The iPad Mini is not the best tablet Apple makes (that’s the 11-inch iPad Pro). It’s not the good enough tablet either (that’s the iPad Air). It’s the awkward one. A little too small, but a little too big, and demanding a fairly radical change to how you operate a tablet if you’ve been using any other iPad before. But boy, after a week of using the newly refreshed Mini, I’m still finding it awfully damn appealing. The iPad Mini is the true content consumption queen.

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What do I mean by that? Maybe it doesn’t make sense at first. After all the iPhone XS Plus has a much prettier 6.5-inch OLED display, the iPad Pro has that big and gorgeous display with a faster refresh rate. They shaved and shaved those bezels until they’re a razor’s edge and the Mini’s bezels look old fashioned and far too chunky by comparison.

But have you ever tried to read a book on an iPhone or the average-sized iPad? It feels either too small or too large. The Mini with its 7.9-inch 2,048 by 1,536 resolution display, is like Baby Bear’s bed. It’s just right. The bezel is big enough I can hold the iPad one-handed and not accidentally flick to the next page as I do with a larger iPad. I found myself reaching for it all week even though it lasts well under twelve hours of marathon reading while my Kindle Oasis lasts for days. In part, this is because I could hop over to a Game of Thrones wiki to refresh myself on characters I’m reading about instead of reaching for my phone as I do with my Oasis.

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And yes, the iPad Mini’s lovely for watching videos too. It won’t flop down when the person in front of me on the plane cranks their seat back like a large iPad might, and the range of colors in something like that gnarly Quantum Realm scene in Ant-Man and the Wasp looks plenty bright and not muddy. Having the wider P3 color gamut isn’t necessary, but I’m sure it will come in handy if I want to edit pictures of my dog on the Mini for Instagram.

Which is a little easier to do thanks to Apple Pencil support, which was frankly too long a time in coming. (Seriously how hard is it to implement Pencil support?) Although Pencil support also feels...unnecessary? Using the Pencil on the Mini’s small screen makes everything feel cramped, a smaller Pencil, more appropriately sized for the smaller Mini might make things feel a little less tacked on.

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And here’s where I nitpick in a very finicky way. The screen is really too small for creating content and taking advantage of the A12 CPU at the heart of the thing, but it also feels too large for watching stuff. If I’m just watching a movie, and not watching a movie while doing something like playing Stardew Valley, then there are huge black bars that make the film feel a little less intimate. It is ugly.

With a starting price of $400, it’s also pretty appealing—particularly compared to last year’s simple iPad, which is heavier, has a lower resolution display, and crummier processor. If I have to spend under $400 on an iPad, I’d rather the tiny fast one than that great big slow one.

But the real issue, the one that has me pondering whether the iPad Mini even has a place in my grubby hands in 2019, is that it, like any other non-Pro iPad, just feels old.

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Apple made a big deal of adding gesture support and Face ID to the Pro last year, and I adore those features. On the Pro, I swipe up and go home, whereas on the Mini, I fumble for the Home button. On the Pro I glance at the camera to autoload a password for LastPass, on the Mini I hope the finger I’m pressing to the Touch ID button has already been programmed in.

Super minor annoyances, but also ones Apple has ably solved and chosen to exclude! It leaves the iPad Mini feeling less like the cutting edge tiny tablet it is (seriously the display is lovely) and more like a lazy refresh Apple pushed out just so there would be some cheaper devices for people to buy to use with all those new services it’s rolling out this year.

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It’s so much thinner than the original Mini.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

Which speaks to the larger problem Apple is having with hardware at the moment. Everything feels uninspired. Good, certainly, like the new AirPods this new Mini is an exceptional piece of hardware you’re never gonna hate while using. But it has remade no wheel; it has pushed forward no conversation (apart from criticism of Apple). It’s a mere refresh. And it feels like it could have been so much more.

With Samsung and Huawei making folding phones, which are essentially foldable versions of the iPad Mini, there’s a time for Apple to make a big bold statement. Only Apple chose to carry ahead on, offering the most modest of refreshes. Which means right now, the iPad Mini is an exceptional buy and the best choice for people seeking under 8-inches of screen real estate it and the folding phones provide. But in a year? Or two? This perfectly solid device is gonna be perfectly outdated.

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README

  • The updated display looks wonderful and makes older iPad Minis seem lame.
  • Touch ID isn’t as good as Face ID.
  • A Home button is no longer as nice as gesture support.
  • This is still the best small tablet you can buy, and a wonderful ereader upgrade.

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