iPhone XS Max can replace your iPad mini [Review]


The iPhone XS Max is 25 percent larger than any previous iOS handset. So how is it as an iPad mini replacement?
The iPhone XS Max is 25 percent larger than any previous iOS handset. So how is it as an iPad mini replacement?
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Apple stopped updating the iPad mini a few years ago because sales dropped off at the release of the first iPhone Plus model. Seems lots of people prefer a large-ish smartphone to a small tablet, even if the iPad is bigger than the iPhone.

And now there’s the iPhone XS Max, Apple’s biggest smartphone ever. So we explored using one as a replacement for an iPad mini 4.

We compared the two devices when doing the tasks we originally purchased a small tablet for: reading ebooks, playing games, and social networking.

iPhone XS Max is big enough

The most obvious difference between these two is size. The iPhone XS Max is a big phone, but not as big as the iPad mini 4. The screen in the handset is 16.1 square inches, while the tablet’s is 30.0 sq. in.

But tech specs don’t tell the whole story. While the iPhone is smaller, it’s big enough for most of the jobs we asked it to do. Realistically speaking, the 6.5-inch display is as good as the 7.9-inch one for reading ebooks. There’s more page flipping, but that’s not a significant drawback.

The same goes for social-networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. The experience isn’t as good as the larger screen. But it’s good enough.

Apple’s latest handset has an OLED screen which is genuinely usable outdoors, even in bright sunlight. You can read your ebook or catch up on your social-networking feed by the pool, something the traditional LCD in the iPad mini makes very challenging.

In this particular size comparison, the iPhone XS Max’s weakest area is games. It’s easily big enough for casual games, but it’s not the best experience for something like Fortnite. That said, we consider the iPad mini barely adequate for graphic-intensive gaming.. RPGs and other games with elaborate visuals really look better on a full-size iPad. Still, playing Hogwarts Mystery on a 6.5-inch XS Max is a far better experience than using the 5.5-inch screen in the iPhone 8 Plus.

Realistically, there’s not much of a difference in resolution between the phone and the tablet. Sure, the iPhone crams 458 pixels into each inch, while the iPad has “only” 324, but it takes a magnifying glass to see one is better than the other.

iPhone XS Max has far better performance

Apple computers don’t become obsolete anywhere near as quickly as rival devices, but remember the iPad mini 4 came out in 2015. It runs a 1.5 GHz, dual-core A8 processor with 2GB or RAM.

Compare that to the blazing-fast 2.49 GHz hexa-core A12 Bionic chip in the iPhone XS Max. And don’t forget the 4GB of RAM.

Benchmarks really show the difference between these two. Primate Labs’ Geekbench 4 test for multi-core performance gave the iPad mini 4 a 2,849, while Apple’s newest phone scored a 11,157. In a graphics test, the tablet scored 4,842 and the iPhone XS Max got 21,777. These two devices aren’t even in the same ballpark.

That said, processor speed doesn’t make a huge difference for ebooks or social networking. But you’ll see a big improvement with any kind of game. If your graphics-intensive shooter is painfully slow to load, try it on the XS Max.

Cost considerations

A direct comparison of the price of these two devices doesn’t make much sense in this case because anyone who has an iPad mini 4 is still going to need some model of iPhone. And that has to be included in the cost comparison.

Adding to the complication is the fact that Apple hasn’t released a new iPad mini since 2015. If you already have one  you can’t replace it with a better, faster 7.9-inch iPad. There isn’t one. And we really don’t recommend paying $399 for a device that’s very nearly obsolete.

But Apple used to sell the iPad mini by the million, so we’re assuming most of the people reading this article already have one and are now considering buying one of the 2018 iPhone models. So the question we’re trying to answer for people is, if you got an iPhone XS Max, could you quite worrying that you can’t get a good replacement for your old iPad mini? And our answer is: almost certainly.

iPhone XS Max is always with you

It’s typical to start out doing something in your iPhone, but then move to a larger device if the handset’s screen starts feeling cramped. You’ll find that doesn’t happen very often with the iPhone XS Max. You’ll read your email and check Instagram, or maybe read a chapter of the mystery you’re in the middle of, without it ever becoming worth the hassle of getting up to grab the iPad mini.

That said, the iPhone XS Max isn’t your best option for an afternoon of gaming. If you’re planning to regularly spend hours absorbed in a top-tier title, at least consider the 9.7-inch iPad that debuted this spring. It’s only $329, and is better than any iPhone or iPad mini for graphics-heavy play.

But neither iPad is anywhere near as portable as the iPhone XS Max. It’s a big phone, no doubt. It doesn’t fit in most women’s front trouser pockets. Still, it goes in men’s front pockets, and anyone can put it in a back pocket. The iPad mini 4, by contrast, isn’t pocketable at all. You’re going to need some kind of bag for it.

There’s an old saying: the best computer is the one you have with you. And you iPhone is always going to be with you. The iPad mini, on the other hand, is something extra you have to remember to bring.


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