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Apple iPad Mini 2019 review: A beloved classic with internal improvements and Apple Pencil support
While I obsess over smartphones and often find myself switching SIM cards daily, I tend to try only Apple iPads on an annual basis and then just for a few months before moving on. I passed my 2015 iPad Mini 4 to my youngest daughter and then my 2017 iPad Pro 10.5 inch tablet to my oldest daughter as I attempted to use a Surface Pro as my primary computer and tablet. However, I just can't force myself to use the Surface Pro as a tablet and finally decided to give up trying to make something unnatural happen.
Last week, I picked up the new Apple iPad Mini (2019) and am mostly happy with my purchase thanks to the price, Apple Pencil support, size, apps, and performance. I'm not too pleased with the media viewing experience and massive top and bottom bezels, but there is no competition in the small tablet space so I'm willing to compromise in these areas.
As a smartphone fan, I figured I could just use my Galaxy Note 9 and its S Pen to take all the notes I want in meetings and on conference calls, but that 6.4 inch display is still too small to be that productive with extensive notes. The width is the primary limiting factor for longer note-taking sessions and I've resorted to primarily capturing quick thoughts using the screen off memos functionality while using pen and paper to take meeting and call notes.
The problem with paper notes is that I rarely refer back to them and finding notes is time consuming. The notebooks also then require storage and physical archiving. With an electronic system, notes are searchable, easily stored, and can also include links to other data. OneNote is the preferred software at the office while I enjoy the UI of Evernote and both support the Apple Pencil on an iPad.
While it is hard to see any outward difference in new iPad Mini when compared to the 2015 iPad Mini, there are several internal improvements, including:
There is nothing that stands out as a striking feature in the 2019 iPad Mini hardware, except for its diminutive size. It looks the same as the model released four years ago with Touch ID instead of FaceID, a 3.5mm headset jack, and an eight megapixel single rear camera.
The top and bottom bezels are large and remind me of the impression I had when I first bought my Pixelbook, modern internals and cutting edge performance with an old-school look and feel. After watching video content on the new iPad Mini, I wish Apple would have shaved off about half of the top and bottom bezel on this small tablet.
The display is fantastic though with the highest pixel density of any iPad that makes reading books, magazines, articles, Office documents, and more a pure pleasure for my eyes. True Tone technology and low reflectivity help make it a screen I enjoy looking at for hours on end.
Apple iPad Mini 2019 review: in pictures
The iPad Mini is light at just 300 grams (0.66 of a pound) and I can easily carry it and hold it for viewing in one hand. It's small enough that two thumb text input with the software keyboard works very well. I hope to soon try out a Brydge 7.9 external hardware keyboard for more intensive writing sessions.
It's lightning fast with an A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine, advertised as providing three times the performance and nine times faster graphics versus the A8 chip in the iPad Mini 4. While I haven't explored it much, augmented reality is also supported on iPad Mini 2019. Battery life is advertised at the same 10 hours seen on the iPad Mini 4.
Cameras: 8 megapixel f/2.4 aperture rear camera and 7 megapixel f/2.2 front-facing camera
Dimensions: 203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1 mm and 300 grams (0.66 pound)
Colors: Silver, Space Gray, and Gold
Stereo speakers are provided on either side of the Lightning port at the bottom of the iPad Mini. A 3.5mm headset jack is found along the top near the left corner. There are also cellular models available, includes GPS, for a $130 premium over the cost of the standard WiFi model.
The new Apple iPad Mini is powered by the latest version of iOS 12. As a user of both Android and iOS phones and tablets, I continue to find apps on iOS to be better designed, more reliable, and more capable in almost all regards. Google hasn't put much effort into Android tablets and it shows. Apple advertises more than one million apps on the App Store that are made just for the iPad.
While Chromebooks provide a full desktop web browser, my usage of this smaller iPad does not include much content creation, other than extensive note taking. Thus, I do not need a desktop web browser and instead rely on the vast number of fully functional apps.
With the iPad Mini and iOS 12, I can also use two apps at once and use most of them in Slide Over or Split View. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like some apps, such as Gmail and Google Photos, work with these functions.
As I was testing out this new iPad Mini, I discovered that the Apple TV app is for more than just connecting to an Apple TV that you have connected to a home television set. At first, I had removed the app since I do not own an Apple TV console. I then found that Apple TV is really the app to use to extend your cable subscription to an iPad with support for Movies Anywhere. We own about 30 DVDs with codes for Movies Anywhere and also subscribe to Hulu, Amazon Video on Demand, and other services so it was a surprise to find I can now have access to all that cable TV content on my iPad Mini. This will definitely improve my commute and business travel. I always wondered why there was a setting on my iPhone for my TV provider.
The iPad Mini WiFi model is available now in three colors for $399 for 64GB and $549 for 256GB. The cellular models are priced $130 higher at $529 and $679.
Given that one has to pay for cellular service to use that functionality on the cellular models, $130 is too high of a premium on a $399 iPad for me to begin to justify it. It's a convenience given that carriers allow using your phone as a WiFi hotspot and I'm disappointed that Apple can't make the cellular models more affordable.
On our last MobileTechRoundup podcast, Kevin Tofel mentioned he also bought a new iPad Mini in large part due to its small size. He said he put the Mini in his jeans pockets and I thought that was crazy. I tried it out over the past week and that is how I've been rolling into meetings (there's a picture of this in my embedded image gallery). If not for the small size of this iPad and my desire for something that is easy to carry around, I would look to the new iPad Air or a Pro model instead.
It's been clear to me over the past week that I can indeed capture all of my meeting and call notes on the iPad Mini without feeling too cramped and restricted. The battery easily lasts me a full day, which includes my 1.5 hour train commute and full work day in the office. It connects reliably to WiFi and my various phones.
I wish there was an Apple Watch app for the iPad since I can often be found carrying an Android phone around. With Apple Watch connectivity, I could use whatever phone I wanted along with an iPad and an Apple Watch. I suppose Apple wants to force Apple Watch owners to also buy iPhones so we are unlikely to see an Apple Watch app for the iPad anytime soon.
In addition to electronic note taking, a major reason I bought the iPad Mini was to read magazines in the new Apple News+ service. My oldest daughter was a Texture subscriber on the iPad Pro 10.5, but now we can share a family subscription to Apple News+ and both get our fill of magazines. There are a number of magazines I enjoy monthly so that the $10 monthly subscription is worth it for a commuter like me. While I can also use something like Flipboard to aggregate topics I am interested in, I found Apple News+ to be great for giving me a page full of articles related to fly fishing, rugby, biking, running, and more.
Since I saved $25 from Best Buy with my iPad pre-order, I also bought a polyurethane Smart Cover to protect the display and prop up the iPad Mini for viewing media and making FaceTime calls.
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