Is the first generation iPad Mini still useful in 2020?

So I recently acquired a first generation iPad mini – the first one I have ever owned.  I’ve had iPads before, including the first generation iPad, but never the mini.  So I was excited to try it out.

The iPad mini was released in late 2012.  It had a 7.9 inch screen as compared to the 9.7 inches of the standard iPad at the time.  As far as I am aware it had similar internal specs as the iPad 2, and it also pre-dated the retina display.  The first generation iPad mini also came with a lightning connector, which is great as I have a diminishing supply of 30 pin connectors in the house.

I love the form factor of the iPad mini.  It seems like such a pleasant size for a device.  Even for a first generation it’s super thin and sits easily in your hands.

So I did a complete wipe and set it up as a brand new device.

Sadly, the first thing I noticed was how surprisingly slow it was.  It’s worth noting that the iPad is only capable of being upgraded to iOS 9.3.5, so it’s a few versions behind.  And unlike my first generation iPad which will remain on the older looking iOS 5 for the rest of eternity, the iPad mini looks almost identical in look and feel to the most current iOS 13.

Anyway, back to the slowness.  When I open the App Store on the iPad Mini, it would sometimes take up to 2 minutes to load.  But other times it would open in around 20 seconds.  Either way, this was way slower that what I am used to on my iPhone X.

In the iPad mini’s defence, the device is only the 16Gb model, which means it is very easy to fill up the memory, which I think probably impacts performance. 

Anyway, it got me wondering how useful the iPad mini would be in 2020.  And by usefulness, I was thinking about performance, usability and the ability to run the latest or most commonly used apps. 

I decided to test this out by attempting to install and run the top 15 free apps from the App Store, as well as some commonly used ones such as TikTok and Minecraft.

Let’s get started.

Number 1 on the free app list was a game called “ID Please”.  Never heard of it, but let’s give it a go.  So, we have a splash screen… but then it crashed.  Moving on.

At Number 2 is Google Classroom.  Nope, Google Classroom is not compatible with this iPad.  ok.

At Number 3 we have Microsoft Word.  Not compatible either.  That’s a shame.

The Number 4 app was Epic Race 3d.  ok, we have a splash screen.  And nope, we crashed.

At Number 5 is Microsoft OneNote.  Not compatible, I guess Microsoft is not interested in supporting such an old Apple device.

At Number 6 we have a pair matching puzzle called Onnect.  I have not played this before.  It’s looking promising.  I think we can say that this is a success.  So, that’s one so far…

At Number 7 is Google Drive.  ok, it’s taken me to the purchase screen… Oh no, not compatible with this iPad.  Geez Google.

At Number 8 is the super useful Google Docs.  C’mon Google… Ah, nope.

At Number 9 is everyone’s favourite browser, Google Chrome.  Although if these trends…. No.  Although that surprises me for such a popular browser not to work.  

At Number 10 is the wonderful YouTube App.  Wow, not compatible.  

At Number 11 is the super handy Calculator App.  ok, tiny calculator splash screen? And success!  We can do calculations on the iPad mini.  I remember being surprised that the original iPad didn’t have a calculator included, but the iPhone did. 

Coming in at Number 12 is the Disney+ App.  Nope, not compatible with this iPad.

At lucky Number 13 is a quiz game called Kahoot!  We have a splash screen…  Some buttons to push…  Some more buttons… don’t know what this does.  But let’s chalk that up as another success!

At Number 14 we have Microsoft PowerPoint.  Hmmmm… no surprises there, thanks Microsoft.

And last but not least, at Number 15 is a game called Hunter Assassin.  Uh oh, splash screen… Oooh, interactive tutorial… I’ll just press here…. The dude is walking… he just did something nasty to that unsuspecting guy… cool!  I would have to say that this is also a success…. Might even play this one later…

So I didn’t have much success with the Top 15 free apps, so I thought I’d test another couple of famous and commonly used apps.

First up, the sensation that is TikTok… Yup… that’s working… now let’s do some tricky editing and speeding up to show you that it’s fully functional…

Next up, lets see if we can get Minecraft up and running.  ok, it’s let me sign in.  And I can walk around.  It’s a bit clunky, but quite usable.  I’d say that’s a success.

And let’s check out the always popular Netflix. 

Ok, so no success with the Netflix App, but can we still watch Netflix on the browser?  Let’s load up Safari and see… It allowed me to log in, browse the content available, but as soon as I tried to watch something it told me to download the App.  Unfortunately you click on the App, and … we are back to square one.  So unless there’s a workaround, I won’t be using Netflix on the iPad Mini.

And while we are in Safari, let’s also see if we have more luck with YouTube through the browser. Looks like this is working, and working well.  Wow, there’s some great content on YouTube that could be worth checking out… 

And what about a graphically and bandwidth intense site, like TheVerge.  Yup, scrolling through… seems fine, just not super smooth.

So what about the Apple Apps, how did they fare?  I tested both Find my Friends and Find my iPhone and they worked fine.

The Photos App was ok, albeit a bit slow.  The Mail App, News App, iTunes App, PhotoBooth, Facetime, Podcasts and every standard pre-installed Apple App worked fine.  But I guess that’s to be expected.

I guess the one thing I wasn’t able to test was whether exisiting apps would still work if they had been installed previously.  For example, if you had installed the YouTube app in 2012, would that app still work today?  Please let me know in the comments.

So is the first generation iPad mini still useful in 2020?  I think it is.  But there are limitations. 

The first limitation is that there are a lot of Apps that are no longer, or never were compatible with the iPad mini.  But there are some surprises such as TikTok and Minecraft that are actually quite usable.  And maybe your favourite App also works fine.

The second limitation is performance.  As this device is over 7 years old, it’s a bit of a sloth compared to modern devices.  Sure it’s quite usable, but some things run super slow.

The third limitation, but not a big one in my opinion, is some of the screen and camera specs.  It’s not a retina display and the camera is only 5 megapixels.  But really, who cares.  The screen looks clear and very readable to me.  And I’m not planning on using it to take photos.

So if you want a fun little device that can do basic web surfing, read emails, take the odd photo, play podcasts or music, and also find your iPhone for you, then the iPad mini could be a nice to have in your Apple collection.

Here is the final scoreboard:

1. ID Please – Loaded, but then crashed

2. Google Classroom – Not compatible

3. Microsoft Word – Not compatible

4. Epic Race 3D – Loaded, but then crashed

5. Microsoft OneNote – Not compatible

6. Onnect Puzzle Game – It worked!

7. Google Drive – Not compatible

8. Google Docs – Not compatible

9. Google Chrome – Not compatible

10. YouTube – Not compatible

11. Calculator – It worked!

12. Disney+ – Not compatible

13. Kahoot! – It worked!

14. Microsoft PowerPoint – Not compatible

15. Hunter Assassin – It worked!

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