OCT 18, 2021 / Apple

Apple makes expected iPhone 13 upgrades, but also a surprise iPad Mini upgrade

Apple recently announced a slew of new hardware to tempt consumers with at a “virtual” streamed launch event it called “California Streaming”.

The headline act was without doubt a very much expected upgrade to its iPhone lines, bringing the iPhone 13 family to market. Every year, roughly around September or October, you can expect a “new” iPhone with faster processor, improved cameras and a few new hardware tricks up its sleeve.

That’s precisely what Apple’s delivered with the iPhone 13. As it was in 2020, there’s not just one iPhone 13, but four of them. For those who like smaller phones, there’s the 5.4 inch iPhone 13 Mini, then the 6.1 inch iPhone 13. For those who hanker for camera features specifically, there’s the 6.1 inch iPhone 13 Pro and the 6.7 inch iPhone 13 Pro Max.

As expected, there’s a new processor – the Apple A15 Bionic – and the promise of better battery life. The Pro model phones also get variable refresh rate screens up to 120Hz, a feature Apple markets as “ProMotion” display. Higher refresh rate screens have been a feature of Android phones for some time now, but it’s certainly a welcome addition on the iOS side of the smartphone fence for sure.

I’m waiting to more formally test out the new iPhone 13 range at the time of writing, but my basic advice any year when it comes to iPhones remains the same. You should aim to keep a premium smartphone for at least 3 years, preferably longer given their premium price points. That timespan will give you a much bigger performance jump relative to your old phone when you do trade up to a new model. You’re also then avoiding any issues with battery life on older batteries, whereas if you switch out each year, you’re paying a premium simply for having the “newest” phone.

What wasn’t quite as expected was that Apple would also refresh its iPad lines. There’s a new basic 10.2 inch iPad, upgraded to the Apple A13 Bionic chip. In many ways, it’s an iPhone 11 without the calling features. There’s some solid value in Apple’s entry level iPad, but the surprise launch at the California Streaming event was instead Apple’s smallest iPad, the iPad Mini.

The iPad Mini has long been an option for those who wanted a smaller tablet device, but it was almost always an afterthought in the Apple line-up, with lesser processors and battery life. Battery life is somewhat a function of its size of course, but the new iPad Mini definitely shows some differentiated thinking around what people might use a smaller tablet for.

Where the new iPad has an Apple A13 Bionic, the iPad Mini gets the A15 Bionic, putting in a performance discussion more with the iPhone 13. It’s also shifting away from Apple’s Lightning connector standard to USB C, meaning a wider range of peripherals will work with it. Apple will also sell it with 5G capability as an option.

The downside here is that the tablet that used to be Apple’s smallest was also its cheapest, and that’s just not true any more. If you want the new iPad Mini, it’ll set you back $250 more than the base model new iPad at $749 for a Wi-Fi only model. As with any iPad there’s no way to expand storage, and if you do want that 5G capability you’ll need to buy the appropriate “Wi-Fi+Cellular” model, again at an additional cost.

Again, I do need to put the new iPads through their paces, but it’s pretty clear that Apple’s differentiating them broadly on use cases. If you use a tablet mostly for reading web pages, watching Netflix or the odd game of Candy Crush, then the base model iPad is just fine for your needs. If you want or need a more mobile solution with a bit more power for, say, business needs, the iPad Mini could be a good match. It’s cheaper than the Apple M1 processor based iPad Pro models, but that A15 Bionic under its hood should give you plenty of scope for more intensive application use.

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Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist