Apple iPad mini 6th-gen unboxing and first impressions: the grown-up li’l slate

Hands-on with the new iPad mini

Apple unveiling the iPad mini 6th-generation at the iPhone launch event last month came as a pleasant surprise, at least as far as I am concerned. In fact, if you were to ask me, the new mini managed to steal some of the limelight away from the Cupertino major’s latest smartphones, which is no mean feat. That’s because the latest mini slate from Apple comes as a major overhaul, not just in terms of the usual core aspects like performance, but also in terms of design, connectivity, display size, and more.

First up, a line on the customary unboxing. I should point out that Apple has preserved the original unboxing experience with the new slate, since unlike the iPhones, the iPad mini 6th-gen package does include a cable and a wall charger. Now it’s time to take a closer look and see what the new baby slate brings with it.

The previous-generation iPad mini was introduced in 2019, and landing two years later, its successor has been given a thorough sprucing up in almost all departments. Just the fact that Apple has gotten rid of the physical home button cum TouchID from the front is big deal as far as the overall looks are concerned, enabling the product designers to shave off the bezels and add a larger screen into the same overall form factor. The mini, of course, has always been about giving you the signature iPad experience in a more portable, handy form factor, and the new model gets to do that with its 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, an upgrade over its predecessor’s 7.9-inch screen. In fact, the new iPad mini is actually small and lighter than its predecessor, despite the larger screen.

The home button is gone, yes, and instead, you get the same gesture-driven navigation available on the iPhones since the iPhone X. Apple putting the kibosh on the home button doesn’t mean there’s no TouchID though…. the fingerprint sensor now has a new home in the power button on top. Oh, and the Lightning port has given way to a USB Type-C, which lends itself to more flexibility in terms of both charging and connecting accessories. Stereo speakers are on board, along with dual mics to capture pristine audio for FaceTiming and calling via other apps. Speaking of, FaceTime includes Center Stage, which keeps you in the centre of the frame even while you move around during a video call. The 3.5mm headset jack is gone, and that’s a bummer… especially since tablet use cases gel well with wired headphones.

Handling FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, and their ilk, plus all the selfie shenanigans you might want to partake in, there’s a 12MP ultra-wide camera at front, offering a field of view of 122 degrees and an aperture of f/2.4. The rear gets a 12MP, f/1.8 snapper with a five-element lens, Smart HDR 3, and support for shooting in up to 4k at 60 fps. Now, tablets aren’t really made for serious shooting. But the iPad mini certainly has the portability, and from the looks of it, the photography chops to actually make that work if you’re so inclined. There’s support for the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil too, and if you do choose to buy one, you can attach it magnetically to the side of the tablet. Doing that actually juices up the Pencil too. The Apple Pencil of course, should come in handy for drawing, doodling, annotating and note-taking tasks, and the iPad mini’s handy form factor does make it quite conducive for some on-the-go creativity. You never know when that bulb above your head lights up, if you know what I mean.

Inside, there’s the new A15 Bionic chipset handling the performance. This is the same flagship SoC that powers Apple’s latest iPhone 13 lineup, and adds some serious number crunching abilities to the iPad mini 6th-gen. The chipset also adds to the machine learning capabilities, and the new 5-core GPU promises to handle not just games, but AR apps and other intensive tasks smoothly as well.

There’s 5G and eSIM support on the WiFi + Cellular model of the new iPad mini, ensuring you can stay online when out and about, and there’s Wi-Fi 6 for when you’re indoors. iPadOS 15 handles the software bit, and while I won’t get into all the details and goodies it brings, I do have to say that the app ecosystem for tablets does look much better on the iOS side of the fence as compared to Android.

I’ll have more details in my review, but based on the brief time I spent with it, the new iPad mini certainly comes across as a fun device. Of course, its starting price of Rs 46,900 (for the 64GB, Wi-Fi model) could be a point of contention, but I can tell you that the display looks great, the slate feels very smooth in terms of usage, and that new look with the slimmer bezels and the home button being MIA is quite nice. The tablet holds a lot of promise for sure, and if you do decide to come back to read my full review (in the works as you read this), you’ll be able to find out how well it delivers on that promise.