iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge1

Although we are looking at two Apple tablets that are getting up there in age, the iOS driven iPad Mini 2 and iPad Mini 3 are holding up very well. So well, in fact, that we want to take another look at them side-by-side. Join us for a little iPad (pun intended) shootout.

Apple released the iPad Mini 2 in 2013, it was a decidedly incremental update from the iPad Mini. In 2014, the iPad Mini 3 landed, offering possibly fewer changes over the previous than before, the only major change, at least on the surface of it all, is the addition of a fingerprint scanner in the Home button of the tablet, but there is much more under the hood.

Without any further delay, here is our Apple iPad Mini 2 vs Apple iPad Mini 3 comparison.

Design

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge4

As you can see, the overall design of the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Mini 3 are very similar. Apple took the simple approach to not fixing it if it isn’t broken. This means that you have in front of you two 8-inch tablets with a solid metal back, full glass front and a few buttons and ports in between.

As is the case with the differences between the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2, the iPad Mini 3 includes a fingerprint sensor not found on the iPad Mini 2. Was that a little confusing? It might help to mention that the iPad Mini 3 and iPad Air 2 are the same generation of device, and it shows.

iPad Mini 2 IPad Mini 3 iPad Air iPad Air 2

The fingerprint sensor on the iPad Mini 3 lives within the Home button, which is devoid of the square design found on the previous generation iPad Mini 2 Home button. This aesthetic difference serves as the best way to differentiate the Mini 2 and Mini 3 when looking at them. You may notice the extra metal ring around the rear camera sensor of the Mini 2, but now we’re just getting picky, these devices really are identical in most aspects.

Both tablets house a Lightning port in the center of the bottom edge, surrounded by dual speaker grills. The right edge has the volume buttons as well as a ‘hold’ switch, which mutes the device. Power button lives on the right hand side of the top edge, headphone jack on the left.

iPad Mini 2 IPad Mini 3 thickness

Apple states that these two tablets are identical in dimensions all the way around. I would swear that the iPad Mini 3 is slightly thinner, shorter and lighter than the iPad Mini 2, but we would need extremely precise measuring tools to be sure. The spec sheet for each reads 7.87-inches in height, 5.3-inches in width and 0.29-inches (7.5mm) depth for 0.73 lbs.

Display

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge3

Both the iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Mini 3 are marketed as 8-inch tablets, but the actual display size is 7.9-inches. Packed in there are 2048×1536 pixels for a 326 ppi viewing experience. Needless to say, it is a treat to view these screens.

Display brightness is fairly similar between the two tablets, fairly easily viewed in the dark of night or in direct sunlight. Viewing angles are great. The only difference between the two, to my eyes, the newer iPad Mini 3 has a truer white, the iPad Mini 2 appears more yellow, but not so much I would worry about it.

Performance

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge11

The funny thing about these tablets was Apple’s decision to essentially change nothing. The iPad Mini 3 does have some improvements over the iPad Mini 2, but these appear to simply be a by-product of the advances in materials and manufacturing technique, the specifications sheet reads off two identical machines.

Powering the tablets is the 64-bit A7 processor, 1GB of RAM and the M7 motion coprocessor.

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge13

Real world performance is more than acceptable, you should not have issue running intensive games or pulling up heavy websites. Load times for larger apps will give you enough time to look away from the screen and take a breathe, but won’t leave you with nothing to do for very long.

While there is little these tablets won’t be able to do, Apple has decided not to give them the best of the latest iOS 9 multi-tasking features, reserved only for the iPad Air 2. Also not found here is slow motion video capture, but we’ll talk about that later.

Hardware

iPad Mini 2 IPad Mini 3 lightning port2

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, please prepare to hear more about how these two devices are identical. First, let’s look at the differences.

The iPad Mini 3 improves upon its predecessor by adding a fingerprint sensor, which lives under that Home button. The primary purpose of this bio-metric tool is for security, which may sound to many like a waste of an upgrade, but do keep in mind that this allows for the use of Apple Pay in a secure manner.

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge18

Now for the similarities. There is that 7.9-inch display with the A7 processor keeping things going. A 720p capable camera sensor lives on the front of both devices, with a 5MP shooter out the back. Dual channel 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi comes in the a/b/g/n variety with optional LTE radio to stay connected on the go.

The ambient light sensor does well to auto-adjust the screen brightness while the accelerometer and three-axis gyro sensors orient the screen and rock your favorite racing games.

Camera

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge20

The iPad Mini 2 and the iPad Mini 3 both come equipped with the same 5mp camera sensor. If you have been around any mobile devices from Apple in the last 5 years, you’ve likely seen this sensor in action already. Not much new here.

The autofocus, face detecting, hybrid IR filter f/2.4 aperture camera sensor takes decent photos, with HDR and Panorama modes available. There is no question that the photo capabilities have been dwarfed by the newer 8MP Apple sensor, or the many great sensors on current generation Android phones, but then again, we might make the argument that tablet photography should not be your purpose in buying from the iPad Mini line.

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge17

The front facing camera is only 1.2MP, capable of 720p video. While it is not a great camera sensor, it is more than adequate for a quick video chat or Facetime conversation.

Normally, this is where you would find an in-depth photo shoot from the two devices being compared. We did go into this expecting the devices to produce near identical images, but as you’ll see from our abbreviated shootout, the older of the two iPad  Minis here offers up a bit of yellow tinge to the images, let’s see if you notice.

Software

Apple iPad Air 2 iPad Mini 3 software car

Have we mentioned yet that iOS 8.4 recently rolled out to most Apple devices? The iPad Mini 2 and iPad Mini 3 are included in that group. Both are also eligible for the iOS 9 beta release, if you are adventurous like Nirave with his iPad Mini 2 running iOS 9.

iOS 8.4 offers up the latest stable software out of Apple, including access to the new Apple Music streaming services. The overall experience is fluid and smooth on both tablets, it is not in this category that we would wind up recommending one device over the other, but if you are keen on giving the fingerprint scanner and the additional security tasks a try, the iPad Mini 3 is the device for you.

Pricing and final thoughts

iPad Mini 2 iPad Mini 3 Stonehendge2

Straight from the start, this comparison piece felt more like a review. Perhaps I should have named it as such, our review of the latest iPad Mini tablets. Certainly, the original iPad Mini had a few differences that make the second and third versions of the tablet a better choice, but little has been done to the iPad Mini 3 that makes it stand out against the iPad Mini 2.

As these are ageing devices, please have a look around for savings and even great deals on refurbished units, but the official prices from Apple are as follows.

 iPad Mini 2iPad Mini 3
16GB$299$399
32GB$349N/A
64GBN/A$499
128GBN/A$599
Cellular capabilityAdd $130Add $130

Additionally, although Apple does not really advertise a 128GB version of the iPad Mini 2, you can pickup a Refurbished iPad Mini 2 with 128GB of internal storage for about $439.

So, which iPad Mini is the one for you? I am sorry to say, you will have to make that decision for yourself. On paper, there is little doubt that the extra $100+ for the iPad Mini 3 provides just one major new feature, one that many won’t care for anyway, but do consider the long term with your purchase. It is probable that Apple will drop support and future software upgrades and features for the iPad Mini 2 before they drop the iPad Mini 3. Perhaps not long before, but it may happen.

In the end, you have two solid tablets here, each will serve you well, offering a great portable computing experience. If it helps, when I reach for a tablet that fits in my back pocket, the iPad Mini 3 is my choice almost every time these days.

What do you say, with several months to take a look at these devices and decide, has the iPad Mini 3 proven itself a worthy upgrade to the iPad Mini 2?

  • dgf

    Your chart is wrong, it’s actually $499 for the 64 GB, there is no 32 GB option for the mini 3

    • Yes, you are completely correct. Thank you so much, I was playing with a new table layout and totally messed that up. Fixed.