iPad 4 vs. iPad 2 vs. iPad mini: Which iPad should you get?

The latest, greatest, iPad -- in this case the late 2012 iPad 4 -- can't be considered a no-brainer buy this year because Apple has now also introduced the all-new iPad mini. The iPad 2 has also stuck around in some sort of limbo-like middle ground, further complicating your purchasing decision.

Power vs portability, starting at $329 vs. starting at $399 or $499 -- there's a lot of factors to consider.

(Late) 2012 iPad product line

Just when you thought Apple had already introduced the new iPad this year, they went and introduced a newer one! If you haven't taken the iPad plunge yet, or if you're looking to upgrade from another tablet or a first generation iPad, that just means you have even better value for your money.

If we map out Apple's product line completely, you can start with the iPod touch or iPhone, which are the most portable but arguably the least productive (small screen, most difficult input). They're great for on-the-go. The iPad mini bridges the gap between iPod touch and iPad, with a bigger screen and the ability to run iPad apps, but lighter and easier to hold up. It's for lying down and traveling around. The iPad has a bigger screen and is the most productive of the iOS devices. It's for feet up, literally on the lap, light productivity and more immersive content. The MacBook rounds things out. It's OS X not iOS, and while bigger and heavier than any iOS device, it has a full keyboard and runs full-on desktop software. It's for getting traditional computing things done.

If you want something between that iPhone and iPod touch, and the MacBook or another laptop, that's where the iPads fits in, and here's how they break down.

iPad mini

iPad mini review

The iPad mini is slightly cheaper than the iPad 4 or the iPad 2, but that's just a side benefit of being a little smaller and a lot lighter. In terms of hardware, it's got basically the same body and components as the 2012 iPod touch 5, including the aluminum unibody, Apple A5 processor, and storage options. It has the iPad 2-style screen, however, at 1024x768, only shrunk down from 9.7 inches to 7.9 inches. That makes it slightly higher density -- the same 163 ppi as the iPhone 3GS if you're keeping score -- than the 132 ppi iPad 2, but nowhere near the 264 ppi of the iPad 4.

The lightness is the biggest differentiator, however. You can hold it easily in one hand, and while it's not small enough to be an on-the-go style device like the iPhone or iPod touch, it's not relegated to be a sitting-down, on-you-lap style device like the full sized iPad either. It's much better lying down, and much easier to hold for longer periods of time. It's also easier to stash in big jacket pocket or small carry bad.

Apple offers the iPad mini Wi-Fi at three price points depending on the amount of storage:

  • 16GB - $329
  • 32GB - $429
  • 64GB - $529

If you want it with 3G GSM/CDMA, and 4G LTE version, the prices go up $130:

  • 16GB - $459
  • 32GB - $559
  • 64GB - $659

If you value portability over the power of the processor and prettiness of the screen, get the iPad mini.

iPad 2 (2011)

iPad 2: Everything you need to know

The 2011 iPad 2 with 16GB of storage is the big "budget" iPad designed to ease the barrier of entry for price-concious first-time buyers and for bulk buyers like schools and businesses. It doesn't have the crystal clear, high density Retina display, 4G LTE data, the new, super-fast Apple A6X processor, or the new Lightning connector, and the cameras are terrible, but it runs the same iOS 6 operating system, and has access to the App Store and Safari, and can do most everything the new iPad can do. And it looks almost identical.

However, while the iPad 2 was arguably a reasonable buy compared to the iPad 3 due to the overhead of the Retina display, the iPad 4 promises 2x the performance of the iPad 3, diminishing that concern.

Apple offers the iPad 2 at one price point:

  • 16GB - $399

If you want it with 3G GSM/CDMA, the price go up $130:

  • 16GB - $529

Still, If price is more of an issue to you than getting the latest and the greatest, and $100 makes a big difference in your budget, the iPad 2 is still a valid point of entry, simply less so than before.

iPad 4 (late 2012)

iPad 4 (Late 2012) review

The iPad 4 (or iPad with Retina display, or 4th generation iPad) is the new king of the tablets. It has everything the iPad 2 had, and a lot more. Notably, the screen is a double-resolution Retina display at 2048x1536, which is more than 1080p TV scrunched down into a 9.7-inch size. In other words, you can't see the pixels. Speaking of 1080p, it supports both 1080p video playback, and has a 5mp camera on the back that can shoot 1080p video. (It looks like the iPhone 4 camera with the iPhone 4S photo processing software). Compared to the iPad 3, it has a faster Apple A6X processor, LTE that works internationally, and the new Lightning adapter.

Apple offers the iPad 4 at three price points depending on the amount of storage:

  • 16GB - $499
  • 32GB - $599
  • 64GB - $699

If you want it with 3G GSM/CDMA, and 4G LTE version, the prices go up $130:

  • 16GB - $629
  • 32GB - $729
  • 64GB - $829

If you know you want a top of the line iPad, with the latest and greatest features and every bit of cool technology Apple has to offer, then get the iPad 4.

Any questions?

If you're still not sure, hit up our iPhone Forums to get the help you need to make up your mind.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Think of it as a Christmas shopping list. You'd buy your parents an iPad 2. Why? Because a) they don't need the latest technology and b) It's still ridiculously fast/efficient. You'd buy your kid an iPad mini. Why? It's small and will feel like an iPad in his hands, but most importantly, breaking it doesn't kill daddy's bank account. So that leaves one more person on the list, You, and if you're married You means Wife. The wife wouldn't want an iPad 2. She either want's the big boy (4) or the mini and we both know what she wants, is what you're getting. Anyone disagree? If you're single then please get the 4, $100 is worth it! Though, I will say that anyone who commutes a lot on public transportation will probably love the mini. Just my two cents...
  • Before the actual announcement, I was positive I was going to get the iPad Mini with the assumption it was going to have a retina display. Now that I know the specs are of the iPad 2, I'm not so sure. Form factor is key which is the main selling point of the mini but $329 is a lot of money. I'm an apple fanboy at heart and hate to bring this up, but I just can't see Steve Jobs approving this device. This is a step back in my opinion. How can we go from a retina iPad, a retina iPhone 5, a retina iPod Touch, to a non retina iPad Mini? On top of that, charge $329 for it? Is it just to differentiate themselves from the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7? Why would you add additional cost for a claim of a premium product. For developers, fragmentation becomes even more evident since Apple is sticking with it's lower resolution in addition to its retina display. I'm hoping the new line of Nexus products (phones and hopefully tablets) put out a good show not for me to buy but for Apple to up their game.....just sayin
  • Don't forget about refurbished iPads. The 3rd gen iPad is $379.99. https://www.imore.com/e?link=https2F2Fc2F4...
  • I think this is what I'll end up doing.
  • So what becomes of the third generation iPad? Is apple just discontinuing it instead of selling it at a lower price?
  • I hate to say this, as a 3d generation iPad owner, but I think it's going the way of the dodo. Its on the apple store for $379, refurbished. Which is fracking unbelievable in my book. $329 for a non retina display iPad? They can cut their release cycle in half but can't provide a little more value for the money? Dont get me started...
  • Ok, my wife just dropped our iPad2 out of the car. Needless to say, it's all busted up. Here's my dilemma, I don't want to spend $500 on iPad 4, $400 for the iPad 2 is a bit steep. I'd pay $400 for the iPad 3. What happened to iPad3. Seems like it's the little stepchild everyone is trying to forget it ever even happened. The iPad2 shouldn't be any more than $349 or even $299, but that would canibalize the iPad mini's market. All I know I need another iPad to keep the wife happy.
  • I think it should be mentioned that the iPad 2 also shares that same A5 chip as the iPod Touch 5. Yes, the iPad mini has the A5, like the iPod Touch 5, as you mentioned, but so does the iPad 2 (whose processor is not mentioned at all, or maybe I overlooked it). When you don't mention at all what processor is in the iPad 2 and only mention that the iPad mini share's the same screen as the iPad2, it could mislead people to think that was the only similarity. The fact is the iPad mini is the iPad 2, optimized at a smaller size, and more pixel density despite being the same resolution. Just a thought... i could be wrong.
  • I think I'd try for a ipad mini because it's much smaller and lighter which makes it a whole lot more portable. The screen resolution does. It matter to me much. As long as everything is clear, it's all good.
  • I wanna see A5 chip gadget comparison :) ipad mini, ipad2, ipodtouch5th what else? Hmm. Who wins? Ipodtouch i guess
  • and just like that... ipad 3 relegated to the obsolete bin... no second life for it as the "value" model, as apple has kept the ipad 2 but basically discarded the 3 to the trash bin with the intro of the ipad 4...
  • Nice comparison, plus bonus points to Rene for the Frank Miller Batman art!
    Admittedly, I'm an Android guy when it comes to my daily driver phone, but after owning several android tablets (including a Nexus 7) over the last year, I think I'm ready to jump to an iPad for my next tablet.
    I anxiously waited through the Apple presentation for the price on the iPad Mini. I was really hoping for $299 after seeing it wasn't Retina, $329 seemed a bit high to me. Of course, the Android community laughed and scoffed, but in reality the difference is justified compared to the Nexus 7. These are the highpoints for me: Aluminum Unibody vs. stamped metal and plastic
    Top notch 5MP rear camera vs. none
    35% larger screen area
    Better quality, more color accurate screen (my Nex7 suffered from a greenish tint)
    Better graphics performance vs. Tegra 3 (CPU benchmarks are meaningless)
    Tablet apps vs. God-knows-what-you'll-get with an android app In my opinion, these differences easily make up for the price differential. Though I prefer the smaller size of the mini, now that the iPad3 is going for $379, I may go that way and wait to see what Apple does with the iPad Mini2. Of course, then I'll become Retina spoiled...