iPad Mini (2019) review: The best small tablet, but not for everyone

Posted: 11 April 2019 12:09 pm News

The new Apple iPad Mini has a fantastic design and plenty of power, but Apple's array of iPad choices mean this is a tablet only for a very few.

Quick Verdict
If you favour a smaller tablet, the 2019 iPad Mini is an easy recommendation. However, it's worth considering the high asking price, because you may be much better off with the new iPad Air or even 2018's regular iPad instead.

The good

  • A12 processor provides plenty of power.
  • Good battery life.
  • Pencil support.

The bad

  • Pencil is a bit large for such a small display.
  • Still uses a lightning connector.
  • No expandable storage.
  • Other iPad options may be better.


It was something of a surprise when Apple announced the new iPad Mini prior to its "It's show time" event recently. Apple had, it seemed, shifted away from the Mini and Air generation to selling just regular "iPad" and "Pro" models.

With the Apple iPad Mini (2019), it's incorporating the technology found in the Apple iPhone XR, which means it's a seriously powerful device. It's also just about the only powerful and small tablet you can buy. The question that needs answering in its case is whether or not that's enough for Apple's premium asking price.


Apple iPad Mini 2019 Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple iPad 2018: Design

  • Compact and easy to carry.
  • Headphone jack present and correct.
  • Lightning connector, not USB C.
  • TouchID sensor, not FaceID.

The Apple iPad Mini sits in its own tiny niche within the current iPad ecosystem by the very nature of it being the smallest of Apple's current line-up.

There's definitely something to be said for a smaller tablet, especially if you're only carrying around a small shoulder bag or similar. Measuring in at 203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1mm and weighing either 300.5 or 308.2g (Wi-Fi/LTE models) it's very easy to carry around wherever you are.

However, from a style perspective this is still very much an iPad Mini. I've still got a working original generation iPad Mini – Apple builds its products to last – and besides an almost imperceptible thickness and height difference and the removal of a mute switch, there's really not that much to pick between them when powered down.

The iPad Mini almost feels like a throwback device for Apple

The iPad Mini almost feels like a throwback device for Apple on the surface, given that it features an actual headphone jack, even though Apple is convinced we don't need those for iPhones any more.

Likewise, there's a front facing TouchID sensor, rather than the FaceID approach found on the newer iPad Pro devices. That's totally a taste call as to whether you prefer facial unlocking or a physical home button. From a design perspective, it does mean that the iPad Mini still has noticeable bezels around the body of the 7.9 inch display.

The iPad Mini shares a lot in common with the Apple iPhone XR, right down to your colour choices. You can officially have the iPad Mini 2019 in the familiar Silver, Space Grey or Gold finishes. Silver and Space Grey iPad Minis have white front bezels, while the Space Grey model has a more severe black bezel style.

Apple has shown it can embrace the convenient USB C standard for its iPad Pro line, but the iPad Mini retains the use of Apple's own proprietary Lightning connector. The chances are decent if you're a long term Apple fan that you already have a few Lightining cables around. Still, it does feel like a missed opportunity for Apple not to have embraced USB C more widely for greater device compatibility.

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Apple iPad Mini 2019 Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple iPad 2018: Camera

  • 8MP camera delivers simple but not stunning photos.
  • Tablet photography is still pretty awkward.
  • 7MP Facetime camera works well.

Using your tablet as a camera isn't an ideal approach under most circumstances, although at least the smaller size of the iPad Mini makes it easier to hold for steady photos.

At the rear you'll find a single 8MP f/2.4 camera lens, which pairs up with Apple's own camera app on iOS. As with all things iOS it's easy enough to use, but you're really only going to want to use it if there's no other option and the lighting conditions are pretty good already. Then you can get decent, if not stunning photos.

iPad Mini 2019 Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The same is true of the front-facing 7MP selfie camera

iPad Mini 2019 Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

The key reason that Apple places a camera on the front isn't really selfies, but instead the use of its own Facetime app. That's why it calls it the "Facetime" camera, after all, and here the iPad Mini shines, because it's pretty easy to hold and make video calls to your Facetime-connected chums. Don't tell Apple, but you can also use other video calling services such as Skype or Facebook Messenger with it too.

However, push the iPad Mini's camera into low light situations and it falls apart almost immediately. To demonstrate this, I took a photo of one of my games shelves with the overhead light on.

iPad Mini 2019 Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

I then switched the light off, and took a quick snap with the Apple iPhone XS Max. Now, that's a much more expensive device, but it's using the same operating system and camera app, and as my own tests have shown, it's actually not a particularly good low light performer against its Android competition. It's blurry, but this shot is more to give you an idea of what you'd expect to see with the naked eye.

iPad Mini 2019 Sample Photo Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

That's not great, but it's a lot better than the iPad Mini could manage.

Picture not described: iPadMini_SamplePhoto1_finder_738x410.jpg Image: Getty

Where exactly did the shelf go?

The practical upshot here is that when the light dims, you may as well forget about that rear facing camera.

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Apple iPad Mini 2019 Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple iPad 2018: Performance

  • A12 Bionic delivers plenty of power.
  • Apple still has a substantial lead in tablet apps.
  • There's not much that pushes the processor heavily.
  • Small screen for video watching.
  • Pencil works, but it feels large.
  • Still no expandable storage.
  • Dual SIM, but only one works properly in Australia.

When the original iPad launched, some critics derided it as simply a "huge iPod Touch". Taking that view into consideration, you could consider the iPad Mini 2019 as a huge Apple iPhone XR. They've both got an Apple A12 Bionic processor running affairs, and that's still a great mobile processor. Apple doesn't officially reveal RAM details for any of its products, but iFixit's teardown reveals that it's running on 3GB of RAM, again identical to the iPhone XR.

It's a combination that means any available iOS app will run, and quite well. Apple's market position in tablets and strong control over both the hardware and software in the iPad Mini means that its tablet apps run much better than on the few competing Android tablets left.

Apple's fitted a mighty engine to its tablets, but so far there's really not much that pushes the engine heavily.

The Apple iPad Mini 2019 has the same challenge that I've found with the iPad Pro lines. Apple has fitted a mighty engine to its tablets, but so far there's really not much that pushes the engine heavily. That's even more apparent in a device like the iPad Mini, because this is still very clearly a media consumption device first and foremost, not a productivity tool.

The Apple iPad Mini 2019 features a 7.9 inch "Retina" display, but then "Retina" is just pure Apple marketing speak. It's got a 2,048 x 1,536 resolution LCD panel with 326 pixels per inch and really good colour reproduction.

That makes it great as a web, social media or eBook reader, but arguably a little small for video watching. It's not that you'll squint per se, but if you gave me the choice for video watching between the iPad Mini or the new iPad Air – or even last year's basic iPad – I'd go the larger iPad in a heartbeat.

All of Apple's current crop of iPads work with the Apple Pencil, although you've got to be careful to select the right Apple Pencil. Confused? That's because Apple has two models. There's the magnetically attaching, USB-C based Apple Pencil for iPad Pro owners, and then the older Lightning connected, non-magnetic variant. The Apple iPad Mini 2019 uses the latter variant, and the USB C model won't even pair with it.

The Apple Pencil functions, and while I have the artistic talent of a dead goat, I can see the potential as a quick sketch pad.

iPad Mini 2019 Sample Drawing Image: Alex Kidman/Finder
There's a reason Finder hires me to write words, not paint pictures.

Again, though, the smaller size of the iPad Mini may be a challenge for artists, if only because the pencil is longer than the iPad Mini screen. The larger iPads feel like a more natural fit in the hand, and I kept wishing that Apple made an Apple Pencil Stub version to fit the iPad Mini better. Then again, that would make three Apple Pencils, and that's maybe too many.

Apple remains resolute that you will love the quantity of storage on an iPad and no more whatsoever. There's no way to officially add storage to the iPad Mini Air, so you need to ensure that whatever apps you want to place on it will fit into either 64GB or 256GB of storage.

Apple sells the iPad Mini 2019 in either a Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) or Wi-Fi+Cellular variant. The latter is technically dual SIM, but like the recent iPhone models, the second SIM is one of Apple's embedded eSIM models. The bad news here for Australian buyers is that no Australian telco currently supports Apple eSIM outside the Apple Watch, so the only way you'll be able to use it is with international services while you're travelling. That's not exactly Apple's fault of course, and you can still throw in a regular nano SIM into its single slot if you opt for the Wi-Fi+Cellular model.

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Apple iPad Mini 2019 Image: Alex Kidman/Finder

Apple iPad 2018: Battery life

  • iPad Mini lives up to Apple's 10 hour battery promise.

To put it impolitely, Apple is not exactly synonymous with great battery life. Call any iPhone user, and you'd better do so in the morning, because the odds are good by the afternoon their phone may have gone flat. As such, Apple's own battery claims are often the most rubbery when it comes to real world testing.

Thankfully that's not the case with the Apple iPad Mini. Apple's preferred metric is to say that it's good for "up to" 10 hours of usage. That's always going to be variable depending on your usage, with more processor-heavy applications such as gaming having a bigger draw than using it for music playback, for example.

To test this out, I ran the Apple iPad Mini through Geekbench 4's battery test. It's not strictly designed for tablet devices, but it returned a pleasing battery score of 5,900 and a battery rundown time just 10 minutes shy of 10 hours. That's decent for a sustained battery draw scenario, and pretty good overall for such a small device.

You won't always see a full 10 hours out of the iPad Mini, but it does mean you shouldn't run out of juice too quickly. Charging is via the Lightning connector at the base. The supplied 10W charger in the box does a solid job of topping up its battery when needed.

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Apple iPad Mini 2019 Image: Finder

Apple iPad Mini 2019: Verdict

  • The best choice for small tablets.
  • But the regular iPad or iPad Air might be an even better bet.

You're not awash with high quality choices when it comes to small tablets, and within that context, the Apple iPad Mini 2019 stands truly alone and at the top of the pile. Most of the other small tablet options are budget devices with nowhere near the design flair or power of the iPad Mini 2019.

However, if you look at it from the context of Apple's existing iPad line-up, I think it's a much less compelling proposition.

There's not much inherently wrong with the iPad Mini 2019, but you could score the larger, cheaper and only slightly heavier regular iPad (2018 edition) for a significant sum less, with pricing starting at $469. Yes, it's got a less powerful processor, but the overall battery life tends to be better, and there's precious little in a content consumption sense that needs the full power of the A12 Bionic just yet.

Even if you did crave that raw power, you should probably consider the larger Apple iPad Air, with pricing starting at $779. It's a touch more expensive, but it'll work better with the Apple Pencil, give you an even better video experience and support for Apple's Smart Keyboard too.

Apple iPad 2018: Pricing and availability

The Apple iPad Mini sells in 64GB and 256GB variants, with either Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi+Cellular (ie 4G LTE) compatibility.

The new 2019 iPad is available to purchase outright through Apple or its reseller network now at the following price points:

Apple iPad Mini 2019 Pricing Wi-Fi Wi-Fi+Cellular
Apple iPad Mini 64GB $599 $799
Apple iPad Mini 256GB $819 $1,019
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Apple iPad Mini 2019: What the other reviewers say

Site Comment Score
Mashable "It's still the best small tablet there is." 4/5
Laptop Mag " The new iPad mini is the most powerful and versatile small tablet for the money, complete with Apple Pencil support, though the design is a bit dated." 4/5
Engadget "Apple's bare minimum still beats everybody else." 85/100
MacWorld "There are some compromises here, but as an all-round package this is vastly appealing." 4.5/5
The Verge "Sometimes smaller is better." 8.5/10
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Specifications

Product Name
Apple iPad Mini (2019)
Display
7.9in
Resolution
2048x1536 pixels
ppi
326ppi
Software
iOS 12
Storage
64/256GB
RAM
3GB
Battery
19.1Wh
Front camera
7MP
Rear camera
8MP f/2.4
Processor
Apple A12 Bionic
Size
203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1mm
Weight
300.5/308.2g
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