Want the Cliff's Notes version of our iPad mini 3 review? Okay: it's an iPad mini 2 (formerly "iPad mini with Retina Display"), only with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Oh, and there's now a gold color option. The end.
That isn't an exaggeration either. Same screen, processor, RAM, battery and cameras – all in the same body. Apart from Touch ID and gold, the iPad mini 3 is quite literally an iPad mini 2.
It's too bad – because, for many of us, the iPad mini is the perfect size. Last year the Air and Mini were nearly identical ... one awesome tablet, two sizes to choose from. But this year the Air is sitting in the driver's seat, with the Mini passed out in the back.
I'm not sure why Apple blew off the iPad mini this year, but it could have to do with phablets. With big-screened phones (including one from Apple) eating into tablet sales, maybe the company sees the larger iPad Air as the one more likely to survive the threat?
... or it could be the real iPad mini 3 simply wasn't ready for 2014. Apple still needed something to sell as "new" for the holidays, so an iPad mini 2 with Touch ID is what we got.
Whatever the reason, this is a surprising change. Last year it looked like Air and Mini were going to be equals from then on. But this year there's no question which iPad is better.
Disappointment aside, the iPad mini 3 is still a great little tablet. It still has the Mini's winning combination of portability and screen size, along with the same sharp Retina Display (though its color range still isn't the best). It runs iOS 8, performs well and has long battery life. Most importantly, it has the App Store's leading tablet app selection.
Take all of that, add Touch ID and you still have one of the best mini-tablets you can buy – maybe even the best.
So why not run out and buy the iPad mini 3? Well, the problem is Apple (and tech companies in general) has trained us to expect significant upgrades every year. We want to hand over the same wad of money and get back something better than we got last year. The iPad mini 3 only barely does that.
As it stands now, Apple is saying Touch ID is worth US$100. That's because the otherwise identical iPad mini 2 is hanging around for another year at $300, while the iPad mini 3 starts at $400.
Touch ID is the best fingerprint sensor around. It's an easy way to secure your tablet, and iOS 8 even lets you use it with third-party apps. The marriage of Touch ID and password manager apps, like 1Password and LastPass, is about as good as it gets.
But $100 for Touch ID – and nothing else – just seems too steep. For most people, I wouldn't recommend paying $400 (or more) for the iPad mini 3.
... but there's a bright side here. The iPad mini 3 isn't a great deal, but the iPad mini 2 is. $300 for a high-end tablet with the same sharp screen, long battery life and app selection? That's more like it.
Just 13 months ago, $330 got you an iPad mini 1 with an ancient processor and dated (even at the time) display. Now, for $30 less than that, you get a tablet that's not just better – it's about two generations better.
The iPad mini 2 might be the best iPad value yet.
The iPad mini 3 is Apple's second-best tablet, but unless you see Touch ID as a $100 feature (or really, really like gold), we recommend passing on it. Your money will go farther on either the cheaper iPad mini 2 or the bigger and better iPad Air 2.
The iPad mini 3 is available now, starting at $400 for a 16 GB Wi-Fi only model.
Product page: Apple
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