Apple iPad Mini 6 (2021) Review: A Near-Perfect Tablet That Fills a Market Gap

Category: Tech

I’ve often been confused about owning an iPad. Back when the first generation iPad Pro was released, I was excited about the prospect of a slim tablet replacing my rather bulky work laptop. In about a year that I used it, I tried to overlook its flaws for the benefits, but software wise, tablets just weren’t ready to replace a full-scale desktop OS. Since then, a lot has changed – the world has seen a pandemic, Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to Manchester United, and I have come to realise that my perspective towards tablets might have been skewered. The latter, in large part, has happened in the past two weeks, thanks to the Apple iPad Mini 6, or iPad Mini 2021 – whatever you’d like to call it.

The iPad Mini 6 is a balance of screen size, form factor and portability, an important formula that frequent travellers would prioritise once the pandemic recedes. It has also made me realise that the purpose of a tablet is not just to replace a laptop, but fill its absence. Before you jump to conclusions, I also believe that Apple should have made a keyboard for the iPad Mini 6 to fill the laptop’s absence better, but once you start spending time with it, you’d realise that this does you more good than bad. Here’s why.

Form factor and portability: Almost pocketable

To state that the iPad Mini 6 is compact is to state the obvious – it is, after all, from the ‘Mini’ family of Apple’s hardware. You get an 8.3-inch display on a tablet that is 7.7 inches in height, and 5.3 inches in width. It is also 6.3mm thick, and weighs 297 grams for the cellular version, which is what we have with us. In comparison, the new Apple iPhone 13 Pro is 7.7mm thick and weighs 205 grams. The latter feels heavier in-hand because on the iPad, the weight is not proportionately higher, and is better distributed too.

All of this makes the iPad Mini 6 one of the easiest to carry, and you can stow it anywhere in your bag without worrying. It is easy to grip and operate with one hand, especially with an Apple Smart Folio cover slapped on. On desks, the iPad Mini 6 is a good second display to add to compact laptops without it taking up a lot of space, helping you to avoid switching between windows and tabs constantly, when writing. This actually helps reduce distractions, and its compact footprint means it’s great for small or loaded desks.

On the move, the iPad Mini 6 is about the right size to watch a movie on, without being too small or distractingly large. Holding it with one hand isn’t painful, and operating it is convenient and ergonomic. It does, however, feel a bit cramped if you’re watching a game of football on it at home, but can’t turn on the TV because everyone else has slept. The 10.9-inch display of the new generation iPad Air is perfect for this.

Design and ergonomics: The best part of the iPad Mini 6

Apple’s claim of an “all screen” design is a bit of a stretch as far as all-screen designs are concerned, for the 8.3-inch Liquid Retina panel of the iPad Mini 6 is flanked by thick but impressively even bezels. The new generation design makes it look modern, and the circular home button that’s still on Apple’s 9th generation iPad and 2nd generation iPhone SE is replaced by the power button that’s at the top of the left edge, or to the right of the top edge – depending on how you’re holding it. This also has Touch ID integrated into it.

The iPad Mini 6 is as smart and sleek as any other Apple hardware design available today, and its largely minimalistic approach is classy and mostly well thought out. Touch ID is easy to reach in both landscape and portrait orientations, and the magnetic attachment of the 2nd generation Apple Pencil happens neatly. Contrary to my expectations, it does not distract you when you’re watching content on the screen, and its magnetic attachment is just strong enough to make sure that it does not get detached too easily.

As far as ergonomics go, the iPad Mini 6 is mostly as ideal as you can hope for tablets to be. The volume button placement could have been better at the top (when it landscape orientation), but there’s no space for it. The upper edge is taken up by the Pencil, the lower edge latches on to the folio cover, and the other two sides house four speakers in stereo configuration. All things considered, this is as neat a design as you could ask for.

Display and UX: More Pro than Mini, minus a few iPadOS hiccups

I don’t agree that the iPad Mini 6 has too small a display for a tablet, barring a few moments. Even compared to the largest smartphones, the iPad Mini 6’s display is a good 1.5 inches larger, diagonally. This difference, between a large phone and this smallest iPad, is enough to be visible in terms of streaming shows, playing games, editing movies, writing and reading.

Taking an approximate distance of 20 inches between your eyes and the point where you’d hold a screen when seated upright, the iPad Mini 6 covers a little over 85 percent of your area of direct vision. It does not break into peripheral vision, which ensures that you move your eyes less as you scan the display in landscape orientation. As avid readers would tell you, this makes a big difference. It could, however, have admittedly been a touch larger – which could’ve made it more versatile. A future iPad Mini may still offer a display size of around 9 inches, without compromising the compact form factor.

iPadOS, however, has room for improvements. The main home screen, as well as a number of apps, leave too much unused space, which makes the primary screen look sparse. Even the notifications menu does not look optimised, apart from being stretched out to meet the dimensions. The addition of widgets to iPadOS gives some visual contrast to icon sizes, but on overall terms, there are lots of blank areas on the display – more than what you’d expect from Apple. The Control Centre too is awkwardly tiny, and isn’t the flagbearer of UX design.

What I do like, however, is the convenience of the app dock – which gives you two-tap access to essential apps no matter which screen you’re on. Two swipe-ups or a long swipe-up gesture opens the multitasking view, and while I’m not sure if the small window-based view is the most ergonomic, it is visually pleasant. Spotlight search is largely seamless too, and interestingly, also serves as the system’s default calculator (to an extent).

As for the display quality, there is no complaining. You get even backlighting, excellent True Tone adjustment, fluid touch response, rich contrast and great colours. All of this makes tasks such as sketching and viewing content very pleasant. Visual artists will particularly love the richness and accuracy of the display’s colours, and even the Quick Note feature is a good one for spontaneous usage. Purely on display terms, the iPad Mini 6 feels more like a mini iPad Pro, than an entry-level offering.

The system keyboard is also of a good height, which means that if you need to work on the iPad Mini 6, the touch keyboard is well spaced out to type comfortably on. As a rule, touch inputs for a keyboard are never as ergonomic as a physical keyboard, but there is no Smart Keyboard for the Mini 6, and third party ones look too bulky – hence negating the point of the mini iPad. The touch keyboard actually works surprisingly well, and I was able to type out about 300 words while in the back seat of a car, without feeling annoyed.

Performance: No stutters and great consistency

Apple has put its latest A15 Bionic inside the iPad Mini 6, which should be enough to tell you that this tablet is powerful enough for most tasks. So far, it has proven to be a sharp and responsive tablet, without any noticeable hiccup as you switch between apps, set up multitasking views, and even load 4K video edits on an app such as InShot Pro. The iPad Mini 6 thus feels like a compact iPad Pro when it comes to performance, too.

What makes the iPad Mini 6 great are small features that just work. The front camera, for instance, supports Center Stage – a feature that keeps you centred on the screen during video calls, and works on third party apps such as Zoom (and not just FaceTime). The quad stereo speakers are great for personal use, and once you plug in earphones and speakers, you get Dolby Atmos and Hi-Res Lossless audio. The built-in speakers are more than loud enough to use when you’re alone, and its audio fidelity is far better than typical ones. You can even tweak the EQ to get some bass out of them.

The iPad Mini 6 is also up to speed for heavier tasks such as gaming or multi-layer photo editing. There is consistently zero stutter, making it an excellent tablet to use. The iPad Mini 6 thus plugs a gap in the market for a compact device with a larger display than smartphones, and yet, not ungainly. What is to be seen, therefore, is if there are enough takers for it beyond the handful who still want screens to be small.

Battery life: Adequate, but on the lesser end

The battery life of the iPad Mini 6 is one of its weaker notes. Apple states that on Wi-Fi, the tablet lasts for about 10 hours on a single charge with video streaming and browsing. For me, with the Apple Pencil attached to it, and about 3.5 hours of usage per day as a second display for music, live sports streaming, reading and browsing, it needs approximately one full charge every two days. Thankfully, Apple has shifted to USB-C with the iPad Mini 6 (a move that they should’ve done with the iPhone 13 series, too). There is a 20W USB-C charging adapter, and a two-way USB-C cable supplied in the box. The charger takes about 100 minutes to dole out a full charge.

Cameras: Functional, when you need it

Admittedly, the rear camera of a tablet isn’t the most important feature to have, and therefore, the single 12MP rear camera of the Apple iPad Mini 6 does not feel under-equipped. When you need it, the camera is adept at taking a good photograph, or a fairly smooth, short video. The front-facing 12MP ultra-wide camera generates a standard angle view by default, which crops the sensor. The real deal, however, is its actual 122-degree field of view, which lets it offer Center Stage with FaceTime and other video conferencing apps.

Once you get used to Center Stage, you’d realise that it is indeed handy. The panning to centre you on the screen is seamless, and the full HD video quality is more than adequate for all your usage needs. The front camera can shoot at 60fps too, hence keeping your footage smooth. If you must, even the rear camera offers 60fps videos at up to 4K, which is probably more than what you’d need from a tablet’s camera.

Verdict: The iPad to buy

There are very few gadgets that we use and find to be a near-perfect device to own and use, and the Apple iPad Mini 6 is one such. The display could have been a tad bigger, but for all intents and purposes, this screen size is big enough to give you an upgrade over your phone, and at the same time, small enough to keep things ergonomic. Its form factor is convenient, its design feels premium and modern, and it also has a flagship-grade display, a self-centering and ample firepower. It also has 5G, so if you get the cellular variant, you’re future proofed as well.

At Rs 46,900 starting price, the iPad Mini 6 is a lovely tablet to own. It’s the right size in terms of portability if you travel frequently, and the same applies if you want a second, compact display to augment your main work machine on your desk. There is Pencil support for sketchers too (sold separately), and in our books, the entry-level, 64GB variant is the perfect balance in terms of value and features.

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