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Why the iPad Mini is still the best iPad for me in 2024 (and not the Air or Pro)

The new 2024 iPad Pro and Air are forces to be reckoned with. But the iPad Mini has become my reliable travel companion, and I love it.
Written by Prakhar Khanna, Contributing Writer
iPad Mini (2021) lying over iPad Air 4.
Prakhar Khanna

I've tried and failed to find use cases for iPads in recent years. In 2021, I replaced my old iPad with the iPad Air 4 with the hopes of integrating it into my workflow. But that didn't happen. And being a remote worker who is always on the go, I've found my iPad Air resting in a drawer for the better part of its life. I can't remember the last time I felt the need to use it. 

Also: I've used every iPad since the original. Here's my buying advice for the new 2024 models

But I knew I needed a smaller tablet for media consumption and reading on my travels. That's why I picked up the iPad Mini after my most recent CES trip, and it has since become a part of my daily life. Unlike the fancier, more expensive iPad, the Mini works for me because it isn't trying to be a MacBook replacement but is instead an extension of my phone and laptop.

In 2024, with Apple finally launching the next generation of iPad Pro and Air models, here's why I'm sticking with the smaller but still mighty iPad Mini.

What works with the iPad Mini

Holding the iPad Mini to read an article.
Prakhar Khanna/ZDNET

My use case with iPads is browsing, reading, and watching videos -- and in that order for priority. When I first tried the iPad Mini, I didn't expect to prefer it over my iPad Air or the foldable phones being tested at the time.

The iPad Mini is the perfect amalgamation of form and function. Unlike the Air, it's extremely comfortable to hold for long durations and doesn't strain my wrist. I can dive into the depths of Wikipedia at two in the morning without feeling the need to put it down. I'm a fan of the paperback book-like size; It's thin, small, and less of a burden than anything larger.

Also: Apple's hardware blitz in the M4 iPad Pro is missing the software magic to make it sing

The iPad Mini is an excellent travel companion, thanks to its small, ultraportable size that makes it easier to tuck into a backpack than any other tablet. I never brought along my iPad or iPad Air when traveling, but I don't second-guess having the iPad Mini in my bag, whether it's for destressing myself during work travel or entertainment during vacations. It doesn't take up too much space and gives me an extra media consumption device so my phone still has sufficient battery left when I land. 

iPad Air 4 and iPad Mini 6 side by side.

iPad Air 4 and iPad Mini 6, side by side

Prakhar Khanna/ZDNET

The 8.3-inch display is just the right size between my phone and laptop. I haven't felt cramped by the screen and it easily fits on an aircraft fold-out table. It helps that the small size doesn't compromise the Mini's performance. Multitasking and split view modes are as quick as ever, and reaching for Quick Notes with a swipe is more useful on this size than on larger iPads. I've typed articles on my iPad Mini, synced the notes to my iCloud, and then filed them later from my MacBook Air. 

Also: iPad Pro (2024) vs. iPad Air (2024): Which Apple tablet should you buy?

The iPad Mini also packs a decent battery life, with an even better standby battery. Like my iPad Air, I can come to it after two days and see just a minimal drop in power. I have had instances where I didn't even have to look for a charger during brief one to two-day work trips.

One other benefit to the Mini is its 2nd-gen Apple Pencil support, which means you can achieve a similar level of precision and accuracy when editing photos in apps like Lightroom as on the more expensive iPad Pro.

What I'd like to see in the next model

iPad Mini in horizontal orientation.
Prakhar Khanna/ZDNET

All that said, there's one major design flaw in the sixth-generation iPad Mini: the unnatural placement of volume rockers. Even after having it for a little more than a month, I haven't gotten used to having the volume buttons at the top left corner. It's not ideal in any orientation -- portrait or landscape.

Also: The best iPads of 2024: Expert tested and reviewed

While watching videos, I find myself reaching the top edge (like any other tablet or smartphone) but then realize that it's on the bottom left. Repositioning these buttons to the right side would make the experience better, but it's a challenge because that area of the table is where you connect the Apple Pencil. 

Secondly, a base storage of 64GB isn't sufficient in 2024. If you are downloading movies and TV shows for travel or editing a big chunk of photos, both of which I frequently do, you shouldn't have to spend $150 more for the next storage tier. I hope Apple doubles the base storage to 128GB or at least introduces that storage variant with the upcoming iPad Mini.

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