on 30 November 2015
Confused by the number of iPad options? This might help.
This is a review of the iPad Mini 4 released October 2015, but is it really worth the money?
About this review
First a disclosure. I love the iPad range, and this review aims to explain why. There’s lots to say, so I’ve broken it up into sections to make it manageable, (just skip the bits you don’t need). Hopefully it will answer your questions, and by the end you’ll have decided if it’s worth the money, and perhaps which model you should buy. I’ve even included a summary of the best alternatives.
What’s good about the iPad Mini 4?
It’s screen is incredible, and photos and video is crystal clear. The 2,048 x 1,536 pixels are crammed into a tiny 7.9 inch space making it a beautiful screen. The smaller (super thin) and light (299g) frame is almost small enough to fit in a pocket, and it’s incredibly fast with an upgraded processor (the Apple A8 also in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus).
You don’t get the “3D Touch” features you get on the iPhone 6S (and probably all future full size iPads), but it’s still a beautiful device - and you don’t even get than technology in the iPad Air 2.
My view is this device is as pleasing as the last upgrade (the iPad mini 3) was disappointing. It’s a lovely device and gets my thumbs up.
What’s new about the iPad Mini 4?
If you’re thinking of upgrading, from the iPad mini 1-3 here’s the differences:-
- Size and Weight: It’s nearly 10% lighter than the already beautiful iPad mini 3 at 299g compared to the 331g.
- Design: The bezel (the edges) are even thinner at the sides giving it a really sleek look
- Screen: The screen (same as the mini 3), is amazing. Close even to the more expensive (and bigger) iPad Air 2. It has 2,048 x 1,536 pixels (324 ppi) squeezed into the tiny 7.9 inch frame making everything look incredibly sharp and clear. Looks even better than an iPad Air 2.
- Anti-Reflective coating: It has an anti-reflective coating (just like the iPad Air 2) which means, although it still won’t work in bright sunlight, it’s much better than before
- Power: Now includes the A8 chip in the iPhone 6 with 2Gb of RAM meaning you can keep more things going at the same time, at the same speed. A welcome upgrade.
- Benchmarks: It scored 3,230 on the “Geekbench 3” which is around 300 points faster than the iPhone 6 - very slick. Very fast.
- Camera: Is an 8 mega pixel iSight Camera, and you can record video at 120 frames per second and 720p HD footage
The remainder of this review describes the entire iPad range to help you to decide. I hope you find it useful.
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I run all iPad Apps on this one
A: Yes. Every App available for the full size iPad (or iPhone) will run on this device.
Q: I want a “Mini” - Which model should I buy?
A: This one if you can afford it. Otherwise ignore the iPad Mini 3 (not much of an upgrade), and search Amazon for "iPad Mini 2". Same device (except “Touch ID”) for a lot less money.
Q: Is this covered by Warranty ?
A: Yes. Full 12 month Apple warranty, and 90 days free technical support. You can also extend the warranty with "AppleCare+" provided to take out the cover within 60 days of buying your iPad. This includes accidental damage insurance (up to two incidents per year subject to an excess).
Q: Why are these cheaper on Amazon than at the Apple store? What's the catch?
A: No catch. You can buy in person from the Apple store (including free engraving), or from your local tech store. Alternatively buy from Amazon with a 30 day NO QUESTIONS ASKED return policy. If you find this item is NOT as described, (eg. is not the right model), return it immediately, report the issue to Amazon, and write a critical review.
Q: Should I buy the Cellular option?
A: You almost certainly don't “need” to - as ever it always depends. Many iPads never leave home, and even when they do you can store your videos/music on the device or connect to a coffee bar hotspot to get online. If you have a smartphone (eg. Android or iPhone) you can set up a "personal hot spot" or "tethering" and use your data plan on your phone. This effectively allows you to connect a WIFI only iPad to the internet via your mobile phone while you’re out and about. On an Android phone go to Setup --> Tethering & portable hotspot. On on iPhone go to Settings --> Personal Hotspot, and set up a personal WIFI network from your phone. Try it now, but be aware it may be an optional extra dependent upon your mobile phone plan.
Q: Is this the latest iPad?
A: Yes. (Provided your reading this before October 2016). This was launched in October 2015. Likely to be superseded October or November 2016.
Q: How much storage aka "disk space" do I need?
A: It depends. If intend to buy lots of Apps or store lots of videos and photos then go for the 64Gb or 128Gb if you need it. If it’s your first iPad, and you'll mainly be using it for accessing web pages and reading the odd book, then 16Gb will be fine. Be aware, you cannot increase the storaage - you can't add an SD card.
Q: Is it easy to set up?
A: Yes - very easy. Be sure to be near a WIFI connection, and the iPad will carefully take you through the steps needed to set it up. No, there’s very little in the way of an instruction manual - which is a testament to the simplicity of this device. It’s so easy to use most people find they don’t need one. However, there are lots of books available on Amazon. Just search for “iPad” under books if you’re concerned.
Q: Does it have a USB connection?
A: No. This means you can’t connect just any old device, but also means you can’t accidentally get a virus. To help support this, all Apps (programs) are available “over the air” (downloaded from the Apple App Store) and vetted by Apple. You can buy a cable which means you can plug in an SD Card to download photos. Search Amazon for "lightning to sd card reader” to find these. Apple provide a free back-up service. Just plug in your iPad to re-charge, and it will automatically be backed up to the Apple servers (the “cloud”).
Q: Do I need a computer?
A: No. All you really need is a WIFI connection. Whether an iPad could replace your laptop is another question. You can type (and print) letters, read eMails, view web pages, view photos or watch videos and listen to music on an iPad. You can even attach an external keyboard and type entire documents (this review was partly written on an iPad Air on a train). You can run MS Office or use the free Apple versions (Pages and Numbers). Personally, I find I use my iPad 90% of the time, only using a laptop to connect to the office. Whether you can get by with only an iPad is your decision based upon your needs.
Q: Does it run Microsoft Office?
A: Yes. Free for read only Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
Q: Can I print from the iPad?
A: Yes. Provided your running a relatively modern printer with a WIFI connection you can.
Q: Can I read books, watch films and listen to music on an iPad?
A: Yes. That’s what I use it for most of the time. Kindle or Apple books work beautifully. You can rent/buy films from Apple, Amazon and lots of others. You can watch catch up TV services. You can load your music (MP3 files) on an existing computer to iTunes
and sync them with the iPad or stream unlimited music from music sites including Spotify. Finally, you can stream video to your TV using a set-top box from Apple (TV), Amazon (Fire) or Google (Chromecast)
Q: Do you work for Apple or Amazon?
A: A fair question that nobody has yet been brave enough to ask. No. Neither. I love the iPad, and I'm a great fan of Amazon’s customer service. Fantastic technology and great service at a terrific price. What's not to get excited about? ;-)
Which model should I buy?
Skip this section if your familiar with the range, otherwise read on.
Firstly, there’s a confusing number of options available including the iPad 3rd or 4th generation, iPad Air, Air 2, Mini, Mini 2, 3 and 4. We then have WIFI and Cellular options, all with different size storage. Bare with me, and I’ll take you through them.
Which model - Full size iPad or Mini?
The “full size” iPad is slightly smaller than an A4 pad of paper whereas the Mini is more the size of an incredibly thin paperback book (comparable in fact to the Amazon Kindle). Both iPads have a colour touch sensitive screen, and largely the same functionality, although the iPad Air 2 is now faster than it’s smaller “mini” equivalent.
In short, the main difference is physical screen size. If you plan to read books or watch video standing on train or bus, the mini is your best option. If you want the bigger screen, then the full size iPad is the best option.
What’s the storage options?
Storage (for Apps, photos or videos) start at 16g which is fine if you plan to surf the web, read books or stream video. Personally I used a 16g iPad every day for four years - it’s a lot more space than many people will need. If however you intend to save lots of films or photos, then you’re better off with the larger storage options. Be aware once bought, you can’t add storage, so choose carefully.
Be aware, Apple have limited the storage sizes available for the “Mini” range (although you might find some old stock available on Amazon).
* iPad Mini - is available in 16g only
* iPad Mini 2 is available in 16g or 32g
* iPad Mini 3 and 4 is available in 16g, 64g or 128g storage
Personally, I’d take a cue from Apple sizing:-
* 16g if you’re a first time iPad user or are unlikely to store lots of top-end games or video.
* 64g if it’s for a teenager or you plan to store lots.
* 128g if you’ve got really deep pockets, and need lots of space
Either way, if you’re going to buy a Mini tablet, I’d recommend the 2, 3 or 4.
Of course it’s difficult to tell if you need 16g, 64g or even the whopping great 128g. What’s a “Gigabyte” anyway? I did some research and I’d estimate a 16Gb will hold around:-
* 6,000 JPG photos or
* 35 Standard definition movies or
* 15 HD movies or
* 4,000 MP3 songs
Which is quite a lot of stuff really. But as you can see, if you want to store lots of movies - buy more space up front.
WIFI or Cellular?
Firstly all iPads include a WIFI connection. You can pay extra for a “cellular” option which means you can (for an additional monthly fee) buy a data subscription from a mobile phone network, and use your iPad to surf the web when you’re out an about. If however like me you have a smartphone (Android or iPhone it doesn’t matter) then navigate to Settings —> Personal Hotspot and set up a password.
This means you can create a “Personal Hotspot” using your smartphone data subscription. Also known as “tethering”, you can then connect your WIFI only iPad to the web, and off you go.
Personally, I use this every day on the train and it’s just brilliant. Just as fast as a cellular iPad, but more flexible (two people can share the connection), and cheaper too. Just check your mobile contract supports tethering, and includes enough of a data allowance. Otherwise you’ll run up a huge bill as you’ll find your iPad uses data faster than than your smartphone.
Should I upgrade?
A personal choice, so I’ve summarised the key differences above. Each iPad is slightly better, although each upgrade can appear a relatively small change, and you need to compare the “full size” and “mini” iPads separately.
* iPad Mini: The upgrade from iPad Mini 1 to 2 was to an incredible screen and faster processor. The upgrade to Mini 3 adds only the “Touch ID” fingerprint reader, and it’s questionable whether it’s worth paying for.
* iPad Mini 4: Is much better. Faster processor, thinner and lighter. It’s a delight to use.
* Full size: I’d upgrade anything up to and including the iPad 4th generation without question. The Air and Air 2 are now up to twice as fast, 33% lighter and 1/3rd thinner than the 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation device. If you already have an iPad Air it’s less clear cut, and probably not worth upgrading.
The iPad Mini Range:-
iPad Mini 1 (Launched November 2012)
* Very first iPad mini is like an incredibly thin paperback book. Beautiful colour screen, but now a bit slow and now dated.
* 1Ghz A5 processor - same as the iPad 2nd generation launched in March 2011. Weight 310g. 7mm thin.
* 1024x768 (Non-retina) screen at 163ppi (pixels per inch). Good but not brilliant
* 1.2MP front facing camera (720p video) and 5MP still and HD Video camera.
iPad Mini 2 (Launched October 2013)
* Incredible screen improvement at double the pixels per inch (ppi). Faster processor and quad core graphics. Stunning!
* Improved A7 processor and motion co-processor with double the memory. Much faster than the previous device
* Retina display (2048×1536) is just amazing. Absolutely pin sharp screen at 326ppi it’s even better than the iPad Air at 264ppi
* Storage options include 16, 32, 64 and 128g. Weight 330g. 7mm thin.
iPad Mini 3 (Launched October 2014)
* Almost no improvement. Same processor, screen and camera. Only the Touch ID fingerprint sensor added.
* Nothing more to say here, and certainly not worth the upgrade from iPad Mini 2. Available in silver, grey and gold.
iPad Mini 4 (Launched October 2015)
* Incredible retina screen at 2,048 x 1,536 pixels (324 ppi) squeezed into the tiny 7.9 inch screen. Absolutely pin sharp
* Improved A8 processor and 2GB of memory. Much faster than the previous device
* At nearly 10% lighter than the already beautifully thin at 299g compared to the 331g of the Mini 3.
* Storage options include 16, 64 and 128g.
The “full size” iPad range:-
iPad (1st Generation - Launched April 2010)
* 1Ghz A4 processor with 256Mb memory and storage at 16 to 64Gb. Weighs 680g. 13.4mm thin.
* 1024×768 screen, but no front or rear facing camera.
* The “Classic” iPad. Now a collectors piece - but still great to surf the web
iPad 2 (2nd Generation - Launched March 2011)
* Faster, lighter and 33% thinner than the first generation. A huge leap in performance and size.
* Upgraded dual core (2 processor) A5 CPU and 512Mb memory - a faster device. Weighs 601g. Just 9mm thin.
* Now includes a front and rear facing camera.
* Great device, but you’ll see a massive difference if you upgrade
iPad 3 (3rd Generation - Launched March 2012)
* A significant upgrade. Faster with the incredible “retina” (2048×1536) sharp screen.
* Uprated A5X CPU and quad core graphics and 1Gb memory - faster again. Weighs 650g. Still 9mm thin
* Huge screen improvement to 2048×1536 pixels at 264 ppi. Incredibly sharp and clear
* Upgraded cameras. 1080P (front) and 5MP (rear facing)
* The last iPad to use the wide (30 Pin) connector. My wife still uses hers daily for web surfing (Oct 2014)
iPad 4 (4th Generation - Launched October 2012 - just 7 months later)
* Quite a small upgrade from the previous generation. Again you’d see a huge difference upgrading to the latest device
* Guess what? Upgraded dual core A6X processor. A faster device, with the launch date moved to catch the Christmas buying period. Weighs 650g. 9mm thin.
* Upgraded front facing camera (1.2MP still and 720P video)
* First iPad to use the smaller narrow (Lightning) connector.
iPad Air (Launched Oct 2013)
* Amazing upgrade. Twice as fast, nearly 17% thinner and shedding almost a 1/3 of the weight of the predecessor. It’s an incredible device.
* Blisteringly fast 64 bit A7 processor with faster memory, and a motion co-processor. Weighs 469g. (28% Lighter) and now only 7.5 mm thin.
* New iPads now come with a free licence for Pages, Numbers, Keynote (Apple’s version of Word, Excel and Powerpoint). Plus Garage Band, iPhoto and iMovie.
iPad Air 2 (aka iPad 6 - Launched October 2014)
* Another incredible upgrade. Now 1/3rd lighter and thinner than the iPad 4 launched just 2 years ago.
* A8X Processor (faster variation on the A8 fitted to the iPhone 6) with M8 motion co-processor. Weighs 437g and only 6.1mm (18% thinner).
* Touch ID fingerprint sensor (the first iPad Air to have this). Means you can effectively avoid using passwords
* Improved screen now includes an “antireflective” coating.
* Improved 8MP rear facing camera (3264×2448) with 10 frames per second “burst” mode and slow motion. Front facing camera has improved f/2.2 aperture.
* Lock/silent switch has been removed (to save space), but you can mute your iPad by swiping up the “Control Centre”
* Battery is slightly smaller (7,340mAh) compared to the previous model, but the same 10 hour battery life
* WIFI now supports new “ac” standard and is dual channel 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. Also built in barometer.
* Storage options are now Small, Medium and Large. 16g, 64g or 128g.
* Available in Space Grey, Silver/White and Gold.
Accessories - What else will I need ?
All you “need” is a WIFI connection - you don’t even need a computer. However, there’s a number of additional accessories/devices you could buy with your iPad, and it's worth doing a search on Amazon. These include:-
* A cover or case - to prevent it getting scratched (definately worth buying). You can even get “Child Proof” cases - a must have for parents with toddlers.
* A wireless bluetooth speaker - to listen to music. A MUST HAVE for anyone who loves music. Sound quality incredible, and will also work with your smartphone or laptop.
* A "power bank" - as an emergency battery back-up. Also great for your smartphone - never run out of battery again.
* A separate keyboard - to turn your iPad into a virtual laptop. (I use mine every day on the train instead of a bulky laptop).
* An Apple TV, Google Chrome or Amazon Fire TV. Means you can stream photos/video from your iPad to your TV.
Most people (me included) buy a cover (or case) to avoid scratches and bumps.
Effectively you have two options:-
* Attached to the iPad by magnets, the “cover” protects only the screen from dirt or scratches
* A “case” encloses the entire device protecting back and screen. You can also buy “child proof” cases.
Both types automatically shut down the iPad when you close the lid (a lovely touch). You can pay a lot for an admittedly top quality cover from Apple, alternatively buy one on Amazon for about less. The highest rated covers (by customer rating) seem to be produced by “Swees”, “Mofred” and “EasyAcc”. Just be careful to buy one that fits your device. You’ll find your existing “cover” (screen only) will fit almost any iPad (2nd generation to Air 2), but you’ll need to be careful to buy the correct “case” as the iPad Air and Air 2 are each thinner than previous models.
A "Bluetooth Speaker" is a fantastic way to listen to music or the radio streamed from your iPad or Smartphone, and sound quality is astonishingly good.
The best devices I've tested and reviewed at every price point are:-
* Lepow Modre - Really cute design, bright colours and impressive sound for the money.
* ADX Fusion - Stylish aluminium design and excellent sound quality. Great value for the money from a small UK based company
* Audio Dynamix Atom V2 or V3 - Solid build in a beautiful brushed aluminium design with an impressive sound stage. Incredible value.
* Audio Dynamix Pulse V3 or V4 - Quirky design, but packs a punch way above its weight. Incredible sound quality, amazing value.
* Soundblaster Roar - Fantastic design with tons of features and a great sound
* Bose Soundlink Mini - Beautifully stylish with a warm and full room filling sound
* Bose Soundlink V3 - Simple but stylish design with an incredible sound stage
* Bowers & Wilkins A5 - Mercedes top end HI FI in a bluetooth speaker
* Bowers & Wilkins A7 - Mercedes S Class. Absolute top end HI FI quality at a price to match
All of these are available on Amazon. Just “mouse over” the stars for these speakers. You’ll find in each case 90% of customers rated them at FIVE STARS. An incredible achievement. These really are the best speakers in their class as of October 2014.
You can also buy a separate keyboard which turns your full size iPad into a virtual laptop computer.
Again there's lots of options - the best I've tried, tested and reviewed are:-
* Zagg - a top quality "full” keyboard. Some models even have “back-lit” keys - great for sitting in bed late at night
* Logitec Ultrathin - a top quality "half depth” keyboard, but a pleasure to use
Again, take care to buy the keyboard which fits your particular iPad model.
How about Apps?
Firstly, an App, is a small "application" (a program) that runs on your iPad, and there's literally thousands available from the "App Store", with the most important ones (web browser, mail, music player, word processor, spreadsheet etc) are pre-installed or free to download.
Many apps cost $1, and loads are free (frequently advertising funded with the option to "add on" stuff - but beware you can run up a huge bill).
Here's my favourites:-
* Mailbox. Incredibly slick mail app (or use the built in Apple App) (Free)
* Photo & iPhoto. Built in apps to take/view/edit photos (Free)
* Skype or Apple Face Time. Chat to the family for free using a video call (Free)
* Netflix. For a small monthly fee watch a huge collection of films online. (Free)
* Evernote. Write and organise notes. Edit them on your Android, iPhone, iPad, PC or Mac (Free)
* DropBox. Access your files, documents and photos on Android, iPhone, iPad, PC or Mac. (Free)
* Tune In Radio. Listen to 1,000s of radio stations world-wide - or listen to Radio 4 like I do
* Spotify. Stream music for a small monthly fee (or free with ads). Brilliant! (Free)
* eBay. Buy and sell your stuff online. (Free)
* Garage Sale. Fantastic way to produce professional looking sales on eBay.
* Rightmove. Search for your next Flat or House or just gape at daft prices (Free)
* Zite. Online web magazine that learns what you like. Terrific! (Free)
* Movies by Flixter. Read reviews of films on cinema and DVD. (Free)
* Kindle. Read your books from Amazon Kindle bookstore. (Free)
* QuickOffice. Edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents (Free)
* Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple's version of MS Office. Edit/save documents in Word, Excel andPowerpoint format. (Free)
* MS Office. Word, Excel and Powerpoint - now totally FREE (Free)
Of course you could also use it to read web pages, or playing amazing games like “Real Racing” (Free) or "Cut the Rope". It's a wonderful surprise having come from a PC background to find the most expensive game in the top 100 cost less than a cup of coffee from StarBucks.
Personally, I tend to use it for Mail, watching TV (Netflix or Amazon Instant), or shopping using the built in browser - Safari. Having said that, I'm writing this review (using an external keyboard) on the free Apple word processing App, Pages - so it can (with a stretch) do "most" of what you can do on a PC or Mac.
What’s the alternative?
As this is a review not a sales brochure, I’m honour bound to include alternatives. These are the best available as of December 2015:-
- Samsung Galaxy Tab S2: Nice looking, with a super AMOLED screen which is fantastic. More powerful and better battery life. It’s probably the best competitor if you’d prefer an Android tablet. You “may” find it’s cheaper as Android devices often are.
- Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact: Smaller and slightly older, it’s not quite as powerful and the screen not as good, but a good contender. It’s also waterproof so a real option if you’re worried your child will drop it in the bath.
- Google Nexus 9: As it’s a “Google” device you get Android updates faster than everyone else which makes it a great choice if you’re into Android. Made by HTC it’s well made and has great dual facing “BoomSound” speakers. Overall a good alternative.
- Apple iPad Air 2. The bigger and slightly more powerful device although likely to cost a bit more. The larger screen benefits from the ability to use “Split Screen” features - available on the mini - but make more sense on the bigger screen.
- iPad Mini 2: Unless you really HATE using passwords, and need a “Touch ID” fingerprint reader instead, this is a much better option than the iPad Mini 3. It only comes with 16Gb but it’s a lovely device for a web surfer. You will find it MUCH slower than the iPad Mini 4 though, and if you can afford it, I’d go for the more recent model
It's hard to believe the first iPad was first launched in 2010, and there's a huge raft of cheaper tablet computers to choose from, but the Apple iPad (or mini) are still the ones to beat. As “CNET" online said about this device: “It’s perfect for travelling and iOS remains the superior user experience on tablets”.
Yes, there are cheaper Android based alternatives, but the quality, design and beauty of these tablets just set them apart. If they were a car they’d be a top of the range Mercedes, BMW or Porsche.
I do hope this review was useful. As you can see I’m a life-long fan of the iPad.