Should you buy the iPad mini retina or iPad Air?

It’s a question that’s been thoroughly discussed in our forums and one that many people will asking themselves in the coming weeks. Like many of you, going into yesterday’s event, I had every intention of buying an iPad mini with retina display. It had been months since I used the full-sized iPad 4 and haven’t look back, until now. The iPad Air changes the conversation. These are first world problems. Should you buy the iPad mini retina or iPad Air? Let’s take a look at both.

iPad Air or iPad mini retina

Both will benefit from having Apple’s A7 processor and M7 motion co-processor. The A7 is a 64-bit chip resulting in blazing fast speeds on both devices.

A7 and M7 processors

Advantage: Draw*

*Apple does not disclose how much RAM is in either device. Once a tear down is completed, we’ll update our article accordingly.

The iPad Air is larger, boasting a 9.7-inch display compared to the smaller 7.9-inch display on the mini. Both are considered ‘retina‘ displays. The Air offers resolution of 2048-by-1536 at 264 pixels per inch, with the iPad mini 2 coming in at 2048-by-1536 at 326 PPI. Apple defines a retina display as having enough pixel density that the human eye is unable to notice pixelation. As screen sizes get bigger, it is natural to see a lower PPI. The iPhone 5s/5/4s/4 and iPad mini with retina all share the same PPI. The iPad Air is no different than the iPad 3/4. In other words, don’t get hung up on PPI. These are both going to be stellar looking displays with no discernible differences.

retina display

Advantage: Draw

The iPad Air utilizes a built-in 32.4-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery compared to a 23.8-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Both devices are rated for up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi‑Fi, watching video, or listening to music. They both ship with a 12-watt charger. It should take slightly longer to charge the iPad Air, but there should be little difference in battery life.

Battery Life

Advantage: iPad mini (slight)

The iPad Air will be available for purchase online and in retail stores starting on November 1st. Apple has yet to provide a specific date for the iPad mini with Retina display, only to say that it is ‘Coming later in November.’

iPad air availability

Advantage: iPad Air

Both have FaceTime HD cameras on the front, offering 1.2MP photos and 720p HD video. The iSight camera on the back is the same on both and it’s no different that the third/forth generation iPads, offering 5MP photos with a ƒ 2.4 aperture.

iPad cameras

Advantage: Draw

The second generation mini is slightly thicker by .3mm. That should be enough to require manufacturers design new cases. Given the expected popularity of both these devices, you’ll have no problem finding a large assortment of cases. Apple has also announced both the Smart Cover and Smart Cases will be available for both models.

iPad Air cases

Advantage: Draw

The iPad Air is $499 for the 16GB model. The same configuration on the iPad mini with retina display is $399. Regardless of what storage capacity or whether you go with Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + Cellular, the iPad Air will cost you $100 more.

Price difference

Advantage: iPad mini 2

Which should you buy?

Hey, let’s face it. Deciding between the iPad Air and iPad mini is the definition of a ‘first world problem‘. Based on what we’ve seen from Apple, these are both going to be excellent devices. Customers wouldn’t have balked if Apple moved from the A5 to A6 processor on the retina mini. Instead they went all in with the A7 and what we ultimately have are two flagship quality devices. Both sport phenomenal specs across the board, save for the iSight camera which remains at 5 megapixels.

The biggest difference between the iPad Air and iPad mini with retina is the 7.9-inch to 9.7-inch display. Moving up in screen size will also set you back $100. I’ve yet to test the iPad Air, so grading the portability at this point is not possible. I do remember the iPad 2 be remarkably light and that weighs .30 pounds more than the Air.

The iPad mini is a great mobile computing device and we’ll have to see if the redesigned iPad Air matches it. If it’s even remotely close, the $100 is a small price to pay to move up to a larger display. Bigger is better when it comes to games, multimedia and web surfing. If you do a fair amount of reading and travel often, you might use that $100 for books, movies, a good case or even moving up to a larger storage capacity. As infrequently as I travel, I still realize the importance of traveling light, where every ounce counts. It’s the reason I moved to a MacBook Air.

With the 2012 iPads, I originally decided to go with the iPad 4 and its gorgeous retina display. Over time, I found myself willing to give up retina for the portability of the iPad mini and haven’t looked back. If I had to guess now, I’d say the iPad Air will be my everyday iPad. When it comes to making a decision on what tablet works for you, nothing can beat hands-on comparisons. Ultimately, you have to decide what works best for you. The good news is that with either tablet, you’re not making any compromises.

Which iPad are you buying and why?

  • Ted

    Get me an 11” MacBook Air that can be converted to a tablet and the conversation is over. Until then, I’m tabletless.

  • JWiPhone

    Great article. I have made up my mind, and it will be the iPad Mini 2, but I think most would be happy with either one.

  • Geo

    Nice article Chris.
    I think I will have to make the decision when I get both in my hands at the apple store. I was thinking of going mini, to save weight, but the big retna screen is a great advantage; not to mention the A7 processor. If the same screen is on the mini now? Maybe that is a good choice. With the iPad Air now a bit smaller in size (.71 of an inch off the width) the mini may not be necessary. The Air may feel like a mini in the end.
    I can hold off for real user experiences and having them in my hands for now.
    Waiting, but eagerly!

  • FutureMedia

    I’ve reached the logical conclusion to buy both ATT Space Grey 128GB models. We’ll worth the almost $2k. And in December I’ll be buying a new Mac Pro and Sony XBR 900 4k UHDTV for a monitor.

    • Christopher Meinck

      Can I come over your house?

      • FutureMedia

        Sure anytime. Are you in the Santa Cruz CA area?