You have to wonder where the iPad mini stands in Apple's long-term plans. With tablet sales waning, Apple put all of its upgrade chips into the iPad Air pot this year, as the iPad mini 3 is barely changed from last year's model. Let's see how it compares to its biggest rival, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.
This is the first of many (actually most) categories where the iPad mini 3 is exactly same as its predecessor, the iPad mini 2 (formerly known as the iPad mini with Retina Display).
The Galaxy Tab S 8.4 comes out at 7 percent taller and 7 percent narrower than the iPad mini 3. The Tab S is very thin, measuring 12 percent thinner than the Mini.
The Tab S is also incredibly light, tipping the scales at 11 percent lighter than the iPad mini 3.
The iPad mini 3 has the same unibody aluminum build that we saw in the last two iPad minis. The Tab S has a plastic construction, with a dimpled back that's similar to what we saw on the Galaxy S5.
The Tab S ships in "Titanium Bronze" and "Dazzling White," while the iPad sells in the same three color options as the current crop of iPhones.
The iPad mini gives you 95 percent as much screen as the Tab S does.
You'll also want to note the iPad's more boxy 4:3 aspect ratio vs. the Tab S' more oblong 16:10. I think 4:3 works a little better for portrait mode content, while 16:10 tablets have less letterboxing when you're watching video.
Both tablets have sharp screens, but the Tab S comes out ahead with its Quad HD resolution.
The Tab's AMOLED screen has deep blacks, high contrast and rich colors.
The iPad mini has a terrific little detail: when gripping the tablet, your hand can touch the edge of the screen without registering accidental touches. I miss this when I use other narrow-bezeled tablets – like the Tab S – that don't have this.
Apart from the gold color option, this is the only difference between the iPad mini 3 and its predecessor. That's a pretty weak update, but at least you get the best fingerprint sensor in the business: Apple's Touch ID is effortless to use, while the solid Samsung sensor requires a swipe from a specific angle.
The iPad mini gives you one more storage tier – and double the space of the Tab S in that second tier.
The Tab S does let you augment its internal storage, though, by popping in a microSD.
The Tab S' cameras have higher resolution, though neither tablet is going to give you flagship-smartphone-esque camera quality.
Both tablets have terrific battery life, and are among the longest-lasting tablets we've tested (we're assuming the iPad mini 3's uptimes are identical to those of the iPad mini 2, as Touch ID shouldn't affect battery life).
If you own a Galaxy S5, you can receive forwarded phone calls on your Galaxy Tab S 8.4, via a feature called SideSync 3.0. With iOS 8, the iPad has a similar call forwarding feature for iPhone owners.
Call forwarding on a tablet might not sound like much, but one nice bonus is that it can potentially let you leave your phone sitting on a charger while you're at home.
Being almost identical to the iPad mini 2 means the iPad mini 3 has a year-old chip. The Apple A7 is a beast, so it's hard to complain too much on this front ... but it still would have been nice to see the faster A8 (or A8X) in the new model.
The iPad Air 2 got a RAM upgrade, but the iPad mini 3 is stuck on 1 GB.
The iPad mini runs iOS 8.1, which brings goodies like third-party keyboards, better synchronization with other Apple devices and Touch ID integration in third-party apps.
The Tab S runs Android 4.4 KitKat, with Samsung's TouchWiz UI layered on top.
Technically the iPad mini 3 is launching this week. But, in case we didn't already hammer this point into the ground, it's basically a year-old tablet with one new sensor.
Both slates start at the same US$400, though you might be able to find the three-month-old Galaxy Tab on sale.
We'll have an iPad mini 3 review before long, but if you're eyeing the Mini, you might be better off saving some money and buying the year-old iPad mini 2. It comes down to whether you think a Touch ID sensor (or gold color) is worth $100.
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