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Issue #21: Dreaming about the iPad mini

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I got my iPhone 12 mini a couple of days ago, and I’m utterly enamored with it. I wrote about this at length on my blog, but I figured we’d spend some time talking — and thinking — about the mini in Apple’s iPad lineup. Because I have thoughts and dreams.

You’re getting this right, Tim?

I’ve owned more iPad minis than I care to admit. It’s such a tantalizing little device, the perfect reading companion, at least in theory. The current iPad mini in the household is claimed by our tiniest resident, but I kind of miss it.

The iPad mini 5

Apple’s iPad mini on sale is the fifth generation, with the A12 Bionic chip, the same as in the regular iPad. It’s a competent chip, but obviously far behind the A14 Bionic in the iPad Air. That said, it’s likely that the A12 will be more than enough for most, if not all, of your needs. If you’re eying an iPad mini for consumption and entertainment, then you’re pretty much good, although there are likely games that will make the tiny thing sweat.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room right away: The iPad mini isn’t ideal as your main iPad if you’re making the switch from a traditional computer. The screen’s too small, and although there’s first generation Pencil support, the device suffers because of its size for most productive things. There are no Magic or Smart Keyboards either, you’ll have to use stands and stand-alone bluetooth keyboards (or really cramped folio cases), which work fine. Even so, you might find the screen a tad small for working with anything other than simple text.

That doesn’t mean that the iPad mini can’t be your primary — or only — computer. If you’re doing most of your computing on your phone today, the iPad mini is a step up for sure. And if your computer needs are light — browsing the web, watching Netflix, playing casual games, email — then there’s nothing stopping you. You can get away with photo editing and even video work on an iPad mini, but heavier things will be, well, less fun and snappy. And don’t even consider firing up Affinity Designer to design a website, that would be horrible on such a small screen.

It’s pretty simple: The iPad mini will do fine as your primary iPad if screen size isn’t crucial.

Which is funny because the way I look at the iPad mini is that it’s exciting because of its screen size, not in lieu of it.

The secondary iPad

My primary computing device is a 12.9” iPad Pro (as you know). It’s great for all the things a smaller device isn’t, but it sure is a bit bulky for reading anything but comics and graphic novels, isn’t it?

Enter the iPad mini. It’s the perfect secondary iPad! The size is ideal for reading long-form articles, fiction, or just kicking back surfing the web. It’s great for video, especially when traveling (if we ever get to do that again), and I prefer its size for most games. Grindstonemight look great on my iPad Pro, but it’s just unnecessarily big to hold, and two-thumb stick-shooters just doesn’t happen on 12.9”. The iPad mini doesn’t have that problem, it’s a great size for gaming. There are even slap-on MFi controllers, although I can’t vouch for their quality. It’s a great size for games, that 7.9” screen.

That screen’s great for reading too, thanks to True Tone. Sure, it’s not the Liquid Retina edition we’ve got in the new iPad Air, but it beats the regular iPad, with antiglare and P3 colors.

I can really see myself kick back with an iPad mini, checking RSS feeds in Reeder 5, catching up on saved articles in Pocket, casually browse the web, read a chapter in an ebook, before diving into Outlanders for a bit.

So, why don’t I?

The problem with progress (and my dream iPad mini)

Just like I could never go back to a LCD screen on my iPhone (OLED baby!), I cringe when I pick up iPads with the old form factor. Old in this case is anything not carrying the sharper edges introduced (on iPads) with the second iPad Pro design, and used on the new iPad Air. I love that design, I love that it uses USB-C, and I so prefer the second generation Apple Pencil to the first one.

My dream iPad mini is a shrunk down iPad Air. It’s that simple. Give me a 256 GB option, USB-C, sharp edges, a great screen, Pencil 2 support, and I’m in, I’ll buy it on day one.

I hope we’ll get it. It’s possible, although not anytime soon. The regular iPad isn’t that long in the tooth, and it shares the same innards (almost) as the current iPad mini. Meanwhile, iPad Air is a dumbed down iPad Pro. The iPad mini might outperform the regular iPad — a surprising choice, they should be the same, but they’re not — when it comes to features, but I can’t see Apple bringing it up to the mid-tier level of the iPad Air.

Or, to use the iPhone as an example: The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are just about identical (the mini charges a bit slower) in every way that matters, except size. That said, the iPhone lineup doesn’t have the Air oddity, so who’s to say what a sixth generation iPad mini will be.

I think all upcoming iPad models will adopt the Pro/Air form factor. The older models, with Lightning and rounded corners, will stick around as entry level, and for education, but there’ll be few if any spec bumps.

At least, I hope that’s the case.

Do you have a secondary iPad? What model is it, and what do you use it for? Let me know, either by hitting reply (if you’re reading this in your inbox), commenting, or tweeting to @tdh.

Until next time!

— Thord D. Hedengren