Apple iPad mini 6 (2021) review: the big mini

The new iPad mini is a compact powerhouse

I’d like to think that tablets have had a roller coaster of a ride over the years, but given how things are these days, the demand should be seeing an upward trajectory. Regardless, Apple’s iPads have ruled the premium end of the spectrum for a while, and not without good reason. They’re great for content consumption, offer solid battery life, and can handle serious work too. The iPad mini, due to its compact size, comes across as more of a fun gadget than a full-fledged entertainment or productivity device, but as I found out, there’s more to it than just that.

Welcome the iPad mini 6th-generation, Apple’s latest upgrade to its mini slate lineup. It’s a comprehensive upgrade too, with pretty much everything, including the design, display, performance, and cameras getting overhauled in the process. 

Design and display

First things first. The latest iPad mini features a revamped design that brings it in line with the iPad Air and the Pro. Its predecessor that was launched a couple of years ago sported a physical home button below the screen and a curvy back. The new iPad mini has gotten rid of all that and comes in a flat, blocky design that fits in a larger screen in a body slightly smaller than the older model.


The bezels have been shaved off and the Touch ID has moved up top (when held in portrait mode), giving you the same swipe-up-for-home gesture as the iPhones, the Air, and the Pro. The discrete volume buttons are placed on the same edge, with their placement feeling slightly odd given they appear on the top left when the device is held in portrait mode. I’d have preferred them to be on the right edge, but as it turns out, the right spine is reserved for something else. And that is the Apple Pencil. You see, the iPad mini supports the Apple Pencil 2nd-gen too, with the right side acting as the resting place and charging point for the said accessory, which attaches magnetically. The front camera is visible up top. Switch to the rear, and it’s a clean and minimalistic look that greets you, broken only by the camera bump on the top left. 


There are stereo speakers too, placed on opposite sides. The previous model had stereo speakers too, but they were both placed on one side. In the case of the new iPad mini, they’re on the top and bottom, and offer loud, rich sound… giving you stereo sound when the device is held in landscape… which is how you’ll hold it while watching videos or streaming content. 

Type-C port for charging? Yes. 3.5mm headset jack? Nope. The new iPad mini has gained in one aspect, and lost in another. There’s no Lightning port this time, and the Type-C port is a welcome addition. However, the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone… which is a bummer since a tablet should really have one I think.  

The display measures 8.3-inch this time, up from 7.9-inch in the previous generation. The 3:2 Liquid Retina IPS display offers a resolution of 2,266 x 1,488 pixels, and 500 nits brightness, and is quite capable overall. There’s no HDR goodness here though, or high refresh rate for that matter, but you do get True Tone support. 

Software


On the software side of things, you get the latest version of iPadOS, i.e. v15. It’s quite similar to iOS 15 of course, with the usual app icons spread across different home screens. The leftmost homescreen is reserved for the Today screen, while the rightmost screen is the App Library. The latter isn’t customisable in terms of the app categories etc, but otherwise, you can customise the homescreens as you like… using custom folders to sort your apps and adding widgets as you deem fit. The Control Center can be accessed by swiping down from the top right as usual, and you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen in any app to go to your homescreen.


There are a few ways iPadOS differs from iOS though. For example, there’s a dock at the bottom that shows recent apps and others you might want to have quick access to. There are a whole bunch of multitasking features thrown in as well. You can drag any app from the dock over an existing app to run it as a floating window. There’s a split-screen mode as well, accessible via the three tiny dots visible on top of the screen. Using one of the options that appear, you can snap an app towards the side of the screen, and then open another to run the two side by side. Split view also works by dragging an app thumbnail over another whilst in the recent apps view. You do need to keep in mind that the mini’s compact screen size doesn’t bode well for running multiple apps, and you’d probably be better off sticking to one app at a time. 

previous arrow
previous arrow
next arrow
next arrow
previous arrownext arrow
Slider


The latest version of iPadOS brings in tons of new features too. For one, Safari now opens websites in desktop view, and allows you to group tabs. FaceTime has received major upgrades as well, in an attempt to cash in on the popularity of video calls – there’s a grid view, and a feature called Center Stage that keeps you in the centre even when you move around. What’s more, non-Apple users can join FaceTime calls as well, using invite links that open in a browser. Another feature called SharePlay lets you listen to or watch content with others over FaceTime, and Focus Modes, which are essentially souped-up versions of profiles that let you define apps, homescreens, etc that can be active during certain hours of the day, for example. Many, I’m sure, will find the Live Text feature useful too. This lets you copy text from your camera viewfinder when you point it at any text, say on a signboard or a printed document, to the clipboard. It even works on images already saved in your camera roll. Now if only I had this when I was in college, copying notes off someone else would’ve become so much simpler. 

Apple Pencil


Now, the iPad mini might not be the ideal device if you want to thump out long emails or documents, just because of the small screen size. In fact, it doesn’t support Apple’s Magic Keyboard either, and while you do have the option of pairing and using a third-party Bluetooth keyboard with it, you might find the screen size a tad restrictive. On the other hand, you do get support for the Apple Pencil 2nd-generation, which is an optional accessory that attaches to the side of the slate magnetically for charging. Truth be told, the Apple iPad mini 6 is more of a fun device without the Pencil, but if you do choose to buy the stick, you’d notice how it adds an extra layer of seriousness and productivity to your usage.


With hardly any latency, the Pencil works smoothly and lets you draw and doodle to your heart’s content. The Apple Pencil 2nd-gen works well for those with a creative bent of mind, and those involved in creative work like photography, imaging, design, etc. It’s also great for those who like to jot down their thoughts and ideas, and those who need to annotate documents or images on a regular basis. The  Scribble feature lets you write in any text field, converting handwriting into text as you write… and this can be quite useful as well. However, do note you’d need to shell out Rs 10,900 for the Apple Pencil 2nd-gen, so you’d need to be sure it serves your purpose before you buy. Speaking of optional accessories, Apple also sells a Smart Folio cover for the iPad mini 6 in various hues, and it can be yours for Rs 5,500 if you want it. 

Cameras


Next up, the cameras. Now, I don’t remember the last time I used a tablet for shooting pictures, but the fact is that the mini’s handy form factor does work for that use case, at least better than larger, full-sized slates. One also needs to consider that while the front camera on a tablet might not find much use for clicking selfies, it does play an important role for video calls. Similarly, the rear camera could come in very useful when you want to capture something quickly, add comments / notes / annotations to the image using the Apple Pencil, and send it to someone. And from that perspective, the mini’s cameras work really well. The 12MP front snapper offers very good quality for video calls, and while you won’t find goodies like a dedicated night mode or even portrait mode, the 12MP sensor on the rear also does its job well. Photos shot in daylight look crisp and laden with detail, and low-light ones turn out decent, albeit a tad noisy.

previous arrow
previous arrow
next arrow
next arrow
previous arrownext arrow
Slider

Performance and battery

The new mini is actually quite big on performance, thanks to the latest Apple silicon that comes in the form of the new A15 Bionic. Yup, the very same SoC that powers the Apple iPhone 13 lineup. What this means in terms of real-world performance is that you can throw pretty much anything at the iPad mini 6th-gen, and it won’t break into sweat. The 5nm chipset brings in 5G support, a new neural engine, and a 5-core GPU, the same one found inside the Pro models of the iPhone 13. The processor doesn’t throttle much when stressed, and can offer sustained performance at peak loads. What this also means is that the mini 6th-generation should be good for a long, long time, as far as pure performance is concerned… making it a future-proof purchase.


The battery on the iPad mini is rated to last for up to 10 hours of continuous use, and I think it’s a fair assessment of the battery life you can expect. With intermittent usage involving streaming, web browsing and some gaming, I could stretch the battery life to about 3 days, but on days with heavier usage, the battery levels dipped to about 30 percent by the time I hit the sack. So if your usage is heavy, you can expect the battery to last you about a day, or a day and a half. Thankfully, Apple doesn’t skimp on a charger here, and the retail box includes a 20W charger. Using this and the bundled Type-C cable, the mini can be juiced up fully in about a couple of hours.

Verdict 


The iPad mini 6th-generation is priced starting at Rs 46,900, and this is for the 64GB, Wi-Fi only model. Adding Cellular to the mix bumps up the price to Rs 60,900. The top-end model with 256 gigs of storage, Wi-Fi + Cellular, goes up to Rs 74,900, and I haven’t factored in the cost of the Pencil yet. Suffice it to say, the new mini’s pricing isn’t so mini. It’s also very clear in my mind that the iPad mini is a capable, all-round device, scoring high on performance and usability. It doesn’t really have any competition, except from its own, larger siblings. There’s the latest iPad that offers a 10.2-inch display, comes powered by the two generations old A13 Bionic, and costs Rs 30,900 onwards. Then, there’s the iPad Air with a 10.9-inch display, powered by last year’s A14 Bionic chipset, and carrying a sticker price of Rs 54,900 for the base model. Whether the new iPad mini is for you or not depends on your use cases. If your usage is mostly at home or office, or involves a ton of productivity tasks or streaming, an iPad with a larger screen would be more apt. Where the iPad mini 6 shines, is on-the-go usage. If you covet a powerful slate that you can use while travelling, commuting, while outdoors, or just need something you can whip out at the drop of a hat when that bulb lights up above your head, the iPad mini 6 fits the bill perfectly.

Editor’s rating: 4 / 5

Pros

  • Great for on-the-go use
  • Smooth performance
  • Apple Pencil 2 support
  • USB Type-C

Cons

  • Pricey
  • No headphone jack
  • No support for Magic Keyboard