What's Not: No 3D Touch, no significant upgrade to the front camera, no hardware mute/screen rotation lock slide switch.
Reviewed September 22, 2015. Written review by Tom Slayton, video review by Lisa Gade, Editor
in Chief (twitter: @lisagade).
Like many people, I skipped last year's underwhelming upgrade of the iPad Mini. The problem for me was that I already owned an iPad Mini 2, and other than the inclusion of Touch ID, the iPad Mini 3 was unchanged from the previous model. Not so the iPad Mini 4.
The first thing you'll notice about Apple's latest mini tablet is the display. The colors are better and it looks brighter compared to previous models. This is because, for the first time, Apple has included a laminated display in their iPad Mini line. This means that the three distinct layers of its display (LCD, touch sensor, and glass cover) are bonded together. This eliminates air gaps between the components, which improves brightness and color accuracy. In fact, according to Displaymate, the color gamut of the iPad Mini 4 now clocks in at 101% with an impressive 2.0% screen reflectance score. These numbers bring it into line with all recent iPad and iPhone models. For comparison, the iPad Mini 3 had a disappointing 62% color gamut and a screen reflectance score of 6.5%! Of course, the tradeoff here is repairability. Due to the laminated display, iFixit has given the iPad Mini a repairability score of 2 out of 10, which is not particularly surprising for something this thin and light.
The next thing you'll notice is how much leaner the iPad Mini 4 is. At about 20% thinner and 10% lighter, you may not think you'll be able to feel the difference, but you will. Of course, adding a bulky case to your device like I do pretty much makes it impossible to tell the difference, but if you like to use your device as Apple intended, you will appreciate these changes. Apple accomplished most of this by reducing the battery size, which, in-turn, was likely possible due to a more energy efficient processor and display. Compared to the iPad Mini 3, the Mini 4's battery is almost 20% smaller. Apple's tech specs assure us that there has been no loss of battery life, which I can verify after a week of regular use. Why did they do it? Apple hasn't commented of course, but it seems likely that they felt a thinner/lighter iPad was a more substantial upgrade than a few extra hours of battery life. Personally, I would have preferred the extra capacity.
Some of the most significant upgrades to the iPad Mini 4 are its CPU, motion coprocessor, and RAM. Moving from the A7 line to the A8 should bring you about a 20% speed boost, and the extra 1GB of RAM makes it possible to run applications side-by-side or watch video (FaceTime and the Apple Video app) in a floating window. The former will be a godsend for content creators, and the latter for content consumers. Being able to run two apps simultaneously or watch my movie/TV show in a small window while I respond to an email or work in a browser is surprisingly satisfying. Once you try it, there will be no going back (as some Samsung Galaxy phone and tablet owners already know).
The last of the significant upgrades to the iPad Mini 4 is the rear (iSight) camera. With an 8MP sensor and better internals, the new Mini is now on par with the iPhone 5s; which means HDR and burst-mode photos, and slow-motion video. The front camera (FaceTime) has a few sensor tweaks but is largely unchanged.
Lastly, you may also notice improvements to wireless performance thanks to the new 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2. Keep in mind that you will need devices that support these protocols for you to see any benefit. Both are completely backwards compatible with previous hardware iterations. There's still no NFC on the tablet, despite the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and tie in to online shopping. It seems Apple doesn't want us waving tablets about at point of sale systems in stores.
Deals and Shopping:
iPad mini 4 Video Review
Geekbench 3: 1719/3111
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited:
While Apple has improved almost everything over previous models, it has also conspicuously left out this year's big technology: 3D Touch, which currently isn't available on any Apple tablet. There was also a minor casualty in this year's product refresh: the mute/rotation lock slide switch. Like the iPad Air 2, this feature is now accessible via the Control Panel (slide up from the bottom of the screen to access). This isn't a huge loss as many 3rd party Apps and websites choose to ignore this setting anyway (I'm looking at you, YouTube).
While a worthy upgrade over its predecessor, the iPad Mini 4 is all about making it better, rather than the top of Apple's tablet lineup. With tablet sales on the decline, Apple seems to be hedging its bet by offering cutting edge processors and best in class cameras only on its top-tier 12.9" tablet. On the upside, this is also keeping prices down on their consumer devices. This may turn out to be a good move as Apple has always led the field in performance and design, but has never competed at the low end. Perhaps by using previous generation components (which are still excellent when compared to the competition), the price/performance ratio of their consumer tablets may begin to resonate with cost-conscious consumers who have grown tired of tablets with impressive looking specs that underperform in daily use.
Price: starting at $399. Cellular adds $130. Each storage increment raises price $100.
Display: 7.9” laminated IPS with multi-touch. 2048 x 1536 resolution (326 ppi). Fingerprint resistant coating. Has an accelerometer, ambient light sensor and 3-axis gyroscopic sensor.
Processor: 1.5GHz Apple A8 dual core CPU with M8 motion co-processor. 2 gigs RAM.
Network: Wi-Fi model: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with MIMO; AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon models add 3G and 4G LTE for data. All models have Bluetooth 4.2 and use Apple's new Lightning 8 pin connector for USB. Cellular model supports the following LTE bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 38, 39, 40, 41.
GPS: Cellular models have GPS with GLONASS as well as digital compass. WiFi models use WiFi-based location triangulation.
Cameras: Front and rear cameras. Back 8MP camera can record up to 1080p 30fps video and front 1.2MP camera can record 720p video. Rear camera has an f/2.4 lens, front camera has an f/2.2 lens. Both cameras have a BSI and face detection. Auto HDR, time lapse, burst, slow motion and panorama features are standard.
Storage: 16GB, 64GB or 128 gigs internal flash storage.
Size: 8.0 x 5.3 x 0.24 inches. Weight: 10.5 ounces (298.8 grams).
Battery: Rechargeable 19.1 watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Not user replaceable. Claimed usage time: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using 3G/4G data network. Ships with 10 watt charger.