IPad Air Vs IPad Mini – Which Should You Buy?

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Last year, the full-size iPad and iPad Mini were very different devices. The full-size iPad was more powerful and had a Retina Display. The smaller iPad Mini was much slower and had no Retina display. The iPad Mini wasn’t just an option for people who wanted a smaller iPad — it was a budget device. The situation is now completely different — the iPad Air and iPad Mini are very similar, and their prices are also closer together than ever.

If you want to buy an iPad, you have a tough decision ahead of you. Apple’s new iPads are very similar, but they’re still noticeably different in many ways.

iPad Air vs. iPad Mini

The iPad Air and iPad Mini both contain very similar hardware. Both contain a Retina display with the same resolution, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of internal storage on the cheapest model, and an Apple A7 processor — the same type of processor you’ll find in Apple’s new iPhone 5s. Both will give you “up to 10 hours” battery life. The iPad Air now has a very similar design to the original iPad Mini, so they even look similar.

Here’s how they differ:

  • Size: The iPad Air is 9.4 inches in height, while the iPad Mini with Retina Display is 7.87 inches.
  • Weight: The iPad Air weighs one pound, compared to 0.73 pounds for the iPad Mini.
  • Price: The iPad Air starts at $499, while the iPad Mini starts at $399.
  • Display PPI: Both devices have a Retina display with the same resolution — that is, the same number of pixels. But these displays are different sizes. That means the pixels are packed closer together on the iPad Mini with Retina Display, which makes for a higher pixels-per-inch value of 326 PPI on the iPad Mini versus 263 PPI on the iPad Air. This means that images and text will appear more detailed on the iPad Mini’s Retina display. However, the iPad Air’s display isn’t bad — it’s still a “Retina display.”
  • Processor Speed: The iPad Air’s processor runs a bit faster than the iPad Mini’s — 1.4 GHz for the Air vs. 1.3 GHz for the Mini. The iPhone 5s’s processor also runs at 1.3 GHz, so perhaps it’s just easier to cool the processor with more room on a larger device. The performance difference here will be small.
  • Color Accuracy: Independent tests have found that the iPad Air’s Retina display has better color accuracy than the iPad Mini’s, but this difference probably won’t be too noticeable to normal people. If you want perfect color accuracy, get an iPad Air.

iPad Air

Apple’s iPad Air is the new full-size iPad. If last year’s full-size iPad was basically the iPad 4, this is basically the iPad 5. It’s called the iPad Air because it’s noticeably lighter than previous iPads — 28% lighter, to be precise. That makes this the lightest, most compact full-size iPad yet.

The iPad Air’s big advantage is its larger screen. If you just want a larger screen, the iPad Air is the tablet for you. If you or the person you’re buying the iPad for has eyesight problems, the iPad Air with a larger screen will also be easier to see. Web pages, images, text — everything will appear larger on the iPad Air’s display.

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If you want to use a keyboard case with your iPad, the iPad Air is also the one to choose. There’s more room for a better, larger keyboard with an iPad Air.


iPad Mini With Retina Display

While the last iPad Mini was a mini version of the old iPad 2, the new iPad Mini with Retina Display is a mini version of the iPad Air.

The iPad Mini’s big advantage is its portability. If you want the smallest, lightest, most portable iPad, this is the one to get. The iPad Mini with Retina Display could be tossed into smaller bags where the iPad Air just wouldn’t fit. It’s lighter so it’s easier to carry around all the time.

Both iPads can be portable devices, though — Apple’s marketing shows a person holding an iPad Air with one hand while they stand on a subway train. Their message is that the iPad Air is portable, too.

Price is the second big difference. At $399 for the same internals and specifications an iPad Air offers, the iPad Mini with Retina Display is a compelling option if price is important to you.


Which Should You Buy?

The biggest differences between the two iPads are size and price. Other differences like PPI (where the iPad Mini wins) and processor speed and color accuracy (where the iPad Air wins) are minimal. Decide which size you prefer and how much you want to spend — that’s the real decision you have to make.

If you’re still not sure, head to an Apple Store (or any other store that stocks iPads) and play with them both to get a feel for which size is right for you.

Apple is also still selling two older iPads — the iPad 2 and the original iPad Mini without a Retina display. We’ll cover them below.

iPad 2

The iPad 2 is the second full-size iPad Apple ever released. This is the same iPad that was released back in 2011 and is now three iPad generations old. It doesn’t come with Apple’s new Lightning connector, so you’ll have to use Apple’s old dock connector with it. This makes it more difficult to get accessories and also means that any accessories you purchase for the iPad 2 won’t work with a new iPad or iPhone. It also doesn’t come with a Retina Display.

Despite its age, Apple is still selling the iPad 2 for $400 — the same price as the new iPad Mini with Retina Display! There’s really no good reason to buy an iPad 2 anymore. The only reason Apple is still selling them is because schools and businesses seem to have standardized on iPad 2 hardware and want them around. For consumers, they’re a terrible deal — if you really want to spend $400 on an iPad, get an iPad Mini with Retina Display. You’ll get faster, more modern internals, a higher-resolution screen, and just better everything. The screen is just a bit smaller, but the trade-off is more than worth it.


iPad Mini Without Retina Display

Apple is also continuing to sell the original iPad mini without a Retina display. This device previously cost $329, but now costs $299. The only good thing about the old iPad Mini is its price. it’s certainly the cheapest iPad you can get, if that’s what you want. Unfortunately, this iPad Mini was criticized for its performance and screen when it came out and it’s even worse today. The original iPad Mini has iPad 2-level internals along with a non-Retina screen. It has 512 MB of RAM, while the new iPad Mini with Retina Display includes 1 GB RAM — this will make it slower for multitasking. We reviewed the original iPad Mini when it came out about a year ago.


If you really want a cheap iPad in spite of the huge trade-offs, get this one. It has the same internals as the iPad 2 and the same unremarkable non-Retina display, but it’s significantly cheaper.

If you’re not sold on an iPad in particular, you can also get other tablets with better displays and faster internals — like the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets — for cheaper.

Image Credit: closari on Flickr, John Karakatsanis on Flickr, Mike Lau on Flickr, inUse Consulting on Flickr, K?rlis Dambr?ns on Flickr

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