Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: If it ain’t broke...
Almost four years on, the new iPad mini is still every bit as good as always
It's been four long, hard years since the last time Apple bestowed a new iPad mini on the public, and fans (including us) have been crying out for an update to the much-beloved range. Finally, Tim Cook has heard our pleas and released an all-new 5th-generation iPad mini.
Well, we say 'all-new' - in reality, there's actually not much that's changed about the new mini. It's visually identical, with only a handful of new features and a hardware refresh to distinguish itself from its predecessor.
So what has Apple changed, exactly, and does it make the new model a worthy investment if you've already got a functioning iPad mini 4?
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Design
Apple hasn't changed much about the new mini's design; it's still around 6mm thick, with a weight of just over 300g. In fact, aside from a very slightly sharper bevelled edge around the edge of the display, it's the exact same chassis as the old 4th-generation mini - and frankly, we couldn't be happier.
We'd forgotten how much we liked iPad mini form factor - no other 8in tablet has come close to the iPad Mini's blend of convenience and productivity. Apple's smallest tablet is, for our money, the perfect size and shape for a personal business device. The 8in screen is big enough to comfortably read dense text and view large images without feeling cramped, but it's still small enough that you can slip it in your bag or take it into a meeting without feeling like you're toting around the Rosetta Stone. Unbelievably, it's even small enough to slip into the pocket of our jeans - if only just.
It's also as gorgeous as ever, stamped with Apple's trademark minimalist style. It's still using the rounded edges of the classic design scheme, rather than the newer, more angular aesthetic favoured by the redesigned iPad Pro models but hey - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Display
The iPad mini's 7.9in display is also top quality, but if that's a surprise to you then you've probably been hiding under a rock for the past five years. Apple's Retina display (which in this case translates to a 2048 x 1536 resolution with a 326ppi density) is on peak form, and now includes support for Apple's True Tone display technology - a new addition since the mini's last outing.
The display's brightness has been bumped up to a blinding 513cd/m2, and we clocked coverage of the sRGB colour gamut at 91.3%. That's a very slight drop compared to the last model's score, but not enough to make a difference. If you wanted to create or proof colour-sensitive creative projects on the iPad mini, the display certainly isn't going to let you down.
Indeed, it's still an absolute joy to watch movies and other forms of video content on. Colours erupt out of the screen and, while contrast leaves a little to be desired, it still delivers a captivating experience. The Retina resolution also means that even fine-print text is still perfectly readable, so editing documents and reports is equally pleasant.
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Hardware and performance
While the display improvements are welcome, they're not a huge leap forward compared to the mini 4. The same, however, cannot be said of the performance. This is where Apple has put some serious effort into upgrading the new device, fitting it with a dual-core A12 Bionic processor - the same chip that powers the mighty iPhone Xs Max. It's also sporting 3GB of RAM - in other words, triple the memory of the previous machine.
So have these changes made much difference? In short, yes. When we ran it through the GeekBench 4 CPU tests, the new mini proved almost 200% faster than its predecessor for single-core tasks, and more than 300% better for multi-core tasks, with scores of 4,814 and 11,551, respectively.
To put that into context, that's noticeably quicker than both the Google Pixel Slate and - even more impressively - Apple's own MacBook Air, released mere months ago, and let's not forget that both of those devices used Intel Core processors. Admittedly, they use less powerful Y-Series chips, but still, Apple should be rightly proud of itself - the new iPad Mini can comfortably beat the pants off all comers when it comes to raw speed.
Whether all of this power is necessary, though, is a different question. Currently, there's not much outside of 3D games that can really stretch the iPad to its full potential. Unless you're wading through seriously hardcore spreadsheets or absolutely hammering it with multi-tasking, there's likely not going to be much that stretches the mini in day-to-day life. That being said, however, we think the iPad mini is powerful enough to run Adobe Photoshop - if, that is, the company ever deigns to release a full version of the software for iPads.
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Battery
We hope you haven't thrown out all those old chargers after the iPad Pro moved to USB-C, because the mini is still very much on board the Lightning bandwagon. It's not surprising, given that it's using basically the same chassis as the previous generation, but it's still a little disappointing. The inclusion of USB-C with the new Pro felt like a genuine step towards progress for Apple, whereas this feels like a return to its worst closed-ecosystem instincts.
Sadly, the battery life itself didn't set our world on fire, either. Once again, this isn't surprising, and it's likely the result of sticking with the same chassis design. If, as we suspect, Apple has used the same battery as the mini 4, then the new tablet will have to drive a much more powerful processor using the same battery capacity.
With that in mind, a score of 8hrs 21mins in our battery benchmarks is rather credible, considering the performance gains on show. While that score is just shy of two and a half hours less than its predecessor, it's still enough to get you through a full day - although you may have to be somewhat frugal with your usage.
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Features
Speaking of usage, the iPad mini is now more suited than ever to work tasks, thanks to the improvements made to recent iterations of iOS. Apple has made all kinds of improvements to the iPad's software since the mini 4 launched in 2015, but the most significant are the inclusion of a desktop-style dock and the ability to have multiple apps open on screen at once.
Although the iPad's smaller screen size means that the split-screen feature isn't quite as useful as it is on the larger iPad Pro, the support for multiple apps is still incredibly handy. For example, as we type this, we're also using iOS' 'slide over' feature to keep an eye on our Slack notifications. The dock is more useful still, allowing you to switch between your most commonly used applications with a single swipe, rather than constantly having to use the app switcher or go back to the home screen.
The big new addition for this latest iPad, however, is support for the Apple Pencil. Unfortunately, it's only compatible with the older 1st-gen stylus, rather than the swish new model which debuted last year alongside the redesigned iPad Pro. The newer model uses wireless charging (which may well be why it's not supported), but the old one still has to be awkwardly plugged in to the iPad itself in order to charge. It also lacks the capacitive function button that was introduced with the 2nd-generation Pencil, which feels like a slight step backwards.
On the other hand, the Apple Pencil still offers an outstanding writing and drawing experience for those that prefer that kind of input. It obviously feels a little more cramped than any previous iPad has when writing on it, but the responsiveness and pressure-sensitivity is still excellent. One complaint we did have with it, however, was that it got distinctly hot while we were drawing with it - to the point where we actually had to put it aside to cool down for a minute before we started using it again.
One feature that the mini is crying out for - and which we gladly would have taken over Pencil support - is support for a iPad Pro-style Smart Keyboard. As it stands, you'll have to use a third-party keyboard case which, while doable, gives the mini's main rival the Microsoft Surface Go a pretty hefty advantage over it.
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Verdict
The new 5th-generation iPad mini, then, is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag; on the one hand, the performance improvements are absolutely staggering compared to the previous generation, and the addition of Apple Pencil support will please note-takers, sketchers and digital artists alike.
On the other hand, aside from a couple of neat features like the True Tone display, that's really all it has going for it. The battery life is slightly worse than its predecessor, and there's not really any extra features worth mentioning.
So where does this leave us?
Well, if you have a fourth-gen iPad mini that's still in good condition, there's no real reason to upgrade, unless you're burning to use the Apple Pencil with an 8in tablet. You're unlikely to be feeling any serious pinch in terms of processing power, and that's the only other reason to trade up.
In any other case, however, the new iPad mini is an absolute must-have. Sure, it doesn't do much differently to its forebears, but it doesn't need to - the iPad mini 4 was basically the perfect tablet, with a portable, convenient size mixed with a stunning display and excellent internals.
At £400, the price isn't to be sniffed at (especially given that the larger standard iPad is cheaper and also supports the Pencil) but it's worth the money for the added portability of the mini. It really is hard to overstate how much we love it as a device category. If you're in the market for a do-it-all tablet, make no mistake - this is the one to buy.
Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) specifications
|Processor||Apple A12X Bionic|
|Screen resolution||2048 x 1536|
|Screen type||IPS LCD|
|Front camera||7MP, f/2.2, HDR|
|Rear camera||8 MP, f/2.4, HDR|
|3.5mm headphone jack||Yes|
|USB connection type||Lightning|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No|
|Dimensions (WDH)||203 x 135 x 6.1 mm|
|Operating system||iOS 12|
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