Updated January 29, 2016. After a few more months using these devices, and an update or two to iOS, the overall experience on the iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 2 has changed little, at least in terms of how they compare to each other. With the iPad Pro in hand as well, we are finding less need for the iPad Air 2 as the iPad mini 4 satisfies our Apple tablet needs on the go and the iPad Pro is proving stellar for entertainment purposes.
Original post from October 3, 2015: I am sure you know by now that Apple announced the iPad Mini 4 this past September 9th, in which they summed up the new device as a small form factor iPad Air 2. Let’s take a closer look and see if they stretched the truth, or if the iPad Mini 4 is just that good.
Related reading: The most common iPad Problems
Apple said the iPad Mini 4 is a small iPad Air 2, but is it?
Let me first state that Apple did not really show the love for the iPad Mini 4 at their ‘Hey Siri’ event in San Francisco. Truth is, they did not show off the device nor actually give it any of its own dedicated stage time. The image with the pricing near the end of this article captures the only time you’ll see the iPad Mini 4 during the entire event – the image is a depiction of the now available iPad lineup presented during the iPad Pro announcement.
In the very short amount of time that Apple talked about the device, the iPad Mini 4 was introduced as a thinner entry to the mini line, but otherwise sharing the almost same overall dimensions as the iPad mini 3 and iPad Mini 2 before it. On the inside, Apple was proud to state that you would find the same specs as the iPad Air 2, their previous flagship tablet.
Hearing that the iPad Mini 4 was an iPad Air 2 in small form-factor was very exciting to me. I have been using the iPad Mini 2, iPad Mini 3 and the iPad Air 2 for a while now, they are all great devices. However, if I was headed into the heat of an intense gaming battle or when I had the opportunity to take a slo-mo video, the iPad Air 2 was the only device worth picking up. I have an affinity for smaller tablets, ones that can squeeze into a pocket, so the idea of a powerful new device in the 8-inch size range is exactly what I have been looking for.
But wait, is the iPad Mini 4 really a shrunken iPad Air 2? Despite their statement on stage, no, at least not according to Apple’s comparison specs sheet for their iPad line, it isn’t.
The good news, most everything is the same, and most functionality is present, but according to the Apple website, the iPad Mini 4 has the A8 chipset, while the iPad Air 2 rocks the A8X chipset. Apple compares the difference to the previous A7 chip, with the A8X ranking 1.4x faster processing with 2.5x faster graphics and the A8 only receiving 1.3x faster processing with 1.6x faster graphics.
That was a lot of numbers, basically, the iPad Air 2 is still almost 10% faster than the iPad Mini 4 in terms of the processor, and more than 50% faster in rendering graphics. I will admit that my math is super simple here, and there are many factors to consider, but straight off of Apple’s spec sheet, the iPad Mini 4 is not the iPad Air 2 in disguise, not by a long shot.
Rounding out the spec sheet, we must admit that everything else looks pretty identical on these two devices. There is a difference in battery size, of course, but the displays have the same pixel count at 2048 x 1536 and protective coatings. They each have the same buttons and ports in the same locations, the array of sensors match up, including gyroscope, accelerometer, and ambient light sensor, even the placement of the microphones are identical.
While the overall length and width of the devices is rather different, Apple has managed to match them in terms of thickness. The newer iPad Mini 4 and the iPad Air 2 both measure in at 6.11mm in depth. This is a dramatic size reduction compared to most other iPads on the market, especially the iPad Mini 3 at 7.5mm thick. This also results in the iPad Mini 4 weighing in as one of the lightest iPads to date.
What does it mean?
In the end, you have here two very capable devices, and thanks to their size difference, they will likely serve a different function in people’s lives. With the assumption that more productivity tasks will be performed on the larger iPad Air 2, we are happy to accept it as being the more powerful device.
As a smaller portable screen, used mostly for entertainment and communication tasks like browsing your favorite social media website, the iPad Mini 4 is proving a pleasant update from the iPad Minis of past. There may be enough similarities that Apple decided to do away with the iPad Mini 3 all together, but we still think the iPad Mini 4 is a worthy iterative update.
For $100 less than the iPad Air 2, the iPad Mini 4 is a solid performing iOS 9 powered device, with practically all of the same bells and whistles. Is it as fast as the larger tablet? No, but you’ll be hard pressed to notice the difference in your normal day-to-day computing.
Update January 29, 2016: We stand by everything we’ve said when comparing the iPad Air 2 and the newer iPad mini 4, you have capable devices in each, that serve different purposes in your daily computing. With the iPad Pro in the mix, we feel the iPad Air 2 has slightly less appeal, if you disregard the price difference. We have our concerns over the big tablet, check out our iPad Pro review for more details, but in the end, there are three solid tablet offerings in front of you, pick your size and off you go.
Adding to the mix the newer iPad Pro 9.7, the value of the iPad Air 2 has changed. This is not to say that the iPad Air 2 is a waste, on the contrary, at its new low price point, the choice between the the 10-inch tablet and the iPad Mini 4 is even harder. At the exact same price tag, the iPad Air 2 is more powerful and has that larger display, we have to conclude that it is now the better bang for the buck.
If you are deciding between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 4, and size is not your concern, you’ll probably want to buy the iPad Air 2 at this time. These are the official Apple prices, do shop around to see if you can find better. Do keep in mind that if you are truly seeking the latest and greatest, save up a little longer and grab that new iPad Pro 9.7.