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Review: iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina Display - That is here the question

Updated on January 15, 2014
iPad Mini
iPad Mini | Source


Before you run to the Apple Store, after watching the latest Keynote, you should sit down and think about what you have been offered by Cupertino.

Now Apple gives you a total of four different iPad models to pick from. Beside the color, cellular option and storage size of course.

So, choose wisely.

Same, same, but different
Same, same, but different | Source

Same same, but different

As usual by now, after introducing new iPhones or iPads, Apple keeps also in this season the last-year devices as an entry level models for a lower prices.

Usually this is an option some people should think about. You get yesteryears finest for a nice discounted price. That’s a sweet deal.

Be warned, this year is different, continue reading to find out why.

This year is different!

When Apple introduced the - now called - iPad Air as the successor of the iPad 4, they didn't keep the iPad 4 as the new entry level.

No Sir.

They still offer the old iPad 2. Now the entry level iPad is three generations behind the current model. A lot has changed between the 2nd and the 5th generation. For this, the $100 in savings are not worth it.
You will see in more detail later on.

Something similar happened to the iPad mini.
While there is only one generation difference in the mini family, a lot has changed as well. And it would be a bad advice to save the $100 in price now and compromise a whole bunch of features and a much lower resale value later on.
You will find the complete range of reasons in the next paragraphs.

Let’s talk about the newcomers

As the successor of the iPad 4 from 2012, Apple introduced now the 5th generation full-size iPad, which they dubbed iPad Air.
Often new names are a marketing gimmick. In this case the new name really reflects the new nature of the larger iPad.

The iPad mini on the other hand received the so much anticipated retina display, which makes it a truly next generation device.

Goodies for all new acquisitions

Apple really wants their customers to use the tablets not only for consumption of content, but also for creation of it.
Therefore they offer, for all new bought devices, the iLife and the iWorks package free of charge.

Yes you heard that right: All these Apps are free from now on.

You will get six Apps in total. There is Pages, Numbers and Keynote from the iWorks package and iPhoto, iMovie, and Garageband from the iLife package.

Tip: Garageband is even free for existing customers now.

How is that for customer satisfaction, Redmond?

Comparison table

iPad Air
iPad Mini w/ Retina Display
9.7 inch
7.9 inch
Screen Resolution
469/478 grams
331/341 grams
A7 64-Bit + M7 motion coprocessor
A7 64-Bit + M7 motion coprocessor
FaceTime camera
1.2MP & 720p HD video
1.2MP & 720p HD video
Main camera
5MP/2.4 aperture & 1080p HD video
5MP/2.4 aperture & 1080p HD video
Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n); dual channel (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and MIMO
Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n); dual channel (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and MIMO
UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900 MHz) LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26)
UMTS/HSPA/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900 MHz) LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26)
4.0 Low energy
4.0 Low energy

Generation shifts

Try this for size
The reason why Apple calls their new child iPad Air is clearly the size and weight factor. The engineers in Cupertino were able to shave off 1.3mm of thickness compared to the entry level device. The height decreased just by a mere 1.2mm, but the width shrunk by respectable 16.2mm, mimicking the bezel of the iPad mini.

Weight watchers
The team around John Ive slimmed down every component of the iPad to save a few grams here and a few grams there. For example, they peeled 70% of the thickness of the touch sensor alone. All in all they saved 132 grams (135 grams for the cellular edition) in weight. This equals a weight loss of 22%.

Nevertheless more power
And all this comes at a concession of: Nothing!
When you compare the technical specifications of the iPad Air with the ones from the new - and old - entry level iPad, you find the newest processor A7 - which was introduced just a month ago in the iPhone 5S. Apple even put the new M7 motion coprocessor in.

Better view
The cameras in the iPad Air can’t even be compared with the iPad 2. A VGA FaceTime and a ridiculous 0.7MP main camera can hardly be called cameras at all. This was a disgrace back in 2011, it still is two and a half years later.

In the wireless section everything has improved as well. The Wifi comes now with MIMO (Multi-in, Multi-Out), which can increase the transfer rate by factor 2. The Bluetooth module has a state of the art 4.0 version on board with Low energy. More and more little gadget transfer their information to computers, tablets and smartphones nowadays via Bluetooth 4.0. So, it is a good thing to be able to communicate with them. The iPad 2 can’t.

Last but not least, Cupertino put a second microphone in the enclosure, in order to enhance the sound quality when you are doing FaceTime calls with your significant other.


And what about the iPad mini?

Just in opposite of what happened to this years full-size iPad, the iPad mini of 2013 gained in weight and size.
But just a little. To be precise we are talking about 0.3mm in thickness and 23grams (29grams for the cellular version) in weight.

Is it worth the sacrifice?

In one word: Yes! You get a retina display for it.

When Apple put a retina display in the full-size iPad, it gained weight and size as well. But it was absolutely worth it. The crisp screen you get is so much better. You have to see it to believe it. When the first iPad mini came out last year it was great and all, but I couldn’t get used to the low-resolution screen anymore.

That’s not all

Surprisingly Apple skipped one generation in the CPU family tree and jumped from a A5 directly to the latest processor available A7.
And - just like the iPad Air - it is pampered with the M7 motion coprocessor as well.
And this is still not all. The new iPad mini with retina display gets also the MIMO antennas and the dual microphone setup.


I think it became clear for you that neither the iPad 2 nor the 1st generation iPad mini is the real deal.

The new devices improved so much that they are clearly worth the $100 more in any case. Just think about the higher resale value. If you play with the thought of getting a model with more than 16GB you are in for the new generation anyway, as Apple offers the entry level iPads only in the smallest version.

But which new iPad should it be now? The iPad Air or the iPad mini?

Both family members come - for the first time - with the same guts. But the mini is almost 30% lighter and has a 20% smaller footprint.
Whether you plan to use it while traveling or at home, in either case it is easier to transport and easier to hold - even with one hand.

And here it doesn’t hurt to go for the iPad Mini Retina and take the $100 discount, that lays between Air and mini.

Update 11/20/2013:

As several tech-savvy testers found out, the display of the "iPad Mini with Retina Display" does not cover the same color space as the new iPad Air.
That means, if you are a serious photographer and depend on true color reproduction, you should opt for the iPad Air.
If you are - on the other hand - a normal user, you would likely not see the difference and the iPad Mini with Retina Display is still the better choice for you.

Which iPad will you get now?

See results

© 2013 TheAndy


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