iPad mini 3 review: 'Touch ID' makes a welcome addition to the best small tablet on the table

We're almost tempted to say 'nothing to see here' - but it's still an iPad mini, and that deserves more than a little attention

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The Independent Tech

The new Apple iPad mini is out this week, but it’s been overshadowed by its bigger brother, the iPad Air 2. That’s not to say that the new mini 3 isn’t good – it’s better than last year’s model.

But the truth is there’s not that much between them. Where last year the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina shared the same processor, the upgraded smaller model has kept with that same processor while the bigger screener has leapt ahead to a faster chip.

(Click here to read our review of the iPad Air 2)

Now, that’s not to say that the A7 chip in the first Air was slow. In fact, it was such a powerful chip that it was way more capable than the mini needed, so there’s some logic to keeping it in the mini this time around. And in practice, this turns out to be a nippy tablet. I’ve been using it for a week and it never seemed slow.

Overall, though, upgrades are thin on the ground. Okay, so it’s now available in gold as well as space gray and silver. This is hardly ground-breaking but that gold colour is very popular so you can bet Apple will sell a lot of them this Christmas.

And it does have the Touch ID sensor that the iPhone boasts. This is a definite bonus and means it’s easy to unlock the screen without having to type in a pesky passcode every time. This is the perfect balance of security and convenience.

Of course, this makes it easier to pay for iTunes purchases as you can use your thumbprint for these, too. And the iPad mini 3 has Apple Pay as well.

For now, this is US only but when it arrives in the UK – no date given just yet but I’d bet it will be 2015 – you’ll also be able to use Touch ID in participating apps to make purchases. Already you can use it to log in to some apps, like the excellent 1Password data locker app.

As last year, the A7 chip has another one to keep it company. This is a motion co-processor called the M7 and it takes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass. This saves the A7 having to do all the work and saves power, apparently. Certainly the battery life on the mini 3 is decent enough so it’s obviously doing its job.

iPad design pedants will enjoy the fact that the mini 3 still has the side switch used to mute the tablet or lock the screen rotation as you choose. The iPad Air 2 has lost this.

The first- and second-generation iPad minis are still available. Last year’s model has £80 knocked off the price, so starting at £239 for wi-fi only, £339 for wi-fi and cellular. And now you can buy an iPad mini for less than £200 – the first generation is available for £199 with 16GB of storage, which may tempt a lot of people who’ve always wanted an iPad but thought it too expensive.

Chances are the iPad mini will be getting a fuller makeover next year – Apple’s design cycle tends to run for two years on most of its products. And it’s certainly a good product, just not so much of an advance as it could have been, especially when Google and others have rival machines on their way.