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2019 Apple iPad Air and iPad Mini review: Still the best tablets around

By Kenny Yeo - 23 May 2019

Introduction

The iPad Air and iPad Mini lives on!

Whoa, new iPads?

Yes, Apple is not letting up on the iPad and has been releasing new models with remarkable consistency for the past two or so years. iPads may have become increasingly niche devices in the past few years but clearly Apple thinks there’s a future for them.

 

Why aren’t they called the iPad Air 3 and iPad Mini 5?

Honestly, we have no idea either since calling them the iPad Air 3 and iPad Mini 5 would have made perfect sense and writing this review a lot easier.

 

These iPads look familiar.

The iPad Mini is considerably smaller.

Yes, they are. The new iPad Air is actually based on the old 10.5-inch second-generation iPad Pro from 2017, while the new iPad Mini is almost identical to the iPad Mini 4 from - wait for it - all the way back in 2015.

 

Is that a bad thing?

The newest iPad Mini is almost physically identical to the iPad Mini 4 from almost four years ago.

Not necessarily. I’m quite fond of the form factor of the old 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and by extension, the new iPad Air. It’s a pretty handy size. Sure, the new 11-inch iPad Pro that was just announced last year is more compact and snazzier, but it also costs more. As for the iPad Mini, admittedly, the thick bezels are unsightly but the tablet itself is still compact by today’s standards.

 

If the design isn’t really new, what is?

The A12 Bionic is a very powerful processor for mobile devices.

The new iPad Air and iPad Mini have a couple of important new updates but the most significant one is their new processors. The two new iPads will be powered by the A12 Bionic, which is the same processor found in the iPhone XS and XS Max.

Though not as powerful as the A12X Bionic found in the latest iPad Pro tablets, the A12 Bionic is still a formidable processor. Made using a 7nm process technology, it features six CPU cores, four GPU cores, and a “Neural Engine” capable of machine learning and processing up to 5 trillion operations per second.

 

What else is new apart from the processor?

Let’s list the ways:

Display - The iPad Air now has a larger 10.5-inch display that is laminated with P3 color support, 500 nits of brightness, and TrueTone technology. The iPad Mini retains its 7.9-inch display but also gets P3 color support, 500 nits of brightness, and TrueTone. The only thing missing from these displays is Apple’s ProMotion technology for variable refresh rates.

Apple Pencil support - The new iPad Air and iPad Mini will work with the first-generation Apple Pencil.

Smart Keyboard support - The iPad Air works with the Smart Keyboard, but not the iPad Mini.

Bluetooth 5.0 - The latest Bluetooth standard serves up double the data throughput and four times the range, which should mean faster wireless transfers and steadier connections to compatible Bluetooth devices.

Improved front cameras - The front-facing (selfie) cameras have been improved. The rear cameras are the same.

Support for Gigabit LTE - Faster cellular speeds.

 

Why only support for the first-generation Apple Pencil?

That’s a good question. Presumably, it's because the new iPad Air and iPad Mini are using old chassis that cannot accommodate Apple’s new second-generation Apple Pencil. Remember, the new Apple Pencil attaches magnetically to the side and charges wirelessly.

 

Why doesn’t the iPad Mini support Smart Keyboard?

This is the Smart Connector. Only the iPad Air has it.

Again, it’s using the old iPad Mini chassis, which does not have a Smart Connector. Could Apple have added one? They probably could, but really, how many people would actually want a Smart Keyboard to go with their iPad Mini? How small would the keys be?

 

Do they have Face ID?

Unfortunately, no. For now, insofar as iPads are concerned, Face ID remains exclusive to the new 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pros.

 

Do they have headphone jacks?

Yes, they do!

 

Right, so how do these new iPads fit in the iPad line-up?

This is how Apple's iPad line-up looks like now.

That’s a good question and one that I shall return to later in this review. For now, here’s a table summarizing the key features, specifications, and differences of the various models in the current iPad line-up.

iPad Comparison
Model / Specs iPad iPad Mini iPad Air iPad Pro
Processor Apple A10 Apple A12 Apple A12 Apple A12X Bionic
Display 9.7-inch 7.9-inch 10.5-inch 11 & 12.9-inch
Storage 32GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB,
512GB, 1TB
Connector Lightning Lightning Lightning USB-C
Audio Two speakers Two speakers Two speakers Four speakers
Dimensions (in mm) 238 x 167 x 7.4 203 x 134 x 6.1 248 x 172 x 6.1 247 x 178 x 5.9 (11-inch)
280 x 214 x 5.9 (12.9-inch)
Weight 478g 310g 464g 468g (11-inch)
633g (12.9-inch)
Apple Pencil support Yes (1st-gen) Yes (1st-gen) Yes (1st-gen) Yes (2nd-gen)
Smart keyboard support No No Yes Yes
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes No
Authentication Touch ID Touch ID Touch ID Face ID
Price From S$498 From S$599 From S$749 From S$1,199
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