The iPad mini 4 is one heck of an afterthought


— 3:48 PM on September 9, 2015

After spending quite a bit of time and energy showing off the new iPad Pro in today's presentation, Apple then very briefly made a passing mention of another new iPad: the mini 4. This little tablet may not grab too many headlines given that it's a refinement of an existing product, but in reality, it's a huge upgrade.

That's true in part because the iPad mini 3 wasn't. Apple offered folks the chance to pay more for a Touch ID sensor and not much else compared to the mini 2.  That's a shame because, in my view, Apple's little iPad still has the best display, aspect ratio, and materials of any tablet in this class—and this is the class of tablet I prefer for reading and such. As a result, my advice has been to just save some money and buy the iPad mini 2.

The iPad mini 4 completely rectifies that situation by following a simple formula: take the iPad Air 2's guts and cram them into an iPad mini form factor. Bam! All better.

That means the mini 4 should have Apple's A8X SoC with three "Cyclone++" CPU cores, a beefy PowerVR GPU, and—very importantly for app switching latency—2GB of RAM instead of the skimpy 1GB used in older iOS devices. Update: Apple's official specs say the mini 4 has an A8 chip, the dual-core variant, not an A8X. The stage presentation was incorrect.

Apple claims the mini 4's CPU is 30% faster generally than the one in A7 chip aboard the iPad mini 2 and 3, with "up to 5.2x faster" performance possible. The GPU is claimed to be 60% faster overall and "up to 12.8x" faster at best.

So the iPad mini goes from being no more powerful than an iPhone 5S to being similarly powerful to a 6 Plus.

The fact that the thing is only 6.1 mm thick—or "18% thinner" than prior models, by Apple's math—wasn't even mentioned on stage.

The rest of the feature set looks solid. It includes an 8MP camera with a five-element f/2.4 lens, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, and a familiar 7.9" display with a 2048x1536 resolution.

Apple is asking $399 for the base model with 16GB of flash, which is a minor tragedy. You'll want to get the 64GB model, but it's a hundred bucks more. Or you can pay $599 for the 128GB version. LTE connectivity costs another $130.

After using cheap Android tablets built from flimsy plastic and watching them reboot at random and suffer from touchscreen issues, I am persuaded that paying the Apple tax in this instance is totally justified. Imma go order now.

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