iPad Mini 2021 review: the pint-sized student tablet

The iPad Mini 2021 is an excellent revision of one of Apple’s most beloved tablets, especially for note-takers and sketch artists.

Close up images of the iPad Mini (2021) tablet
(Image: © Future)

Live Science Verdict

The iPad Mini 2021 is an excellent revision of one of Apple’s most beloved tablets, especially for note-takers and sketch artists.

Pros

  • +

    Apple Pencil support

  • +

    Great display

  • +

    Looks great and ideal size

Cons

  • -

    No official keyboard

  • -

    Won’t get every iPadOS feature

  • -

    64 GB is stingy

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Key specs

Price: $499/£569

Screen size: 8.3-inch

Weight: 0.65 lbs (293 g)

Memory: Apple doesn’t disclose

Battery life: Up to 10 hours wireless web browsing

Storage: 64 GB and 256 GB options

Warranty: 1 year, extendable with AppleCare

Operating system: iPadOS 15 (iPadOS 16 compatible)

Display: Liquid Retina Display with 2266x1488 resolution

CPU: Apple A15 Bionic Chip

Graphics: 5-core GPU

Ports: Thunderbolt/USB 4 port

The iPad Mini 2021 was a device beloved by many for its smaller, more portable form, but it went without an update for quite some time. Apple has since revised it, and the latest model is more capable than ever without sacrificing any of its portability.

It’s not the tablet that you’ll necessarily grab to replace your laptop, but it doesn’t need to be. It offers a more portable version of iPadOS, and it shares the A15 Bionic chip that’s found in the newest iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus models, so it’s plenty powerful. In fact, the iPad Mini 2021 is unlikely to be affected by the new M1-specific features it misses out on in iPadOS 16.

The thinner bezels than its predecessor mean it can pack in a better, brighter, and bigger display, too, while Apple Pencil functionality makes it an ideal digital notepad, too. So that makes this one of the best tablets for students and note-takers.

iPad Mini 2021 review: Set up and usability

Close up images of the iPad Mini (2021) tablet

(Image credit: Future)

Set up, as with any iPad or iPhone, is very simple – turn the device on, connect to Wi-Fi, and log in with your Apple ID to get started (or you create a new one if you don’t have an Apple ID).

With the iPad Mini, you’ll also be prompted to set up TouchID using the Sleep/Wake button for security. All in all, the set-up should be completed within five minutes.

iPad Mini 2021 review: Design and specs

Close up images of the iPad Mini (2021) tablet

(Image credit: Future)

The iPad Mini 2021 has finally been brought in line, design-wise, with the iPad Pro and iPad Air’s aesthetic. It’s got flatter sides, thinner bezels, and subtly curved corners on the display. Color choices include Starlight (which is a kind of an off-white), Space Gray, Pink, or Purple.

At first glance, it’s essentially a smaller iPad Air that weighs just 0.65 lbs. It’s dominated by the 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, with a 12 MP front-facing camera (ideal for video calls) hidden in the top bezel.

Close up images of the iPad Mini (2021) tablet

(Image credit: Future)

On the side, you’ll find a spot to stash the Apple Pencil (opens in new tab) (Second Generation), with a Sleep/Wake button that doubles as a TouchID fingerprint scanner at the top. There are speakers at each end, too, which is great for movie and TV sessions. Unlike other iPads, the volume buttons have been shifted to the top edge.

At the opposite end, you’ll find a USB-C port for connecting accessories and for charging.

iPad Mini 2021 review: Features and performance

Close up images of the iPad Mini (2021) tablet

(Image credit: Future)

The iPad Mini, unlike its bigger brothers, doesn’t want to replace your laptop, at least not in the traditional sense.

If you’re looking to write some emails, browse social media, and read a book or two, it’ll do that without breaking a sweat, but where it really stands out is that its smaller form makes it ideal for throwing in a bag. That Liquid Retina display is great for watching movies, while the Apple Pencil (sold separately, but a worthwhile investment here) makes it ideal for scribbling down a phone number or writing a to-do list on the go. Definitely ideal for students or professionals that want something that’s easy to carry.

It almost feels somewhere between a phone and an iPad, and that’s going to be great for many. It does mean there’s no traditional keyboard accessory though, so you may find yourself leaning toward something larger for a tactile typing experience.

While the iPad Mini comes with iPadOS 15, it won’t get everything coming to iPadOS 16. Unlike with larger iPads, it feels like a moot point here – what good is having extra multitasking features when your screen is just over 8-inches in size anyway?

There are other M1-only features missing, but the iPad Mini’s A15 Bionic chip is powerful enough to handle demanding games, creative apps, and more.

iPad Mini 2021 review: Price

At $499/£569, it’s hard to call the iPad Mini 2021 cheap – especially when that model comes with a fairly paltry 64 GB of storage. If you’re going to use the iPad mini as a portable powerhouse rather your main device, then that may not be a huge issue. However, for the 256 GB option it’s an extra $150 which is a steep price to pay.

If it’s not all that important to you to have extra storage, we’d suggest picking up the $129/£139 Apple Pencil (opens in new tab) instead. It feels tailor-made for the iPad Mini, letting you jot down notes or scribble diagrams wherever you are.

There’s also a 5G version that starts at $649/£749. That’s expensive, but if you’re likely to use your iPad Mini for sending email, messages, or calls while away from home it may be just what you need.

iPad Mini 2021 review: User reviews

The iPad Mini 2021 has an impressive 4.8 stars out of 5 rating on Amazon (opens in new tab), with particular praise from customers for its display, even in challenging lighting conditions. Others have noted just how portable it is despite the amount of power on display.

Some have, understandably, lamented that 64 GB is a low amount of storage for the price.

Should you buy the iPad Mini 2021?

Close up images of the iPad Mini (2021) tablet

(Image credit: Future)

Pound for pound, the iPad Mini 2021 is the best small tablet around. It’s not cheap, but if you pair it with an Apple Pencil it’s the best way to take digital notes. Plus, it’s small enough to put in a pocket while still having enough grunt to power through both work and play.

Even without the Apple Pencil, it’s a remarkable little tablet that feels like a dream for students and anyone that travels often.

If this product isn’t for you

If you’re looking for a lower cost tablet with a bigger display, the $329/£369 iPad 2021 is a great alternative, but the screen isn’t as sharp and it’ll only work with the first-generation Apple Pencil.

The iPad Air, on the other hand, feels like a bigger iPad Mini and packs in an M1 chip for additional laptop-like functionality – but it’s more expensive, especially if you want to add a keyboard.

Another option would be the Amazon Fire 7 tablet (opens in new tab): it’s small, light, and offers up to 10 hours of battery life. Plus, prices start from just $59.99/£59.99! However, there are only 16 and 32 GB storage options, and Google Play is not supported so you’ll be locked into using Amazon’s Appstore (you’ll still be able to access the likes of Zoom and Netflix (opens in new tab)).

Lloyd Coombes freelance tech and fitness writer for Live Science. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as in computer and gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews, Space.com, and TechRadar. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games at Dexerto.com. He also covers board games and virtual reality, just to round out the nerdy pursuits.