Apple bestows first hardware upgrades in years upon neglected iPad Mini and Air lines

And a stylus! But goes without saying that it ain't cheap

Apple has tinkered with its iPad line, resurrecting the Air and administering a bit of mouth-to-mouth to the Mini as the company battles tottering sales.

The iPad unit has not been its usual superstar self of late – the popularity of Apple's fondleslabs has declined as unit sales dropped last year, although revenues perked up a little in 2019.

iPad Mini

Having seen the raptures that greeted last year's warmed-over MacBook Air, Apple will be hoping for the same over its 7.9-inch iPad Mini.

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'If you see a stylus, they BLEW it' – Steve Jobs. REMEMBER, Apple?

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The Mini first appeared in 2012, gaining a Retina display with 2013's Mini 2 and finally 2GB RAM and an A8 processor in 2015. And then... nothing. Microsoft canned its Windows RT-based Surface Mini tablet around the same time and many wondered if Apple's shrunken iPad would suffer the same fate as its larger siblings continued to receive upgrades.

Wonder no more. The fruity firm has given its diminutive tablet a kick in the bionics with an A12 system-on-chip, and a 25 per cent brighter screen with added True Tone tech and better colour support. The resolution is 2048-by-1536 pixels at 326 pixels per inch (PPI).

The company boasts that the upgrade delivers "three times the performance and nine times faster graphics".

Put up against tech almost four years old, a cynic might remark "only three?"

Physically, the thing looks similar to the outgoing model, with hulking bezels around the screen that only a mother could love. Parents looking for something to slip into little hands on long journeys will be pleased to note that Apple has not been courageous enough to remove the headphone jack. The camera remains an 8MP model, although the FaceTime optics have been bumped to 7MP from the woeful original.

TouchID has also been retained (no FaceID frolics for you here) and yes – the Lightning connector is still present and correct.

That cable revenue isn't going to make itself.

The almost entirely pointless 16GB model has been dropped from the line-up, along with the 128GB version. Instead, things start with a Wi-Fi-ony 64GB model at £399, rising to £669 if you want 256GB and cellular connectivity.

Fashionistas who don't mind the non-upgradable storage can select Silver, Space Grey or Gold finishes.

iPad Air rises once more

Also back from the grave comes the iPad Air, slotting between the iPad and iPad Pro after being killed off in iPad Air 2 form almost exactly two years ago.

Rocking a 10.5-inch 2224-by-1668-pixel (264 PPI) Retina display, and A12 Bionic chip, the new device is quite the update from the previous model, originally released in 2014. Apple is, however, a little less breathless in its declarations of performance prowess, claiming a 70 per cent boost in performance and twice the graphics capability.

The screen adds over half a million titchy tiny pixels over its 9.7-inch iPad stablemate (Apple claims it is nearly 20 per cent larger). Like the Mini, the screen gains True Tone tech.

Also like the Mini, the Air comes in two capacity sizes – 64GB or 256GB with prices starting at £479 for the Wi-Fi version, rising to £749 for the fully loaded cellular incarnation. However, you'll be still be putting up with the Lightning connector and, of course, you'll need to buy a new toy if you find you need some more storage.

The camera optics follow the same path as the iPad Mini and, like its stablemate, there is no FaceID for the iPad Air, just TouchID. An odd omission for a device many will attach to a keyboard.

Pencils for People

Splash a bit more cash at the Apple store and you can also pick up a first-generation Apple pencil for writing on the things at a princely £89.

The move means that pretty much every iPad now has a stylus option – an event that, thankfully, Saint Jobs is not alive to see.

Sadly, Apple opted not to fit the internal gubbins necessary to support the second generation's friendlier features, such as wireless charging. The iPad Air can, however, make use of Apple's Smart Keyboard if you don't mind stumping up the extra £159 for the privilege.

An Apple reseller who preferred to remain anonymous reckoned that the new devices would be particularly attractive to the education sector, especially the iPad Air and keyboard combo, which comes in quite a bit under the cheapest iPad Pro option (£769 for the slab and £179 for its own keyboard).

With Microsoft's Surface Go handily undercutting Apple's iPad Pro line (starting at £340, although we'd recommend the more useful £509 version with more RAM) and the continuing march of Google's Chromebook, Apple's new iPads have their work cut out if they are to recapture the hearts and wallets of the both the budget and education-focused buyers. ®

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