Tablet photos are hardly ever outstanding, but the Mini 4, like the Air 2 before it, is capable of capturing crisp colors and reasonable detail when the light is right. White balance is generally more accurate now too, which is especially apparent since the Mini didn't get left in the display quality dust this time. Things obviously get muddier in dimmer conditions, but really, if you're using a tablet to take photos in the middle of the night, you might want to rethink your strategy. Meanwhile, the front-facing camera is stuck at 1.2 megapixels, but it now has an f/2.2 aperture lens to help suck in the light bouncing off of your face. Still, I haven't noticed much of a difference between this camera and the one in last year's Mini.
Other changes include the ability to shoot in burst mode thanks to the A8 chipset thrumming away inside, and improved support for HDR photos and video. The iPad Mini 4 isn't going to be anyone's first choice for mobile photography, but it's a solid, if unremarkable, performer.
Performance and battery life
I sort of alluded to this earlier, but let's be clear: The Mini 4 is not just a shrunken-down Air 2. The difference in the chipsets powering these things is apparent in our benchmark tests below, but the Mini 4 is still no slouch compared to its more premium cousin. It's buttery smooth as you leap in and out of apps and swipe through web pages. The only time I noticed the Mini's A8 chipset struggling was while running two apps in Split View, and even then, it was only when I was trying to fiddle with both simultaneously. While I'm comparing the Mini 4 to other iPads, it's noticeably quicker to react than last year's Mini. In fact, Apple says the A8's CPU is 30 percent faster than the Mini 3's A7, and that graphical performance is up 60 percent from last year. That helps explain why Asphalt 8 and Modern Combat 5: Blackout ran like a dream, but I'll let the numbers do the rest of the talking.
So, pretty much exactly what I expected: The Mini 4 strikes an appropriate balance between the Mini 3 and the Air 2 (which has the edge thanks to an extra CPU core). Usually it performs just a hair better than last year's iPhones too. Of course, horsepower means nothing without battery power, and the new Mini has that in spades. The usual Apple refrain is that the Mini is rated for about 10 hours of continued use, but that might have been understating things a bit. In our usual video rundown test (video looping with the screen brightness set to 50 percent), the Mini 4 lasted 13 hours and 4 minutes before needing an emergency trip to the power outlet. That's just short of the 13 hours and 45 minutes on last year's model, which isn't bad at all considering the new Mini 4 actually has a smaller, 5,124mAh battery.
The Mini fared similarly well in the battery test called "living with me." After pulling it off of the charger at around 7 AM, schlepping to the office and using it for emails/reading articles/the occasional game, I'd usually wind up with 10 percent remaining when I returned home at 9 PM.
If you're in the market for a sleek tablet, consider Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 (starting at $400 for the 8-inch model). While it lacks the kooky style of its immediate predecessor, the 10-inch screen is one to behold -- it is Samsung after all -- and it's only 5.6mm thick. The downgraded battery might sting, though: It only managed 7.5 hours in our tests, down from 12.5 hours for the previous-gen model. Itching for something more portable? ASUS just launched its 8-inch ZenPad S, a $200 Android slate with a waistline similar to the Mini 4's and a 2,048 x 1,536 display, to boot. Then there's the iPad Air 2 itself, which is still the most powerful tablet in Apple's roster. It's incredibly sleek and can be held one-handed for longer than you might expect, but its size means it's just not going to fit into some lifestyles. The thing is, it's almost worth trying to see if the size can work for you; prices for the Air 2 start at $499, and sales or buying refurbished can bring that base price down even lower.
Some might gripe about the Mini 4's year-old internals, but after my week of testing, I feel confident saying that it doesn't matter much. The tablet's entire package, from the still-snappy A8 chipset to the beautiful and almost-pocketable screen, to the incredibly sleek chassis, makes it worthy of your consideration. If you're on the lookout for a super-portable tablet with strong fundamentals and great app support, you probably won't find a contender better than this one. That said, if you can fit a bigger tablet into your life, you could easily upgrade into an iPad Air 2 for not much more money and get even more processing power.