The new 6th generation iPad mini was the thing that really caught my eye at Apple's September event. The iPhone 13 line up looked great and has excellent reviews but for the first time ever I was really interested in an iPad. I've been using mine for over almost two months now and wanted to share my thoughts on Apple's latest tablet.
Prior to getting the iPad mini, the only iPad we had in the house was actually gifted to us. I can’t quite remember when, but it’s a 4th-generation iPad with just 16GB of storage. Sixteen. It hasn't had a software update in over 3 years and just last month it was classified as obsolete.
It still works and it does a job as tool to help the kids with their homework but it doesn't really cope with much more. Somehow, the Paper app still works and has been a fun creative tool for the kids. It has approximately 250MB of space left and we really only use it for browsing the web more than anything else.
The original Apple Pencil made iPads (the Pro models at least) very appealing to me but the cost was prohibitive. The redesign brought edge-to edge displays and the Apple Pencil 2 made it even a more compelling device but as something that I felt would be a secondary device it just cost too much. While I might aspire to be, I'm not an artist and I'm certainly not going to make a living out of creating content on an iPad... at least not yet anyway.
Earlier this year, the new iPad Air was announced with thicker bezels than the iPad Pros but the same design language. I was very tempted but by the time I configured one with enough storage, I find myself in iPad Pro territory again.
Putting price aside, I've never quite known what to think about the Apple Pencil itself. Apart from a few test runs in an Apple store, I'd never really used one and only ever come across one colleague who made any use of it. My main thoughts on the original Pencil was that it was really clever until you got to the charging mechanism.
You can't really get a feel for how it works an Apple store. Those small chunks of time spent do confirm how good it is as a stylus but don't really give you a real sense of how useful it can be.
So those are my thoughts on the iPad & Apple Pencil, but Apple's California Streaming event really surprised me with how good the new iPad mini looked..
I was really surprised by this device, I really didn’t expect to care about an iPad in any shape or form I'm an avid Moleskine notebook user and the very next day I was measuring how the iPad mini stacked up against one of my many notebooks. It looked like it would be roughly the same width, but a bit shorter.
In fact, the The iPad itself isn’t much taller than the length of the Apple Pencil 2. Somehow though, the iPad mini feels so much larger than the notebooks and doesn't look out of place with the Pencil attached.
The iPad mini
Even though I loved the sound of the iPad mini, I was hesitated buying one. Mainly because of the size compared to my physical notebooks. I just couldn't understand how I would be able to cope with a screen that size.
In the end I placed my order and got mine on the 29th September. I went for a Starlight 256GB iPad mini and I didn't need to worry. The size is perfect. Not at all like a mini iPad or a large iPhone, it just feels like a perfectly sized device for note taking and so much more.
The much reported jelly scroll is real and noticeable. But on LCD displays like this, where the movement is tied to your finger this is nothing new. Our old iPad also has jelly scroll but it’s size makes it less noticeable. This is the smallest iPad going which seems to make it more noticeable. Probably because the whole screen fits into your field of view? Unlike the reports I've seen, the jelly scroll is also noticeable when working in landscape mode. It just depends what you're doing.
It’s not a deal breaker for me. Reviews suggest it’s only a problem in the portrait orientation but I’ve noticed it a lot when swiping sideways in landscape mode. I’d prefer that it wasn’t there but it is and it’s something’s can white easily overlook.
App switching gestures work a treat, but I’m not used to the flow in Procreate that requires a swipe up first. I don’t have a Face ID phone yet so I’m new to this way of switching apps. I’m fine with it for the most part, I just need to get better at understanding exactly when an app moves from being on the right to the left of the app switcher.
I've been using the iPad mini in bed for reading, browsing and a bit of gaming. I just can’t imagine using a full sized iPad or the largest iPad Pro in bed. In fact, I never used the iPad we already had in bed, it just felt too big.
While I use the iPad mini most of the time for note taking, it's one for the family to use. It's screen doesn't really feel that much smaller than the 'normal' iPad so it's not been an issue for the kids using it. The issue I have, is that the iPad doesn't support accounts. Fully on board with this from Dieter Bohn:
One thing that I want to call out AGAIN is that ithe fact that Apple doesn’t support multiple users on the iPad has transcended the ridiculous and entered the realm of user hostility. It’s punitive. It’s dumb. It will affect every iPad review score until it’s fixed.View on twitter
I'm still getting used to the various multi-tasking options available. It seems like this was a bigger pain until iPadOS 15. You can bring up options by tapping the three dots at the top of the screen in compatible apps and slide over works pretty well having embraced it a bit more this past week.
Is there a noticeable difference between the A11 in my 4 year old iPhone and the iPad mini? I have no issue running apps, multi-tasking or app switching. It's nice to have the latest processor but I'd imagine the previous gen iPad mini was already powerful enough for most of it's use cases.
Apple Pencil & Smart Folio
Sometimes it’s hard to tell how good a gadget is. I can say without question that the Apple Pencil 2 is the best stylus I’ve ever used. So much so it doesn’t even feel or behave like a stylus. It is a pencil.
I tried the Pencil by fiftythree to use with their Paper app but unfortunately got my hands on it after they’d already dropped support for it. It worked well but the rubber tips bring too much friction to make it enjoyable to work with. I certainly couldn't use it for note taking.
I also tried some chargeable options from Amazon, but none of them were ever reliable enough and I ended up returning each one. When they did work, the responsiveness on screen was average and they usually came with metal tips that would cause loud tapping sounds on the screen.
Pressure sensitivity combined with your writing angle mean you get a lot of variation between the Apple Pencil and your iPad. The battery life (so far) has been unreal and charging it is obviously a breeze. I love its size and the weight makes it a really nice fidget toy for when you're thinking.
If you have an iPad compatible with the Apple Pencil, do not hesitate to get one. It works brilliantly. I haven’t quite figured out the Note from lock screen workflow yet, it always starts a new note for me and I’m not sure I have a use case for Quick Notes yet. Apart from the first few days I've largely forgotten it's there and only recently started trying to use it when making notes related to a web page I'm looking at.
The Smart Folio wraps around to completely cover the front and back leaving 3 of the 4 edges exposed. This isn’t a big deal, because you get the ability to fold it into a stand and access to the speakers, USB C port, buttons and the Pencil's charging area at all times. It felt like a bit of an oversight that the Pencil itself attaches at the edge that could rest against a surface but it actually doesn’t get in the way at all. If you do disconnect the Pencil there are a couple of magnets on the Smart Folio itself where you can attach use the magnets to rest it but not sure if that's a happy coincidence or by design.
I did spring for a screen protector that gives a more paper-like feel. For use with the Apple Pencil, it's great but it does compromise the feel when using your fingers to play games.
Not that I'll be out taking photos on my iPad but I'm surprised that the iPad mini has an A15 chip and yet no Portrait Mode to speak of. This is something the iPhone XR could do with a single camera and software. iPads are perfect for families and with the camera attached seems like Portrait Mode could have been useful here.
This is technically a new form factor for the iPad so there are quirks with the layout in some apps that need to be recompiled. You get black bars on the sides or top and bottom when an app is still expecting an older iPad's screen but I'm hoping these issues will be ironed out by the two apps (games) where I experience this issue at the moment.
I do like the widgets that iOS and iPadOS support now and thanks to an episode of The Talk Show, I found out that you could choose separate locations for widgets in both landscape and portrait mode.
Apps and games
Right now, I'm sticking with the Notes app, I've been able to organise notes using the folder structure and follow a new format where the latest notes go at the top of the 'page'. I separate the hand written notes by the date and sometimes some typed notes. It works really well and the character recognition is almost unbelievable. It makes for a great demo when anyone wants to give the Apple Pencil a go.
Feedly is really nice to use on the iPad, I just keep forgetting it's there and falling back using it on desktop or mobile.
One app I was really excited to try was Apple's Swift Playgrounds app and I've barely touched it. Not that I want to be a Swift or iOS developer, but I would like to know more and start building something.
As for games, I've mainly been playing Need for Speed No Limits. My main takeaway from this game is that I can't imagine playing it on a bigger screen. Even a 'normal' iPad would feel a bit too big.
When I have some more time, I'll give Football Manager 2022 a go. It's the latest version of a game I first played back in the 90s.
Of all the apps I've used, Amazon is a little bit awkward. It just feels like the Amazon website wrapped as an app. It's OK, but I much prefer using the iOS version or going to website to find whatever I'm looking for.
Tips & final thoughts
Getting the iPad mini brought me back to the present after living a few years in the past. MacRumors put together a good article on tips and tricks you might not know about iOS 15 that pointed out some really nice features.
I really like this iPad mini. The design is great, it's more than fast enough and it just works. I couldn't recommend it highly enough.
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