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Review: The new iPad mini goes upscale, the basic iPad stays basic

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22.09.2021

When Apple held a virtual product launch last week, it called the event California Streaming and filled it with footage of its home state’s natural beauty. But if the goal had simply been to accurately tie together the news it was announcing, it might have called the launch something like The Next Logical Step.

That’s because the company sprung little in the way of surprises, departures, or major advances on us. Instead, it rolled out a lot of stuff you might reasonably have expected if you’ve been following the evolution of its products. Better cameras for iPhones? Larger screens for the Apple Watch? Of course.

That sense of obvious progression was especially true of the two iPads that were introduced at the event: the ninth-generation iPad and the sixth-generation iPad mini.

That ninth-generation iPad—which I’m going to call the “basic iPad” in this review, since that’s what it is—improves on its predecessor but brings no major changes. Instead, it continues with the trajectory it’s been on for several years, emphasizing familiarity and its accessible $329 price over raw innovation. The new iPad mini, meanwhile, is a substantial upgrade. But the improvements are mostly about bringing Apple’s smallest-screen tablet in line with last year’s iPad Air—itself the beneficiary of features that originated in the higher-end iPad Pro.

Both of these new models arrive in stores on Friday. Apple provided me with review units, and I’ve been trying them over the past week. Since much more has changed with the iPad mini, let’s tackle it first.

Unlike most models in the iPad lineup, the mini has rarely been updated on a regular schedule. Nor has it stuck to one clear formula, beyond the fact that it has a small screen and is therefore especially easy to hold and carry. It started out as a lesser tablet than the full-sized iPad of the time, then caught up—only to sometimes fall behind again or even be left for dead by rumormongers.

The new iPad mini tries yet another approach: It’s a nicer tablet than the basic full-sized version, at a significantly higher starting price of $499. In most respects, it’s the same kind of tablet as the midrange iPad Air, only smaller.

As with the iPad Air, the new iPad mini’s Touch ID sensor has migrated to the power button on the top. [Photo: Apple]The previous mini, which had been on the market for two and a half years, tampered little with the mini design in its traditional form. It sported the classic iPad industrial design, including a round home button/Touch ID sensor on the front and sculpted edges that made it feel particularly thin in your hands. It used a Lightning connector rather than the newer and more versatile USB-C. Heck, it even had a headphone jack.

All that changes with the new version. Like the iPad Air, the mini has relocated the Touch ID sensor to the power button on the device’s top edge. That allowed Apple to shrink the bezels and add more display real estate: 8.3 inches, up from the previous........

© Fast Company


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