform both of those tasks admirably, but it’s sometimes hard not to overlook the little thing. In a sense, it’s bound to be Apple’s “minor league” tablet for the foreseeable future.

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Users of older, smaller iPhones likely won’t have the same issues about moving up in screen size to the iPad mini, which will still seem big enough. We also think it’s a great iPad for smaller hands — kids, especially those in multi-child families, can benefit from having an iPad mini around. And some may just find the full-sized iPad too large to manage, even with its thin profile, and in that case, iPad mini 4 is the best option. It’s also still $100 less expensive than the Air 2, which is another factor for those who just want a new iPad. So although the iPad mini might have a bit of an identity crisis — with no particular feature that really makes it stand out on its own — it stands on its own as a fun, impressive small tablet.

Our Rating


Company and Price

Company: Apple

Model: iPad mini 4

Price: $399-$729