Which iPad should I get?

iPad buyers guide spring 2014 update: iPad Air vs. Retina iPad mini vs. iPad 2 vs. iPad mini: Which iPad model should you get?

iPad buyers guide spring 2014 update: iPad Air vs. Retina iPad mini vs. iPad 2 vs. iPad mini: Which iPad model should you get?

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 right now 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 4 is a bit cheaper, and the old iPad mini, a bit 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, cost or value? Which iPad should you get?

Choosing an iPad: Models and price points

What's the difference between iPads?

Apple's spring 2014 iPad lineup consists of 4 different models, the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, iPad 4, 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 4 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 4 start at $399.

Choosing an iPad: Specs

iPad mini iPad 4 iPad Air iPad mini Retina
iPad mini iPad 4 iPad Air iPad mini Retina
Code Name J65 J72 J85
Model Name iPad 2,5 iPad 3,4 iPad 4,1 iPad 4,5
OS iOS 7 iOS 7 iOS 7 iOS 7
Screen Size 7.9 inches 9.7 inches 9.7 inches 7.9 inches
Resolution 1024x768 (163ppi) 2048x1536 (264ppi) 2048x1536 (264ppi) 2048x1536 (326ppi)
System-on-a-chip Apple A5 Apple A6X Apple A7 Apple A7
CPU 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 1.4GHz dual-core Swift (ARM v7s) 64-bit dual core Apple A7 Cyclone (ARM v8) 64-bit dual core Apple A7 Cyclone (ARM v8)
GPU PowerVR dual-core SGX543MP2 PowerVR quad-core SGX554MP4 PowerVR G6430 PowerVR G6430
Co-processor none none M7 Motion M7 Motion
Storage 16GB 16GB 16GB/32GB/64GB/128GB 16GB/32GB/64GB/128GB
SIM Nano Micro Nano Nano
iSight 5MP/1080p 5MP/1080p 5MP/1080p 5MP/1080p
FaceTime 1.2MP/720p 1.2MP/720p 1.2MP/720p 1.2MP/720p
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Bluetooth 4.0 Bluetooth 4.0 Bluetooth 4.0
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n MIMO 802.11a/b/g/n MIMO
Sensors Ambient light, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope Ambient light, accelerometer, compass, gyroscope
Speakers Stereo Mono Stereo Stereo
Connector Lightning Lightning Lightning Lightning
Height 7.87 inches (199.9 mm) 9.5 inches (241.3 mm) 9.4 inches (238.8 mm) 7.87 inches (199.9 mm)
Width 5.3 inches (134.6 mm) 7.31 inches (185.7 mm) 6.6 inches (167.6 mm) 5.3 inches (134.6 mm)
Thickness 0.28 inches (7.1 mm) 0.37 inches (9.4 mm) 0.29 inches (7.4 mm) 0.29 inches (7.4 mm)
Weight 0.68 lbs (308 g) 1.44 lbs (653 g) 1.0 lbs (454 g) 0.73 lbs (331 g)
Battery 4440mAh 11560mAh 8820mAh 6471mAh
Colors Black/White Black/White Space gray/Silver Space gray/Silver
Price Wi-Fi: $299
Cellular: $429
Wi-Fi: $399
Cellular: $529
Wi-Fi: $499, $599, $699, $799
Cellular: $629, $729, $829, $929
Wi-Fi: $399, $499, $599, $699
Cellular: $529, $629, $729, $829

Choosing an iPad: Up-front vs. total cost of ownership

The original iPad mini starts at $299, making it the cheapest iPad ever. The iPad 2 starts at $399. Both cost less up-front than the new Retina iPad mini, which starts at $399, and the new iPad Air which starts at $499. That can be a considerable difference up front, $200 or $100 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, $100 or $200 isn't that much spread out over time. In some cases, it's less than $10 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 a good tablet and the iPad 4 is a very good one. If money isn't your biggest consideration, go for the iPad Air or Retina iPad mini.

Choosing an iPad: Finite vs. future-proof

Apple is pretty good about supporting older devices. They supported the spring 2011 iPad 2 until spring 2014. That's an eternity in gadget years. However, compatibility comes with compromise. Older generation iPads have older generation hardware. the original iPad mini has a lower screen density — standard instead of Retina — and older processors — 32-bit Apple A5(X) instead of 64-bit Apple A7. They also don't come with any storage options over 16GB - not 32GB, and certainly not 128GB.

So, while the iPad 4 and original iPad mini might were updated to iOS 7 last year. The iPad 4 will almost certainly be able to run iOS 8 later this year. But iOS 9? iOS 10? And even if it can, how well?

Conversely, 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.

Choosing an iPad: Screen size vs. display density

What's the difference between iPads?

Both the iPad Air and iPad 4 have 9.7-inch screens. Both the original iPad mini and Retina iPad mini have 7.9-inch screens. The iPad Air, iPad 4, and Retina iPad mini have 2048x1536 screens. The i original iPad mini has a 1024x768. Confusing much? The way it works out is this:

The Retina iPad mini has the densest display at 326ppi (same as the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c). That's because it's the same resolution as the iPad Air, but shrunk down to a slightly smaller size. Since you might have to hold it closer, it probably won't make much real-world difference. On paper, however, it's on par with the highest density screens Apple makes.

The iPad Air and iPad 4 have the next densest display at 264ppi (same as the iPad 4 and iPad 3). That's because, while it's the same resolution as the Retina iPad mini, they're slightly larger. Since you might be able to hold it further away, again, it won't make that much real-world difference.

The original iPad mini has a 163ppi screen (the same as the old iPhone 3GS).

If you want an amazing screen, you want the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, or iPad 4. If you want a big screen, you want the iPad Air or iPad 4. If you want both, and you want lightness as well, you'll want the iPad Air.

If you want an ultra-portable, you want the Retina iPad mini or original iPad mini. If you want the best screen on an ultra-portable, you want the Retina iPad mini.

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 $100 for the Retina iPad mini, or better still, $200 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 $299 earmarked for it and not a penny more - or you're equipping a school or business by the score - get the iPad mini.

It's just not highly recommended, especially because of the limited storage.

Who should get an iPad 4?

The iPad 4 launched in October of 2012. It has a Retina display andLightning connect, but a 32-bit Apple A5X processor instead of a 64-bit 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 $399. If you can save up even $100 more, a 32GB Retina iPad mini is great, and a 16GB iPad Air is also good. For $200 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 $399 in your pocket and that's it — or you're equipping students or employees by the score - the iPad 4 is an option.

It's not bad, it's just also not highly recommended, also and especially because of the limited storage.

Who should get a Retina iPad mini?

The Retina iPad mini comes packed with 7.9-inches of 2048x1536 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 $100 and just about 2-inches.

If price is a consideration, the Retina iPad mini is a fantastic tablet, and starts at just $399. 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.) Likewise, if you already travel with a laptop, the Retina iPad mini is a great companion device.

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, 2048x1536 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 $100 for an extra 2-inches.

If money is no object, the iPad Air starts at $499 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.) Likewise, if you don't travel with a laptop, the the larger real-estate and keyboard size can make the iPad Air a much better replacement device. - iPad Air: Everything you need to know

Still undecided?

If you're still having trouble choosing between the iPad mini, iPad 4, 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!

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

Which iPad should I get?


Rene - if you could use only one iPad (air or retna mini) what would be your choice?

I have a first gen mini and have been happy w it but I'm thinking about upgrading to the air.

Sent from the iMore App

The iPad 4 ("iPad with Retina Display") is also available in the Apple Refurb Store. If someone were considering that model but want more storage. Same with the mini.

I can't decide between iPad mini 64GB+4G and iPad mini retina 32GB.Futhermore, prices are the same. 32GB is fine for me however 4G would be cool but retina display and much higher performance also. Can't decide :/

I would go with lower storage retina with 4G. That's only because I use my mini remotely a lot. I love the convenience of having a quick connection when I'm traveling. I say the retina version more for speed the display. I'm happy with the display of my original mini I just find it lags at times, especially when typing fast.

The iPad 2 is still available from the Apple Refurb store, at least for now. It's not really a bargain considering the low-res screen, the slower processor, and the 30-pin connector.

There are a couple of places (the caption under the top figure, and the first paragraph in "up front vs total cost of ownership") where you forgot to change "iPad 2" to "iPad 4". A little too eager to push this updated guide out perhaps?

Hello, there are some errors in this information, mixing specs from iPad 2 with iPad 4 and also wrong information about iPad 4 processor, it is not A5X, it is A6X. Hope you can get it right, as this article may confuse readers.

I have 3 iPads. An original mini, a retina mini and an Air. If I could only have 1, I'd have to go with the retina mini. It's the same as the Air just more usable. If you prefer larger then obviously the Air is better for you.

Sent from the iMore App

Would the original mini have more available RAM in actual use (say web browsing) than the retina mini because of the 64 bit chip using more RAM?

Not sure why the Ipad 4 not recommended, it is same price with a larger screen... not a bad deal. I find the 7 inch tablet range too small, especially with modern larger phones filling in those gaps. A larger iphone is now on the way... I think the sweet spot in current tech is to have a 5 inch phone 10 inch tablet, 15 inch laptop, then a large home computer with 27"-30" screen or dual monitors. I have an android phone right now but will be going back to iOS as soon as apple gets with the program and puts out a larger phone.

My dilemna.... what is better the ipad 4 it a mini. Only will be used to surf, daughter to play games, Facebook and watch movies on Netflix occasionally. I have a laptop. Had a galaxy but hated size plus harder to use.

Will I be unhappy bc of the iPad mini size later? Should I splurge 60.00 for ipad 4. Loved feel of mini bc it was lighter. But bc of price difference idk if I should get bigger when u pay almost as much for a mini than the iPad.

Just wondering- now that the price of a iPad mini has dropped to $199 (at Best Buy this week) is it worth it to buy the mini over the mini Retina? I only have an iPhone but the $200 iPad price tag is enticing. Even if it means keeping it boxed up until September 9th to confirm whether or not there will be a new iPad. Thoughts?

"That's an eternity in gadget years" -- BS on that and your silly 'eternity' blather. MS supports OS and apps for up to 10 years. Now THAT's 'an eternity'. Anyone on a tight budget can't afford Apple, they are very high cost for a non-laptop device, and your advice on that is excellent. Some sheeple will realize the high expense and not waste the money they don't have on a credit card.

I'm searching for a used iPad cuz of the quality components and reliability I 'believe' is there, BUT hate Apple's death-grip on their product vs more open-source alternatives like Android.