The new iPad mini fine print: 5G, Apple Pencil and more

Chris Davies - Sep 16, 2021, 10:51am CDT
The new iPad mini fine print: 5G, Apple Pencil and more

Plentiful leaks may have spoiled most of the iPhone 13 surprises, but that just left room for the new iPad mini (6th generation) to steal the spotlight at Apple’s big September event earlier in the week. The smallest iPadOS tablet arguably has the biggest personality, and with the addition of 5G and other changes there are plenty of reasons that upgraders are happy. However, there are also a few things to bear in mind, too.

The new iPad mini 5G isn’t as fast as the iPhone 13

Apple has been embracing 5G since the iPhone 12 and iPad Pro (5th generation), but while the new iPad mini will support 5G cellular networks, it’s not quite in the same way. The WiFi + Cellular version of the iPad mini (6th gen) starts at $649, but it doesn’t include mmWave network support.

That’s primarily a concern in the US, where those who want the very fastest 5G speeds know to look out for mmWave coverage. The headache there, though, is that availability is far less commonplace than Sub-6GHz 5G networks. Indeed, you often need to be located in a very specific spot of select cities or stadiums in order to find mmWave, typically branded as 5G UltraWideband.

Apple clearly decided that meant compromising on the 5G network support in the new iPad mini would be acceptable, then. Instead, you get Sub-6GHz support, along with both physical SIM and eSIM, together with WiFi 802.11ax WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. Maybe more important, in addition to the ability to permanently add the iPad mini to your carrier’s data plan, you can also opt for a short-term data plan – anything from a day through to a month – or just a certain chunk of pay-as-you-go data allowance, for times when you might be away from WiFi such as on vacation.

An Apple Pencil isn’t included – and that can get expensive

The new iPad mini is now compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil, which is a marked improvement over the old tablet and its support for the original stylus. However there’s something to bear in mind as you figure out your budget. As with other iPad models, the Apple Pencil is sold separately, and that could have a big impact on how much you end up spending.

One of the advantages of the original Apple Pencil is its price. The first generation is $99, compared to the second generation’s $129. With the cheapest iPad mini (6th generation) starting at just $499, that means the Apple Pencil is potentially as much as a quarter of the price again of the whole tablet.

There’s a workaround, beyond just searching eBay for a used Apple Pencil. The Logitech Crayon for iPad is compatible with all apps that support Apple Pencil, and it’s just $69.95. It’s only available from Apple, and you lose out on the ability to charge it magnetically from the side of the iPad mini – instead there’s a port on the end for that – or indeed store it there. However at half the price those compromises may be easier to stomach.

Apple does include a key accessory iPhone buyers pay extra for

While the Apple Pencil may not be included in the box with the new iPad mini, something you do get is a power supply. That might sound like a strange thing to make specific note of, but it’s a controversial topic in the consumer tech world these days.

Increasingly, we’re seeing smartphones not packaged with a charger in the box. Apple made that decision for the iPhone, and others – like Samsung – have done the same for their own handsets. The argument is that, at this stage, most buyers have plenty of charger bricks already, and that there’s an environmental benefit from not just automatically including one in with a new phone.

That may be true, but plenty of buyers have noted that, typically, the price doesn’t decrease with the absence of the accessory. And, if you want to take advantage of the fastest charging speeds these newest devices support, you often need to buy a higher-power charger too. Apple is avoiding all that headache with the iPad mini (6th generation) by simply including a power adapter in the box.

It’s a 20W USB-C power supply, and there’s a 1 meter long USB-C charge cable along with it. You’d pay $19 for the power adapter alone, normally, and another $19 for the cord. Not bank-breaking figures, true, but it’s nice not to have to budget extra for them.

Preorders for the new iPad mini are open now, and Apple’s smallest tablet is expected to begin shipping from Friday, September 24.

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