At Apple’s “California Streaming” event, the company unexpectedly announced an incremental upgrade to its base-model iPad and unveiled a redesigned iPad mini. Both are available to order now and will ship on 24 September 2021.
The Sixth-Generation iPad mini
The iPad mini is small and apparently easily overlooked. Apple last updated it in March 2019, and that upgrade replaced the model previously released in September 2015. So the iPad mini was long overdue for an update, but what an update it has received!
In short, Apple has turned the sixth-generation iPad mini into a diminutive version of the iPad Air, with the same squared-off industrial design and modern specs. Prices start at $499 for 64 GB of storage, with an upgrade to 256 GB for $649. That may seem high compared to the $329 starting price for the iPad, but the fifth-generation iPad mini started at $529, and that was with an old industrial design (“Apple Quietly Releases New iPad mini and iPad Air,” 18 March 2019). If you want 5G cellular connectivity, add $150 to the price, making it $649 for 64 GB and $799 for 256 GB. The new iPad mini comes in space gray, pink, purple, and starlight, which is a sort of silvery gold.
Here are the key specs of the sixth-generation iPad mini:
- A taller but slightly thinner 8.3-inch IPS Liquid Retina display with 2266-by-1488 resolution, P3 wide color, True Tone, 500 nits of brightness, and an antireflective coating
- Powered by an A15 Bionic chip, the same new chip found in the iPhone 13
- Touch ID in the top button, like on the iPad Air
- USB-C connectivity for faster data transfers and support for accessories like USB hubs, keyboards, mice, thumb drives, and even ultrasound scanners
- Optional 5G wireless with up to 3.5 Gbps download speeds
- Speakers on the top and bottom so you get stereo in landscape orientation
- Two significantly better 12-megapixel cameras. The rear camera captures video in 4K resolution. The ultra-wide front camera maxes out at 1080p, but supports Center Stage.
- Support for the second-generation Apple Pencil; like the iPad Pro and iPad Air, the pencil magnetically sticks to the side of its squared-off body
There’s one notable missing feature: the Smart Connector, which lets iPads directly connect to keyboards and cases. That means you’re limited to Bluetooth keyboards, which don’t provide as coherent an experience. It’s not too surprising, given that Apple would have to create keyboards and cases purely for the iPad mini form factor, and it might not sell in sufficient quantities for that to be worthwhile. Plus, an attached keyboard would have to be tiny.
While the iPad mini lacks a Smart Connector for keyboards, it does offer a magnetic attachment for Apple’s Smart Folio, which costs $59 and comes in five colors: black, white, English lavender, dark cherry, and electric orange.
Overall, the sixth-generation iPad mini is a decent buy at $499, particularly for someone who wants a small iPad above all else and doesn’t want a tiny keyboard attached. I’d like to see a cheaper iPad mini focused on reading, but I doubt that’ll ever happen.
Lastly, Apple emphasized the fact that the iPad mini’s enclosure now uses 100% recycled aluminum; all iPad enclosures now use 100% recycled aluminum. That may not be a reason to buy the iPad mini or any other iPad, but it’s great to see Apple reducing its reliance on virgin materials.
The Ninth-Generation iPad
Apple favored the base-model iPad with yet another update, keeping it fresh while retaining its bargain-basement $329 price. On the outside, there’s nothing new in this ninth-generation iPad: it still has a Home button for Touch ID and still works with the first-generation Apple Pencil. But it picked up a couple of tricks from the iPad Pro:
- Center Stage: The iPad receives a huge upgrade over the 1.2-megapixel camera in the previous model, with a new 12-megapixel ultra-wide front-facing FaceTime HD camera that captures 1080p video. The ultra-wide camera enables the Center Stage feature, which uses machine learning to keep the subject in the frame, making it seem as though the camera can pan back and forth.
- True Tone display: True Tone started as an iPad Pro feature but has now worked its way down into the base iPad. True Tone relies on a built-in light sensor to adjust the display’s color temperature based on ambient lighting conditions.
The ninth-generation iPad is powered by the A13 Bionic chip, the same chip in the iPhone 11 series and a generation newer than the A12 Bionic in the previous model. It may not compete with the A15 Bionic in the iPad mini, but it’s plenty powerful and helps keep the price down.
The ninth-generation iPad also comes with double the storage of the previous model, starting at 64 GB. A 256 GB configuration is available for $479. Add $130 if you want 4G LTE cellular connectivity, making the price $459 for 64 GB or $609 for 256 GB. It’s available in space gray and silver.
Particularly with these upgrades, the base-model iPad remains one of Apple’s best values, and it’s all the iPad most people need.