Pilot Report: Flying with the new iPad mini 6

Apple took the wraps off their all-new iPad mini a few weeks back and started shipping just a few days later. Some had worried that the smallest iPad model, long the most popular option for pilots, might be going away but this update should ensure its survival for at least a few more years.

We received our new model earlier this week and immediately put it through the paces in the cockpit to see how stacks up against previous iPad Mini models. You’re going to love it – here’s why.

All-new design

The iPad mini is a favorite among pilots thanks to its small footprint, lightweight design and affordable price. We were glad to see that the new model followed in the footsteps of the iPad Air’s recent redesign, with a slimmer bezel, larger screen and TouchID incorporated in the top power button.

The first thing you’ll notice when comparing the mini 5 to the mini 6 is that the new model is actually shorter than its predecessor, by about 0.3 inches. But thanks to the narrower bezel depth at the top and bottom, the screen size actually measures 0.4 inches larger on the diagonal (8.3″ vs 7.9″). This might not seem like a lot, but it is definitely noticeable in the cockpit. The two models are nearly identical when it comes to width and depth, so the new mini 6 will still work with many existing kneeboards and adjustable mounts (more on that later). Both models weigh the same too, at around 0.65 lbs.

The iPad mini 6 uses the latest generation A15 Bionic chip, which is a big upgrade compared to the A12 Bionic chip on the mini 5. Here’s Apple’s description on the jump in performance:

The 6-core CPU delivers a 40 percent jump in performance, and the 5-core GPU delivers an 80 percent leap in graphics performance compared to the previous generation of iPad mini.

The mini 5 was no slouch, but the new model feels snappier when panning around charts and displaying complex graphics. The real gains would be noticed when using more processor-intensive apps, like 3D gaming or video editing. The display itself is the same in terms of brightness and resolution specs and includes the same anti-reflective coating. We mounted both models in the airplane, side-by-side, and the screens looked identical.

Another big change is the removal of the home button, which was previously positioned at the bottom of the screen. There’s no room for a home button with the new design, so interactions rely solely on swipe gestures, just like the newer iPhones, iPad Air and iPad Pro.

While there is no FaceID feature here, the top power button incorporates the familiar TouchID security feature. This instantly unlocks the iPad when you touch the button with a fingerprint recognized by the device. We think this works better and is more reliable than FaceID in the airplane, especially when wearing sunglasses and a headset.

The location of the volume buttons were also moved to the top left of the device. This was done to accommodate the mini’s support of the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, which magnetically attaches to the side of the iPad mini for storage and charging.

Following the direction of the iPad Air and iPad Pro, the new mini includes a USB-C port for charging. This is a welcome change, as most new portable electronic devices manufactured today use USB-C, with the exception of the iPhone. You’ll find a 20W USB-C power adapter and charging cable in the box, which will charge the device faster than the standard lightning cable and 5W adapter included with the previous mini. The advertised battery life is the same as the mini 5.

Mounting the iPad Mini

The iPad Mini offers the most flexibility when it comes to mounting in the cockpit and works well in many locations. A favorite option among pilots is to use a suction cup to mount it on the left side window, where the Mini’s smaller size doesn’t block much of the view in the lower section of the front window.

Suction Cup Mounts

In the example illustrated above, we used the popular Robust Universal iPad Suction Cup Mount. This adjustable mount works with all iPad sizes thanks to its adjustable base, even if you keep your iPad in a case.

If you’d prefer the RAM mounting options, consider the RAM 7″ Tablet X-grip.

Since the footprint of the iPad mini 6 is slightly smaller than the previous models, form-fitting cradles from RAM, Pivot, MyGoFlight and X-Naut will not work the new model. Look for updated versions of these iPad mini mounting systems to hit the market in 2022.

Yoke Mounts

The smaller size also lends itself well to mounting on the yoke and is small enough to position in either landscape or portrait orientation:

We recommend Robust Universal iPad Yoke Mount for this location, which uses the same versatile mounting base as the Robust suction mount.

Kneeboards

The last option to consider is a kneeboard, which works well for aircraft without a yoke and for those wanting additional protection and pockets to keep accessories within reach. There are several options here, ranging from basic straps to protective kneeboards with lots of organization. All of the options below were designed with flexible straps and have no issue accommodating the smaller size:

MyClip Multi Tablet Kneeboard

Flight Outfitters Mini Slimline Kneeboard

Flight Gear iPad Bi-Fold Kneeboard

MyGoFlight iPad Folio C Kneeboard

It’s worth noting that some of these kneeboards use straps or clips at the top to secure the iPad. They rest across the top and could activate the volume or power button if you force the iPad in from the bottom.

The new iPad mini 6 starts at $499 for the 64GB model, which is $100 more than the mini 5. Increase the storage to 256GB and the price jumps to $649. And as with all current iPad models currently in production, the upgraded model with 5G cellular data connectivity includes a dedicated internal GPS receiver.

If you’re in the market for a new iPad and prefer a smaller tablet, now is the time to upgrade. The mini 6 includes the latest technology Apple has to offer at an affordable price and will offer many years of use.

15 replies
  1. David Smith
    David Smith says:

    I have tried various sizes and locations of mobile devices running ForeFlight and this new iPad is perfect in my Cessna 172S. I tried the older iPad and the display was a little small for me – too much wasted space with home button etc. I then went to an iPad Pro 11” strapped to my thigh, but when I transitioned from student pilot to private pilot I quickly learned that looking up and down increases risk and spatial disorientation. Added my iPhone 12 Pro Max suctioned to the side but was just too small. I think I have found the sweet spot with this new model. I often use ForeFlight’s procedure traffic pattern feature so that increases my need to look.

    Reply
  2. Dan
    Dan says:

    What about the potential for overheating? Does the more powerful processor generate more heat than the previous version?

    Reply
    • Anthony
      Anthony says:

      It shouldn’t in normal conditions. But it may if your using it to its full potential like video editing or playing games… of course I don’t know this for a fact, just basing off other computer knowledge I have

      Reply
  3. Ben
    Ben says:

    How difficult is it to use the fingerprint sensor to unlock when in a case or mount? I have found the standard, top mounted, unlock/power button virtually impossible to use after placing my iPad 5 in most cases and some mounts. Hypothesizing on your answer, I see this as a serious design failure for the 6.

    Reply
  4. Gary
    Gary says:

    Does the mini cellular option support
    GNSS systems (WAAS GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, and BeiDu), and can track three constellations concurrently for redundant location tracking.

    Reply
    • Bruce Russell
      Bruce Russell says:

      You know Gary, In these days of ADS-B linked to the mini, I really can’t see a need for the Cellular version just to get GPS.

      Reply
    • William
      William says:

      The Mini 6 WiFi+Cellular provides GPS and GLONASS. It does not provide BeiDou. I have not found a supplemental aviation navigation system yet that includes Beidou. But there are many Chinese handheld navigation devices providing Beidou sold on Amazon. I think having multiple nation’s constellation navigation systems in the cockpit as a backup to GPS is very wise.

      Reply
  5. A
    A says:

    I am all for improvements in tech, ofc when the advertised improvements are genuine, and not just changes. This looks pretty good. I have carried 2 mini’s in the aircraft for some years now, and tried various of these mounting devices. The goal being simple as possible button pushing for the desired page view, and the set up that does the minimal obstructing of what I have to see. I don’t like a lot of head moving in the cockpit (so I do not like knee mounts for charts, up and down up and down head movements in flight; I do not like that esp in IMC). And I must say, it’s a little annoying that the manufactures of these mounts get another round of hands in the flight crew pockets for mounts because a mini “won’t fit” what we just bought yesterday. A

    Reply
  6. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    It sounds like the form has returned to the original Mini size. When I bought my Mini 4, I had to modify my yoke mount slightly with a Dremel tool to accommodate the slightly larger form factor of the Mini 4. But it still accepts the original Mini, so I suspect it’ll accept the Mini 6.

    Overall, I’m glad Apple is keeping the Mini series. It’s the right size for a GA cockpit, fits nicely on a yoke without significantly blocking flight instruments, and yet it’s large enough to see charts and approach plates. The slightly larger screen of the Mini 6 should improve on that a bit as well. And with a keyboard cover attachment, I’ve found both the original Mini and the Mini 4 to be plenty acceptable as a laptop substitute for most uses, other than to update my panel avionics, which still requires a PC laptop or computer.

    Reply
  7. Frank B
    Frank B says:

    I was hoping you would comment on how well the magnetic stylus holds up in turbulence? Does it have a tendency to fall off easily or at all?

    Reply
    • Bill Bacon
      Bill Bacon says:

      I’ve got the new mini on a yoke mount and the pencil’s magnetic grip is VERY solid. I suspect that if you were experiencing turbulence severe enough to dislodge the pencil, that would be the least of your problems!

      Reply
  8. Joe Latham
    Joe Latham says:

    Using a double arm RAM mount attached to a RAM ball below the edge of the windscreen, and a RAM tablet X-grip, I can position my iPad mini at the very left side of my Diamond DA40’s panel, without blocking the G1000’s PFD. It’s under the front edge of the windscreen and directly in front of an air vent, so I don’t have to worry about overheating. It has worked out very well for a number of years. It doesn’t block any portion of the canopy and is in the same field of vision as the G1000 screens, The iPad mini is the perfect size for me, both in the plane and when flight planning or filing an IFR flight plan in the FBO. The Mini 5 has been great, but the Mini 6 is very tempting, especially with 5G cellular.available.

    Reply
  9. Dan Sniezek
    Dan Sniezek says:

    Author states that existing X-naut mount for previous gen minis will not work, however I think since the 6 is slightly smaller in height and depth, it would work fine if I just add some foam padding in a few places to fill up the gap. I will certainly try that before splurging on a new mount.

    Reply

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