For a while now Apple has been holding two launch events toward the end of each year. The first event in September is used to launch new iPhones, and new products and services like the Apple Watch and Apple Pay. In October Apple then has an event where the main focus is on new iPads, along with some other announcements such as new Macs or accessories. This year Apple appears to have switched up the formula, as they rolled both the iPhone and iPad announcements into a single September event. With October essentially over it looks like we won't be seeing any more Apple launch events this year, and new products like the iMac with 4K Retina display have had quieter soft launches which supports this theory.

Since Apple combined their iPhone and iPad events into one, we actually have a new iPad shipping earlier than they're usually even announced. The iPad Pro won't go on sale until November, and the iPad Air 2 didn't see an update, but the iPad Mini line got a significant overhaul in the form of the iPad Mini 4, and it has been available for well over a month at this point. The iPad Mini has definitely been in need of a significant upgrade for a while, with last year's iPad Mini 3 essentially just being the iPad Mini 2 with Touch ID. While there's more to a device than spec sheets, they can provide a high level view of how two devices compare to one another. You can view the specs of the iPad Mini 4 compared against those of the iPad Mini 3 in the chart below.

  Apple iPad Mini 3 Apple iPad Mini 4 Apple iPad Air 2
SoC Apple A7
2 x Apple Cyclone @ 1.3GHz
Apple A8
2 x Apple Typhoon @ 1.5GHz
Apple A8X
3 x Apple Typhoon @ 1.5GHz
GPU PowerVR G6430 PowerVR GX6450 Apple GXA6850
NAND 16/64/128GB
Display 7.9" 2048x1536 IPS LCD 9.7" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Dimensions 200 x 134.7 x 7.5mm, 331g 203.2 x 134.8. x 6.1mm, 298.8g 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm, 437g
Camera 5MP Rear-Facing, F/2.4
1.2MP Front-Facing, F/2.2
8MP Rear-Facing, F/2.4, 1.1 micron
1.2MP Front-Facing, F/2.2
Battery 23.8Wh 19.1Wh 27.3Wh
OS iOS 9
Cellular Connectivity Optional MDM9x15 Category 3 LTE + GNSS Optional MDM9x25 Category 4 LTE + GNSS
Other Connectivity 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n + BT 4.2, Apple Lightning 2x2 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.2, Apple Lightning
SIM Optional NanoSIM
Price $399/499/599 WiFi, $529/629/729 LTE $499/599/699

When looking at the iPad Mini 4 on paper it looks very similar to Apple's iPad Air 2. There's a 2048x1536 IPS display, an 8MP rear-facing camera, 2x2 802.11ac WiFi, and 2GB of DRAM packed into a 6.1mm thick chassis. Of course, there is one major difference that can be seen from the specs, and that's the SoC. While the iPad Air 2 has Apple's A8X SoC, the iPad Mini 4 only has their A8 chip. This version of A8 does have bumps to the CPU and GPU frequency compared to the version that shipped in the iPhone 6, but it's missing the additional core of A8X and the GPU is Imagination Technologies' GX6450 rather than Apple's custom 8 core GXA6850.

There can also be differences between devices that don't show up in a spec sheet. For example, the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Air were actually more similar on paper than the Mini 4 and Air 2 are. However, the specifications for the display didn't take into account the iPad Mini 2's limited color gamut, which was a major difference between the two devices. Ultimately, it's difficult to compare two devices just based on their specs, and over the course of the review I'll be looking the different aspects of the iPad Mini 4 in order to compare it to both the iPad Air 2 and the various other tablets that I've tested.


Apple described the iPad Mini 4 as a shrunken down iPad Air 2, and as far as the design goes they really weren't kidding. If you were to shrink down the Air 2 and scale the mass appropriately you would get this chassis. Compared to the iPad Mini 3 it's 3.2mm taller, 0.1mm wider, and 1.4mm thinner. The difference in thickness is definitely noticeable, especially when holding it in one hand. The mass has also been reduced, dropping from 331 grams to 298.9 grams. 30 grams doesn't sound like a ton, but when you're holding a tablet in one hand it's definitely noticeable and helps to reduce fatigue when holding the Mini 4 for long periods of time.

There's really not a whole ton to say about the front of the iPad. It's a big display, with a single button that also hides a fingerprint scanner, and a 1.2MP front-facing camera at the top. The cover glass is a giant flat sheet, and it meets chamfered edges on all sides, although unlike most non-Apple devices the glass is elevated so that your finger doesn't catch on the edges as you swipe off the surface of the glass. This is more expensive, harder to manufacture consistently, and reduces drop protection, but I think it's one of the small details that can make a device much nicer to use than those that lack it. Something interesting is that the spectrum reflected by the glass is different than the glass used on the Air 2. While both tablets have the same anti-glare coating, the more purple-shifted reflections of the Air 2 actually make things slightly more readable when there are visible reflections on the display.

As for the back cover, there's also not much to say about it. The top left corner has Apple's 8MP rear-facing camera, in the middle is the Apple logo, and below that is the word iPad accompanied by various regulatory text that I continually hope can one day be banished and moved into a section of every device's settings application. On the cellular models you also get the plastic RF window at the top, which is white on the silver and gold models, and black on the space grey model. Beyond that it's just an unbroken piece of aluminum, and it feels as sturdy and solid as Apple's products usually do.

One thing worth noting for owners of older iPads is that the mute/rotation lock switch is no longer present. Like the iPad Air 2, that functionality has been moved into Control Center. 

Something I've always noticed is that the industrial design of the iPad lags behind the iPhone by a couple of years. While the iPhone 5 was introduced with new industrial design (ID) with visual characteristics like chamfered bezel edges, the iPad 4 that launched the following month used the same tapered chassis as the iPad 3, and even retained the resin filling between where the display met the edges of the chassis. Interestingly enough, the iPad Mini that launched alongside the iPad 4 actually did match the ID of the iPhone 5 with some obvious concessions like the curved sides to maintain ergonomics. However, I think this was mostly a result of the iPad Mini being a completely new device rather than an interation of a previous one. With the iPad Air Apple brought the large iPad's ID mostly in line with the iPhone 5/5s, and it has stayed mostly the same in each subsequent Mini and full sized iPad while the iPhone has moved onto a newer design with curved glass that meets rounded edges. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I can't help but find myself imaging what the iPad Mini 4 would look like if it shared the ID of the iPhone 6/6s. 

Ultimately, the design changes going from the iPad Mini 3 to the iPad Mini 4 are just those from the iPad Air to Air 2 transition but on a smaller device. The tablet gets thinner, lighter, and there are some design changes to go along with the thinner profile like only having a single row of speaker holes on the bottom of the chassis. It's worth noting that I didn't find these speakers to be any better or worse than the Air 2, and 

If you've ever seen an iPad Air 2 you already know what an iPad Mini 4 looks like, because it's the same sturdy and premium feeling aluminum enclosure but made smaller. I would definitely like to see a new set of iPads that adopt the iPhone's most recent ID, but I'm not at all unhappy with the current state of the iPad's design. Apart from the Dell Venue 8 7840 there isn't really anything that is comparably well built at this price point, and so if you really care about the design and build quality of a tablet the iPad Mini 4 should be high up on your list of devices to consider.

System Performance
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  • tipoo - Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - link

    I wonder if this is pretty much what we can expect from the A8 in the ATV 4. Though it has a heatsink and no battery requirements, so it could go a bit further if they were arsed. Anything coming on that, AT team?
  • Spectrophobic - Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - link

    It's a bit insulting that it uses the same SoC as the iPod Touch 6G. I would've preferred a underclocked A8X over a speed-bumped A8, mostly for the A8X's GPU. Considering the typical iPad user, this probably wouldn't be much of an issue as the A8 is still a fast SoC for the mundane things people do.
  • Tech_guy - Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - link

    Yeah the GPU in the A8 wasn't designed to push this many pixels. And I hate paying a premium for a year old chip.
  • NetMage - Saturday, October 31, 2015 - link

    Paying a premium over what?
  • denem - Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - link

    iPad Air Mini 4 should have shipped with an A9 processor, a, TouchID 2 sensor, and, IMO, debuted before the iPhone 6s. The iPad 2 for example introduced the A5 months before the 4s. It was Apple’s most significant platform move ‘evah’. Here is our new technology. This is exciting!

    “iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price” Steve Job, Jan 28 2010. ‘Magical and Revolutionary’ are smoke and mirrors, but from the iPad 3, the formula became last years technology and yesteryears design. Serviceable? Yes. Exciting? No.

    Even when the Air 2 did have genuinely new/interesting advancements: the A8X and 2GB Ram, Apple could hardly bring themselves to talk about it. Nothing should be allowed to detract from the iPhone. If the iPad is less expensive, it must be inferior, or so the thinking goes. Even today, the iPad Pro, which matches iPhone pricing does not sport the new TouchID. Apple’s whole mindset is flawed. An IPad is not a substitute iPhone. Doh.
  • Tech_guy - Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - link

    Yeah I would've bought it for sure with an A9 chip which they easily could've had considering they take less power than A8. The mini 4 GPU is the part that turned me off instantly. Iphone 6 plus GPU performance a year later. No thanks.
  • denem - Thursday, October 29, 2015 - link

    And let me guess, an A9 iPad would not have put you off from buying an iPhone if you needed one? No, hand me down technology does not impress anyone, but hey, let's kill enthusiasm and an entire product line while we are at it. Even the iPod got an A8 when it was still current. Bozos.
  • denem - Thursday, October 29, 2015 - link

    I guess I should have added that with 4x as many pixels to push, the mini 4's onscreen graphics are slower, a lot slower than the iPod 6. For example, the iPod 6 scores 41.7 fps onscreen for Manhattan HD, GFX Metal, while the iPad mini 4 pushes 15.7. (Source: arstechnica) Double plus stupid.
  • Tech_guy - Thursday, October 29, 2015 - link

    Yeah for the mini 4 to be taken seriously by me, a typical power user, it needed better hardware inside. It's literally the performance of an iPhone 6 plus graphics wise, which there's some instances where 6 plus dropped frames and lagged, even in the animations in iOS 9. I have yet to even go look at one because I was SO turned off by A8 rather than A8X or A9. Apple really did exactly everything they needed to do to chase me away from the iPad mini line, and iPad air 2 is too bulky in my personal opinion.
  • akdj - Sunday, November 1, 2015 - link

    You guys are hilarious. The A8 is t designed to push this many pixels (I'm writing this on iPad mini 4) but the A5 was? Or the A6x? The A7? I've got an iPad 4 as well as the Air 2 and I've used it daily since its release. It's awesome! Truly phenomenal. I've also used the mini 2 since it dropped. Killer tablet with excellent performance. Even today. It's using an A7 with identical resolution.
    That said, doubling the memory with the GPU & CPU share makes all the difference in the world. On the iPhone 6s, the Air 2 and now the mini 4.
    I've got every triple A title ...if that's what you 'power users' are power using??? (I'm lost and I'm making money with mine!) from the App Store. Every. Single. One. There's not a single app or task i can perform on my Air 2 or iPhone 6s+ that I can't just as efficiently and quickly 'do, play, maiplulate read, consume, watch or produce' on the iPad mini 4. It's been through ten and twelve hour days with me the last few weeks and it's all the Air 2 is - I'll agree in a smaller package.
    App developers are currently releasing apps aimed at the A5 & 6 as required hardware. Tomorrow that won't change and if anything will benefit the new mini developers move into the 64bit minimum requirements of the first edition, the A7.

    Thought as an actual user, consumer, producer, 'fellow power user?' (I've got a 15" MacBook Pro I typically use for heavy lifting but resources at thee largest tech and software companies in the world are now shifting some cases 'more' resources to mobile than the desk. As a Creative Cloud subscriber since its inception, I'm floored by Adobe's mobile releases. They're incredible and work perfectly with Premier Pro, AE, PS and InDesign. IMHO MS could've left the iPad versions of Word, Excel, Power Point and One Note on v1. They're beyond awesome. I also fly (as a pilot) and rely on the iPad mini as my flight bag. It files my plans, tells me how much gas I need, weather and traffic conditions with up to date Jep charts, plates and NOTAMS. I'm not sure how much more power you're using than I am but there's simply no equal. Anywhere.
    You guys all sound goofier than a three dollar bill. A month ago you couldn't get this package of performance. Today you can. It's lacking the A9, but has all other bases covered with display and doubling of RAM, incredible battery life and a smaller package yet YOU'VE got to have the might A9 or the three cores of the A8s ...when I'm absolutely sure as an owners of both you've NECER brought an Air 2 to its knees or limits. If so, please share (I'm aware of two limits on the Air 2 with apps currently available on iOS only ...any guesses?)
    I'm honestly curious as to what constitutes a 'power user' of an iPad
    Hilarious. Thanks for the laugh

    K. Next
    Ryan, it's Sunday bro!
    :) I kid
    Excellent write up as always. Many thanks

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