Editors' note (March 21, 2017): Apple has discontinued the iPad Mini 2. Its successor, the $399 iPad Mini 4, remains available: Apple's thinnest and lightest iPad now comes equipped with 128GB of storage capacity plus a terrific display, solid performance, and a resilient battery. The company has also discontinued the iPad Air 2, replacing it with the very similar 9.7-inch "iPad." Starting at $329 and featuring the A9 processor, the new model is slightly thicker than the iPad Air 2 and lacks its antireflective coating, but is otherwise identical.
The iPad Mini 2 review, published in July 2016, follows.
Apple iPads are synonymous with "tablet" for good reason. Their high-end designs, fast performance, simple operating system and well-stocked App Store make them the go-to choice in the category.
Or, at least, that's how it was. The growth of tablet sales has slowed considerably in recent years, with the exception of the bargain segment. Small 8-inch Android models like the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 and Samsung Galaxy Tab A can be had for as little as $170, £129 or AU$279, and Amazon has cornered the budget market with its selection of "good enough" Fire tablets that start at prices as low as $50 or £50. (Amazon doesn't typically sell hardware in Australia, but the US price converts to about AU$70.)
Apple, of course, is all about premium, high-end products. But the company's answer to bargain shoppers is to keep some of its older products in the line at discounted prices: 2014's iPad Air 2 and 2013's iPad Mini 2. The latter model remains the oldest one in the current line -- but, with prices starting at $269, £219 and AU$369, also the most affordable.
Despite its age, the iPad Mini 2 still has a lot to offer for buyers who don't need the latest and greatest model.
Here's what you need to know.
The Mini 2 is slower and has fewer bells and whistles than the Mini 4.
If you're going to get an iPad, why not the latest and greatest? The iPad Mini 4 outshines the Mini 2 with a thinner and lighter design, faster processor, better cameras, and a more vivid screen (resolutions are the same, however). And though the iPad Mini 2 supports picture-in-picture, it doesn't have the newer features that make the iPad Mini 4 a premium tablet -- the TouchID fingerprint sensor and split-screen function (currently limited to the 9.7-inch Air 2, the Mini 4, and iPad Pro).
But Mini 4 is a bad deal compared to the iPad Air 2.
All those shiny features come at a price. The iPad Mini 4 starts at $399, £319, AU$569 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, $499, £399, AU$699 for the 64GB version, and $599, £479, AU$829, for 128GB. But the larger iPad Air 2 -- which is quite a bit faster -- costs exactly the same, making it a far better deal.
For basic needs, the iPad Mini 2 does a great job.
Whether it's web surfing, email, Facebook or casual games, the Mini 2 still has more than enough power to get the job done. And the app selection on the iPad still outpaces what you'll find on Android and Amazon tablets. The Mini 2 also doubles as a great "universal remote" for smart home products and streaming devices -- something that can be left on the coffee table or in the kitchen for the whole family to share, which you wouldn't want to do with your phone.
A lot of apps still hit iOS first, or exclusively, and iPad apps tend to be better optimized for tablet screens than Android ones, which are often just supersized phone apps. And anyone who already owns an iPhone will have access to a bevy of apps already on their phone -- not to mention iTunes-based video and music purchases that would never be available on an Android or Amazon tablet.
iOS 10 ready
Apple's next phone and tablet operating system, iOS 10, is coming later this year. And while it's not a complete overhaul, it adds a handful of niceties such as interactive messaging, more Siri voice commands and smart home controls. And unlike older iPads such as the iPad 2 and the original iPad Mini, the Mini 2 is compatible with the free upgrade once it becomes available.
Using the Mini 2
Admittedly, using an iPad without TouchID (I'm used to the Air 2) felt unattractively antiquated. I didn't realize how much of a drag a four pin code was in comparison to simply touching the home button with my thumb. However, I didn't mind the lack of split-screen feature. The smaller screen makes the Mini more of a leisure device than a productivity tablet -- like the iPad Pro -- so the missing multitasking feature didn't affect my experience.
During my time with the Mini 2, it performed without a hitch. I mostly used it for streaming video, surfing the web and checking social media. Its screen was sharp and colorful enough for leisurely viewings of the new season of Orange is the New Black, its processor fast enough for satisfying Hearthstone-playing and its battery lasted about eight hours after heavy use. Aside from no TouchID, I didn't have any complaints.
Still a good tablet value -- but look for a discount
There are many other wallet-friendly tablets that work fine for basic tasks, but if you're already invested in the Apple ecosystem, the iPad Mini 2 is the cheapest tablet you can get that will let you enjoy all of the media you've purchased on iTunes.
Yes, the price can sting when you look at the paltry 16GB storage capacity of the entry-level model. No, that bargain Amazon Fire tablet isn't nearly as nice as the Mini 2 -- but you can get four of them for the price of the Apple product, along with a handful of microSD cards (Amazon tablets have expandable storage). And for younger children, the Amazon tablet is something of a no-brainer -- the $100 version includes a 2-year replacement policy, no questions asked.
That said, even the older iPad Mini 2 is a nicer experience all around. If you can find a good sale or a factory reconditioned model that's under $200, it's still one of the best tablet deals out there.