The iPad Mini’s place in Apple’s lineup has evolved quite a bit over the years. As the average size of the iPhone has gotten bigger and bigger, the case for the iPad Mini has gotten…smaller.
But while you may not need an iPad Mini, you certainly may still want one. The conversation around some iPads, like the iPad Pro and iPad Air, has shifted to whether or not they can be a reasonable laptop replacement. The iPad Mini can’t. But it still fits perfectly within the lineup as a device for those who want to prioritize portability and small size over a large display.
At $499, the 2021 iPad Mini still isn’t cheap — and it’s a whole lot more expensive than the new entry-level iPad. Should you spend your cash on it? Well, if you’re the right user, yes. The iPad Mini isn’t for everyone — but it sure is cool.
iPad Mini (2021) design
The iPad Mini has finally gotten a design refresh. Now, it looks basically like a shrunken-down version of the iPad Air. That’s a good thing — it means that the device offers a much more modern look with rounded display corners and a slew of awesome new colors.
It seems a little much to call the display edge-to-edge. While the bezels are about as big as on other iPad models, because the device is smaller, they just seem a little bigger. But they’re still a great size — there’s enough room to hold the iPad without accidentally touching the display, but they’re still small enough to ensure the tablet looks modern. The flat edges look great too, just like they do on the iPad Air.
Like the iPad Air, the iPad Mini is available in a few different colors, and while I haven’t seen them all in person, in photos, they all look awesome. We’re reviewing the Purple model, and I love the look.
The device isn’t exactly the same as the iPad Air. The volume buttons have been moved to the top edge. They’re slightly less accessible than they would be on the side, at least when you use the device in portrait orientation, but the move makes sense. That’s because the new device supports the second-gen Apple Pencil, which snaps to the edge of the device, and pretty much takes up the whole side. If Apple had moved the buttons to the left edge, they would be on the bottom on horizontal orientation, which wouldn’t really make much sense. On the bottom, Apple has thankfully moved to a USB-C port — meaning that the entry-level iPad is now the only one with Lightning.
The biggest missing feature from the design is a lack of Smart Connector. This kind of makes sense — typing on the iPad Mini would be pretty cramped. But it does mean that if you do end up using a keyboard, you’ll have to use it through Bluetooth and charge it on its own.
The size of the iPad Mini is…mini. It’s not quite comfortably pocketable, but it’s very portable — and during the review, I found myself using it around the house instead of my iPhone. It’s a lot of fun to use, and the perfect size for those that want something that’s a little bigger than their iPhone, but not quite iPad Air size.
iPad Mini (2021) display
The iPhone 13 Pro made headlines recently for its ProMotion display, but don’t expect the same technology on the iPad Mini. If you want a high refresh rate iPad, you’re still limited to the iPad Pro. It would have been nice to get that tech on the iPad Mini, for the smoother feel and more responsive experience. Hopefully the next-generation iPad Mini will get it.
But that doesn’t mean the display on the iPad Mini is sub-par. On the contrary, it’s not bad at all. The device comes with an 8.3-inch display with a 1488 x 2266 resolution. It’s an LED display, and it gets bright enough for most use — though a slightly higher brightness might have helped in direct sunlight or bright environments.
Generally, however, colors are vibrant and accurate, and while black levels aren’t as deep as they are on a Mini-LED display like on the new iPad Pro, contrast is still pretty good.
The display is very responsive when used with the second-generation Apple Pencil. There’s little latency to speak of, and while it’s not quite as smooth as the ProMotion iPad Pro, most won’t notice a huge difference. That makes the iPad Mini a perfect device for quick note-taking.
iPad Mini (2021) performance
The 2021 iPad Mini doesn’t just get a design refresh — it gets a performance boost too. The device actually comes with the same latest-gen chip that’s found in the iPhone 13 series — the Apple A15 Bionic. In other words, the iPad Mini is an excellent performer.
Generally speaking, there’s not much use spending a lot of time on iPad performance. The iPad Mini is smooth and responsive, and not once did I experience any jumps, skips, or app crashes. It’s easily powerful enough for mobile gaming and heavy multitasking, and if it wasn’t so small, you could arguably use it as a laptop replacement. Creatives could make use of the device too — it should be powerful enough for most graphic design and basic video editing.
Benchmark results confirm the excellent performance. The device scored the following results in benchmark tests.
The results are excellent. They represent only a small performance boost over the 2020 iPad Air, which actually scored almost the exact same in GeekBench 5’s single-core score, but that’s not a bad thing — it proves that the iPad Mini can go toe-to-toe with the best. It doesn’t quite match the M1-based iPad Pro, but that’s to be expected.
iPad Mini (2021) battery
The battery life on the 2021 iPad Mini isn’t bad. Apple rates the iPad Mini as offering the same 10-hour battery life as the current-generation iPad Air, and in lighter usage, with the brightness not cranked, that seems about right. In real-world use, most should be able to get a few days of use out of the device before needing to charge it.
Don’t, however, expect it to last a full workday of heavy use. The iPad Mini isn’t necessarily built for that kind of usage, but if you do plan on using it heavily during the day, you should expect to have to charge it.
iPad Mini (2021) camera
The 2021 iPad Mini has a 12-megapixel main camera, which is the same camera as that on the 2020 iPad Air. That’s not a bad thing — and the better image processing from the A15 Bionic means that images may be slightly better than the iPad Air. Generally, they look similar, which is to say they look great.
Perhaps more important than the rear-facing camera is the front-facing one, and it has gotten a pretty huge upgrade. Now, the iPad Mini offers the same 12-megapixel ultrawide camera as the iPad Pro, and it supports Center Stage. That’s good news — Center Stage is a genuinely helpful feature during video calls, and it works just as well here as it did on the iPad Pro.
I do wish the iPad Mini had Face ID instead of, or as well as, Touch ID. At this point, Face ID should no longer be considered a premium feature, and I hope Apple brings it to midrange and then lower-end devices soon.
iPad Mini (2021) software
The iPad Mini comes with Apple’s iPadOS 15, and it works pretty much the same as it does on every other iPad. It’s easy to navigate, and everything is exactly where you would expect it to be.
There are a few small specific software elements that make the experience that much better. For example, when you set up your iPad, you’ll be prompted to set up Touch ID — and in that process, Apple suggests that you set up a few fingerprints to make unlocking your device easier when you rotate the iPad. It’s a smart touch. Also, the Touch ID sensor worked very well, almost never failing to recognize my fingerprint.
The home screen on the iPad Mini does seem a little…compact. There’s quite a bit of padding on the sides of the rows of apps, and I can’t help but think that Apple could have made better use of the space — or at least space the app icons out a little more. It’s not a huge deal though.
For many users, it will be hard to figure out exactly where the 2021 iPad Mini fits in their day-to-day life. But the iPad Mini isn’t for those people. This tablet is for those who already know exactly what they would use it for. Perhaps it’s to replace your phone around the house. Or, maybe it’s to more easily watch TV in bed. Or, maybe you’re one of those pilots that regularly feature in Apple’s marketing for the iPad Mini.
If you’re one of those people, this tablet is for you. This is not the iPad for the masses — that remains the iPad Air. This is the tiny iPad for those that prioritize portability over screen real-estate.
The best competition comes from Apple itself. If you’re a regular Joe that wants a device that’s bigger than your phone for things like browsing the web, watching movies, and so on, then it’s worth considering the iPad Air instead. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s the iPad most people should get. Alternatively, you could consider the entry-level iPad, if you don’t really care about the more modern design and features, but just want to use iPadOS.
Should I buy the iPad Mini (2021)?
Yes, but only if you know what you would use it for. This is a niche iPad — and if you’re not a niche user, consider the iPad Air instead.