Apple quietly took the wraps off of the new iPad mini 4 at their September 9th, 2015 event in San Francisco. Although Apple only gave the new mini iPad a minute of presentation, we think the iPad mini 4 is one of the better new products from the show.
We cannot deny that the updates to the iPad mini 4 over its predecessors are decidedly incremental and lacking in imagination, but that does not mean they are a waste. As you’ll see in our quick walk through comparison of the iPad Mini 3 vs the new iPad Mini 4, the latter device is well worth your consideration.
Related reading: iPad Mini 5 rumor roundup
As you can see, the overall design of the iPad mini 4 and the iPad Mini 3 are very similar. Once again, Apple was not keen on making any outward design changes to the mini line of tablets, meaning your existing docks, cases and other accessories can be transferred forward without issue.
We have here two 8-inch tablets with a solid metal back, full glass front, although with better coating on the iPad mini 4, and a few buttons and ports in between.
It feels like we’ve written this article before, outlining similar differences between the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2, as well as the iPad Mini 2 vs the iPad Mini 3. Luckily, the similarities between the iPad Mini 3 and iPad mini 4 are only skin deep.
Nothing has changed with the round Home button and its hidden fingerprint scanner. The only differences we are seeing so far, aside from the changes in overall dimensions, is the removal of the hold switch, the placement of the microphones have moved from center to straddling the rear camera and the bottom speaker grills are now one row of larger circles, instead of being two rows of small circles.
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, and where the iPad Mini 3 has a ‘hold’ switch, which mutes the device, it has been removed on the iPad mini 4. The power button lives on the right hand side of the top edge, headphone jack on the left up top.
Perhaps the only real difference in design can be found in the thickness and weight of the two tablets. The iPad mini 4 manages to shave off almost a tenth of a pound, weighing 0.65 lbs compared to the iPad Mini 3 at 0.73 lbs. This is almost entirely due to some slimming of the outer casing, bringing the iPad mini 4 down to 0.24-inches (6.1mm) thickness versus the iPad Mini 3, and Mini 2 for that matter, clocking in at 0.29-inches (7.5mm) thick.
Now we get to start talking about some of the advances in the new iPad mini 4. First off, it is the exact same size and resolution as the iPad Mini 3, so that’s not it, both measuring 7.9-inches diagonal with 2048×1536 resolution. No, the difference here is as you would have found with the iPad Air 2, special coatings.
The iPad mini 4 shares the same fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating as the iPad Mini 3, but it gains the full lamination and anti-reflective coatings previously only found on the iPad Air 2. The end result makes for a noticeable difference between the two devices. Perhaps things are similar in ideal light conditions, but you’ll certainly find the iPad mini 4 easier to see in direct sunlight and at greater angles.
Now we are getting into the good stuff: power! The iPad Mini 3 is a more than capable device for the majority of your non-smartphone mobile computing needs, but that has not stopped Apple from taking the iPad mini 4 to the next level.
The primary difference between these two tablets is in the processing package. Powering the older tablet is the 64-bit A7 processor, 1GB of RAM and the M7 motion coprocessor, the new iPad mini 4 jumps up to the 64-bit A8 processor, as yet unknown amount of RAM, and the M8 motion coprocessor.
Apple even gives performance comparisons of their own, claiming the iPad mini 4 to have 1.3x faster CPU processing and 1.6x faster graphics capabilities. While this may be a tad shy of the power of the iPad Air 2 with the A8X chipset, it does mean that the iPad mini 4 will be able to use the newest multi-tasking tools of iOS 9.
As we’ll discuss later, this new found power also allows the iPad mini 4 to capture slo-mo video from the updated rear camera sensor. Which is just one of a few features that iPad Mini 3 users will miss out on.
Last, battery life appears to be unchanged on the iPad mini 4. We know that the newer tablet has more powerful internals, and we understand that the new device has a slightly bumped up battery capacity, from 6350mAh up to 6471mAh. Other reports claim the battery is now just 5124mAh. Stay tuned, we’ll take a closer look as we go.
I’ll keep this one short, you’ve only recently read our iPad mini 4 announcement and review pieces, so it’s all fresh in your mind already.
The iPad Mini 3 and the iPad mini 4 alike enjoy the benefits of a fingerprint sensor, which lives under that Home button. The primary purpose of this bio-metric tool is for security, and to allow the use if Apple Pay in a secure manner.
Apple is sticking with the Lightning connector for now, leaving the USB-C connector for another day. The front of each the iPad mini 4 and iPad Mini 3 houses a 720p capable camera sensor, but the older 5MP shooter on the back of the iPad Mini 3 has been updated to the 8MP sensor for the mini 4.
The ac WiFi standard has been added to the iPad mini 4, aside from this and an update to the newer Bluetooth 4.2 standard, the same dual channel 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi and cellular connectivity bands, including an LTE radio, remain the same.
Again, both the iPad Mini 3 and iPad mini 4 will ship with an ambient light sensor, accelerometer and three-axis gyro sensors, while the iPad mini 4 gains a barometer.
As we’ve mentioned, the iPad Mini 3 come equipped with the old 5mp camera sensor and the iPad mini 4 gets the update to the 8MP sensor.
Despite the bump in megapixel count, the spec sheet reads fairly similarly as far as capabilities go. Running down the list you’ll find both to have autofocus, face detecting, hybrid IR filter f/2.4 aperture camera sensors, with HDR and Panorama modes available. The only difference from there is the addition of the Burst mode photography in the new iPad mini 4.
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. As we’ve seen in other aspects of the device, this ‘identical’ camera sensor appears to outperform the old version. You may have to look really close to tell the difference in good lighting, but put them side-by-side in dim lighting and it is easy to see the improvements.
Now is the moment of truth, we’ll be putting the new iPad mini 4 with its 8MP camera up against the same sensor in the iPad Air 2 later, for now, let’s see if the update over the 5MP iPad Mini 3 is worth your money. (Please remember that these photos were taken in various light quality situations, with little to no regard for best photography practices. We did this on purpose, as we believe the average user points and shoots without much regard for best practice. We even put the devices in the hands of an ‘average user’ and asked them to take shots, these are genuine user taken images – in the end, this is what we think the average user should expect from their device. Look for the HDR tag in the bottom left corner, too.)
iPad mini 4 photo samples
iPad Mini 3 photo samples
With iOS 9 recently going for full release, it should come as little surprise that the iPad mini 4 comes pre-loaded with the latest software. The iPad Mini 3 was still rocking iOS 8.4 when we first started writing this post, but iOS 9, and now iOS 9.0.1 have since rolled out, to both devices.
While iOS 8.4 has served well, we have been using the iOS 9 beta on a few devices, and the new features are a breath of fresh air in comparison. The new multi-tasking capabilities, Slide-Over, Split-View and Picture-in-Picture, truly transform the iPad line from a single app experience into a productive computing experience.
Aside from these ‘better late than never,’ but still excellent multi-tasking tools, look for other new entry apps and services, including the new Apple Music streaming services, the new Apple News app and more.
Don’t forget that iOS 9 measures in at more than 3GB smaller install size than iOS 8.x. That is an extra 3GB of storage space for your favorite apps, pictures and files. At a remarkable advertised 1.3GB for a full install, that leaves well over 10GB of available space on the smallest 16GB internal storage sized offering for each tablet.
Pricing and final thoughts
If the question you are looking to have answered is which device you should buy, the answer is almost certainly the iPad mini 4. In terms of power, capabilities and future-proofing, there is little point purchasing the iPad Mini 3 at this point, perhaps this is why Apple has removed it almost entirely from their website and online store. Curiously, the iPad Mini 2 is still available, at a small price cut, but that’s another story.
Thing is, I have been using the iPad Mini 3 on a daily basis, and I have to admit that I rather enjoy the experience. I would not fault you for trying to save a few dollars (or a hundred) in purchasing the iPad Mini 3 instead of the newest release. You will not be disappointed in your purchase, just know that you’ll not be seeing a few of the better iOS 9 features, and your photos will clock in at 5MP resolution.
I am about to give you our standard pricing chart, but I need to make one thing clear, as I’ve already said, we can no longer find the iPad Mini 3 for sale in new condition on the Apple online store. The prices you are about to see are from Apple’s refurbished section of their online store. Again, the iPad Mini 3 is an older tablet now, be sure to have a look around for deals from third party retailers, or consider a refurbished unit to save even more money.
|iPad Mini 4||iPad Mini 3|
|Cellular capability||Add $130||Add about $110|
What it all boils down to is that you have two solid tablets here, portable computing in a semi-pocket-sized device is done justice and will serve you well. Unlike the update from the iPad Mini 2 to the iPad Mini 3, there are definite enhancements in the iPad mini 4, improvements that we believe are worth considering if you are in the market for a new iOS powered tablet.
Despite what all the tables say, the links at the bottom of this article will take you to the iPad mini 3 for $320 and the iPad mini 4 for $350. Perhaps these real world prices will shine a new light on your purchasing decision. Just remember, this update is as of August 2016, which means that we are now just a few weeks away from a potential release of the iPad mini 5. Stay tuned for more info and for potential price drops on these older mini iPads.
What do you think, are the improvements in the new iPad mini 4 worth the extra price over the older iPad Mini 3 and iPad Mini 2?