I'm glad to see the new updates to the iPad mini 6 but unfortunately there are some downgrades too.
Design of the iPad mini 6 has finally been updated to the same design aesthetics shared by the iPad Air 4 (2020) and the iPad Pros from 2018 or newer. With that comes a larger 8.3-inch display in the same physical size as the iPad mini 5 (2019), the switch from lightning to USB-C port, and the support for Apple Pencil 2nd gen that charges by the side of the tablet.
The downgrades affect the display which I will talk in detail further down.
The price of the iPad mini has increased from US $399 to $499. There are the design changes. There's also the increase in RAM from 3GB to 4GB. Base storage is still 64GB. Apple's using the same A15 Bionic chip which is used in the iPhone 13. While the benchmarks of A15 are most certainly much higher than any tablet out there, the overall user experience is actually no difference from the iPad mini 5. You can decide whether the new iPad mini 6 is worth the extra $100.
The model with 256GB storage is US $649.
Things included in the box
There's a 20W charger that can charge the tablet from 0 to 100% in around 110 minutes. Battery life is around 6hr 30min with maximum brightness. With auto-brightness, battery life is around 8hr 30min depending, of course, on what you are doing. Battery life is decent.
The other thing included is the USB-C to USB-C cable.
The main selling point of the iPad mini is the compact portable design. As far as I know, this is currently the most powerful tablet in this small form factor.
Physical dimensions measure 195.4 x 134.8 x 6.3 mm. This is slighter smaller than an A5-sized sketchbook. And when you factor in the bezels, the actual drawing area is much smaller than an A5-sized sketchbook.
The smaller size of the tablet does affect drawing experience though.
If you want to rest your hand on the tablet, it's going to cover a larger proportion of the display compared to the larger iPads.
The weight is 293g which is considered quite lightweight. Even with a case added, it's still considered light. This is a tablet you can hold easily with one hand to draw on for long periods of time without feeling discomfort. You can even hold it horizontally with one hand easily, especially when using Procreate since you have to use your thumb to reach the slider controls on the left.
My hands are small and even I can grip the tablet securely on both edges in portrait orientation.
The updated design looks good. I like the uniform bezels. The bezels are actually the same size as the iPad Air 4 and iPad Pros (2018 and newer, shown above). But because the tablet is much smaller, the bezels look proportionally bigger. The bezels offer space for your fingers to grip onto. The new iPadOS 15 also offers additional space for your fingers to go onto the display without hitting any icons accidentally.
Colours on the IPS LCD display look good. Resolution is 1488 x 2266 pixels. Aspect ration is 3:2 ratio. Pixel densitiy is 327 PPI. All the visuals look sharp and pixelation is not noticeable.
Brightness is up to 500 nits so this can be used outdoors under bright conditions too.
The display is laminated so there's no gap between the pen tip and the line on the screen. There's no parallax, no misalignment. Apple Pencil tracking is extremely accurate.
This IPS display unfortunately has screen tearing effect, aka jelly or wavy effect, when scrolling.
This is a behaviour quite common to OLED displays. E.g. Samsung Tab S3, S4, S6, S7+ all have this screen tearing effect. This problem has been solved many years ago so I'm not sure why Apple is using whatever display they are using on the new iPad mini. This is the first time I see screen tearing on an iPad. To have screen tearing on any tablet in 2021 is inexcusable, and coming from Apple it's kinda ridiculous.
The screen tearing effect is obvious when scrolling web pages at normal scrolling speed. If you scroll real fast you actually won't see it because you'll be distracted by the judder effect of the 60hz refresh rate. Having a 120hz refresh rate is nice but not having one is not a deal breaker. Seeing the screen tearing effect is quite disappointing.
The iPad mini has the oleophobic and anti-reflective coating which works well. In the photo above you can see the reflection on the iPad mini (left) is less bright.
The second downside to the screen is it's more slippery compared to other iPads. When I have the Apple Pencil on other iPads, I can actually feel resistance. Sure it's not like drawing paper or a matte screen protector, but there is some resistance. On the iPad mini, the Apple Pencil glides around very easily, almost too easily for my liking. This means it's going to be more challenging to control. When writing, you want to write fast so smooth is nice. But when drawing, you want more resistance so smooth is not as nice. It's a minor downside though compared to screen tearing.
iPad mini 6 now supports Apple Pencil 2 which is sold separately for US $129.
The Apple Pencil can snap to the side of the tablet for Bluetooth pairing and charging. You don't have to worry about battery life since the Apple Pencil is always attached by the side.
Because the Apple Pencil has to go on the long side, the volume buttons have relocated to the top at the opposite end of the power button. The home button with finger print sensor is gone and replaced with Touch ID on the power button which works effectively and is real fast. This is the fingerprint power button that Apple should have added to their iPhones.
There are two sets of speaker grills at the top but the only one speaker is located near the volume buttons.
At the bottom, lightning port has been replaced by USB-C which is an extremely welcome update. Transfer speeds are USB 3 which is to say it's fast. As a side note, Apple still using the lightning port on their iPhones is a silly move.
Depending on how you hold the tablet with two hands, your hands may actually cover the speaker grills.
I don't run benchmarks for a living so I don't have any numbers for you. Based on the numbers I've seen, the scores are fantastic. Apple A15 Bionic chip is powerful and is able to handle the most demanding of games. It obviously has no problems running drawing or graphic design apps with ease. Everything is fast and smooth with this tablet.
Even though the tablet only has 4GB of RAM, you can still open multiple apps and switch between them without lag. Web browsers may need occasional reloads but that's such a minor thing.
These are the number of layers you can get with Procreate (v5.1.8) at the time of this review.
|No of layers
|iPad 9 (2021)
|iPad mini 6 (2021)
|26 (at launch)
|iPad Air 3 (2019)
|26 (19 before update)
|iPad Air 4 (2020)
|57 (19 before update)
|iPad mini 5 (2019)
|iPad Pro 2018
|iPad Pro 2020
|73 (56 before update)
|iPad Pro 2021
|8GB and 16GB
|116 (26 before update)
You may notice the maximum number of layers that can be created is 26, which is much less than the iPad Air 4 which also has 4GB of RAM. Anyway, there's a good chance that Procreate developers will be updating the app soon, like they always do, to take advantage of the extra RAM.
Drawing performance of Apple Pencil is consistent, reliable and predictable. Tilt and pressure sensitivity works great. Palm rejection is flawless with apps that allow only pen input for drawing.
Initial activation force (IAF) is minimal. You can get a line as long as the pen tip is on the glass even if no pressure is applied. You can get tapered strokes easily and that is only possible with a sensitive stylus with minimal IAF. The Apple Pencil has the best stylus performance on a tablet, beating the Samsung S Pen by a slight margin.
This was drawn with Concepts, one of my favourite drawing apps on the iPads and Android tablets. The difficulty here was with drawing straight lines because the display is quite slippery. You really need to have the right drawing technique to draw straighter lines. And you definitely need to be more conscious of controlling the Apple Pencil so that it does not glide around like a deer on a frozen lake.
The buttons at the top left are kinda small. Sometimes I have to tap several times to get to the home gallery. If you want 100% accuracy with tapping the buttons, just use the Apple Pencil.
User interface elements such as buttons, sliders, palettes are all slightly smaller compared to larger iPads. This applies to all drawing apps. With Procreate, I was still able to control the sliders by the side without issues.
My overall drawing experience on the iPad mini is positive. The only thing is drawing on a smaller display feels quite restrictive and limiting to me. I zoom in and out more often because I need to get a larger view. The same visuals will appear larger on a larger tablet so there's need to zoom in. Also when you zoom out to see the overall view, the art looks smaller, relatively speaking compared to larger iPads.
Personally for me, I prefer to draw on a display that's at least A5 in size. Shown above is the iPad mini placed beside the Lenovo MatePad 10.8 (2021). Any tablet that's 10-inches are larger are going to be noticeably more comfortable to work with. And you can place your hand on the display without blocking too much of the display.
How much storage do you need?
Look at your current workflow to decide how much storage to get.
If you're someone who already draws daily, I probably recommend getting the model with 256GB. If you draw a few times each week, 64GB should be sufficient.
Note that the actual storage you get with the 64GB model is actually just 46.3GB. That's 59.3GB (format discrepancy) minus 13GB (iPadOS 15).
Should you run out of storage in the future, you'll have to transfer your art out either to online storage or external storage.
128GB is a good amount to have but Apple does not offer that option because they want to push people to get 256GB and earn that extra $150.
The updated design now makes the iPad mini looks up to date, modern. Apple Pencil no longer charges by sticking out from the bottom.
The main selling point of iPad mini is portability. Whether you value portability over the size of the drawing area comes down to personal preference. I've a friend who swears by the iPad mini because he values the portability. I personally don't mind carrying a bit more weight to get a larger drawing area to work with. The iPad Air 4 (458g), iPad 9 (487g) and 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 (466g) are all noticeably heavier than the 293g iPad mini, but it's not like they are heavy to the extent it would strain your back.
Drawing performance of Apple Pencil is fantastic. Drawing experience though is affected by display size. I just prefer having a larger canvas space and larger UI elements to work with.
Unfortunately there are downgrades. The IPS display has obvious screen tearing issue which I wish can be fixed with a software update but my guess is it's probably a hardware issue. And the display is also more slippery. And the refresh rate is still 60Hz. No big deal to me though regarding refresh rate but the screen tearing effect is not representative of the quality I expect when paying US $499 for a tablet (and Apple Pencil 2nd gen is another $129).
The iPad mini 6 is a great tablet marred by the display downsides. And considering Apple actually increase the price by $100, it leaves a bad taste. But hey, if you want the most powerful small tablet out there, iPad mini 6 is the only option.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Compact and portable
+ Build quality
+ Beautiful design
+ Anti-reflective coating
+ Good brightness
+ 6hr 30min battery life at max brightness
+ Touch ID
+ Apple Pencil 2 support
+ Tilt and pressure sensitivity works well
+ Palm rejection works well
+ Good audio quality
- Jelly effect when scrolling in portrait orientation
- Display is more slippery than other iPads
- Keyboard covers good portion in landscape orientation
- US $100 price increase over previous generation
- Hand will cover a larger proportion of the display while drawing
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