Apple's iPad mini 3 is better for business than last year's model, even though not much has changed. The new iPad mini sports a sharp 7.9-inch display and a highly portable design that looks similar to that of the iPad mini 2, released last fall. In fact, the new iPad mini is practically identical to that device.
So what makes the iPad mini 3 better for business, then? Mostly, it's the addition of a fingerprint scanner embedded right in the slate's home button, thus providing a nice security boost for business users. Plus, the iPad mini 3 ships with iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system, which includes a slew of new productivity-boosting features. But starting at $399 — $100 more than the second-gen iPad mini — is the iPad mini 3 worth your hard-earned cash? Read on to see how the iPad mini 3 fares in a number of categories.
Apple usually improves its tablets' displays with each new release, so it's surprising that the company neglected to give the iPad mini 3 a new display. It features the same 7.9-inch, 2048 x 1536-pixel screen as its predecessor. Regardless, it's still an extremely sharp display that will satisfy most business users. It qualifies as a Retina display, Apple's term for a screen with a resolution high enough that you can't make out the individual pixels from a normal viewing distance. It's a bit cramped compared to the bigger 9.7-inch screen on the iPad Air 2, but that's the price you pay for a tablet this portable.
Apple didn't touch the design of the iPad mini, either; the iPad mini 3 is practically identical to last year's model. It's just as thick, measuring 0.29 inches, and it weighs the same 0.73 lbs. It has the same aluminum frame as its predecessor, and it's noticeably thicker than the ultraslim iPad Air 2, which measures just 0.24 inches thick.
So, is the new iPad mini faster than its predecessor, at least? Nope. For the first time, Apple has opted to release an iPad that's powered by the same processor as the previous year's versions. The iPad mini 3 is powered by Apple's A7 chip, the same processor you'll find inside the iPad mini 2. That's not because Apple didn't have a faster chip to offer — both the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are powered by Apple's new A8 chip, while the iPad Air 2 is powered by the even newer A8X processor. But while that may be a letdown for some users who are picky about performance, it won't make much of a difference for most people. After all, the A7 chip is still a powerful processor that delivers speedy performance and snappy multitasking, making the iPad mini 3 one of the faster small slates around.
Security should be a top concern if you use your tablet for work. That's why it's such a big deal that the iPad mini 3 is the first iPad mini that has Apple's Touch ID sensor embedded in the home button. Just hold your thumb against the sensor to quickly and easily unlock your device. It lets you keep your work tablet on lockdown, without requiring you to fuss with password-protected lock screens.
With Touch ID, you can even keep many apps locked down. For example, if you use the Mint app to manage your spending, or the E*Trade app to check on stocks, you can lock them with the fingerprint sensor. That's a big perk, since it lets you share your work tablet with family without worrying that important data will be tampered with or lost.
The iPad mini 3 runs on iOS 8, the new version of Apple's mobile operating system, but that doesn't set it apart from its predecessor; you can download the OS update on the second-generation iPad mini. iOS 8 has a lot to offer, including the ability to install widgets on your iPad — the first time iOS has included this functionality. Widgets are basically miniature apps that update in real time right on your screen. They can show you your daily schedule at a glance, as well as stock market updates, the weather forecast and more. You can view them — and install new ones — inside the new Notifications Center in iOS 8.
Another notable feature is the ability to install third-party touch-screen keyboards with extra features, such as gesture-based swipe typing and easier access to numbers and symbols. Previous versions of iOS forced you to use Apple's stock keyboard, which is pretty basic by comparison.
The iPad mini 3 is actually launching with iOS 8.1, a slightly tweaked version of iOS 8 that activates new features such as Apple Pay and Handoff (more on those features below).
Like the iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 3 supports Apple Pay, a new payment platform that lets users pay for items using their mobile device in place of a credit card. But unlike the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, both of which include a near-field communication (NFC) chip to allow contactless payments at brick-and-mortar stores, the new iPads lack an NFC chip. Instead, you can use the iPad mini 3 to complete online purchases in apps and on websites that support Apple Pay.
The iPad mini 3 supports a handy feature called Handoff that helps your tablet and smartphone work together. The feature lets you switch seamlessly among Apple devices, and pick up your work right where you left off. If you're composing an email on your iPad mini 3, for example, you can hit the Handoff button at the bottom of the screen to beam it to your iPhone or Mac computer. It works for newer Apple devices, as long as they're connected to the same wireless network.
The iPad mini 3 is a great portable business slate with excellent hardware, a sleek design and access to what is arguably the best selection of apps on any mobile platform. Regardless, the iPad mini 2 might be a better deal. The older tablet, which is nearly identical to the iPad mini 3, starts at just $299, which means that Apple is basically asking for an extra $100 for Touch ID. Unless you're really keen on that security feature, go for last year's model.
Originally published on Business News Daily.