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Apple updates $399 iPad mini with Apple Pencil support

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Using the old Lightning port Apple Pencil

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Apple has updated the iPad mini for the first time in three and a half years, refreshing the tablet with a new processor and support for the Apple Pencil stylus. The iPad mini now has last year’s A12 Bionic processor, instead of the A8 from 2014. Its storage is decreasing to 64GB, but its price remains the same at $399. Alongside the iPad mini, Apple also announced a new 10.5-inch iPad Air for $499.

The overall shape and design of the iPad mini remain the same as ever, so there are still big thick bezels on the top and bottom of the screen. But the screen has received a number of upgrades: the new model gets brighter, can display more colors, and includes Apple’s True Tone tech for automatically shifting the color temperature to match the tablet’s environment.

The iPad mini’s rear camera appears to be unchanged, but the selfie camera has been upgraded to a 7-megapixel sensor up from a 1.2-megapixel sensor on the old model. The tablet hasn’t gained Face ID either; it’s still using a fingerprint sensor for security.

Like the entry-level iPad did last year, the iPad mini has gained support for the Apple Pencil. Unfortunately, it’s for the original version of the Apple Pencil, which inelegantly charges through the device’s Lightning port. The newest iPad Pros support an updated version of the Apple Pencil that can wirelessly charge off the tablet itself, after magnetically attaching to the tablet’s side. It’s a lot nicer, but presumably would have required redesigning the iPad mini.

The refreshed iPad mini comes in silver, gray, and a slightly pinkish gold. It can be upgraded to 256GB of storage for an extra $150, and it can be configured with LTE for another $130. The updated model is available to order today, though Apple stores don’t appear to have any stock yet.

The updates were announced in a press release sent out this morning in an unusually quiet approach for Apple, which has typically held announcement events even for smaller iPad updates. Apple actually has an event coming up next week, on March 25th, when the company is expected to unveil the details of its streaming TV service and news subscription service. Releasing these minor iPad updates today seems to keep the focus on those bigger announcements.

For the past couple of years, the iPad mini has been a particularly bad deal. The tablet had an aging processor and a high price — you could get the faster, better, bigger iPad for less — but now, Apple’s tablet lineup makes a bit more sense. The mini costs more than the entry-level iPad, but it has a newer processor. And the new 10.5-inch iPad Air that sits above the mini has the same specs and the added benefit of a keyboard connector, so you’re paying more for a bigger screen and slightly more functionality.

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