Apple's iPad lineup has long included the versatile mini. But the new 6th generation iPad mini leaves out one important upgrade, prompting Erik Eckel to worry the new mini's days may be limited.
iPad Mini fans waited. A model refresh was overdue, with the iPad Mini last updated in March 2019. So, Apple's September 2021 announcement introducing the 6th version of the iPad Mini was welcome news.
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With a physically smaller size (7.69 inches by 5.3 inches versus 8 by 5.3), yet a larger (8.3 inches versus 7.9) display and significantly faster A15 Bionic CPU, the sixth-generation Mini, at first, appears a sound upgrade. Compared with the old 5th-gen model, the new version is a much-improved proposition. This is especially true considering how much power Apple's packed into the smaller device, and the device's size matters. That's why there's a Mini.
The Mini is an important form factor. The previous 5th-generation 7.9-inch Mini nicely filled a gap between iPhones—which even in their max sizes often don't typically provide sufficient space for comfortably completing many tasks, such as editing spreadsheets, writing reports and working within cloud apps—and a laptop. While an iPhone can work in a pinch, the Mini has been a handy stop-gap without proving too large or cumbersome. Considering the minimum MacBook size is now in the 13-inch range, mobile professionals seeking an in-between find the Mini an intriguing option.
SEE: 5 steps for replacing a Mac laptop with an M1-powered iPad Pro (TechRepublic)
But there's little difference to me between the Mini's size and weight (almost 300 grams) and the 11-inch iPad Pro's (466 grams). And comparing the two isn't a fair fight. Not at all. While the weight difference is about equal to that of a featherlight iPhone 13 Mini, the iPad Pro includes Apple's celebrated M1 CPU. The M1 model can be paired with Apple's elegant combination trackpad and keyboard cover, while also powering an external display with performance to spare.
While still light and portable, the 11-inch iPad Pro provides a brighter 600-nit 2388-by-1668 display, as compared to the new Mini's 500-nit 2266-by-1488 screen. The Pro's M1 chip, meanwhile, is becoming Apple's standard CPU, including in Mac laptops and desktops. The Mini's less capable A15 Bionic chip isn't even full powered but a down-clocked version, according to multiple published reports.
The M1's performance and capability mean the portable device, while filling the same gap as the Mini between an iPhone and a MacBook, can actually replace a laptop. The Mini can't.
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Unless you're seeking a small tablet for limited activities, I don't see much of a role for the Mini in professional environments. That's why I purchased the 11-inch iPad Pro, instead.
Granted, the iPad Pro costs $300 more than the Mini. The M1's added capabilities and subsequent real-world service life more than justify the additional incremental expense, in my mind. Having learned the value of fewer but better tools and having encountered the same workplace frustrations and need for flexibility as has the rest of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, the up charge just doesn't matter to me like it used to. I'd rather have the performance and flexibility the 11-inch iPad Pro delivers, and that's why I won't be buying the new Mini.
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