iPad Air vs. Retina iPad mini. It seems like that’s all I’m getting asked about these days. We’ve done [#protected_0#] about it we’ve done full-on [#protected_0#] for it, and I’ve done a complete [#protected_0#] and [#protected_0#], and still, the questions. Haven’t. Stopped. Coming. But I’ve used both now, a week exclusively on the Air, a week exclusively on the Retina mini, and a week switching back and forth. So, what’s the answer?
The Retina mini is just much more convenient. It all but disappears into my laptop bag, and if I’m going out and don’t want to take my laptop, the mini fits into my jacket, and even my back jeans pocket. If you’re always on the go, and need just a little more computing than an iPhone enables, the Retina iPad mini simply can’t be beat.
The iPad Air is just much bigger and more expansive. It feels opened up, and even though it’s the same number of pixels, there’s a luxury to having them spread out. I keep it at home, in the living room or bedroom, and I close my MacBook and grab my iPad Air if there’s anything I really want to read or watch. If you don’t have or want a laptop at all, the iPad Air is the ultimate post-PC.
As with the iPad 4 and original mini, having both means I can use the Retina mini when I travel, as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a way to do stay connected on the road and in the air. And I can use the iPad Air while at home, for reading books and comics, drawing, watching TV and movies, and even VNC.
When I use the iPad Air, I do miss the lightness of the Retina mini, especially when holding it for long periods of time. But when I use the Retina iPad mini, I miss the size of the Air’s screen. This, I think, is what makes the decision so hard. Some megahertz and color range aside, they two iPads are almost atomically identical in every way but size. The difference comes down to half-full vs. half-empty perspective. You can finally have a full-sized iPad almost as light as the mini, or a mini almost as powerful as the full-sized.
And that’s the key – it’s not that it’s impossible to decide, it’s impossible to go wrong. You’ll be well served by either, simply pick the one that slightly better fits your use-case.
If portability is the most important thing to you, if you’ll have a computer with you most of the time, if you travel a lot, if you want to be able to hold it up for long periods of time, then you want the Retina iPad mini.
If power is the most important thing, if you want to use it as a primary computing appliance, if you mean to use it more around the home, school, or office, if you need to get a ton of work done, then you want the iPad Air.
For me, Infinity Gauntlet to my head, fate of the multiverse at stake, I’d probably choose the iPad Air – between iPhone and iPad Air, it feels like I’d have both extremes covered – but even while typing that I starting to second guess myself…
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Once you’re sure you’re buying an iPad and now, the next step is to decide which iPad you’re going to get. And this year, it’s a tougher decision than ever. The new iPad Air and Retina iPad mini are identical in every way but screen size, 7.9- vs. 9.7-inches the only differentiator. If money is incredibly tight, though the old iPad 2 is a bit cheaper, and the old iPad mini, a cheaper still. No matter which one you choose, however, you’ll be paying hundreds of dollars. Either a few, or a lot. So do you go with big or small, old or new? Which iPad should you get?
Current iPad models and price points
Apple’s 2013 iPad lineup consists of 4 different models, the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, iPad 2, and iPad mini. The iPad Air and Retina iPad mini have 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB storage options, in either Wi-Fi only, or Wi-Fi and cellular models. The iPad 2 and iPad mini come only with 16GB, but still have Wi-Fi only, or Wi-Fi + cellular models. That makes for a dizzying array of possibilities.
Yes, both the new Retina iPad mini and the old iPad 2 start at 9. Wacky.
Up-front vs. total cost of ownership
The original iPad mini starts at 9, making it the cheapest iPad ever. The iPad 2 starts at 9. Both cost less up-front than the new Retina iPad mini, which starts at 9, and the new iPad Air which starts at 9. That can be a considerable difference up front, 0 or 0 at the very least, depending on the exact model and options you choose. That’s real money, in your pocket, for rent, for food, for car payments, for school, or for other important things in your life.
However, if you keep an iPad over the course of a year or two, 0 or 0 isn’t that much spread over the course of that time. In some cases, it’s less than a month, for a much better screen, a much better processor, and more.
If you have absolutely no money to work with, the iPad mini is good tablet and the iPad 2 an okay one. I’d recommend the Retina iPad mini over the same priced iPad 2 every day of the week, but if you absolutely need the bigger screen and that’s all the money you have, that’s what you need and what you have.
If money isn’t your biggest consideration, go for the iPad Air or Retina iPad mini.
Finite vs. future-proof
Apple is pretty good about supporting older devices. The 2011 iPad 2 is still be sold in stores, after all, and is compatible with iOS 7. However, compatibility comes with compromise. Older generation iPads have older generation hardware. They have lower screen density – standard instead of Retina – and outdated processors – Apple A5 instead of Apple A7. They also don’t come with any storage options over 16GB – not 32GB, and certainly not 128GB.
So, while the iPad 2 and original iPad mini might have gotten iOS 7 this year, and be able to run iOS 7 apps, the odds of them being able to run iOS 8 or iOS 9 in a couple of years isn’t great.
Alternatively, the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, their awesome Retina displays, beefy 128GB storage options, and monstrous Apple A7 processors should last you for years to come.
Who should get an original iPad mini?
The iPad mini launched in October of 2012, and comes with a Lightning adapter. Aside from that, it’s all old tech. Standard display instead of Retina, and Apple A5 processor instead of Apple A7. The current version does come with Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + cellular options, but with only 16GB of storage, which isn’t much these days.
If there’s any way for you to save up an additional 0 for the Retina iPad mini, or better still, 0 for the 32GB Retina iPad mini, you’ll have a much, much better experience. Otherwise, if you really want an iPad, and you’ve got 9 earmarked for it and not a penny more – or you’re equipping a school or business by the score – get the iPad mini and enjoy.
Who should get an iPad 2?
The iPad 2 launched in April of 2011. It has no Lightning connector, a standard display instead of Retina, an Apple A5 processor instead of an Apple A7, and while it has Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and cellular options, it maxes out at 16GB of storage, which can be hard to manage.
You might want to consider a Retina iPad mini for the same 9. If you can save up even 0 more, a 32GB Retina iPad mini is great, and a 16GB iPad Air is also go. For 0 more, you can get a state-of-the-art 32GB iPad Air. Otherwise, if you really want a full-sized iPad, and you’ve got 9 in your pocket and that’s it – or you’re equipping students or employees by the score – get the iPad 2 and enjoy.
Who should get a Retina iPad mini?
The Retina iPad mini comes packed with 7.9-inches of 2048×1536 Retina display and a smoking fast Apple A7 processor. It’s identical in every way but size, weight, and price to the iPad Air. That means choosing between them comes down to 0 and just about 2-inches.
If price is a consideration, the Retina iPad mini is a fantastic tablet, and starts at just 9. If size is a consideration, the Retina iPad mini is better if you want to travel with it, use it as a mobile hotspot, and otherwise value portability the most. (It’ll fit in a back jeans pocket if it has to.) If either of those things are appeal to you, get the Retina iPad mini.
Who should get an iPad Air?
The iPad Air is the current top-of-the-full-size-line iPad. It has a 9.7-inch, 2048×1536 Retina display and screamer of an Apple A7 processor. Aside from size, weight, and price, however, it’s pretty much identical to the Retina iPad mini. So, your choice boils down to an extra 0 for an extra 2-inches.
If money is no object, the iPad Air starts at 9 and is the best big tablet on the market today. If size is something you’re debating, the iPad Air is primed for people who use it around the house, office, or school, and otherwise put productively ahead of portability. (Those extra inches can come in handy.) If any of that resonates with you, get the iPad Air.
If you’re still having trouble choosing between the iPad mini, iPad 2, Retina iPad mini, or iPad Air, jump into our iPad discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out.
Bottom line, don’t spend money you don’t have, but don’t skimp if you don’t have to. Your iPad will be one of the most often-used, most important possessions in your life for months and maybe years to come. Get as much iPad as you can reasonably afford, and then enjoy!