iPad Mini 6 Review: The perfect powerhouse for portable productivity

iPad Mini 6 Review: The perfect powerhouse for portable productivity

The best small tablet ever made is also the best device ever made for being productive on the go

Small isn’t always better – in fact, we’ve been conditioned to believe that bigger is always better. When people see a bigger screen, they assume a better camera or better photos even if the camera hardware isn’t anywhere near as good. Or when you hear of a higher processor number – or more RAM for example – it’s easy to assume that this directly translates to better. So bigger, equals better, right?

Except sometimes, bigger isn’t better. Take Apple’s event last month: there were two iPads launched. The diminutive iPad Mini 6 with its 8.3-inch screen and the iPad 9 with its larger 10.2-inch screen. You could be forgiven for assuming that the 9th generation iPad would be the better one, but in Apple’s lineup, the iPad Mini 6 is the small and mighty challenger that is arguably the best iPad for almost everybody right now.XDA-Developers VIDEO OF THE DAY

It’s shocking to say that but I’ve gone through every iPad Pro over the past three generations and none of them have served much more than being a glorified media player. Once I have a TV in my bedroom, the iPad Pro would often get relegated even further.

So why then, is the iPad Mini basically the best tablet I’ve ever used? Why can’t I put it down? After 10 days of usage, including eight (and counting) where the iPad Mini has helped me get through my current hospital stay, this is why the iPad Mini 6 is the best portable tablet for productivity. And why, everyone should buy one, especially if you can grab one of these excellent iPad Mini 6 deals.

Alongside your iPad Mini 6, you’ll also want a case and probably a keyboard. We’ve rounded up the best iPad Mini 6 cases but Apple doesn’t do an official keyboard case, so instead, we recommend buying the official silicon cover and pairing it with the Apple pencil and the wireless magic keyboard. This is the combination I used and it worked really well. There are other keyboard cases and standalone keyboards for the iPad Mini 6, in case you want to see your other options.

Small yet incredibly mighty

I was taken aback by how much Apple improved the latest generation of the iPad Mini. Generally, the iPad Mini has been a device that would see a combination of different parts of the rest of the iPad experience into a smorgasbord device that was part iPad, part iPhone. However, the iPad Mini 6 is different.

How so? It feels like a cohesive product in a way that Apple has never made before. Instead of just some random collection of parts, the iPad Mini deservedly received more stage time than the 9th generation iPad and the reasons are clear. This is a revamp of the complete experience and it’s more iPad Pro-Mini than just a mini iPad.

The new changes include a slightly larger 8.3-inch screen inside a body that’s virtually the same size body as the previous-generation iPad Mini. The screen uses a Liquid Retina IPS panel with scratch-resistant glass, true-tone, and a wide color gamut. Aside from the 120Hz refresh rate found on the more expensive iPad Pro, the iPad Mini display has the rest of the same hallmarks that make the iPad Pro screen so impressive for media consumption. There’s also a few stunning iPad Mini 6 colors that make this fun and quirky to use.

The design feels very 2021-esque for Apple, incorporating the same glass front and aluminum back and frame found on the new iPhone range. It’s much lighter and more pleasant than the iPad Pro, and there’s a big difference in the joy of using the iPad Mini vs the iPad Pro.

The camera bump is larger which is to be expected from the new 12MP single wide-angle camera with f/1.8 aperture and autofocus. Many people – like my late father – believe that a device with a bigger screen like the iPad must mean that it has a better camera. We’ve all been to a wedding where someone stands up with a giant iPad to take photos – the cameras themselves aren’t great but the iPad Mini 6 goes a decent way to improve this. Similarly, video recording is pretty impressive, supporting up to 4k @ 60fps, 1080p @ 240fps and with gyro-based electronic image stabilization. You won’t be buying the iPad Mini 6 for the camera, but if you happen to believe a big screen equals a better camera, this starts to go a long way to delivering on that experience. At least now those photos won’t suck anymore.

Flagship specifications for flagship productivity

Where the iPad Mini 6 is not as good as the iPad Pro, yet still incredibly impressive in its own right, is in the processor: it’s powered by the same Apple A15 processor found in the new iPhone 13 range. Flagship performance at an incredible price, and this is very much a flagship processor that’s better than anything else at this price. The A15 can stand against any flagship Android smartphone processor, let alone the traditionally lower-specification processors used in the entry and mid-level Android tablets.

iPad Mini 6 Review: The perfect powerhouse for portable productivity

What the Apple A15 allows Apple to do, however, is create the ultimate portable productivity powerhouse. The iPad Pro isn’t the type of device that you can carry in your pocket – the iPad Mini 6 is definitely that device. Suddenly, a salesperson can have a pocketable device that has all the power of a productivity champion and doesn’t need anything else. Simply pull it out, open up a spreadsheet, presentation and do most things you’d do with the larger iPad Pro, all in a smaller, more portable form factor.

I spent a total of 6 days in the hospital, out of which the first two I used my Galaxy Z Fold 3 for all things work including sending messages, video calls, spreadsheets, viewing data reports and even writing an article. Then I had my iPad Mini delivered to me in the hospital and my workflow suddenly changed.

The form factor is made for two-handed typing but crucially, unlike the iPad Pro, the iPad Mini is small enough that Apple has kept the split keyboard option. The result is that you can fire open the split keyboard and tap away with two thumbs. For these six days, I couldn’t put the iPad Mini 6 down and I still absolutely love it. For the two days I was at home – before ending up back in this hospital – the iPad Mini still never left my side, and I would sit on the couch to use it for most of the same things I used it for while in hospital.

Thanks to an outstanding promo where Apple will offer you $200 to buy and activate the cellular version of the iPad Mini, you basically get it for almost the same price as the regular Wi-Fi version and this one contains all the 5G goodies you’d want from a connected tablet. Take it from someone who sat in a hospital bed with really bad Wi-Fi – having a connection option beyond just Wi-Fi comes in handy when you absolutely need it.

I’ve not traditionally been one to use the mobile connectivity on my iPad, but as I begin to spend more time on a train – vs driving – and as I’ve been in hospital, it’s become clear to me that it’s worth having. During my time in the hospital, I noticed that as I was moved to a different room, the cell signal rapidly changed so with the eSIM on board, I was able to swap the iPad from Verizon to T-Mobile and still remain connected. Similarly, when roaming, it’s incredibly useful to be able to just sign up for service from the iPad without needing to pay a visit to a local carrier store.

iPadOS 15 is polished and great at multitasking

I’m a huge skeptic of Apple’s ability to create a cohesive multitasking experience that is intuitive and worth using. When iPadOS first came out, it was shocking and the iOS multitasking experience has always left a lot to be desired. This is why iPadOS 15 took me by surprise – Apple has developed a multitasking system that’s polished, refined, and ready for almost everything. More importantly, it convinced me of two other facts: with a few tweaks, Apple is ready to launch a foldable device and pertinently, Safari is a better mobile browser for professionals than Chrome. The latter is the biggest and most shocking takeaway for me after using the iPad Mini and comparing it to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.

As an entire generalization, iOS – and therefore the early versions of iPadOS that were bigger versions of iOS – has never truly felt like it was designed for a power user. Compared to Android, iOS is inherently less featured but it’s designed that most features a user could ask for are still available. It took Apple over ten generations of the software to finally support widgets, and these still remain fairly static with a single input supported: tap. There’s no interactivity with widgets, these are more for show and displaying information than being super useful, yet they are a part of the iPad Mini experience I use a lot.

For most users, the core purpose of widgets on iPadOS will actually prove to match their use case. For me, while I do miss the interactivity of Android widgets, and the sheer breadth of options as developers get creative, my most common use case for widgets has always been to just display information. Show me what’s important and then I’ll decide if I want to activate it from there.

The thing I like most about iPadOS is multitasking. This single statement is shocking to me because of the aforementioned belief that it wasn’t very good but there are a couple of ways that Apple has done multitasking really well. First, it’s the addition of the dock, which looks very similar to the Windows dock and the pinned apps menu found on Samsung’s Fold 3. A half swipe from the bottom of the screen brings you to all your key apps, but also to the App Library. After ten plus years of the belief that no one needs an App Library, it’s nice that iPadOS and iOS have an App Library! A prominent position to the right of the dock means you’re always only a couple of taps away from any app.

The resizing of windows, how the multitasking interacts in the same way that any other window does, and the cohesion of this experience within the rest of the OS makes the multitasking experience far more useful than you might expect. Unlike the larger iPad Pro, the smaller size of the iPad Mini display scales this really well. The iPad Pro still feels like it’s missing a few things to really take advantage of the larger display, whereas the multitasking feels near perfect on the 8-inch iPad Mini.

Why Safari is so much better than Chrome

Where the iPad Mini is setting the standard for mobile professionals is with Safari. Take it from someone who’s used the Galaxy Z Fold 3 for weeks and uses Chrome on their Mac every day: Safari on the iPad Mini is mobile browsing done right.

There are a few simple reasons how Safari ends up setting the standard that Chrome can’t compare to, and sadly they point to a big difference in how Google and Apple approach tablets. Google’s response to tablets as a whole will ultimately be the downfall of next-generation experiences like the Galaxy Z Fold 3, and Apple should definitely consider launching a version of Safari for Android devices.

First, Safari supports multiple instances so you can launch two, three, four, or even more entire instances of Safari, each supporting up to 500 tabs, separate spaces, etc. I use it no differently from the browser on my Mac, except I’m on the iPad. This means you’ve got the ability to do split-screen browsing, have Safari alongside several different apps in multitasking view, and sync bookmarks, passwords, and more to the desktop version of Safari. Of course, the desktop sync only works if you also use Safari on Mac. But if Apple was to launch Safari across all platforms again – having removed it from Windows many years ago – I would actively consider switching, especially considering how much of a battery drain Chrome continues to be.

Second, Safari defaults to a desktop experience on all websites but most importantly, allows you to adjust the zoom. Unlike Chrome on Android tablets and the Galaxy Z Fold 3, which only allows me to toggle the “Request Desktop View” mode and doesn’t let me force zoom in or out, Safari lets you use the browser on the iPad – and on the iPhone for that matter – no differently to how you would on the Mac. As far as a professional experience goes, Safari is, without doubt, a much better experience than Chrome on mobile devices can offer.

Compare this experience with mobile Chrome on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 which is probably the biggest competitor that Android has to offer. Both devices offer a great multitasking experience, but Chrome on Android only works with a single instance, doesn’t support the force zoom features, and is generally a mobile browser, while Safari for the iPad Mini is basically a desktop version of Safari on the go.

iPad Mini 6: The not-so-good bits

Sadly no technology is perfect, and no product is perfect either. Even something painstakingly crafted to have no identifiable flaws on paper will be inherently flawed in some way, and the iPad Mini 6 has a few flaws that definitely leave me wanting.

The first is battery life. My love affair with the iPad Mini 6 is only questionable because I don’t want to put it down. Hence, the battery life proves that it’s not really all-day battery life. If you are a heavy user intending to use this as a primary portable tablet and use it excessively during the day, then you will probably need to charge it during the day.

Yet, for most people, the battery life will prove to be acceptable. It can easily last between 6 and 9 hours of screen on time and if you don’t use it at full brightness, this can increase by a further 25%. My top-line battery life while mostly reading at a low brightness was 11 hours screen time with a total battery life of 18 hours. By any phone standard, this is great battery life, but for tablet users, you might be expecting more.

Charging is fast enough, especially at faster speeds than before. The 19.3 Wh battery can be charged from empty to full in around 2 hours using the 30W charger that comes in the box. It’s mostly a consistent charging experience in terms of the correlation between battery percentage and time taken; in our testing, the iPad Mini charged to 15% in ten minutes, 60% in 50 minutes, 77% in 70 minutes, and 90% in 95 minutes. The final ten percent took a further 20 minutes, with iPadOS tapering charging speeds towards the end.

The idea here is that if you need a quick top-up, you can hit the 25% mark very quickly, the 50+% mark with ease and you won’t really need to fully charge unless overnight. Apple’s optimized battery featuring will slow things down in the final 20% if you’re charging overnight once it recognizes what time you’re likely to want to first use the iPad, but I disabled this straight away as my use case is far more varied than that, especially while reviewing.

I’m also not a huge fan of the Apple Pencil. The way it interacts with iPadOS is great for many reasons, but there are also several occasions where I’m trying to use it to scroll or browse, and it thinks I’m trying to scribble something. When the Pencil is physically attached to my iPad, it won’t display the on-screen keyboard and instead thinks I’m trying to scribble. Unlike all the actions built into the S Pen on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, Apple really hasn’t taken the concept of the Apple Pencil beyond just writing and it’s a shame as there’s a lot of potential still. Yet, it’s nice to see new additions to iPadOS try to address this slightly, with a swipe up from the bottom left corner using the pencil taking a screenshot quickly. The Apple Pencil is great, but it’s not something you absolutely need, or should even really want alongside your iPad Mini.

Unlike the latest iPhones and the larger iPad Pro, there’s no 120Hz adaptive refresh rate on the iPad Mini and many users have discovered a jelly scrolling issue where the right side of the display scrolls at a slightly different speed to the left. In my time with the iPad Mini, this has been noticeable – as has several parts of the OS where it downscales into a weird aspect ratio – but not so much as to detract from the experience. Chances are you’ll notice it, but you won’t be bothered by it.

Is the iPad Mini a blueprint for a foldable iPad?

The iPad Mini is great for so many reasons yet it also raises a big question about where the lineup goes from here. Unlike the rest of the iPad range, the Mini has seen the least refreshes and the latest generation of the iPad Mini is good enough that there’s no need for Apple to make any changes for at least a couple of years. But, what comes after that?

The technology industry has come a long way since Apple launched the first iPad Mini. Back then, 8.3-inches was considered huge and not necessarily portable. Now, you have an 8-inch display in a folding form factor on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 that fits inside your pocket. With Samsung putting so much marketing importance behind its foldable, its inevitable that Apple will need to follow.

The real question then is – what will an Apple foldable look like? Is it basically an iPad Mini that folds and can make phone calls? Is it just a larger version of the iPhone 13 Pro Max? I for one, hope it’s the former as the iPad Mini basically offers the blueprint for exactly what Apple needs to do with its foldable; instead of approaching a foldable like a phone, Apple – and Samsung for that matter – should absolutely be approaching them as small tablets or computers that get smaller, vs phones that get bigger.

In a couple of years – or whenever Apple chooses to dip its toe into a foldable device – there’ll be little need for the standard iPad Mini form factor as foldable displays should have matured and become more ubiquitous. If Apple can basically package the iPad Mini experience into the Pro Max version of an iPhone, it has a winner on its hands. Support for the Apple Pencil, the incredible multitasking, and just the overall Pro experience would result in one of the best experiences you can have.

In the meantime, the iPad Mini offers exactly this: the best portable productivity experiences that money can buy. I love my Galaxy Z Fold 3 and it will always be in my pocket, but now the iPad Mini is going to always come with me in my bag or jacket pocket. That it has made such a large impact on my life in such a short space of time says a lot about the iPad Mini: it’s so good, you won’t want to put it down.

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George Washington

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