Apple iPad mini 3: Subtle upgrades but still a great small tablet

Apple iPad mini 3: Subtle upgrades but still a great small tablet
People look at the new iPad Mini 3 (L) and iPad Air 2 (R) on October 16, 2014 during an event unveiling the company's new iPad line in Cupertino, California.

The iPad mini 3 got scant mention during last week's event at Apple headquarters in Cupertino. And it is not difficult to know why.

It is a minor upgrade over the iPad mini with Retina display, now renamed iPad mini 2. The only improvements are the addition of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor and the extra colour option of gold.

Put the mini 3 and mini 2 side by side, and the only difference you can see is the metallic ring around the home button of the mini 3, which tells you that this is a Touch ID home button.

How do Apple's latest iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 stack up against other tablets?

Having used the iPhone 5s and now the iPhone 6 Plus, I have been thoroughly spoilt by the Touch ID home button. It now feels like such a chore to key in a passcode to unlock the display. So, the addition of Touch ID is warmly welcomed.

Otherwise, the iPad mini 3 uses the same A7 processor with 64-bit architecture, M7 co-processor and 7.9-inch touchscreen display (2,048 x 1,536 pixels) as the mini 2.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, the mini 3 scored 1,363 in the single-core and 2,464 in multi-core benchmarks (1,365 and 2,445 for the mini 2). So, there is not much difference in terms of performance.

Interestingly, Geekbench 3 indicates that the mini 3's A7 processor is clocked 1.26GHz with a system memory of 969MB, whereas the mini 2's A7 processor is clocked at 1.3GHz with a system memory of 973MB.

There is no change in the physical design or dimensions. Not that it is a bad thing, as the smooth anodised aluminium back and chamfered edges of the iPad mini 2 remain. It is still really light at only 331g (Wi-Fi model) or 341g (Wi-Fi + 4G model).

Although the mini 3 is fairly skinny at 7.5mm, its cousin, the iPad Air 2 is just 6.1mm.

The mini 3's display is no different from the mini 2, unlike the iPad Air 2's with its fully-laminated design and anti-reflective coating. The mini 3's display is still gorgeous, with text, icons, pictures and graphics looking sharp and pretty. But it is still as reflective and the colour tones lack the depth of its skinny cousins.

In DL's intensive battery test (we loop a 720p video with Wi-Fi on and the display at full brightness), the iPad mini 3 lasted 7hr 30min before the battery went flat. This is not much different from the mini 2.

For the entry-level 16GB model, the iPad mini 3 costs $140 more than the mini 2. Where the mini 3 really scores is in its much larger storage capacity - maxxing out at 128 GB, compared with 32GB for the mini 2. So, if you are looking for more storage, you have to get the mini 3.

Verdict: The Apple iPad mini 3 is still a great small-sized tablet, especially if you are looking for a new one. But if you already have the iPad mini 2, it would be hard to argue for an upgrade, unless you really truly have to have Touch ID. 

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