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iPad Air vs. iPad mini with retina display: Which tablet should you buy?

Apple(s aapl) just announced two new iPads – the full-size, ultra lightweight iPad Air, and the second-generation iPad mini, which now comes equipped with a retina display. Both are top-of-the-line tablets, with top-of-the-line prices to match. But which one should earn your device dollars? I compared the specs for each tablet in the table below to find out.

iPad Air vs iPad mini retina

As you can see, these tablets are evenly matched in nearly every regard. Each features Apple’s new 64-bit A7 processor and M7 motion coprocessor. Each has a 5-megapixel rear iSight camera and 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime HD camera. And each comes in either silver or space grey, in four different storage options, with the same 10 hours for battery life. And this time around, the two tablets even look the same. Apple has designed the full-size iPad Air to look like a larger version of the iPad mini.

The only notable difference, from a technical perspective, lies in the display. Both tablets use a 2048 by 1536 retina display, but the smaller size of the iPad mini’s screen means it contains more pixels per inch — 326 for the mini as compared to 264 for the Air. Both screens will look extremely sharp, but the iPad mini will deliver text and images that look even crisper than the iPad Air.

The only other noteworthy differences then are size and price. The iPad Air has been noticeably trimmed down since the fourth-generation iPad – it now measures 9.4 by 6.6 by 0.29 inches and weighs just 1 pound. My colleague Kevin Tofel got spent a few minutes with it and notes that’s it’s easier to hold and transport than ever before, but its larger 9.7-inch screen means it’s still the sort of device you’re more likely to use on your couch as opposed to your commute. The iPad mini, on the other hand, measures 7.87 by 5.3 by 0.29 inches and weighs 0.73 pounds, making it the more portable of the two options.

There’s a $100 price difference between the two tablets, which is considerable.

So which one should you buy? That’s a tough call. The fourth-generation iPad had a clear advantage over the original iPad mini, including a retina display and a faster processor. But now that Apple has closed that gap, I’m inclined to think the iPad mini is a better buy.

For $100 less, you get the same exact hardware and an even sharper retina display in a size that’s a lot more versatile than the iPad Air. The iPad mini is still large enough to kick back with at the end of the day while you’re watching TV, but it’s also a lot easier to hold with one hand while you’re reading a book. Some people will still prefer a bigger tablet like the iPad Air, but for most, I think the iPad mini is a better choice.

The good news is you no longer have to sacrifice performance for portability. So no matter which tablet you choose, you know you’re getting the best of what Apple has to offer – until next year.

31 Responses to “iPad Air vs. iPad mini with retina display: Which tablet should you buy?”

  1. Given that the text will be much smaller and harder to read on the iPad Mini, it’s not the better choice for web browsing (unless you put the iPad Mini up to your eyeballs!)

    “There’s a $100 price difference between the two tablets, which is considerable.”

    $100 “considerable”?

    If someone an afford to spend $400, an extra $100 is chump change, especially if you add in the money for a case, screen protector, and extended warranty, Apple Care + or Square Trade–perhaps another $150. If you’re already spending $550, why not $100 more if you want and need a larger screen?

    That’s the key to picking between the two –how you’re going to use the i-device.

    We have both the iPad Mini and iPad–use the first for ebook reading, the 2nd for browsing.

  2. “Both screens will look extremely sharp, but the iPad mini will deliver text and images that look even crisper than the iPad Air”

    Several comments on that.

    1. Has this been empirically tested? Retina displays mean that you can’t see the pixel at normal reading distance–so it shouldn’t make a difference. Photos? I’d like to see a blind comparison test.

    2. The text will look much smaller on the iPad Mini than the iPad and thus harder to read!

    3. You will have to blow up web sites to make the text large enough to read–and then you’ll have to sroll back and forth, left and right, which is no fun!

    Yes, there is the Reader function of Safari, to zoom in on the text, but most sites do NOT support it–and those that do, may only support the first part of the page, leaving out such things as the comments below.

  3. iPad mini for its simple weight and size is what people wanted to start with. The new A7 chip, retina display and camera was also why they will sell like hot cakes. Only problem will be supply because the new screens have a lower yield days some people.

  4. I had the mini for the last year and i’ve been wishing for a larger screen. Now that the larger iPad is almost as light as the mini, i’m going with the Air(and sell the mini for the same price as I can get a nexus 7. LOL, gotta love apple’s resale value).

  5. Laurent Lathieyre

    I wasn’t convinced about retina display until I got my new mac book pro 13″ retina

    given the time I spend in front of screens, Retina makes a huge difference

    besides, I much prefer the ipad mini format

    so it’s definitely ipad mini retina!

  6. I think in future apple will be shut down ipad air. That’s why they cut ipad air pixel because every hardware is same only pixel matter why. I don’t think that they compare size vs pixel that’s stupid things but I think it’s a lack of big size. Please improve this lacking’s. I prefer ipad air if they pull up pixel and others hardware. I believe that iphone is quite similar to ipad mini with extra advantages and ipad give me the another expression so why ipad air is same to ipad mini. Mini is always mini!!! Please change the dissension if S.Jobs is here he is shamed because apple continuous give us bad,low,poor thinking.

  7. Lionel Gibbons

    I’ve been neglecting my10″ iPad since the mini followed me home from the Apple store. The only think I miss is that sharp screen. So put me in the iPad Mini (NOW WITH RETINA DISPLAY!) column

  8. Nicholas Paredes

    My aging eyes will be happy with my return to the larger iPad. Since my work on the iPad continues to grow, the larger screen will help.

    I can always return to the Mini next time!

  9. Justin Higgins

    I imagine for certain types of apps, the larger physical size of the iPad Air will still be valuable – thinking of drawing/sketching apps, as well as some music creation apps (where a lot of onscreen knobs and buttons would maybe be a bit more of a pain to manipulate).

    • Yes I agree with you. The bigger display is better for serious working, and however lighter it becomes than the previous model, it is still too big to be held with one hand. The iPad mini is easier to carry around. I have ordered the iPad Air to replace the 3rd gen, but will keep using the iPad mini 1 because it’s good enough for reading.