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iPad Mini 4 makes the most of iOS 9 (hands-on)

Apple's tiniest tablet is an overdue upgrade.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

The coolest part of iOS 9 on the iPad is split-screen apps. And that's the best part of the new iPad Mini 4, too, especially since it's one of the few iPads that can take advantage of that new feature.

It joins the iPad Air 2 and the upcoming iPad Pro as part of that multitasking club, but the Mini 4 costs less: $399, £319, AU$569 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model (which you should skip). Start with the $499, £399, AU$699 64GB version. (A $599, £479, AU$829 128GB version is also available. You can also add $130. £100, AU$160 at each price point to include built-in cellular support.) Our review version is the $630 model, 64GB with Verizon LTE service.

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iPad Air 2 next to iPad Mini 4 -- like siblings. Sarah Tew/CNET

Last year's iPad Mini 3 wasn't really an update at all: it just tacked on a Touch ID home button to the iPad Mini 2's specs. The Mini 4 is the update we wanted last year: it's got an upgraded A8 processor, better cameras, and it's even a bit thinner and lighter than its predecessors. In fact, this is basically an iPad Air 2, just shrunken down a bit (and, most importantly, with a bit of a step-down processor). The 7.9-inch display also seems crisper and more vivid than older Minis, finally matching the quality of the larger Airs.

I've just started using the Mini 4, but so far it's a welcome upgrade. The best part of the Mini has been its extremely portable style with little sacrifice. Split-screen apps start to feel mighty small on the display, but it's perfect for checking email or Twitter and Web browsing at the same time.

Split View shows two apps with ease, even on the smaller screen. Sarah Tew/CNET

The new iOS 9 on the Mini 4 feels like a perfect fit, and that might be the best reason to look into this iPad. If you liked the design before and don't already have a huge phone, this is a really versatile little tablet.

Apple barely mentioned the iPad Mini 4 during its fall press event. There's a reason for that: major new iOS devices, all with better processors, are still on their way. The new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus sport A9 chips, and pressure-sensitive 3D Touch screens. The iPad Pro has a big step-up A9X chip and has additional accessories.

Really easy to hold in one hand. Sarah Tew/CNET

That's my biggest concern about this iPad: It may not seem so powerful by the end of this year. The iPad Mini 4 has more RAM (2GB, which helps with multitasking), but the A8 chip inside is essentially year-old technology (it can be found in last year's iPhones and the newly updated iPod Touch). That might be why some games which felt silky-smooth on the iPad Air 2, such as Geometry Wars 3, looked less impressively rendered on the Mini 4. The A8X's biggest boast is boosted graphics, so that makes sense.

I'd say this is the perfect kid iPad, but it isn't. Actually, the less expensive-yet-totally-still-capable iPad Mini 2 is a better wallet-friendly bet. The Mini 2 has an older but perfectly capable A7 processor and while it lacks Touch ID, at $269, £219, AU$369 for 16GB ($319, £259, AU$429 for 32GB) it's considerably more affordable. Which is my other iPad Mini 4 concern: Paying $400 (or more) for an 8-inch tablet is something many people won't be too keen on considering how super-affordable other tablets have gotten.

We're starting more rigorous testing and benchmarking, and will be reporting back soon with more details. The Mini 4 looks like a very solid upgrade for the little iPad...but it's still a half-step short of feeling like its 2015 siblings.