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iPad Mini 3 review: Now superseded by the iPad Mini 4

iPad Mini 3 TouchID
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £319

The iPad Mini 3 was a good tablet, but has been superseded by the iPad Mini 4 and the new 9.7in iPad

The iPad Mini 3 was launched in October 2014 and was replaced by the iPad Mini 4 in September 2015. That makes the iPad Mini 3 seriously outdated, and as you can imagine it’s hard to find a brand-new model since it was discontinued by Apple.

If you’ve come to this review, it’s probably because you were looking at a second-hand Mini (ie from eBay), or wondering if it’s better than the iPad Mini 2. In a nutshell, there wasn’t much difference between the two models – only that the Mini 3 brought Touch ID, but that wasn’t worth the extra premium at the time.

Now, there’s the Mini 4, which is still outdated for its time, but it’s the latest small-sized tablet that Apple has to offer. The Mini 4 is considerably more expensive than the Mini 3, as not only is it still sold by Apple, but it can be found brand-new across a variety of different retailers. The newer model adds a number of improvements – you can read more about it by reading our full review here.

So, is it still worth looking into the Mini 3? Well if you have a Mini 2, we’d advise you to stick to your guns, but if you want a new Apple tablet, we’d advise getting the newer Mini 4, instead.

Our original review of the iPad Mini 3 continues below.

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iPad Mini 3 review: What you need to know

At face value, there isn’t really any denying that the iPad Mini 3 has still cemented itself as one of the best-made tablets on the market. Its sleek aluminium body gives it a reassuring level of toughness and quality that you just don’t get with generally cheaper, plastic tablets.

iPad Mini 3 rear

The fact that it’s also one of the best-looking tablets helps as well, with the nice and thin bezels, full glass front and perfectly neat curved edges reaffirming its premium product status. While the iPad Air 2 might be just a little bit thinner at 6.1mm, the iPad Mini 3 isn’t exactly hefty at 7.5mm.

As we said with the previous two iterations of the Mini, Apple’s third go at the Mini nails that perfect balance between screen size, at 7.9in, and overall physical size. It fits perfectly well in one hand, letting you hold it like an eReader or a book. If you’re the kind of person who travels for work a lot or needs something to do for a commute, the iPad Mini 3’s size is just right for both portability and usability. It’s clearly no surprise that other tablet manufacturers are distancing themselves from 7in 16:9 screens to 8in 4:3 displays, such as with the Nexus 9, as Apple have lead the charge.

iPad Mini 3 side

Cast your attention to the right side of the tablet and you’ll spot the easily-reachable volume buttons and slider switch (now removed from the iPad Air 2), which can be used use for the screen rotation lock or to mute the device.

iPad Mini 3 review: Display

2013 saw the introduction of the Retina display to the iPad Mini 2; with the 2014 model keeping the same screen, with a gloriously crisp resolution of 2,048×1,536; which can also be found on the iPad Air 2. It’s worth mentioning that with just a narrowly smaller screen, the iPad Mini 3 actually has a higher pixel density (326ppi vs 264ppi).

If I’m honest, it’s actually very hard to tell the two apart. If you stare hard enough you get slightly sharper text on the Mini, but it’s a close-run thing and you won’t really be able to tell the difference in general day-to-day use. Image quality is obviously where it’s most important and the iPad Mini 3 is generally pretty good. Thanks to its IPS panel, viewing angles are almost perfect, easily able to see the screen, even from those extreme viewing angles.

Using our colour calibrator to measure the screen quality showed that the screen’s measured black luminance was a dark 0.45CD/m2 and its contrast ratio was a decent 798:1, while brightness was a respectable 365.62cm/m2. Colour reproduction wasn’t so good, though, with the screen only producing just about 67.1% of the sRGB colour gamut. This final measurement doesn’t exactly tell the whole truth, however, as coverage isn’t really the only important thing: it obviously depends on which part of the colour spectrum is causing the problem, as to how noticeable it is in general. With that in mind then, in day-to-day use the Mini produces rich and vibrant colours and is Perfect for browsing the web thanks to its clean and bright whites. That being said, it’s not really the best tablet screen that you can buy, and for detailed photos, the high-quality iPad Air 2 and the more recent iPad Mini 4 has a significantly better display.

iPad Mini 3 review: Performance

Inside is the same 1.3GHz dual-core A7 SoC used in last year’s iPad Mini 2, along with the iPhone 5S and iPad Air too. While we’d typically expect Apple to use a newer chip in its latest model, with the A8 available of course; but that isn’t really to say that the A7 is particularly slow. When it was first introduced in 2013, this 64bit chip was miles ahead of its competition; and three years on, it still gives the rest a run for its money.

It completed the SunSpider JavaScript test in 408ms, which still makes the iPad Mini 3 one of the fastest tablets out there for browsing, even if it has been surpassed by the Mini 4. Game performance is very good too, with the 3DMark Extreme test returning a decent score of 14,413 in the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test. Some of the newer tablets gave us a quicker score, but the Mini 3 is still more than fast enough to run any current game without too many hiccups. With new game titles starting to use the likes of Apple Metal that interestingly lets the developers access the graphics hardware directly, we’re quite likely to see games both running faster and looking better than on rival tablets.

One of the biggest standout things about buying an Apple tablet is that the operating system and hardware are so closely entwined that performance is typically excellent in all apps. No matter what you’re trying to do performance-wise, the tablet runs smoothly and quickly, with the iPad still edging in front of Android in that respect.

Alongside the A7 chip is the low-power M7 co-processor, which monitors both the accelerometer and gyroscope in the tablet, capturing data from it. With the iPhone 6 and the Health app, this information is incredibly useful, as it lets you know how active you’ve been; on the iPad, there’s no Health app and few apps that use this information, so the M7 isn’t quite as useful here.

iPad Mini 3 review: Battery life

As was the case with the iPad Mini 2, the Mini 3 has a respectably sized 6,471mAh battery. In our video playback battery test set to 170cd/m2 screen brightness, the tablet lasted for just over 11 hours on a single charge. That’s still pretty impressive and means that you’ve got a typical day’s worth of heavy use and around a week’s worth of light use in-between charges. While we have seen small tablets from other manufacturers last that few hours longer, it’s fair to say that the iPad Mini 3’s battery still lasts long enough, and isn’t really anything to be laughed at.

iPad Mini 3 Lightning port

You still charge the tablet via the Lightning port located on the bottom of the tablet. Apple does provide a 2.4A USB charger in the box, which you’ll want to use; as the 1A charger you get with the iPhone and pretty much any other devices will definitely take a very long time to charge this tablet.

iPad Mini 3 review: Operating system

With iOS 8 pre-installed on the tablet, the OS was the newest for the time and was a significant upgrade from 7. While keeping the much-needed visual improvements that iOS 7 introduced, iOS 8 also included plenty of new features, which were designed to make it better for people who own more than one Apple device.

First things first, you had the option to make and answer phone calls on your iPhone from your tablet, so if your phone’s sat on charge and not with you, you wouldn’t miss that important call. You can also receive and send text messages (not just iMessages) on your iPad via your iPhone too.

iOS 8 Continuity Make a Phone Call

Handoff is another new feature that arrived with iOS 8, which lets you take over tasks that you started on another device. For example, you can start writing an email on your Mac before deciding to finish it off on your iPad. It’s these kinds of touches that only Apple can do properly, as it creates both the hardware and software.

Apple also made the OS more open, so you can install third-party keyboards, other apps can appear in the Notifications menu and one app can even access another app’s features, using a feature called Extensions: you can edit a photo you’ve just taken using Camera+, for example, rather than the built-in Apple tools.

As well as plain old simplicity and ease of use, iOS 8 still enjoys the best selection of tablet-designed apps, and it still sets itself apart from Android in this regard. On top of that, when iOS 9 released in September, the iPad Mini 3 got it on the day of release, not months later, as is common with Android.

iPad Mini 3 review: Touch ID

TouchID is one of the big new features and selling points of the iPad Mini 3, bringing the fingerprint sensor to the small tablet. It works flawlessly, with a simple tap of the home screen button registering your finger and unlocking the tablet. Apple clearly worked hard on the sensor and the model used here is better than the one originally introduced with the iPhone 5S; we found that it would even recognise a damp finger for example.

iPad Mini 3 TouchID

It’s not all about unlocking, as you can also use TouchID to buy music and apps from Apple too. With the introduction of iOS 8, TouchID is even more useful, as Apple has opened up the API to be used by third-party developers, so you can use the reader in other apps, too. There’s a decent list of people that support this in the UK, with banks such as Natwest and RBS using their banking apps to let you sign in with TouchID. Support from the PayPal app was also introduced, so you can authenticate payments to a huge number of stores through that.

TouchID also works with Apple Pay of course, which launched in the UK just before the iPad Mini 3 graced store shelves. This means you can authenticate online purchases using a swipe of your finger, as there’s no password to remember. You can use it with compatible apps such as Airbnb, Uber and Ticketmaster. You can’t buy anything in shops though as the iPad Mini 3 lacks the NFC chip required for such Contactless payments – no bad thing as you’d look pretty silly slamming your tablet down on the card reader every time you want to buy a coffee.

For everything you need to know about Apple Pay, read our How to use Apple Pay UK – transaction limits, Watch and more.

iPad Mini 3 review: Connectivity

Apple has fitted the iPad Mini 3 with the same wireless chips as the iPad Mini 2. That means that you get 802.11n (dual-band), rather than the newer and faster 802.11ac standard. This wasn’t all that bad of a restriction at the time as there were few 802.11ac networks around, but this number has definitely changed since. Even with an 802.11ac router and a fast broadband connection, the only times you’ll really see the speed improvement is when you’re downloading large files.

If you decide to opt for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version of the tablet you’ll also be able to hook up the iPad to a 3G or 4G network, too. There’s a little bit of a change here, with the Mini 3 now shipping with the Apple SIM, which gives you more flexibility when buying data.

iPad Mini 3 review: Apple SIM

If you buy the Wi-Fi + Cellular version, your iPad ships with the Apple SIM, which is one of the most important changes to the way that we buy data. Rather than having a SIM that only works on one network, the Apple SIM is designed to work on multiple networks, letting you choose which one you want, when you want it, so you can get the best deal for your needs.

Apple SIM

When we initially wrote this review, only EE was supported in the UK, but there was a good range of plans, starting at £1 for 50MB, lasting for one day, up to £30 for 10GB of data, lasting 30 days. Some US networks are also supported, which could make roaming really cheap, as you could land, pick the best local data deal and avoid roaming charges. It’s a radical new way to buy data and a much-needed change.

iPad Mini 3 review: Camera

Although the iPad Air 2 got a new camera, upgrading sensor resolution and to a larger aperture lens, the iPad Mini 3 sadly didn’t, sticking with the same 5-megapixel sensor and f/2.4 aperture lens as is also found on its predecessor. This is starting to show its age now, with some decidedly low-resolution shots.

iPad Mini 3 camera

Quality isn’t too bad in bright light, with the camera producing well-exposed and detailed shots, although slightly lacking in detail if you zoom in, as you can see from the sample shots below (click to view the full-res images).

iPad Mini 3 outside photo sample Cleveland Street

iPad Mini 3 outside photo sample BT Tower

In low light, you start getting a lot more noise, while the lack of detail is still an issue. You can see this in the shot below (click to view the full-res photo).

iPad Mini 3 low light photo sample

With no new chip or sensor, you don’t really get any of the modes that the iPad Air 2 got, such as the fantastic burst mode. Video also lacks the larger tablet’s 120fps Slo-Mo mode, so you can shoot at 30fps 1080p only. It’s good to see that the Timelapse mode is available here though, as you can capture some cool documentary-style footage with ease. Image quality is good enough outside, although the comparatively small sensor starts to struggle with noise in low-light. Overall, the camera’s decent enough for the odd snap and for shooting video outside, but it’s outclassed by the higher quality model in the iPad Air 2.

iPad Mini 3 FaceTime HD camera

On the front is the same 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera, which can shoot video at 720p. Quality is a way behind that produced by the newer camera in the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2, but footage is still sharp and clear enough to have a decent video chat.

iPad Mini 3 review: Verdict

As we said at the start, this review is one that’s largely positive, but with the price overshadowing the tablet. This is largely because Apple has left the iPad Mini 2 on sale, which is identical, bar TouchID, the Apple SIM, Gold colour and storage sizes. If you want a 16GB model you can buy the Wi-Fi iPad Mini 2 for £219; and back when the iPad 3 was still manufactured, it was substantially more. That’s a lot of money for some fairly minor changes.

Things get a bit more complicated as you go up in model sizes, as the iPad Mini 2 tops out at 32GB for £259, while the iPad Mini 3 has no 32GB model and its 64GB model totalled £399, while the 128GB model was £479. We think that the 32GB iPad Mini 2 strikes the perfect balance between price and storage space, especially now at its lowest ever price. If you absolutely need more storage space, you’ve got no choice but to buy the new model; if you can make do with 32GB (a reasonable size), you get a much better deal by buying the iPad Mini 2.

Both iPad Mini 2 and Mini 3 cost £100 more per model if you want the Wi-Fi + Cellular version, with the newer model supporting the Apple SIM. Despite this, we still feel you’ll get a much better deal by buying the older model and using a regular SIM.

To us, it feels like Apple should either have dropped the iPad Mini 2 and/or made the iPad Mini 3 cheaper; and Apple has since ceased manufacturing the Mini 3.

In short, the iPad Mini 3 is simply too expensive for the changes you get. If you want a tablet this size, must have TouchID or need 64GB or 128GB of storage, the iPad Mini 3 is still a good choice; for most people, though, the iPad Mini 2 is much better value for essentially the same thing.

If you’re looking for an equally well-made alternative then check out the Nokia N1, though this Android tablet is only available via grey import at present. Also check out our Best Tablets article for other top picks and a buying guide.

ProcessorDual-core 1.3GHz Apple A7
Screen size7.9in
Screen resolution2,048×1,536
Screen typeIPS
Front camera1.2 megapixels
Rear camera5 megapixels
GPSYes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
CompassYes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
Memory card slot (supplied)N/A
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
Wireless data4G (optional)
Operating systemiOS 8.1
Battery size6,471mAh
Buying information
WarrantyOne-year RTB
Part codeApple iPad Mini 3

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