Apple’s iPad Mini 5 is an odd device. It looks exactly like the brand’s original 7.9-inch slate from 2012, but it packs the same internals as the latest iPhone XS.
Apple’s domination of the tablet market is no more apparent than with the iPad Mini 5. There’s no-one else making a small tablet that comes anywhere close to being a better buy than this, and that shows in the fact that Apple has once again opted to go with the same design.
The company doesn’t need to really try very hard to make the best small tablet. For Apple, it’s simply been a matter of taking parts already present, then adding many of the same internals as the iPhone XS and iPhone XR.
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The iPad Mini 5 is slick, small and a pleasure to use – even if a slightly updated design would have been welcome
A tablet of this size isn’t a necessity. Larger phones with 6-inch plus screens have made the need for a separate device with a fractionally bigger screen feel like a pointless luxury. I took that very view – until I started using the iPad Mini 5. It’s super-light, super-comfortable to hold and super-fast; so much so that I’ve found myself reaching for it constantly.
Like previous iPads that aren’t the new 2018 Pros, the design here is familiar. The body is aluminium, with a flat back and slightly contoured sides. There’s a power button on the top, alongside a headphone jack, and a Lightning port on the bottom for charging.
The front of the iPad Mini 5 is the one area design-wise that could have been refreshed. The blocky bezel might provide your thumbs with somewhere to sit whilst playing games or watching a video, but it seems like a poor use of space in this time of super-thin bezels and big screens. I’d have loved to see Apple bring across a few of the design traits of the iPad Pro 2018 here; maybe the flat sides or rounded display.
Still, the iPad Mini 5 is small enough to disappear into a bag without any noticeable added weight, and I can hold it in one hand to read comfortably.
Face ID would have been a welcome addition: the facial recognition feature from the iPhone XS is present on the latest iPad Pros and it lets you unlock the slate without reaching for or pressing anything. Just light up the display and it’s unlocked. The iPad Mini 5 includes the second-generation Touch ID sensor below the display, and it’s fine: fast and reliable.
Seriously fast: The iPad Mini 5’s performance is excellent, as is the screen
The design might have not seen a major update, but much of what makes the iPad Mini 5 such a fantastic device lays within. A new display and flagship phone-worthy internals make this tablet a superb bit of tech – and, arguably, Apple’s best for gaming and reading.
A size of 7.9 inches might not seem much larger than a 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max, but there’s a gulf in the actual screen real-estate. The iPhone is long and narrow, whereas the iPad Mini with its 4:3 aspect ratio is squatter and squarer. This leaves videos letterboxed (not ideal), but web pages and books don’t feel as cramped. It’s also much better for showing off documents and viewing photos.
While the display size and Retina resolution remain the same – it’s still the most pixel-dense iPad around at 324ppi – there’s now support for Wide DCI-P3 Color and True Tone. The latter alters the temperature of the display depending on your environment, and it’s absolutely fantastic if you’re reading on the iPad. The harsh white background of books is softened, making content more comfortable to read.
Apple doesn’t list this is an HDR display – it uses this moniker solely for its OLED-toting iPhones – but like the other, newer iPads and the iPhone XR it can play back Dolby Vision HDR content from iTunes and Netflix. This takes advantage of that wider colour support to add a little more oomph to video.
However, it’s with gaming that this iPad really shines. Pair that larger-than-a-phone screen with the same high-end, flagship-worthy Apple A12 Bionic 7nm chipset found in the iPhone XS and you have a tablet that will fly through just about any title thrown its way. 7.9 inches is the ideal size for gaming since it’s roomier than a phone but not as hard to handle as the larger iPads. The size of the bezel helps in this regard, too, giving your thumbs and palms a comfortable place to rest without encroaching on the screen.
iPad Mini 5 might look like a tablet from 2012, but it comfortably performs like a flagship phone from 2019. Games of any genre run without lag, loading times are excellent, and even though the display lacks the silky 120Hz refresh rate of the iPad Pros (here it’s the standard 60Hz), it still moves ridiculously smoothly.
Apple doesn’t officially disclose the amount of RAM it includes in any of its mobile products, but there’s 3GB available here and it feels like plenty. This might change four or five years down the line, though.
iPad Mini adds Apple Pencil support, but no Smart Keyboard
With the release of the iPad Mini 5, all of Apple’s current line of iPads support the Apple Pencil: an excellent stylus for drawing, writing or marking up documents.
Now, somewhat confusingly, the Apple Pencil supported here isn’t the same as the one released in 2018; it’s the first-gen device. You know, the one that charges by plugging directly into the Lightning port and with the cap that you’ll spend much of your life searching for. This is such a strange dynamic and will be very confusing for those looking to buy an iPad and Apple Pencil.
Still, the Apple Pencil is a great addition, and even though it isn’t included – you’ll be shelling out an extra $99/£89 – I’d suggest at least thinking about adding one into the package.
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If you’re looking for an iPad for drawing or vector works then the iPad Mini 5 probably isn’t for you, but this is an excellent note-taking device. The Apple Pencil is nice to write with, even if the body is rather slippery – and, importantly, it’s very responsive.
One common iPad accessory that isn’t supported here is the Smart Keyboard. Apple is restricting its keyboard folio for larger iPads, and that makes sense: a physical keyboard here would be prove cramped. Besides, the Mini isn’t trying to replace a laptop.
iOS 12 feels like it’s built for smaller tablets, and iOS 13 could bring some more tricks
iOS 12, rather fairly, receives much criticism for being far too restrictive on larger screens. You can’t open apps in windows and there’s no built-in file system for transferring items between apps. Those issues haven’t bothered me at all on the iPad Mini 5, with iOS 12 feeling perfectly suited to a device this size.
Multitasking is fine: you can have two apps open properly with a floating video window (this does start to feel very cramped, but it’s nice to have as an option), or have a main app running with a secondary one taking up a smaller amount of room either side.
There are also a number of gesture controls that make using the home button almost redundant. A quick swipe up from the bottom takes you home, while a longer swipe shows all your open apps.
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iOS 13 is likely being announced during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and while it won’t ship in full until September (if previous years are anything to go by) you’ll at least get a taster of what’s to come in June. Early rumours suggest the iPad will be a big focus with improved multitasking, an updated Mail app and a system-wide Dark mode.
Very few improvements to the iPad Mini camera and battery life
There is a camera on the iPad Mini 5; it’s an 8-megapixel unit with an f/2.4 lens. It isn’t very good, however; the camera on the phone in your pocket is likely to be better. Colours are washed out, it’s useless in low-light, and all images captured feels flat.
However, it is useful for scanning documents to sign with the Apple Pencil, as well as for engaging in AR (augmented reality) games and demos.
Battery life remains roughly the same as the Apple’s other tablets, and I’ve found that it matches the claims made by the company. It states 10 hours of video; with a downloaded HD video playing with the screen brightness set to 50%, the iPad Mini 5 was just shy of that figure.
All that being said, there hasn’t really been a step forward in iPad battery life recently – and, like the design of the iPad Mini 5, it feels as though Apple is comfortable to keep things as is. It’s a shame, although it also shows how little competition Apple actually has.
Charging is yet another example of this. The iPad Mini 5 ships with the same Lightning plug and cable that have accompanied all previous Mini devices, powering up the tablet fully in roughly four hours. A fast charger isn’t included, which remains an annoyance, especially for a device costing £399.
Should I buy the iPad Mini 5?
The iPad Mini 5 is excellent for the purpose for which it’s designed. This isn’t a productivity beast, nor is it attempting to replace your laptop; it’s a super-fast tablet that will slip easily into your bag and act as an incredible gaming and video watching machine.
There isn’t an Android competitor at this size anymore, with Amazon’s Fire 7 focusing on the mid-range and Huawei’s MediaPads feeling slightly outdated now.
However, there is a feeling that Apple is coasting somewhat. Opting for the same design is lazy; refusing to slim the bezel and compatibility with the first-gen Apple Pencil, rather than the newer model, mirror that sentiment.