iPad Mini 3 Review: Just Get The iPad Mini 2…

Reviews Richard Goodwin 11:16, 15 Jan 2015

An odd release from Apple that kind of makes us think this will be the LAST iPad Mini...

Typical Price: 
Pretty much exactly the same as last year's model, save for the new Gold colour option and TouchID
No updated camera; No updated CPU; None of the iPad Air 2's screen improvements included; No NFC;
The iPad Mini 3 is a gorgeous, beautifully crafted tablet and it houses one of the best tablet ecosystems around. However, it is far too similar to last year's model and, for this reason, cannot be considered an update. Save some money and go for the iPad Mini 2.

Apple's a company that sticks to its guns for a long time - it said there would never be a cheaper iPhone, it said there would never be a larger display iPhone. It's said a whole bunch of stuff over the years about what it won't do, and then waited until it thought we'd all forgotten before backtracking, or until overwhelming consumer demand forces its hand.

Another one of those instances was the iPad Mini. Way back when, in the era of Steve Jobs, the company said it would never make a smaller iPad. We all know how that turned out of course, and now we're looking at the third-generation of miniaturised Apple tablet; the iPad Mini 3.

The iPad Air 2 is probably the best tablet money can buy right now. It has the power, the specs, the design, and the ecosystem. And iOS 8 niggles aside, offers a pretty seamless user experience. The iPad Mini 3, as the name suggests, is essentially a smaller version of Apple’s more popular 9.7in model – or, at least that’s what you’re supposed to think.

But while there are a lot of similarities, there are also plenty of differences that are well worth noting, as we’ll discuss in more detail below. I'd also mention right now that the only real difference between the iPad Mini 3 and last year’s iPad Mini 2 is that the newer model now comes with a gold colour variant and has TouchID installed in the Home button. That’s it. And, no, I'm not kidding.

In that context the iPad Mini faces very real questions of redundancy - with the emergence of the iPhone 6 Plus, the continued shrinking of the 9.7in iPad Air, and the apparent development of a larger iPad Pro, is there room for an iPad Mini 3, particularly as so little has changed? By now you may have already glanced at the star rating for this review and be wondering how we could have given such a score. Well there are no spoilers here, you'll just have to read on to find out...

iPad Mini 3 Review: Design

The iPad Mini 3 looks just like the iPad Mini 2, and that’s just fine because it really is a gorgeous piece of kit. Constructed from high-quality aluminium and featuring those now-trademark chamfered edges, the iPad Mini 3 looks as fresh and premium as ever. It’s perfectly proportioned too, and has excellent balance across its chassis, making it ideal for situations where one-handed use might be required (a packed tube, for instance).

Thing is, Apple’s iPad Air series is now so compact and lightweight, you could say the exact same thing about Apple’s larger counterpart. And herein lies the problem for the iPad Mini 3: who is it designed for and what is its purpose? Prior to the iPad Air, this question was easy enough to answer –– it was an iPad for people that wanted a smaller iPad. But in world with the iPad Air 2 and the iPhone 6 Plus knocking around, the place of the iPad Mini doesn’t seem quite so certain. 

I understand a lot of people prefer smaller tablets, so in this respect the iPad Mini 3 certainly has a market. But, again, we have yet another problem here; last year’s model is just as good and costs A LOT less than this one, which begs the question: is TouchID and a new colour option worth an extra £100? In a word: no, not at all (even more so when you factor in that Apple Pay isn’t set to launch in the UK until at least mid-2015 and it will only work online with Apple's tablets as they don't have NFC).

iPad Mini 3 Review: Display

As noted above, the iPad Mini 3 uses exactly the same Retina panel as the iPad Mini 2 –– AKA the iPad Mini with Retina. It’s a 7.9in 2048 x 1536 pixel screen with a pixel density of 324ppi - this combination delivers exceptional results, thanks to its tightly packed pixels and excellent colour reproduction. The size of the slate makes it an ideal choice for web browsing, watching media on the move and reading eBooks.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Apple didn’t include any of the iPad Air 2’s display improvements. I don’t know why this is the case, but part of me thinks it is because the company is beginning to view the iPad Mini as a product with limited shelf life – yep, this could be the last iPad Mini. And the reasons for this are myriad, but perhaps the most compelling is the introduction of the iPhone 6 Plus, the shrinking of the main iPad, and the rumoured arrival of a larger, iPad Pro in 2015. If the latter does turn out to be true, I personally don’t see Apple continuing on with the iPad Mini. 

iPad Mini 3 Review: Hardware, CPU & Connectivity

A7 & M7 Coprocessor

Again, what you get with the iPad Mini 3 is the same deal as last year’s tablet, meaning an A7 chipset –– the same as the iPhone 5s’ ––, 1GB of RAM and, of course, that motion-tracking M7 coprocessor. The A7 chipset is plenty powerful too, offering up more than enough grunt for the type of things you’re going to be doing on the tablet. But, again, you can get last year’s model for £100 less now, so unless you LOVE gold and TouchID, it really is a no brainer in this regard which model to go for. 

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 

Supporting both LTE and dual-channel Wi-Fi (MIMO), the iPad Mini 3 is fully setup and ready to go when it comes to data. It can also handle 5GHz frequencies too, which, if you have a fairly modern router in your home, means faster speeds and a more consistent connection. The Wi-Fi only model is, of course, cheaper and the LTE version, again, like the iPad Air 2, ships with Apple SIM –– and you better put a SIM in too, because the damn thing will remind you EVERY day about setting up a plan.

Like the previous model, the iPad Mini 3 comes with Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) ready and raring to go for all your pairing needs. AirPlay and AirDrop also comes as standard inside iOS, allowing for quick sharing between two or more Apple products, say, your iPad and Apple TV. 

iPad Mini 3 Review: Camera

Apple has left the iPad Mini 3’s camera well alone, meaning you get the same 5Mp iSight setup found in last year’s iPad Mini 2. It’s a decent enough camera for a tablet, although it would have been nice –– seeing as this is an update, after all –– for Apple to bring across the updated 8MP setup it included on the iPad Air 2. 

Imaging is important to a lot of people, so this would have been one area where Apple could have made some helpful changes. I seldom use tablets as a camera, but I’ve seen plenty of people doing it all over the world and A LOT of them were using iPad Mini slates. This, out of everything else, seems like a bit of a no brainer to me –– it’d also go a long way in justifying why this model is £100 more expensive than last year’s.

iPad Mini 3 Review: Battery

Apple says the iPad Mini 3 will do 10 hours with normal usage, but this is slightly vague. I mean, what the hell is NORMAL USAGE anyway and, more importantly, how do you quantify it? As it turns out, Apple has kind of underestimated the battery life; no doubt a deliberate ploy done to impress reviewers. In my testing I managed to eke out a good 11.5 hours. But this, again, is sort of misleading because who, save for serial battery testers, uses their tablet for 10 or 11 hours straight? Not me! 

I kind of charge my tablet and then leave it either A) in my bag or B) around my home. I pick it up once in a while and check things, respond to emails and surf the web. This is what I’d define as normal usage, and throughout the past two weeks the iPad Mini 3 consistently lasts around three or four days before requiring a charge.  Similarly, in our Django Test, the slate scored an impressive 68% –– not bad when you consider the larger model only scored in the low-70s.

iPad Mini 3 Review: Verdict 

This is pretty simple: if you want a smaller iPad just get the iPad Mini 2. End of.

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