Review: iPad mini 3 tablet computer (video)

31 Oct 2014

Diminutive but powerful, Apple’s iPad mini 3 is a small tablet carrying the same workload of its bigger siblings. At a time of fierce competition in the tablet market, how does it stack up?

The new iPad mini 3 from Apple hasn’t received the best press, mainly because so far the only differentiator on the device from an obvious perspective is the new Touch ID function.

Some people have a point, because unlike the iPad Air 2 which has a whole new processor called the A8X, the iPad mini 3 has the same processor as last year’s model.

But I think people may also be missing the bigger picture, because even though the iPad mini 3 has last year’s processor it is performing at a level almost equal to that of the iPad Air 2 and is an exemplifier for the real power of iOS 8.

First impressions: iPad mini 3 is a solid performer

Review: Apple’s iPad mini 3 tablet computer

Just under two inches smaller diagonally than its larger iPad Air 2 counterpart, the iPad mini 3 is also slightly thicker but actually lighter. The iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular weighs 0.96 pound while the iPad mini 3 with Wi-Fi + Cellular weights 0.75 pound.

Aside from the fact that the new generation comes in the new gold, silver and space grey designs that feature on the iPhone 6, 6 Plus and iPad Air 2, there is very little from a cosmetic point of view to differentiate it from its iPad mini 2 and iPad mini predecessors except for the addition of the Touch ID sensor.

But that’s where you need to delve a little deeper and you’ll realise there’s more to the diminutive tablet than you’d think.

First of all the 7.9-inch device has the exact same 2048 x 1536 resolution as the iPad Air 2 which gives it a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch, or 3.1m pixels on the screen.

It also boasts the same fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating that makes reading in outdoor conditions much easier.

Processor and battery: 10 hours battery life

Even though it has last year’s A7 chip, the key thing to realise that this is 64-bit desktop class architecture, which still puts the mini 3 in the vanguard of computing power among tablets around the same size.

The iOS 8 device supports the new Metal technology that enables detailed graphics and visual effects only possible on desktop computers and game consoles.

The iPad mini 3 also comes with the M7 coprocessor which measures motion by pulling data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass to create compelling experiences across games, maps and apps.

Just like its iPad Air 2 sibling, Apple has engineered the iPad mini 3 to work consistently over 10 hours if you are surfing the web, reading books, watching videos, or whatever else you like to do on a tablet.

Camera technology: burst mode and time lapse

Apart from the processing power what differentiates Apple’s iPads from the rivals out there is the sheer technological firepower it is wiling to put into its cameras.

The iPad mini 3 comes with a 5MP iSight camera with an f/24 aperture and a five-element lens. It can also take HDR photos and can capture a series of shots in burst mode. This is where the A7 chip kicks in and corrects and enhances images so you are presented with the best set of options.

In fact, the iPad mini 3 can do pretty much all of the photographic stuff the iPad Air 2 can do – time lapse videos, HD videos in 1080p at 30 frames per second and it comes with a video stabilization tool to make your best efforts even better.

The front facing 1.2MP Facetime HD camera has a backside illumination sensor that brightens up FaceTime chats and selfies.

Verdict: a small machine capable of heavy lifting

Overall the iPad mini 3 has a lot more going for it than meets the eye. Yes it comes in shimmery gold, silver and space grey. And on the surface the only new technology evident is the addition of Touch ID, which quite rightly would leave you asking why spend the money if you can get the previous generation for €100 cheaper.

But in fairness to Apple, with the exception of the A8X processor and the screen size, the iPad mini 3 has nearly everything that the iPad Air 2 has, including the same quality Retina display.

This is actually quite a feat for Apple to pull off and may only be fully understood in time.

In its own inimitable way, Apple has once again made sure that it has created a piece of hardware that is best in class in a specific genre, in this case smaller screen tablet computers.

It is certainly an accomplishment of engineering to put this amount of firepower into such a small, attractive frame.

I give the iPad mini 3 three stars out of five.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years