Apple iPad mini 3 review

Little brother in the world’s most popular tablet family, a new iPad mini was announced at Apple’s 16th October event, now in Mk 3 guise.Here's our review of the iPad mini 3. See also: iPad mini 3 vs iPad mini 2 comparison.

Apple devoted a considerable amount of stage time to launch the iPad Air 2 but mere seconds for the iPad mini 3. It's easy to see why: there was barely anything to say. Apple made only three changes, one of which is the addition of gold as a colour option, and another is the removal of 32GB as a storage option.

The third change is more significant: the addition of a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, with which you can unlock the device, and buy apps and media from Apple’s iTunes shop.

See also: Which iPad should I buy?

This is the real reason for an updated iPad mini, to bring the number-one requested feature to both the iPad Air 2 and mini. It's arguably there primarily for businesses that want to deploy iPads, but anyone who has an iPhone with Touch ID will know how frustrating it is to be forced to tap in a PIN or password instead of simply pressing your finger or thumb on the Home button.

A less popular 'upgrade' may be the change in storage options. As we’ve seen with the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2, the middle-ground 32GB option has been removed, a policy that may lead users to 64GB models, or else find their device is woefully short of usable storage space.

Of course, this is a pessimistic attitude, since the 64GB iPad mini 3 costs the same as the 32GB version did last year, so you're effectively getting double the storage (and a Touch ID sensor) for the same price.

Apple iPad mini 3 review

iPad mini 3: Design

Although it's no different than the iPad mini 2 - or even original iPad mini - we still love this form factor. The size is ideal for most things, whether browsing the web, reading a book or playing games.

It's also light enough to do some of those things one-handed, and unless you're Vin Diesel, you're unlikely to be able to hold an iPad Air in one hand for long.

Yet another bonus of the iPad mini 3 is that it has a sharper, higher density screen than the iPad Air 2. It's simply because they share the same resolution of 2048x1536, so being smaller, iPad mini 3 (and mini 2) owners can gloat that their tablet has a pixel density of 326ppi, while the Air and Air 2 have a lower density of 264ppi.

Along similar lines, the iPad mini 3 gets to keep its mute switch, which can also be used to lock screen rotation. Apple has removed this on the iPad Air 2 to the annoyance of some.

Unfortunately, the mini 3 still has the same bottom-firing, too-close stereo speakers as before - we're still waiting for the day when Apple prioritises sound quality over minimalistic design.

Apple iPad mini 3 review

iPad mini 3: Hardware and performance

One of the likely reasons that the iPad mini 3 didn't get a processor upgrade is to ensure that there's a decent performance gap between it and the iPad Air 2. Last year the mini 2 and Air had the same A7 chip, so the only reason to buy the Air was if you wanted a bigger screen.

Although the Air 2's A8X processor is even more powerful, there hasn't yet been a moment when we've thought, "If only the iPad mini 2 was faster...". Its A7 CPU is still a powerhouse, and its 64-bit architecture means it should be able to run any 64-bit apps released in the future, so it's still a future-proof purchase.

The fact that the mini 3 doesn't have 802.11ac Wi-Fi is neither here nor there for most people. It still has a dual-antennae MIMO arrangement which means it can theoretically handle double the throughput (300Mbps vs 150Mbps) of 802.11n tablets with a single antenna.

In our tests, we found that - as expected - the mini 3 performed identically to the mini 2. In Geekbench 3, running under iOS 8.1 which ships on the tablet - we saw scores of 1374 and 2484 for single- and multi-core respectively.

In SunSpider 1.0.2, the mini 3 completed the test in 448ms, virtually identical to the mini 2's 440ms. Interestingly, this is slower than when we originally tested the mini 2 (when it ran iOS 7) and it scored 397ms. No-one will tell the difference when browing the web in the real world though: both iPads load web pages very quickly.

Apple iPad mini 3 review

We haven't yet had time to test out the iPad mini 3's battery life,but we'll update this article when we've been able to run our benchmarks. However, since the battery is the same 23.8Wh unit as in the iPad mini 2, it's fairly safe to say that battery life matches Apple's claims of up to 10 hours of watching video or surfing the web.

iPad mini 3: Cameras

Given that the front and rear cameras are the same as the iPad mini 2's it's no surprise that there's no difference in photo and video quality. iOS 8 brings the new Time-lapse video mode and panorama, so apart from slo-mo video which is restricted to the iPad Air 2, the mini 3 is a fairly versatile camera.

Photo quality is decent enough - if not up to the level of the Air 2 or (even better) iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Exposures are generally good, colours are accurate and details are sharp. Video benefits from the rear-mounted microphone, along with the usual sharp footage we've come to expect from iOS devices.

The big screen - compared with an iPhone - also makes for a magnificent viewfinder, but it's harder to keep the iPad mini 3 still when taking Time-lapse videos. Unless you have some kind of clamp or stand, or can prop the iPad at the right angle, it's hard to get acceptable Time-lapse videos.

Here's a photo taken on the new iPad mini 3:

iPad mini Retina sample photo

And here's a 100 percent crop showing the detail captured:

iPad mini Retina 100 percent crop

iPad mini 3 vs iPad mini 2: Bottom line

With the main difference between the mini 2 and 3 being the Touch ID sensor, the fact that Apple is keeping the mini 2 in its iPad range and selling it for £239 (as opposed to £319) for the 16GB Wi-Fi model makes the mini 3 look overpriced.

Logically, though, it isn't as you're getting more for your money than before. But, at the lower price, the 16GB or 32GB iPad mini 2 is clearly the better deal - as long as you can live without Touch ID.

If you need more than 32GB, you could buy a refurbished or second-hand iPad mini 2 (they were available with 64GB and 128GB of storage) or to stump up the extra cash and go for a mini 3.

Apple iPad 2014

See also: iOS 8 review

Apple iPad mini 3: Specs

  • Apple A7 processor (ARMv8-A, dual-core) with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor
  • PowerVR G6430 graphics
  • 7.9in (2048 x 1536-pixel) LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS display, 326ppi
  • iOS 8.1
  • 16/64/128 GB flash storage
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OPTIONAL 4G LTE modem and Nano-SIM card slot, with A-GPS
  • 1.2 Mp FaceTime HD front camera, 720p video
  • 5Mp f/2.4 iSight rear camera, 1080p video
  • dual microphones
  • stereo speakers
  • Lightning dock connector
  • three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass
  • 23.8Wh fixed lithium-polymer battery
  • USB power adaptor
  • 200 x 135 x 7.5 mm
  • 331g (Wi-Fi only model) or 341g (Wi-Fi plus cellular model)
  • Apple A7 processor (ARMv8-A, dual-core) with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor
  • PowerVR G6430 graphics
  • 7.9in (2048 x 1536-pixel) LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS display, 326ppi
  • iOS 8.1
  • 16/64/128 GB flash storage
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • OPTIONAL 4G LTE modem and Nano-SIM card slot, with A-GPS
  • 1.2 Mp FaceTime HD front camera, 720p video
  • 5Mp f/2.4 iSight rear camera, 1080p video
  • dual microphones
  • stereo speakers
  • Lightning dock connector
  • three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass
  • 23.8Wh fixed lithium-polymer battery
  • USB power adaptor
  • 200 x 135 x 7.5 mm
  • 331g (Wi-Fi only model) or 341g (Wi-Fi plus cellular model)

OUR VERDICT

The iPad mini 3 is a great tablet in almost every way, and if that verdict sounds familiar, it's because that was our conclusion about the iPad mini 2. Apart from the Touch ID fingerprint reader and the option of a gold-coloured back, there's no difference between the two models. Apple now offers the mini 2 (in 16 or 32GB versions) for just £239 and £279 respectively, representing a significant £80 saving over the equivalent iPad mini 3. In our view, that makes the old model the better choice for most people.

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