2021 iPad mini review roundup: Splendidly small yet super-powerful

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2021 iPad mini
If you want a small tablet, iPad mini is the best there is.
Photo: Apple

The 2021 iPad mini looks like a spectacular upgrade over its predecessors, with an edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display, Apple’s newest A15 Bionic chip and features like USB-C connectivity. But is it worth your hard-earned cash?

Find out right here in our review roundup.

2021 iPad mini review roundup

Spoiler alert: Yes, the 2021 iPad mini is worth every penny of its $499 price tag. Critics love its form factor, which, despite being small enough to go with you everywhere, still leaves enough room for productivity, games and media.

They’re also impressed by its power and its gloriously sharp, beautifully colorful 8.3-inch screen. But there is room for improvement.

Luscious Liquid Retina

Let’s start with that screen. It’s slightly larger than the 7.8-inch display packed into earlier iPad mini models, and just as impressive as that found in the latest iPad Air. It packs Apple’s True Tone technology and it’s compatible with Apple Pencil 2.

“The real star is the 8.3-inch Liquid Retina Display,” wrote Jacob Krol for CNN Underscored. “In our testing, colors were accurate with a bit more vibrancy and deeper contrast points over the previous iPad Mini. Images look realistic and when taking in a video, content flows naturally across the display.”

That new screen also wins points for its brightness.

“The display is super-crisp and bright, with excellent viewing angles and low reflectivity, which makes using it in direct light easier,” wrote Samuel Gibbs for The Guardian. “The screen is excellent and big enough to be usable for most things despite the tablet’s almost-pocketable size.”

“At 326 ppi (with a new resolution of 2266 x 1488) compared to the Air’s 264 ppi, text on the iPad mini looks much crisper – and thus legible at small sizes – than on the iPad Air (or iPad Pro for that matter, which also carries a 264 ppi display),” wrote Federico Viticci of MacStories. “If you’re looking for the most portable iPad that can deliver the sharpest, most enjoyable visual representation of onscreen text, the iPad mini is it.”

A splendidly small size

Because that larger Liquid Retina screen is flanked by significantly thinner bezels, the new iPad mini’s overall footprint has hardly increased at all. So, if you’re not interested in tablets that are too big to take with you everywhere you go, the 2021 iPad mini may be perfect for you.

“The form-factor and weight distribution is akin to an A5 Moleskin notebook or Amazon Kindle, which makes the iPad mini ideal for one-handed use,” wrote Stuart Miles for Pocket-lint. “In use that 8.3-inch screen is great, just the right size to enjoy a show on Netflix, read a lengthy article on the web, or doodle something with the Apple Pencil.”

“It’s small enough to throw into most bags or freely carry around with you. I had no problem squeezing it next to my laptop on my small desk crammed with tchotchkes, beverages, and notebooks,” wrote Brenda Stolyar for Wired. “It’s the perfect size for traveling.”

“Even though you can use an iPad Air as, well, a portable tablet, I still believe the new mini is a more pleasant experience for the things a tablet should excel at – reading, watching videos, casually browsing the web, and playing games,” wrote MacStories’ Viticci.

A portable powerhouse

Some might wonder why Apple’s smallest iPad is priced at a rather eye-watering $499. That’s because inside its tiny form factor, you’ll find some of Cupertino’s latest technologies — including the A15 Bionic chip. And, as we’ve come to expect from Apple’s newest silicon, it’s super-speedy.

“The iPad Mini belies the general notion that a smaller device correlates to fewer features or less power,” said Krol. “It’s capable in a way that many other smaller size tablets aren’t. A Fire HD 7 or Fire HD 8, likely couldn’t handle the full production of a movie or batch out image edits in the same vein.”

“The A15’s CPU is anywhere from 40 to 60 percent as fast as the A12 in our benchmarks, depending on the test, which is an excellent improvement if you’re swapping out the last-gen mini for a new one,” wrote Andrew Cunningham for Ars Technica.

“Prior to the 6th-gen model, the Mini lineup’s only real selling point was its portability. It’s still the marquee feature, but the Mini is no longer the runt of the iPad lineup—at least when it comes to performance,” wrote Caitlin McGarry for Gizmodo. “The A15 Bionic easily sails past the fifth-gen Mini’s A12 Bionic chip, but it also holds its own with the fourth-gen iPad Air on synthetic benchmarks.”

Battery life could be better

There is one downside to iPad mini’s smaller form factor, and that’s its battery life. While it’s likely to get you through a full day of average use, it certainly can’t match its larger siblings in longevity between charges.

“Sadly, battery life struggled,” wrote Stolyar for Wired. “I managed to squeeze about five hours out of it, so almost a full workday … Unless you’re using it lightly, don’t expect it to last from 9 to 5.”

“Apple promises up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching videos or listening to music,” wrote Todd Haselton for CNBC. “I found those claims are pretty accurate, using the device for about three hours per night three nights in a row for reading and browsing Reddit before I needed to recharge it.”

“With how much I was using the device, I essentially had to charge it every other day,” said Valentina Palladino for Engadget. “The mini lasted an entire afternoon and evening filled with doodling, video streaming, emailing, light gaming and more … and I was able to use it most of the next day before the battery life dropped to around 10 percent.”

2021 iPad mini: The verdict

So, that’s what reviewers have to say about iPad mini’s improvements. But would they recommend one?

“If you know you want an iPad mini you probably already know you want one — but if you’re on the fence, this is everything the iPad Air has to offer and more in a smaller package with all of the latest muscle,” wrote Manish Singh for TechCrunch. “Very enticing on the whole.”

“If you have an old iPad Mini, any old iPad Mini, then upgrading is a no-brainer,” wrote Stolyar. “The small iPad you love is still small, but it’s now future-proofed with flagship features and a fresh design.”

“I consider the new iPad mini the truest expression of a portable, handheld tablet to date,” wrote Viticci. “I find the new iPad mini a more enjoyable tablet for certain tasks in which the iPad Pro feels overkill.”

“What I’m saying is, the iPad mini is a completely capable iPad,” said Jason Snell of Six Colors. “It’ll do what you want it to do. It’s just small and light and therefore ultra-portable. That’s what makes it such an excellent filler of ecological niches—it just fits.”

“If you’re a fan of the iPad Mini, or have always wanted a smaller iPad, then yes, the iPad Mini is a good buy,” concluded Haselton. “I’ve always owned the smaller iPad and this is a nice big upgrade to the aging fifth-generation model.”

iPad mini available now

Want one of your own? The 2021 iPad mini is available to order now from Apple and it starts shipping this Friday, September 24. However, new customers currently face a lengthy wait (the latest estimates say November) for delivery.

We recommend keeping an eye on Amazon, where stock may appear sooner, and discounts of up to $39 are currently available.