Of all the iPads that Apple makes, the iPad mini is the easiest to recommend. Do you want the small one? Get the iPad mini. Unlike the iPad Air and iPad Pro, where the distinctions are more nuanced, the stand-out feature of the iPad mini is that you get a fully-featured tablet with iPadOS in a smaller form factor. If that's important to you, this is the one you want.
Of course, there's more to it than that. Because, while the mini is obviously the smallest iPad, it's actually the second-most powerful, with the new A15 processor. And the name might make you think it's a smaller version of the iPad, which it isn't. Until this year, it did share a similar form factor with the round Touch ID Home button at the bottom.
Now, Touch ID has been moved to what Apple calls "the top button," presumably because it's on the top of the device if you're holding it with the selfie camera at the top. That move made space for a larger screen-to-body ratio, following in the footsteps of the iPad Pro and iPad Air.
Maybe its only drawback is that, compared with the entry-level model, it's quite pricey. That's because it isn't a smaller version of that device. In fact, I think the fairest way to describe the iPad mini is as an iPad Air mini.
I even asked Apple about this since it can be confusing if you think that this is a smaller version of the iPad. Obviously, Apple is a fan of all the products it makes, but it's clear to me that in form factor and performance, the Air is the closest sibling, not the entry-level iPad.
In fact, compared with the base iPad, the one you can buy for $329, the iPad mini is quite a bit more capable. It has a much faster processor, the new Touch ID sensor, and support for the second-generation Apple Pencil.
That's the one that magnetically connects and charges instead of having to stick it in the lightning port on the bottom. To date, that's still the worst industrial design choice I think I've ever seen from Apple. It may not have a larger display, but it certainly has a better one.
There are advantages to having something small. In my week of using the iPad mini, it was the perfect second device. I didn't use it for heavy work, though that's only because the 8.3-inch Liquid Retina Display is a little small for writing or photo editing. As for reading, however, it's probably the best "reading-in-bed" device I've ever used. It's certainly a better one-handed device than my 11-inch iPad Pro.
I can see it being useful in a variety of work applications as well, especially if what you use an iPad for most are apps that work well on that size display. Mostly, however, it's a device that fills a space no other iPad can--literally.
Apple likes to point out that the iPad mini is a full-featured iPad in a smaller form factor, making it perfect for applications where space is at a premium but you still need performance. During its introduction, Apple made a big deal of the fact the iPad mini is perfect for pilots and doctors. Apparently, pilots strap the mini to their legs, and doctors can easily drop them into a lab coat pocket.
I didn't try either, but I can see why it would be appealing in a lot of work-related use cases. Ultimately, the iPad mini is the smallest iPad, but it's nice to know that doesn't mean you have to compromise. That's a big deal.
The new iPad mini starts at $499 with 64GB of storage, but I'd recommend the 256GB model, which is $649. The 5G cellular version starts at $649.