iPad and iPad Mini Review: These Devices Will Make You Wish You Were an Artist

iPad and iPad Mini Review: These Devices Will Make You Wish You Were an Artist
Image: Lifehacker Australia
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I’ve long been of the opinion that iPads or tablets are kind of unnecessary. Between smartphones that now offer almost all the same functions as your everyday computer, and laptops that are getting lighter and more portable every year, the appeal of an in-between device was always sort of lost on me.

Do you really need another screen? One that’s not quite a phone (but can sort of act like one) and not exactly a laptop (but offers a very similar experience to one)? Who is this kind of device even for?

Well, after spending two weeks with the 9th generation iPad and the new iPad mini, I’ve been able to answer those questions for myself. And hopefully for a few of you reading at home, too.

Before I get into all of that, though, let’s talk specs. Here’s everything you need to know in that department.

iPad (9th generation) specs:

  • 10.2-inch Retina display
  • True Tone
  • A13 Bionic chip
  • 8MP Wide camera
  • Ultra Wide FaceTime HD camera with Centre Stage
  • Touch ID
  • Up to 256GB storage
  • Support for Apple Pencil (1st generation)
  • Support for Smart Keyboard
  • Height: 9.8 inches (250.6 mm) Width: 6.8 inches (174.1 mm) Depth: 0.29 inch (7.5 mm)
  • Weight: Wi-Fi: 1.07 pounds (487 g), Wi-Fi + Cellular: 1.09 pounds (498 g)
  • 100% recycled aluminium enclosure, 100% recycled tin in the solder of the main logic board, Energy Star certified, Arsenic-free display glass, Mercury-, BFR-, PVC-, and beryllium‑free, 100% of virgin wood fiber comes from responsibly managed forests

iPad mini specs:

  • 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display
  • True Tone
  • A15 Bionic chip
  • 12MP Wide camera with True Tone flash
  • Ultra Wide FaceTime HD camera with Centre Stage
  • Touch ID
  • Up to 256GB storage
  • Support for Apple Pencil (2nd generation)
  • Height: 7.69 inches (195.4 mm) Width: 5.3 inches (134.8 mm) Depth: 0.25 inch (6.3 mm)
  • Weight, Wi-Fi: 0.65 pound (293 g), Wi-Fi + Cellular: 0.66 pound (297 g)
  • 100% recyclable aluminium enclosure, 100% recycled tin in the solder of the main logic board, 100% recycled rare earth elements in the speaker and enclosure magnets, Energy Star certified, Arsenic-free display glass, Mercury-, BFR-, PVC-, and beryllium-free, 100% of virgin wood fiber comes from responsibly managed forests

Now, here’s a look into my experience with the 2021 iPad and iPad mini.

What’s good?

iPad 2021 iPad mini
iPad 2021 Quick Note feature. Image: Lifehacker Australia

I won’t keep you all sitting in suspense, there is a lot that’s great about the 9th gen iPad and the latest iPad mini. It didn’t take long for the devices to win me over, frankly.

While there is an obvious difference in size between the two models, I found that both are relatively comfortable in hand (in terms of size and weight) and my average-sized palms can carry each of them around without any dramas. I did struggle to take a selfie with the iPad, admittedly, but I doubt many people are using these guys for that task, anyway.

The 9th gen iPad has an A13 Bionic chip, while the mini boasts the new “powerhouse” A15 Bionic chip but I find the speed for both models is really quite impressive even when working with games, design apps or streaming services. If you’re going to be working with massive files on the regular you may need to consider if the A13 will do the job for you, but I can’t see speed being a sore point for everyday use otherwise. Oh, and the Split View feature in iPadOS 15 makes shifting between apps super seamless – which I’ve found incredibly useful from a productivity perspective.

When it comes to streaming or gaming, I’ve been really surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the experience. The iPad does have the benefit of a larger screen, of course, but the clarity of the display and the quality of the sound these small but mighty devices can produce genuinely shocked me. If you’re after specifics, the iPad has been fitted with 2160-by-1620 resolution (264 ppi) and 500 nits of brightness, and the mini has 2266-by-1488 resolution at 326 ppi – both offer a really sharp picture, and the True Tone feature (which adjusts your screen’s colouring to better fit the colour temperature of the space you’re in) is a nice touch.

While I’m not too interested in the cameras on the iPads generally (I find it uncomfortable taking photos or recording videos with them), I do think the devices may be the perfect option for video calls. The screens are large enough to properly see loved ones on the other end of the call, but the devices are mobile enough that moving around isn’t arduous. Then there’s the Centre Stage feature.

iPad’s new Centre Stage feature can identify people in the camera’s field of view. It will then zoom, pan, and crop the video to focus on the subject as they move around or as more people join the frame. Using this in FaceTime calls is incredibly strange at first because the camera movement makes you feel like the iPad should be moving around with it, but it makes video calls a whole lot more seamless.

An added plus here (especially if you’re big on video calls) is that the battery life of both the iPad 2021 and iPad mini feels solid enough to run you through most uses without many hurdles.

Where I feel the iPad experience really stands out as unique, however, is when you move into the world of creative apps. If you’re a budding (or established) illustrator, a designer, or someone who likes to play with visual platforms (like digital journals or video editing apps), the experience of the iPad and iPad mini is just different. It feels like these devices were built with creatives in mind. Even just holding the pencil and using it to jot down quick notes made me want to be a little more playful in my use of the iPads, which I wasn’t expecting.

In essence, the beautiful display combined with intuitive creative functions and a wide range of artistic apps kind of made me wish I had the creative ability to really put this side of the iPad models to work.

What’s not so good?

iPad 9th generation and iPad mini 2021
iPad 9th generation and iPad mini, with Apple pencils. Credit: Lifehacker Australia

I would have liked the 9th generation iPad to have been fitted with 2nd-generation Apple Pencil compatibility. Honestly, it feels a little strange to release a new device that’s only able to run with an older generation of pencil. Speaking of the Apple pencil, there can be a slight delay when writing or drawing with it – it’s certainly not a dealbreaker but it’s something I’ve noticed when using it.

My last criticism is that I would have liked a Ring/Silent button for quick access to volume preferences, but that’s just a personal (and probably laziness) thing.

The verdict

iPad mini 2021. Image: Lifehacker Australia

In news that is probably surprising to no one but me, I’ve found myself quite taken with the 2021 iPad and iPad mini models. Are they a necessity? Not for everyone (perhaps yes for creative folks, though) but I do feel that they make a lot of everyday digital experiences that little bit more enjoyable. The general consensus online is that if you already have an iPad, the move to the latest models isn’t a must, but you can still expect a positive experience if you do.

But if you’re new to the iPad world, like me, I’d put the experience this way.

If you want a digital library, a portable screen for home workouts, a mini TV and a hub for all your artistic projects, you’ll probably fall in love with these devices. And if you’re not sure which one is right for you, the only major differences to consider, aside from price, are size, chip and resolution. For me, the iPad is more than enough but both offer a sweet experience.

The iPad (9th generation) is available now from $499 in Space Grey and Silver, and the mini (available here) comes in Silver, Pink, Purple and Starlight – it is priced from $749.

It’s also worth noting that if you trade in your current iPad with Apple, you can get up to $785 in credit towards a new one, or recycle your trade-in device for free.

So, I suppose the only question left is: are the 2021 iPad models right for you?

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