Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Quick iPad mini 6 review.

Listening to other reviewers, I think my estimation of the iPad mini is less common, but I'll still consciously attempt to stick to things I haven't heard others say.

I remember learning that Steve Jobs wasn't for the idea of an iPad mini, thinking that the more page-like display of the iPad was ideal, noting that other companies were trying smaller tablets after the iPad had arrived, and that a major shortfall was their lack of custom-built apps, leading to an abundance of "blown-up phone apps" where, for example, you'd get rows of tabular information or list items stretched from the width of an Android phone to the width of an Android tablet, accomplishing little in itself.

The first iPad mini "solved" this by arriving as a conceptually compact full-size iPad with the same screen aspect ratio and the same number of pixels. iPhone apps wouldn't run on iPads unless developers specified they should, and they would no more run on iPad mini. However, every existing iPad app would run on iPad mini with no attention from developers at all. One marketing slogan was "every inch an iPad." Meanwhile, the Mini was thin, holdable in one hand, and was based on hardware re-engineering that would later give rise to the first iPad Air.

That's how Apple (that is, Steve Jobs and friends) turned out to see it, but I saw it as the closest thing that had ever been invented to a Star Trek PADD. I don't know that I cared what most of its apps would do by default, so long as there was a device that felt rather like a handheld book beneath whose cover could be found access to much of human knowledge and an array of modern communications tools.

In my mind, the remaining differentiator was the inset rectangular display and the extended "chin" containing the Mini's home button, which identified it too clearly to be mistaken. The original Mini was also not particularly high-powered even for its time (it still felt residually like the era in which miniaturization was sufficiently cool to persuade), though the next four models would catch up admirably and thin the devices further. This sixth-generation iPad mini, a high performer for the current year, inherits the modern iPad design introduced by the Pro in 2018 and adopted by the Air in 2020, less than which it weighs about a third. In my mind, the iPad mini is "finally" the futuristic digital book I've always wanted.

At the time I bought mine, I had a 2018 11-inch iPad Pro whose TrueDepth array had stopped functioning, so I was asking myself the iPad mini alone would work. Was the Mini really so much smaller? I looked up the Mini's dimensions and took a ruler to the Pro for comparison. It really didn't seem much smaller, but somehow, that exercise failed to prepare me. The Mini really is quintessentially book-sized in height and width, so that reading an eBook (or an SNES game's instruction manual) feels about perfect. But upon return, the 11-inch iPad Pro feels vast.

The other aspect of the Pro which feels superior is the variable-frame-rate ("ProMotion") display with efficient low frame rates for static graphics against an especially smooth 120 hertz during scrolling, animations, or even gameplay, whereas the Mini's display "merely" refreshes a traditional 60 times per second. 60 hertz has been a standard all my life, so I thought the 120-hertz feature was almost overkill when I'd bought the iPad Pro. Now that I'm looking for it, the difference is perceptible at will.

Liquid crystal displays refresh from the uppermost line of pixels downward, and "jelly scrolling" is another term reviewers have thrown around when talking about the iPad mini 6, specifically in portrait mode when the display has been rotated such that its intrinsic top is on the functional left or right. (I don't know why reviewers have picked on this model in particular; if it's a property of LCDs generally, shouldn't it affect all LCD tablets?) Though some of those reviewers have called the effect barely noticeable, I noticed it easily when scrolling through tall columns of text. The right-hand edge of the column scrolls ahead of the left-hand edge, and the graphical content in between looks linearly skewed. The angle of skew increases with the speed of the scrolling, and I'd say it's a few degrees at worst. Turning the device 180 degrees so that the bottom becomes the top, the predicted opposite is true, and the left-hand edge of the column scrolls ahead of the right. Again, I can't see why I shouldn't have noticed this with every iPad I've ever used including my first-generation iPad. But I didn't, so I have to believe I'm noticing it now because the flaring conversation has drawn my focus.

Another visible shortcoming: the iPad home screen layout (which has clearly been subject to some metric-related decisions on the addition of widgets to the iPad home screen) looks to have been designed for full-size iPads and merely implicated down to the Mini, so the spacing doesn't feel as natural. This seems mainly because the iPad mini now has the most oblong screen shape of any iPad, whereas the home screen layout was intended for a closer-to-square-shaped space. I've seen it pointed out that the displayed width of a medium-sized widget is now larger on some iPhones than on this iPad mini, and I can see that the iPad mini's built-in weather widget is so cramped that some of the symbols and icons actually end up overlapping each other, which looks almost shockingly shoddy for Apple. But that's as bad as it gets, and it's theoretically improvable in software alone.

I'm not one who aims to own a cutting-edge iPhone, so the iPad mini's front-facing camera might be the first wide-angle camera I've ever owned, and I'm so delighted by it. I've been waving it around and taking test pictures and videos, gaining from it a feeling reminiscent of a first childhood experience such as a bike or train ride. Though I've only previewed it in the FaceTime app, Center Stage is clearly an arrival, much like the redemption of some comically primitive and failure-prone videoconferencing face-tracking software I laughed at two decades ago, succeeding in simulating something much more like the alertness and smoothness of a cameraperson behind one of those small donkey-sized cameras on a TV studio floor, with slow and smooth pans, tilts and zooms.

Those are actually my main points, and most of the rest is consensus. Performance is very good, battery life is very good, and it's great that the Mini now supports USB-C and the second-generation Apple Pencil. It should last and feel viable for years. I bought a cheap clone of the magnetic folio cover for the Mini (especially important to me with my penchant for book-like-ness), and it feels great when I relax and read in the evening. I'll be patting it in gratitude and hugging it occasionally.