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Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: A strange mix of the old and new

17 Jul 2019
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
399
inc VAT (64GB, Wi-Fi)

The new Apple iPad mini boosts performance and adds Apple Pencil support – if you liked the old mini, you’ll love this one even more

Pros 
Small and light
Powerful
Apple Pencil support
Cons 
Big, fat bezels
More expensive than the 9.7in iPad
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For a product that was so loved by so many, it was a surprise how long it took Apple to update the iPad mini. The last time a new mini was released was in 2015: Brexit hadn’t been invented yet, and American voters hadn’t yet voted Donald Trump into the White House.

A lot has happened in the intervening three years, but one constant is that interest in a new iPad mini still hasn’t waned. On the Expert Reviews website, it has remained one of the most consistently searched-for products and, when the new model finally went on sale, it sold out almost straightaway.

READ NEXT: The best tablets to buy right now

Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: What you need to know

What’s surprising is that, given the length of time between the last iPad mini and this one, not much has changed – physically, at least. Place an iPad mini 4 from 2015 alongside this 2019 model and most people would find it impossible to tell the two apart.

The case design is the same, down to the last millimetre; the button positions are the same and the screen is the same size and resolution, too.

That’s a little disappointing. You might have thought Apple would have fitted an edge-to-edge display, removing the home button in the interest of a higher screen-to-body ratio, but it's good to see that there are some new features.

The screen tech is new, for instance, and fresh internal, performance-critical components mean this is the fastest iPad mini ever. And it’s also now compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil, making it a handy note-taking companion.

Buy from John Lewis


Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Price and competition

The Apple iPad mini (2019) is available in a variety of configurations. Prices start at £399 and rise to £669 for the most expensive model. You can get it with 64GB or 256GB of storage and each of these models is available with either Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and cellular versions.

The tablet market isn’t particularly competitive at the moment so there isn’t an awful lot of competition for the new iPad mini. At the bottom end of the market, you have the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018), but that’s not aimed at the sort of people who might be thinking of buying an iPad mini. Next up is the 8in Huawei MediaPad M5, which has a superior speaker system, narrower bezels and a significantly lower price of £250, but also significantly poorer performance.

Ironically, the strongest challenger to the new iPad mini might have been the four-year-old iPad mini 4 if it were still available. In its absence, Apple’s cheapest 9.7in iPad is the mini’s closest rival. At £319, the regular iPad has a larger screen than the iPad mini, but it’s bigger and bulkier as a result and, again, isn’t as powerful.

Apple iPad mini 5 (2019): Features and design

On paper, the iPad mini looks an absolute shoo-in for anyone looking for a smaller, more compact tablet. But I’ll reiterate: physically, this tablet is no different to its four-year-old predecessor and that will be a disappointment for all those who like new, shiny toys.

There are positives to this design: it’s still super-light, weighing a mere 300g; it’s as slim as it ever was at 6.1mm from front glass to rear panel; and it’s small enough to slip into most bags without making much of an impact on weight or bulk. The negatives are that the tablet comes with enormous bezels surrounding the 7.9in, 4:3 aspect-ratio screen. To say that the new iPad mini might have been smaller and more compact would be a huge understatement.

Colours are pretty standard Apple fare – the mini comes in silver, space grey and gold, all with a slightly sparkly matte finish – and the buttons and other features are all exactly where you’d expect them to be.

With the tablet held in portrait orientation, you’ll find the volume buttons located on the right edge at the top; the power button on the top edge at the right; the 3.5mm headphone jack (yes, folks – it’s still there!) on the top edge at the left and the charger and speaker grilles on the bottom edge.

Even things you might have expected to change haven’t. The mini still uses a Lightning cable to charge and transfer files from your Mac, not USB Type-C like the new iPad Pro models, and it doesn’t have the new Face ID security system, either. For quick unlocking and payments via Apple Pay, the mini is stuck with Touch ID. That’s not a problem, though. Touch ID works as well as it always did: it’s quick, reliable and very, very rarely fails.

The only major new feature on this year’s iPad mini is Apple Pencil compatibility. Again, you may experience a touch of déjà vu as it’s compatible not with Apple Pencil 2, but the first-generation scribbler. That means you’ll have to put up with charging it, rather awkwardly, by removing the cap and plugging it into the Lightning port at the base of the mini. Not Apple’s greatest design moment.

That’s a bit of a pain but, again, it's not a huge issue. The original Apple Pencil still works brilliantly – it’s super-responsive with a 240Hz pen touch refresh rate, it’s pressure sensitive and it captures your pen strokes almost as accurately as if you were using a pen and paper.

Indeed, more than any other iPad, the mini makes perfect sense as a note-taking, annotation machine and, now that there are hundreds of apps that take advantage of the Apple Pencil, it would be silly not to spend the extra and buy one along with your shiny new iPad mini.

It’s worth noting that – just like Apple’s cheaper £319, 9.7in iPad – the iPad mini is now compatible with third-party styluses. If you can’t justify paying £89 for the Apple Pencil, you can pick a Logitech Crayon instead for £60.

Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Display

That’s it for major new features, but there are plenty of improvements and one of them is the display. As with all previous iPad mini tablets, it measures 7.9in across the diagonal. It has a resolution of 1,536 x 2,048 for a pixel density of 326ppi, uses IPS technology and, impressively, “supports” both HDR 10 and Dolby Vision playback.

It’s important to note, though, that while the iPad mini can play back HDR and Dolby Vision titles via Netflix and iTunes, the peak brightness of the display isn’t high enough to give the full HDR effect.

That’s because the iPad mini’s display reaches only 530cd/m². This is fine for everyday use, but doesn’t meet the standard required for HDR 10, which calls for a peak brightness of at least 700cd/m² (700nits). Dolby Vision is even more demanding.

Nonetheless, this is a high-quality display. In a web browser, it delivers 91.3% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut, which is excellent, and colour accuracy is superb.

It’s as sharp as anyone needs at this size and also reads well in less-than-ideal conditions, mainly thanks to two factors. The first is full lamination, where the glass is stuck to the IPS LCD beneath it, eliminating any glare-inducing air gap; the second is a highly effective anti-glare coating – both are features the cheaper 9.7in iPad doesn’t have.

The anti-reflective coating, in particular, is remarkably effective at cutting down on reflections from the iPad mini’s glossy display, making it readable just about anywhere.

Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Performance

Here’s the real reason for buying a new iPad mini, though: it’s incredibly powerful and responsive. In fact, with the same hexa-core A12 Bionic chip inside as Apple’s iPhone XR, iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max (and 3GB of RAM), it’s an absolute beast of a tablet, and it absolutely blows the competition out of the water when it comes to the benchmarks.

Across all the tests I ran, the new iPad mini’s benchmark scores were on average 75% better than the iPad mini 4; 40% higher than the regular iPad; a stonking 89% superior to the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018); and 57% better than the 8.4in Huawei MediaPad M5. Among tablets of a similar size, there’s simply nothing that comes close.

Just to hammer home the point, I also ran some analysis of real-world game performance using the Gamebench measurement utility. I used PUBG Mobile and Shadowgun Legends for these tests, with quality and the frame-rate cap both set to the highest level possible.

The results speak for themselves. Every test delivered solid, smooth gameplay at the maximum possible frame rate, with very few moments where the frame rate dropped enough to be noticeable.

The one area for disappointment is battery life. Despite every previous iPad mini exceeding the nine-hour mark in our video rundown test, the iPad mini (2019) only reached 8hrs 21mins. That's a mild disappointment but Apple's efficient standby battery management means the battery hardly falls while you're not using it so it's almost always usable when you pick it up, even after a few days of being left on a shelf, doing nothing.

Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Cameras

I’m always a touch aghast to see people get out their iPads to capture video or photos at family gatherings or school events, but the screen does make for a fantastic viewfinder, which is why a lot of people do it.

If you do prefer to use a tablet over your phone, the iPad mini’s camera won’t disappoint; likewise, though, it won’t blow you away with its quality. The main camera at the rear is an 8-megapixel unit with an aperture of f/2.4, which shoots 1080p video at up to 120fps for slow-motion footage.

This is fine if the light is good – a little down on detail compared with a decent smartphone camera, perhaps – but it struggles to produce sharp shots in darker situations.  

At the front – perhaps the more important camera for a tablet – you have a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera, which delivers superlative quality for video calls at up to 1080p in HDR. If you’re looking for a device to improve the quality of your video calls, the mini is worth considering for that alone. The camera is much better than you get on many modern Windows laptops.

Buy from John Lewis


Apple iPad mini 5 (2019) review: Verdict

On the face of it, there isn’t much wrong with the Apple iPad mini (2019). It takes a popular recipe and updates it, adding more performance and Apple Pencil support along the way. 

But I think Apple has missed an opportunity to do even more. In 2019, it’s crying out for an edge-to-edge display or a Smart Keyboard connector to turn it into the ultimate mini 2-in-1.

Those hoping for a more affordable price will be disappointed, too. Although £400 isn’t a huge outlay these days – not compared with prices for the iPhones and iPad Pro – it’s still considerably more than Apple is asking for the larger, 9.7in regular iPad, which incidentally also has Apple Pencil support.

For all that, though, it’s hard to criticise the iPad mini (2019) too much when it’s so superior to its rivals at this size. Despite its slightly old-fashioned appearance, it’s still a great tablet. It’s fast, has a wonderful display and is neat and pocketable. I predict that it will sell by the bucketload.

Apple iPad mini (2019) specifications

ProcessorSix-core, Apple A12 Bionic (2 x 2.5GHz, 4 x 1.6GHz)
RAM3GB
Screen size7.9in
Screen resolution1,536 x 2,048 (DCI-P3)
Pixel density324ppi
Screen typeIPS
Front camera7MP, f/2.2
Rear camera8MP, f/2.4
FlashNo
Dust and water resistanceNo
3.5mm headphone jackYes
Wireless chargingNo
USB connection typeApple Lightning
Storage options64GB; 256GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-Fi802.11ac
BluetoothBluetooth 5
NFCNo
Cellular dataCellular model only (Cat16: 1024Mbits/sec DL; 150Mbits/sec UL)
Dual SIMYes (via eSIM)
Dimensions (WDH)135 x 203 x 6.1mm
Weight301g (Wi-Fi); 308g (cellular)
Operating systemiOS
Battery size5,124mAh battery

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