Apple quietly introduced a new iPad mini last month—the “iPad mini 4”—alongside its gigantic, forthcoming iPad Pro.
I’ve been testing one, on loan from Apple, for the past couple of weeks, and it’s good. It’s somewhat faster than the previous iPad mini, and a bit lighter, thinner, and taller.
But there is something stunning about it: The screen looks amazing relative to previous iPad mini displays.
Specifically, Apple made three screen improvements on the iPad mini 4:
- It sandwiched the screen components closer together, reducing the air gap and bringing the LCD closer to your fingertips.
- It improved the LCD panel itself, which is most obvious in the richness of color. Apple says the new screen has 44% more color saturation than before.
- It added an antireflective coating that reduces glare by 56% over prior iPads—again, according to Apple. This means less ambient light on the screen.
This isn’t just marketing speak. In a side-by-side test with my old iPad mini 2, the differences were really noticeable.
The downside: This year’s compelling new iPhone 6S feature, 3D touch, isn’t available on this year’s iPads. And Apple’s new, pressure-sensitive Pencil stylus won’t work with this year’s iPad mini, either. So, maybe wait until next year? (Of course, if you have a functioning iPad mini and like it, there’s no need to upgrade.) But if you’re in the market now, the iPad mini 4’s screen seems to justify the extra cost over the cheaper iPad mini 2 that Apple is still selling. (The iPad mini 3 has been discontinued.)
The bigger-picture question is: What’s the point of an iPad mini in a world where people are increasingly buying bigger, super-powerful smartphones? For many, a separate small tablet is surely now a luxury that’s harder to justify.
Even with an iPhone 6 Plus, I still use my iPad mini daily for reading in bed and at the gym, and occasionally as a second television. But it almost never leaves the house anymore. (I’ll skip the cellular add-on next time.) And for recent travel, I’ve loaded my larger-screen MacBook with movies and TV shows instead. So my iPad is basically just a fancy Kindle—and Amazon sells those for $50.
Apple is now selling iOS touch devices with 4-, 4.7-, 5.5-, 7.9-, and 9.7-inch screens, and soon a 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Plus, 11.6-, 12-, 13.3-, 15.4-, 21.5-, and 27-inch Macs. What’s right for you? There’s no simple answer anymore.