iPad mini and iPad 4: Should you upgrade?

iPad or something else: Which tablet should you get?

Just because Apple has released the new iPad mini and iPad 4 doesn't mean you have to race off and get it. Crazy, I know, particularly coming from the greatest iPad enthusiast site in the world, but that just goes to show you how true it is. When the time comes for you to get your next tablet, whether it's today or next year, and iPad or something else, you should look at what's on the market and decide what best suits your needs.

Buying your first tablet

If you've never owned a tablet before, get an iPad. Unless you hate Apple, or specifically need a tablet that offers something Apple's iPad doesn't, it's the best damn tablet on the market and will provide the best experience for the most people most of the time.

  • If you want something that's even more like a laptop and can run Windows apps, check out the Microsoft Surface.
  • If you're heavily invested in Google and the Android ecosystem, check out Android tablets like the Nexus 7, Transformer series, or Galaxy series.
  • If you live in the U.S. and are all in on Amazon, and don't really need a full-on tablet, check out the Kindle Fire.
  • If you love BlackBerry or just want an ultra-cheap, small tablet, you can find the BlackBerry PlayBook for $150 in some bargain bins.

But seriously, get an iPad.

Upgrading from the iPod touch to the iPad mini or iPad 4

If you have an iPod touch, the iPad mini will actually be less portable and likely have a lower screen density. But with equal specs to the iPod touch 5, a 4:3 aspect ratio screen, and ability to run iPad apps in addition to your existing iPod touch app, it could make for a compelling upgrade. If you don't need something you can slip into a pants pocket, the iPad mini can let you do more at an only slightly higher price. It also has a cellular option.

The iPad 4 is something totally different. Much bigger in size and display, and much more powerful, it's a good choice if the iPod touch is just too small, or you want something that can let you use iPad software at full size, for a full-on productivity boost. It's not an ultra-light laptop like the MacBook Air, but if you don't even need that much computer, it's a great choice.

Upgrading from the original iPad to the iPad mini or iPad 4

The original 2010 iPad is getting a little long in the tooth. Underpowered, with not enough RAM, and not able to run iOS 6, unless you really want to ride it into the ground, both the iPad mini and the iPad 4 are compelling upgrades.

The iPad mini will give you much better performance while also also being far more portable. If the original iPad is too big and heavy for you, and you don't need the screen size but still want all your apps and content, the iPad mini is a great choice.

The iPad 4 will give you a much better screen and much, much more power. If the original iPad was the perfect size for you, but you want something that can run iOS 6 and all the latest software, and don't want to get caught in the same end-of-line situation with the iPad 2 next time around, the iPad 4 is your go-to.

Upgrading from the iPad 2 to the iPad mini or iPad 4

iPad 2: Everything you need to know

The iPad 2 is still a good iPad -- Apple is still selling it, after all. So if you have an iPad 2, and you're still happy with it and it does everything you need it to do, you don't have to worry about upgrading at all. Still tight, enjoy, and see what Apple does with the iPad line in 2013.

The iPad mini isn't any more powerful but is lighter and more portable. The iPad mini has essentially the same specs as the iPad 2 but is only 80% the size and less than 50% the weight. If you're less about using the iPad in your lap, and more about trying to use it to read in bed, the iPad mini could be a better choice.

The iPad 4 will give you not only a Retina display, but an A6X chipset capable of properly driving it, and international LTE for even faster networking. If you held off from getting the iPad 3 because it wasn't the performance improvement you were hoping for, or because it didn't offer LTE in your area, the iPad 4 fixes both of those problems. It's the upgrade you were waiting for.

Upgrading from the iPad 3 to the iPad mini or iPad 4

The iPad 3 was released only 7 months ago, which means there's almost no reason for anyone who got one to even consider upgrading to an iPad 4 or cross-grading to an iPad mini.

The iPad mini os slower than the iPad 3 and lacks a Retina display. You should only considered switching if you absolutely need something lighter and smaller and are willing to sacrifice everything else to get it.

The iPad 4, which adds new LTE and A6X chipsets, should on be considered if you couldn't get LTE with the old model and need it, or the performance really bothers you and you have money to burn to fix it.

Upgrading from an Android, Windows, or other tablet to the iPad mini or iPad 4

If you've tried other tablets and not enjoyed them, or been frustrated by the lack of content in your region, or your ability to get help and support with it, the iPad is worth checking out.

  • The iPad has multiple layers but the first layer is so incredibly easy to use that the most non-tech savvy of people, people who have found traditional computers intimidating and off-putting, can pick it up and get going with it immediately. At the same time it's highly appealing to expert and veteran computer users who want to spend their time getting things done, not getting their computers to do things.
  • The iPad has iTunes and now iCloud, which does a lot of what iTunes used to but without the cable, lets you easily sync your existing content and also gives you access not only to the App Store but iTunes music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, iTunes U (University) and overall more content in more parts of the world than any other service.
  • The iPad gets software updates whenever Apple pushes them out. There's no waiting for manufacturers or carriers to decide if they're going to bother giving them to your phone or not. They just work.
  • The iPad, if you live near an Apple Retail Store and you have a problem with your tablet, can often be fixed on the spot. There's no passing the buck between carrier and manufacturer, there's no sending your tablet away for lengthy repairs. You make a Genius Bar appointment, you show up, they fix your tablet or swap it for a new one (if you're still under warranty or Apple Care). They'll also help you set it up and teach you how to use it. If you're new to tablets, this is the single best reason to go Apple.
  • The iPad ties into Apple's entire ecosystem. Apple itself creates a ton of other products to supplement the iPad, including Mac computers, iPods, iPhones, a ton of software, and much, much more.

So yeah, get an iPad.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPad mini and iPad 4: Should you upgrade?


I really don't think the iPad mini will be slower than the iPad 3. The iPad 2 and iPad 3 are almost identical in speed performance so I am guessing this would continue. The iPad mini and iPad 2 share pretty much the same guts so I would expect the same performance.

However, I don't think you can go back once you have a retina display, so there's no way you will be happy moving from an iPad 3 to an iPad mini.

Now to decide if I will upgrade to the iPad 4....

It's hard looking at my desktop screen after the iPads retina display, it looks so blurry. The iPad 4 is sooo much faster than the 3 I wish I never saw that video on YouTube.

I find this comment ridiculous. People are just making far, far, too much of "Retina" IMO. I am an artist with above average vision, colour detection, tracking accuracy etc. and while Retina displays are noticeably sharper if you look closely, in practice they are no big deal. Certainly anyone putting off a purchase, "because it isn't Retina" or "having a hard time" with non Retina displays, is primarily imagining these differences and convincing themselves of a "problem" that doesn't really exist.

If the lack of a Retina display makes reading or using your computer harder, then you actually need glasses, not a better display. There is a big difference between "this display isn't as sharp as the other one" and "blurry," or "hard on the eyes" or any of the other ridiculous descriptives going around. Non-Retina displays are not difficult to use or hard on the eyes or any of that stuff. It's just ridiculous hyperbole to say so.

... or you don't use your iPad the way that others do.

You're right that some people need glasses but how nice is it to not need them to view certain digital content because of the better resolution.

I was very skeptical about the value of retina displays and I still don't think it is the end-all, be-all, but there are times that you don't want to go back to the original iPad display. There are comic books on ComiXology whose fine print is all but illegible (and my eyesight is excellent) on the original iPad but quite discernible on the 3rd generation model.

For some stuff, it's not a big deal. For other stuff, it's not a big deal unless the screens are side-by-side. For the rest, it's a big enough deal on its own.

right U are... its the same display as iPhone3/GS just more than twice bigger... no body was complaining for two years about that... even 3,5" need to be hold closer to the eyes,,, DUDES

Thanks but I don't need an "artist with above average vision" to tell me and other people whether a retina display is a big deal or not. I'm surprised that you don't appreciate the much larger colour gamut which the retina iPad brought as it was praised by the display experts at Display Mate for having studio quality colour reproduction. I too have excellent vision (as per my very recent eye test) but this has nothing to do with why I enjoy the retina display. What I enjoy is the ability to take remote control of other computers (desktops and laptops) and be able to display te entire desktop on my iPad without any ugly scaling or panning. This is "magical" to me as it makes me much more productive and I can use my excellent vision to see those tiny pixels on my 9.7" screen which would normally be displayed on my 24" iMac or 15" MacBook Pro.

So, in future, by all means give us your own personal opinion but don't come on here telling "people" that they are making far far too much of retina or that they need glasses! Maybe you need to go get another eye exam if you don't think the retina displays which Apple are producing lately are not a massive improvement over non-retina displays.

My coworker has an iPad 2 and I knew there was a difference when I first looked at it. I didn't know what it was but it looked off, coming from looking at my retina display. There was some blur to it. I know the difference and I'd never want to go from retina to non retina. I'll probably get an iPad Mini for daughter.

I have the original iPad so I was thinking of a upgrade but can there be any iPad mini 2 by march April as it that case I can wait..!!

Someone please explain why the iPad mini can run Siri, yet the iPad 2 can't.

Say what you will about Apple, but this is just greed through and through.

Well that is normal business..if iPad2 can run everything then may be some people wont buy the iPad3. Apple made a big deal out of Siri and was advertising it as one of the features that you would want to upgrade.

I find that I use Siri only occasionally on my iPhone, and literally never on my iPad. So if this is your only motivation, it probably isn't worth it.

One *important* note on Microsoft Surface - it does NOT 'run Windows apps' in any real way. It comes with a stripped down Office version that is NOT binary compatible with the 'real version'. Windows RT and Windows 8 are about as similar as iOS and Mac OS X.

When you say binary compatible, are you saying that if I create a document using Office 2013 RT, I won't be able to open it and edit it in Office 2013 Standard or Pro? I was under the impression that Office 2013 RT was the full Office.

I have no idea what they mean... the version I played with was compatible. Able to be saved and worked on later from a full laptop.

Also, remember that the full Windows 8 Surface will be released soon.

It is correct: Win RT is not Win 8

Surface RT and Win RT are DOA....safe Ur money... DUDE.... ish U're a WinOS loving micro soft nerd and can accept 5 hours bat. life .... so buy the Pro
At first blush, Microsoft's entry-level Surface tablet seems like a good value compared to the iPad and other tablets. That's because you get double the storage (32 GB versus 16 GB) for the same price as the iPad, $499. But the reason Microsoft started the Surface at 32 GB instead of 16 GB is because the operating system, Windows RT, takes up approximately 12 GB of space.
For reference, Apple's iPad operating system takes up less than 1 GB. If Microsoft had made the entry-level Surface a 16 GB device, you'd only have about 4 GB free to play around with.

No, it means the same binaries (version) for executing the program on surface won't run on a Intel system.

Which has zero to do with cross compatibility of the resulting content you create in word, excel, or PowerPoint.

I've got a Surface I'm playing with, and it has certain charms, but I'm not sure it would replace my iPad. The OS takes a lot of getting used to, it's a bit slow to open programs, and the market is rather lacking. Having said that, the keyboard covers are excellent and that does allow for more robust document creation than the iPad. Personally I think the Surface has a viable niche.

I still prefer my iPad, but you can do some things on a Surface that an iPad is less equipped to handle.

1GB for iPhone 5 and there hasn't been a tear down of iPad mini so we don't know yet. My guess is 512MB for iPad mini.

No need for a bigger ipod touch, my ipod touch 5th gen is fine, does the same when it comes to functionality and comes with a retina display too. Waiting for nexus 7 32gb doble capacity and high res. and furthermore its cheaper than "ipad touch"

All of the 29,000 apps "made for iPad" that's what it has. An iPod touch is just like a Nexus, it runs phone software only.

I have an iPad 3, AND I'm getting an iPad mini in the mail next Friday. I have a feeling I'll return the mini, and get an iPhone 5 instead, but I really have to try it out first.

Rene Ritchie I love your breakdowns on upgrading the different models when the new Iphones and Ipads come out. Even going as far back as 3G or the original iPad. It really helps people save money and decide if the latest model is right for them power wise and finaicial wise (if they could just save for the next model.) In my case I have an Ipod Touch 2G so I'm really out of date but I have an Ipad 2 and am getting an Iphone 5 (if and WHEN Best Buy ever gets any in) :-) Then plan to upgrade to an A7x (probably Ipad 5) when it arrives so I can always have the fastest processor. :-) Thanks keep up the hard work!

While the iPad is really nice and fun to use, I've never felt the "need" for it. However, the iPad mini is much more intriguing due to the size, design, and price (compared to the other iPad). I do think I will wait at least another generation for Apple to upgrade the internals and all before purchasing one but I believe I see an iPad mini in my future...

I do feel iPad Mini will be a perfect device even though im upgrading (downgrading?) from iPad 3. When i bought the iPad3, i still had iPad2 and the resolution thing didnt bother me that much.
So i should be ok on that part.

If you look at the specs the ipad mini is actually a shrunken down ipad 3rd gen. Ipad 3rd gen had a A5X. It only had that because of the retina. If you compare cameras the ipad mini and ipad 4th gen are the same.

The only thing that's preventing me from purchasing the iPad is its lack of a full fledged Microsoft Office. The Surface seems to be attracting me more in their direction.

What about the Front Facing HD Camera in the iPad-4 which the iPad-3 does not have is that not a game changer?? I read in the above article that if Performance bothers too much in the iPad-3 only then go for the iPad-4 from iPad-3. But what about the Front Facing HD Camera that the iPad-3 noes not have ?

I'm still on an iPad 2 and happy as can be! Between my MacBook Air and iPhone 5, I don't find myself using my iPad a whole lot, so I don't need much out of it.

I have only just upgraded to the iphone 5 so i think for now i am gonna keep my ipad 2 and maybe upgrade next refresh like the article says the ipad 2 is still one of the better tablets on the market and to be honest i don't yet feel the need to upgrade.
Saying that though my son has asked if he can get an ipad mini for christmas so there will be one in our house.

I would be very wary of purchasing 19 month old tech from Apple. Remember the iPhone 3G. Even if I had a need for a 7 inch class tablet the tech in the mini is old and apple does not have a very good track record of supporting hardware that is more than 2 years old. iPad 1 anyone ?

For the record you are quite wrong here. Apple, in fact, has a stellar record of supporting old products, far better than say ... Microsoft or Google. That's not to say it doesn't happen, especially with "1.0" type products like the original iPad. In general however, you will get far greater support and for far longer on Apple products than on almost anything from the competition.

Your expectations are too high, and you are extrapolating a single personal disappointment into a broad and unsupportable assumption.

Yes I have high expectations. Apple products are high end with a high price. Your point about Microsoft and Google are correct. I am not extrapolating one disappointment but TWO. iPad 1 and iPhone 3G. Time will tell about the longevity of the A5 and 512 ram. I would not expect it to be a viable combo for much longer than 12 months. My iPhone 4 is a little pokey with iOS 6, about 27 months since launch. We are already at 18 months on the A5 and for how long will quality apps run with just 512 ram ?