Apple's iPad mini 3 is better for business than last year's model, but not by much. Inside and out, the new iPad mini 3 is practically identical to the iPad mini 2, with only one major difference: It includes Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which does provide a nice security boost over the previous version. There's also a new gold-color version available, if that's your style. Otherwise, Apple didn't touch a thing. From looks to performance, the iPad mini 3 is the spitting image of the iPad mini 2.
But the real issue is the device's price, which starts at $399. That's $100 more than the iPad mini 2, which is still on sale. So does Touch ID alone warrant the $100 price hike? And how does the year-old hardware on the iPad mini 3 stand up to more-modern Android slates?
The iPad mini 3's display is still pretty nice, even though it hasn't been updated from last year's version. The 7.9-inch, 2048 x 1536-pixel screen delivers a sharp, bright and colorful picture. It qualifies as a Retina display, which means that you can't make out the individual pixels from a normal viewing distance, so text looks sharp and readable. Still, competing slates like Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 have slightly sharper screens. And while editing a spreadsheet on the iPad mini 3 feels pretty comfortable, it still seems a bit cramped compared to the iPad Air 2's larger, 9.7-inch screen. On the bright side, the mini 3's display is narrow enough for easy two-handed typing when you're holding the device in portrait mode, something you can't say for Apple's larger slate. That's a big deal for business users who want to hammer out quick email messages on the go.
Not much of the design has changed, besides a reflective ring around the home button that signifies Touch ID functionality, and the option to buy the tablet in a gold color. The gold option is attractive and subtle (it's actually closer to the color known as "champagne"), adding an extra air of sophistication to the tablet. The two other color options are silver and gray. Overall, the iPad mini 3's aluminum unibody design is as sleek and appealing as ever, making it a tablet that business users can take seriously.
The mini 3 is 0.29 inches (0.74 centimeters) thick, which is pretty slim, but not as slim as some competing devices, such as the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (0.26 inches, or 0.66 cm). Apple's new device is also noticeably thicker than the ultraslim iPad Air 2, which measures just 0.24 inches (0.61 cm) thick. Thanks to all that metal, the 0.73-lb. (0.33 kilograms) iPad mini 3 is also heavier than Samsung's tablet (0.64 lbs., or 0.29 kg). Regardless, it's still a small, slim device that's easily light enough to carry on your daily commute.
The iPad mini 3includes a Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded in the home button, which lets you quickly unlock your device without fussing with passwords. To use the feature, just press the home button, then continue to hold your finger over it to immediately access your home screen. It's satisfying and easy to use, and much more reliable than the fingerprint scanner in newer Samsung tablets, which often misread my print. Apple's scanner worked flawlessly, even when I turned the tablet sideways. It's a great perk for security-minded business users, and the only reason to consider choosing the iPad mini 3 over the iPad mini 2.
You can also use Touch ID to lock down individual apps. If you use the Mint app to manage your spending, for example, you can lock it down with the fingerprint scanner. It also works with E-Trade, Evernote and many other apps, with more to come. That's a plus for business users who want to share their work tablet with kids and family members, but don't want to risk exposing important data to tampering.
The iPad mini 3 is the first iPad that's not faster than its predecessor. Instead of getting the newer A8X chip that powers the iPad Air 2, the min 3 packs the same A7 processor as the iPad mini 2. That won't matter much for most business users, though, since the mini 3 is still a pretty speedy slate. Apps opened and closed quickly, and switching among apps proved snappy. Other small tablets like the Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and the Nvidia Shield Tablet scored better in performance tests, but the iPad mini 3 is more than fast enough for everyday productivity tasks. Still, if Apple had packed the newer A8 chip into the iPad mini 3, that would have helped justify the $100 price hike over last year's model.
The iPad mini 3 runs on iOS 8, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. Of course, so does the iPad mini 2. Regardless, the system update offers a bunch of productivity-boosting features for business users, including a revamped Notifications Center where you can install handy widgets. These are like miniature apps that let you see all sorts of information at a glance. Just swipe down from the top of your screen to view the Notification Center, which now has a "Today" panel for widgets. By default, the iPad mini 3 comes with widgets that show you the current weather and upcoming calendar events, but there are many other good options. For example, I installed the PCalc Lite widget, a calculator that let me perform quick calculations on the fly. I also liked having the Evernote widget installed, which let me create new notes and save photos to Evernote more quickly than I could have by launching the full app.
Another nice feature added for iOS 8 is the ability to install third-party touch-screen keyboards with extra features. For example gesture-based swipe typing lets you drag your finger from letter to letter to type a word, instead of tapping each key individually. Swiftkey, a free keyboard that enables swipe typing on iPhone, doesn't offer that functionality on the iPad, but Swype (99 cents) worked well.
There's still no easy way to access numbers and symbols, though, regardless of which keyboard you use. While Android tablets let me long-press on letters to input special characters, that functionality is restricted in iOS. So you're still forced to jump back and forth between keyboard menus. Another annoyance is the way the stock keyboard always displays capital letters on the keys, forcing you to constantly check to see if the shift key is selected. Overall, I much prefer the typing experience on Android tablets.
Of course, if you're really serious about typing on the iPad mini 3, you'll pick up a Bluetooth keyboard case, of which there are many to choose from.
Like the iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 3 supports Apple Pay, a new payment platform that stores your credit card information so you can easily pay for items online. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plusalso grant you the ability to use your device for contactless payments at brick-and-mortar stores, but the new iPads lack the near-field communication (NFC) chip that makes that functionality possible. Still, the ability to store my card info and quickly verify my identity using Touch ID made paying for items in the App Store a lot easier, and many other Web stores are expected to accept Apple Pay soon.
A few other features in iOS 8 help link your Apple devices together. For example, Handoff lets you stop working on one device and pick up right where you left off on another, as long as both are connected to the same Apple ID and Wi-Fi network. If you're writing an email at your desk on your MacBook laptop computer, that draft will automatically appear on your iPad mini 3's lock screen; just swipe up on it to keep writing on your mobile device. I found Handoff to be a reliable and seriously useful feature that productivity-minded users will really appreciate.
The other big continuity feature is the ability to link your iPad to your iPhone, then answer text messages and take phone calls on the tablet. For this to work, both devices must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network and have Bluetooth enabled. I noticed a bit of an audio delay from the iPad mini 3's speakers when I tested the feature, but not enough to discourage me from using the feature. And, of course, the ability to receive call alerts on your tablet might save you from missing an important business call if you accidentally left your smartphone on silent.
If you want a portable business slate with fast hardware, a sleek design and a great selection of apps, it's hard to go wrong with the iPad mini 3. Even though not much has changed since last year, the one major addition, Touch ID, is a seriously useful tool, especially for business users who want to keep their work slate locked down. Still, the iPad mini 2 might be a better deal, since it features nearly identical hardware for $100 less. If you can live without the iPad mini 3's fingerprint scanner, pick up last year's model instead.
Originally published on Business News Daily.