iPad mini 4 review: A perfect tablet for gaming

iPad mini 4

You might not know it given the fewer than 20 seconds of attention Apple gave the device during the company’s recent keynote, but the iPad mini 4 exists, and it’s on Apple Store shelves right now.

While the device features improvements one might expect from the now yearly upgrade to the company’s pint-sized iPad line, the most significant question surrounding Apple’s iPad mini 4 is who exactly the device is for.

Apple’s full-sized iPad Air 2 is priced at $549 for the 16GB version and the iPad mini 4 costs $439, which means there’s only a $110 difference between them – a relatively small number for most people already willing to drop a few hundred dollars on a new tablet.

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Apple’s iPad mini is still one of the sleekest looking smaller tablets on the market.

And unlike the third iPad mini and the current iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 2 are nearly identical, other than the fact that the iPad Air 2 features a 9.7-inch display and the iPad mini a 7.9-inch screen.

Each tablet has the same display resolution – 2048 x 1536 pixels – although the iPad mini’s pixel density (ppi) is slightly higher, 326ppi, when compared to the Air 2’s 264ppi. Both devices also feature fingerprint scanners and Apple’s impressive custom A8 processor, although the iPad Air 2 has a three-core version called the A8X.

In terms of photo quality, the iPad mini 4’s camera has also been bumped up to 8 megapixels on the back and 1.2 megapixels on the front, putting it on par with the iPad Air 2, but don’t expect iPhone quality photographs from this tablet – both the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 lag behind Apple’s smartphone in this regard.

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The iPad mini 4’s display is bright, responsive, and a joy to look at.

The list goes on when it comes to both iPad’s feature sets and at least on paper, the iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 2 are exceedingly similar devices, save for a relatively small price differential.

When Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing recently said, “We’ve taken the power and performance of iPad Air 2 and built it into an even smaller mini enclosure,” he seems to have been telling the truth.

Furthermore, while people will notice an obvious form factor and performance upgrade between the iPad mini 1/2 and the iPad mini 4, the differences between the iPad mini 3 – which is essentially just the iPad mini 2 with a fingerprint scanner – and the iPad mini 4, are more significant but also still relatively negligible.

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Despite its smaller form factor, the iPad mini 4’s body feels just as durable as its predecessor.

The iPad mini 4 is marginally thinner than its predecessor – 6.1mm compared to 7.5mm – a 23 percent difference that makes the device easier to hold in one hand, although most people likely won’t notice much of a size difference at first glance. With that said though, when you place an iPad mini 2 or iPad mini 3 beside the iPad mini 4, the dimension variable becomes significantly more apparent. This new size difference also means that existing cases for the iPad mini 2 and 3 won’t fit on the new version.

In terms of other obvious hardware changes, Apple has removed the iPad mini 3’s orientation lock/mute switch; which means you’ll have to swipe up to access those settings from iOS 9’s Control Center. The company has also added an additional 1GB of RAM, giving the iPad mini 4 a total of 2GB of memory.

While the RAM upgrade doesn’t make a significant difference when it comes to game or app performance, it certainly helps overcome the slowdown the previous versions sometimes suffered from while quickly jumping between applications. The increased memory count also results in less reloading of apps and browser tabs.

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The iPad mini 4 is 23 percent thinner than the iPad mini 3.

Storage options also unfortunately remain the same for the new tablet, coming in at 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. Even the iPad mini 4’s colour choices — Space Grey, silver, and gold — are exactly the same as what Apple offered with last year’s model.

So if you’re an iPad mini 3 owner, you’re likely okay sitting out this incremental update. But what about everybody else?

Specs

  • 7.9-inch 2048 x 1536 pixel IPS display, 326 ppi density
  • A8 chip w/ M8 motion co-processor
  • 2GB RAM
  • 8MP iSight camera w/ F2.4 lens
  • 1080p video capture @ 30fps
  • 1.2MP FaceTime camera
  • WiFi (a/b/g/n/ac), dual-channel (2.4Ghz / 5Ghz) MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • Optional cellular connectivity
  • Touch ID
  • 19.1 Whr battery, 10 hours battery life (WiFi), 9 hours battery life (WiFi + Cellular)
  • Stereo speakers
  • 203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1mm
  • 298.8 grams (WiFi), 304 grams (WiFi + Cellular)
  • 16GB, 64GB, 128GB versions

The big question surrounding Apple’s iPad mini 4 is who exactly the tablet is marketed to? For me it comes down to preference.

While some people take advantage of the iPad Air 2 as their primary computing device and are fond of its large screen, since I’ve personally never had an interest in using a tablet on a daily basis, I’ve always found Apple’s full-sized iPads to be too large for my taste. This is why I favoured the first iPad mini over the iPad 2, and why I continue to prefer the iPad mini 4 today.

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The iPad Mini 4’s camera is on par with the iPad Air 2’s.

When it comes to the iPad, or any tablet for that matter, my primary use case is gaming, as well as casually browsing the internet. In terms of those very specific tasks, Apple’s iPad mini 4 is by far the best tablet I’ve used. In fact, since I got my hands on the iPad mini 4, I haven’t touched the iPad Air 2.

The iPad mini 4’s 7.9-inch form factor makes playing motion based games, like Jet Car Stunts or Real Racing 3, significantly easier, since the tablet can be comfortably held in two hands while in landscape or portrait mode. From a gaming perspective, I’ve always found full-sized iPads to be a little too large.

Even when playing touchscreen based games, whether in vertical or horizontal mode, Apple’s iPad Mini 4 feels more comfortable than the iPad Air 2, but the same could also be said about other Android tablets such as Nvidia’s Shield, Google’s Nexus 9 or Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

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When it comes to gaming, it’s difficult to find a tablet better than the iPad mini 4.

But what you don’t get with an Android tablet is access to Apple’s App Store, which is still significantly better than the Google Play Store when it comes to game availability, especially when it comes to recently released titles. Almost all games worth playing seem to land in the iOS App Store first before eventually being ported over to Android.

In terms of how new iOS 9 features change the user experience the iPad mini 4 offers, it’s still too early to tell. A handful of apps beyond Apple’s core applications support native split-screen multitasking, and the iPad Mini 4’s 7.9-inch screen isn’t exactly ideal for running two applications at once.

However, the apps that do support iOS 9’s new multitasking features – SlideOver and SplitView – two new functions that allow one app to be open while another is also present on the screen, are impressive and will fundamentally change the way most people use an iPad. For example, SlideOver is great for checking email while browsing the internet and allows the user to slide a secondary panel in out of the main screen with ease. SplitView takes things a step further and lets you virtually cut the iPad mini 4’s screen directly in half while running two apps at the same time, although it’s important to point out that the iPad mini’s screen size is less than ideal for this type of multitasking.

Pricing

WiFi:

  • 16GB: $439
  • 64GB: $549
  • 128GB: $659

WiFi + Cellular

  • 16GB: $569
  • 64GB: $679
  • 128GB: $809

So again, it all comes back to what someone intends to use their iPad for when selecting between the iPad mini 4 or the iPad Air 2.

Some of the marquee apps that take advantage of iOS 9’s useful multitasking features include Microsoft’s suite of Office apps – Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote – as well as apps like Twitter (which I found particularly useful because it allowed me to browse the internet and monitor Twitter), Skype and most of Apple’s stock applications (like Facetime for example). However, there are still a number of apps I wish included multitasking support, mainly Google’s suite of applications: Gmail, Google Docs, Google Keep and perhaps most importantly, YouTube.

With the iPad mini 4, Apple has finally given its mini line the update it deserves following the underwhelming iPad mini 3 update, and a combination of factors, including new iOS 9 features, a faster processor and a smaller build, make this a worthy upgrade. If you’ve been clinging to that original iPad mini or iPad mini 2 and are fond of the iPad Mini 4’s 7.9-inch form factor, this is definitely the device for you.

Pros

  • Beautifully designed with impressive build quality
  • Significantly more powerful than the iPad mini 1/2
  • High-quality display
  • Battery life is impressive
  • Perfect size for gaming and portability
  • iOS still has the best games/apps

Cons

  • Not that significant of an upgrade over the iPad mini 3
  • iPad Air 2 costs only about $100 more
  • 16GB base storage is still too low
  • Camera performance  isn’t on par with the iPhone

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