Rapid Review: Apple iPad Mini 5

Image: Apple

Apple's iPad mini 5 finally made it to the market, over a thousand days after the previous model was released. And while on the outside it looks just like its predecessor, much has changed under the covers. An improved display, support for the Apple Pencil and a significant performance boost courtesy of Apple's latest processor gives strength to the old saying that you can't judge a book by its cover.

What Is It?

I have an older iPad mini 2 at home that is mainly used as a smart home controller. When I sit it next to the new iPad mini 5, I can't tell the difference. But when you turn it on the updated display, which now supports Apple's TrueTone system, is clearly changed. And the newer model also supports the Apple Pencil - albeit the first version.

Apple has chosen to retain the same form factor and external design of the older model as it's popular with many large customers. For example, Queensland Police uses the iPad mini in the field. It has designed apps specifically around the iPad mini's display size and even altered its uniform to accomodate an iPad mini-sized pocket. And numerous other businesses have fitted out vehicles with special mounts and other accessories.

So, while the insides of the iPad mini are all new and it supports the Apple Pencil, the outside is a little dated.

Specifications

Size and weight Height: 203.2 mm, Width: 134.8 mm, Depth: 6.1 mm

Weight: 300.5 g (Wi-Fi), 308.2 g (Wi-Fi and cellular)

Display 7.9-inch LED, 
multi-touch display running at 2048-by-1536 resolution at 326 ppi with Wide color display (P3), True Tone display. Supports Apple Pencil.
Processor A12 Bionic chip with 64-bit desktop-class architecture and Neural Engine
Storage 64GB, 256GB
Communications Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 5.0, Gigabit LTE, dual-SIM support (Nano SIM and eSIM), Lightning connector
Cameras Rear: 8MP, Front: 7MP
Audio Stereo speakers and dual microphones for calls, video recording, and audio recording
Battery life Rated at 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 cellular data network
Sensors Touch ID, Three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, barometer
Colours Silver, Space Gray, Gold
Other features Siri, TouchID, Apple Pay

What's Good?

Apple might not have changed the overall look of the iPad mini but almost everything beneath the skin is different, as revealed in iFixIt's iPad mini 5 teardown. The display, processor, wireless radios and cameras are significant updates on their predecessors. And while the battery has the same capacity it retains a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Performance is excellent. I've been using the iPad mini for several days and it hasn't missed a beat. I backed up the iPad Pro I'd been using and restored that to the new iPad mini. All my apps and settings came across as expected so I was ready to use the mini in about an hour from when I opened the box. Most of that time was spent with apps downloading from the App Store.

The most significant functional change, in my view, is the addition of support for the Apple Pencil. I;ve been looking forward to the iPad mi I getting support for Apple's stylus. Combined with my favourite note-taking app, Notability, the iPad mini is about the same size as a notepad and offers me the functionality I need.

Can The iPad Cut It As A Note Taking Device?

Now that the non-Pro version of the iPad supports the Apple Pencil - the company's high-tech $145 stylus - you might be tempted to finally ditch the paper and pen and move to a fully electronic note-taking tool. So, I've been taking a look at apps that make the iPad into an electronic notepad. The first one I'm playing with is Notability - a $14.99 app that simulates the look of a notebook but adds some nifty high-tech features.

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Battery life is very good. The heaviest day of usage I recorded involved attending a conference and being connected to the centre's Wi-Fi (with a VPN enabled). I used Notability to capture about 3.5 hours of audio as well as taking notes while occasionally flipping over to my email, calendar, web browser and Facebook. My day started at 7:30AM and by 9:30PM I still had 16% battery left. As I was overseas, I had mobile data switched off.

If you've been holding onto an older mini then version 5 represents a major update while retaining support for legacy users who have customised their workflows around the familiar form factor and design.

What's Bad?

The iPad mini 5 is a great device but there are some things that let it down.

TouchID: Apple is caught between a rock and hard place with the iPad mini. While wanting to support legacy users, they have missed an opportunity by retaining TouchID. After two years of telling us face recognition is a stronger form of protection than fingerprints, and taking every opportunity to tell us how seriously they take security, Apple has not included FaceID.

At the moment better security is a "pro" feature, retained in the most expensive iPads and iPhones.

Apple Pencil: Retaining the familiar shape of the older iPad means Apple hasn't been able to accomodate the newer, and significantly better, Apple Pencil. Instead, the iPad mini 5 works only with the older Apple Pencil which means you have a far clunkier charging system using either an easy-to-lose adaptor or by connecting the Apple Pencil to the iPad mini's Lightning port. After a few months of using the new Apple Pencil with an iPad Pro, it feels like a massive backwards step - although I accept that I'd be in a small minority of people making that transition.

Retaining the old Apple Pencil also means there's no easy way to store the Apple Pencil with the iPad and there's a silly cap on he charging connector that's easy to lose as well.

USB-C: Apple has decided, it seems, that USB-C support is a Pro feature. So, if you have a MacBook Pro, you'll need to spend a few extra bucks on a USB-C to Lightning cable. It seems Apple's commitment to USB-C is a little messy to me and that the switch from Lightning to USB-C is going to take a lot longer than I expected.

Should You Buy It

Pricing

Wi-Fi Wi-Fi and Cellular
64GB $599 $799
256GB $819 $1019

Apple Pencil: $145 Apple Smart Cover: $65

If you've been holding out for a faster iPad mini with support for the Apple Pencil then you're in luck. And, I have to be honest, this is the iPad I've been most waiting for. For my use-case, as a replacement for paper-based notebooks, it's a very solid option. For me, the 64GB option with Wi-Fi and Cellular, and an Apple Pencil is the model I'd go for. I travel with a laptop so the iPad mini makes a great accessory.


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