iPad Air vs Retina iPad mini: The decision!

iPad Air vs. Retina iPad mini. It seems like that's all I'm getting asked about these days. We've done podcasts about it we've done full-on buyers guides for it, and I've done a complete iPad Air review and iPad mini with Retina display review, and still, the questions. Haven't. Stopped. Coming. But I've used both now, a week exclusively on the Air, a week exclusively on the Retina mini, and a week switching back and forth. So, what's the answer?

The Retina mini is just much more convenient. It all but disappears into my laptop bag, and if I'm going out and don't want to take my laptop, the mini fits into my jacket, and even my back jeans pocket. If you're always on the go, and need just a little more computing than an iPhone enables, the Retina iPad mini simply can't be beat.

The iPad Air is just much bigger and more expansive. It feels opened up, and even though it's the same number of pixels, there's a luxury to having them spread out. I keep it at home, in the living room or bedroom, and I close my MacBook and grab my iPad Air if there's anything I really want to read or watch. If you don't have or want a laptop at all, the iPad Air is the ultimate post-PC.

As with the iPad 4 and original mini, having both means I can use the Retina mini when I travel, as a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a way to do stay connected on the road and in the air. And I can use the iPad Air while at home, for reading books and comics, drawing, watching TV and movies, and even VNC.

When I use the iPad Air, I do miss the lightness of the Retina mini, especially when holding it for long periods of time. But when I use the Retina iPad mini, I miss the size of the Air's screen. This, I think, is what makes the decision so hard. Some megahertz and color range aside, they two iPads are almost atomically identical in every way but size. The difference comes down to half-full vs. half-empty perspective. You can finally have a full-sized iPad almost as light as the mini, or a mini almost as powerful as the full-sized.

And that's the key - it's not that it's impossible to decide, it's impossible to go wrong. You'll be well served by either, simply pick the one that slightly better fits your use-case.

If portability is the most important thing to you, if you'll have a computer with you most of the time, if you travel a lot, if you want to be able to hold it up for long periods of time, then you want the Retina iPad mini.

If power is the most important thing, if you want to use it as a primary computing appliance, if you mean to use it more around the home, school, or office, if you need to get a ton of work done, then you want the iPad Air.

For me, Infinity Gauntlet to my head, fate of the multiverse at stake, I'd probably choose the iPad Air - between iPhone and iPad Air, it feels like I'd have both extremes covered - but even while typing that I starting to second guess myself...

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.

  • #nerdworldproblems :)
  • Definitely! If/when I upgrade I will probably go Air. It will just fit that void between my iPhone and my 15" MacBook Pro.
  • Same here, the Air is a nice "in-between" option. I think the mini has become ideal if you have a purse or a man-purse. Otherwise if you can for the Air, go for it! I'm waiting to get one but it's hard not to drool over one! Sent from the iMore App
  • My thinking exactly.
  • AHHHHH!!!!!! So difficult. But since I have the iPad 3, I think I'll get the mini and keep my 3. Despite its supposed flaws, for reading and watching Netflix, I've had no issues with it.
  • Nice video Rene. I love the size and fit of the iPad mini, but... The iPad Air has what I'd need.
    As usual your to-the-point analysis and insight is greatly appreciated.
    Merci beaucoup, sir.
  • I traded my original iPad mini wi-fi only for the Air. It is light enough to make it portable. I also got the cellular version. I enjoy the additional screen space and use it more for productivity. I don't regret my choice. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've held back from getting the cellular. I have an iPhone that can hotspot. Although it won't maximize the MiMo speeds, it'll save me tons of cash. Sent from the iMore App
  • I couldn't decide either so I just got both I'm ashamed to admit. But I do use both a lot. I do a lot of writing and get a lot of work done on the Air and the Mini travels with me. I thought of getting a Nexus 7 as a portable tablet to save money, but after testing one out for a few days I felt getting the mini was worth the extra money and returned it. Nothing wrong with the Nexus 7, I gave one to my mother as a gift and she loves it, it just didn't work for me. Anyway I got both. I know it's an outrageous extravagance, but there you go.
  • I support you! I'm also planning on getting both. I think it's true - Air is perfect for home and Mini is great for travels or when you need something small and light, like drinking morning coffee at a cafe and browsing. :)
  • I had the iPad 3 and the original Mini and wanted to replace only one of them for now. Finally decided to upgrade the bigger one this year after playing with both. Reasons included: getting rid of the last Dock-Connector device and getting rid of the last not LTE capable device. The original Mini does LTE fine (consistently getting between 80 and 90 Mbps) and it is compatible with all Lightning accessories. So, the iPad 3 had to go for the Air. Personally, I never disliked the original Mini's screen as much as some people... it is not Retina, sure, but it certainly better than many laptops out there.
  • I love my gen 1 mini. My use cases are primarily reading books, FB, Twitter, etc. no need for a full size ipad for me.
  • I just purchased the mini today. I upgraded from the original mini. For me it is the portability.
  • iPad Air. I've held/used both and I no longer see a reason for the iPad Mini to exist.
  • Yeah they're such similar products this time around, it would be stupid not to get one! Sent from the iMore App
  • None of them if you already have one! But I prefer an MacBook Air 11 because more storage and still super portable Sent from the iMore App
  • Great article Rene; I've been deliberating over the two, so it's nice to get the perspective of someone who is using both. One thing that you did fail to mention that could help sway a few people, is that the mini is just as powerful as the Air, but costs $100 less. I would say that if it's a toss up, save yourself $100. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have both. Use the Air with Logitech Folio keyboard to create - for writing articles and answering emails; use the Mini to consume - watch Netflix, HBO and iTunes videos; read Kindle books and NY Times.
  • Well said...I have the iPad mini and my wife has the air...love them both.
  • I'd choose the iPad Mini over Air because I prefer the portability that comes with it. I don't mind the narrower color gamut, Sent from the iMore App
  • (sorry, I accidentally hit Submit)
    ... or the slower processor. I think the iPad Mini is dreamy. And, I agree that you can't go wrong with getting either of the two. Sent from the iMore App
  • having the iphone 5 and ipad air combo is the perfect marriage;)
  • I have a story similar to anthonyl above. First I purchased an iPad Air for home use and then I bought a Nexus 7 for carrying around every day. However, it only took me one night to figure out that the Nexus 7 was too frustrating to use in that the touch screen did not react to my finger pressing as seamlessly as the iPad Air. As a result, I returned the Nexus 7 and bought a new iPad mini with the retina display.
  • Since I work from home and don't travel all that extensively I'll probably be going Air when I do get one. The mini felt great in the hand but I think I'll enjoy the bigger screen size using it a majority of the time at home. As always appreciate the in depth opinion pieces, Rene. Sent from the iMore App
  • There can be only one. And that is iPad Air. ;)
  • I love the size of the iPad mini so much, that I can over look the narrow color gamut seeing that the resolution and processor have all been upgraded drastically! Sent from the iMore App
  • The decision is based on individuals needs. If you need to work the Air is your choice. If you need portability the mini is the one.
  • It's simple the iPad mini Retina and the iPad Air have the exact same specs. Well the iPad Air's processor is clocked at 1.4 ghz to accommodate the larger display. But what it boils down to is do you want a larger screen for 100$ more or do you want a smaller screen and more portable iPad with a ppi number that's a little higher for a 100$ cheaper? Sent from the iMore App
  • Right now, the ipad mini retina is perfect for me and I wouldn't want anything else. Next year could be very different. IF (a very big if), they did release a 13 inch ipad 'pro' and if they finally release an iphone with a larger screen, the psychology may change significantly, with the Air becoming the default choice for the vast majority. iPad pro - that bit too big for most and/or too near to their current laptop. iPad mini - now just that bit too close to their new big-screen iphone 6, limiting perceived value of carrying both. iPad Air, square in the middle - majority of current iPad Air users would continue with it, many iPad mini users (incl myself) would see a reason to switch, the previous portability benefits of the mini somewhat negated.
  • One of my reasons for getting the Air is that the iPhone 6 (which will be my next) will most likely be bigger, filling my need for a iPad Mini. So I got the Air for the same display my 3 had! :)
  • To have both would be awesome but if I was buying one right now it would be a terribly hard decision to make. Sent from the iMore App
  • Just spend a hour updating my iPad Mini Retina on iTunes. I glad I picked the Mini Retina instead of the "Air". Love the size and the sharper fonts in the Mini! I am charging it now; getting it set to use tomorrow!
  • I would probably go with the Mini. They both are great and after having an iPad 2 & 3 I'm willing to try the mini next.
  • iPad Mini! Sent from the iMore App
  • Very helpful, concise analysis that identifies the same struggle I'm having. I have been leaning toward the Air as well, but I'm constantly second-guessing myself. Sent from the iMore App
  • Had an iPad 3. Been eyeing the mini for the longest time. Got it as soon it came out. Used it a few days and started missing the bigger screen. Went to the store a few days later and bought the Air. Got it set up, returned the mini for a full refund and never looked back. Portability of the mini is fantastic, but it feels like a downgrade for me coming from an iPad 3. Personal recommendation is to try them out for yourself. Reading reviews aren't going to help.
  • I have owned. A full size iPad in the past, and now I have only the iPad mini retina. Quite honestly, the iPad mini does not feel mini at all. With its new retina display, it is much more readable and feels just like a full-size iPad when you have nothing to compare it to. I am feeling that because this article concentrates on the comparison between the two, the writer is drawn by the size of the full iPad. If he just had the mini, he may not really miss the full-size screen, in the same way I do not. The mini has been a great travel companion, great for watching films, light to hold and easy to walk around the house with it in one hand. The full size has always felt a little too cumbersome, and feels like it could break when slid into my computer bag, ready for a trip away. Sent from the iMore App
  • Both seem like great devices and i would say the iPad Mini would be a perfect on the go device but personally would prefer the iPad Air. With the screen size and light weight its just perfect for me! Sent from the iMore App
  • Definitely going mini. Portability is high on my list. Sent from the iMore App
  • The fact that the mini will fit in the document pockets of the 5.11 shirt made the decision easy :>)
  • Used the ipad 3, sold it for the mini, upgraded to the retina mini this week. I will probably never go back to the bigger ipad. I read a lot and browse the web and the size and weight of the mini is perfect for that. When i watch movies i watch them on apple tv, so I really don't see the need for a bigger screen. I use my laptop when i have to get work done. For me, ipad is more of a reading, light web browsing machine, and the mini is perfect for that.
  • I've chosen the mini. I travel quite a bit so perfect for me. Sent from the iMore App
  • I had this dilemma attempting to replace my iPad 2 this year. I decided to go with the rMini instead of the air because I already own an MBA that I take everywhere. The result is that I end up taking the rMini with me everywhere now. My wife has an iPad 3 and it seems massive and heavy compared to the rMini. I typically use my iPads for browsing the web, playing games, storing photos (honestly I don't see the color gamut issue at all, I think that's a little overblown), and reading. If you feel you're going to miss the big screen buy the rMini and try out its portability and if after 13 days you find that you do prefer the bigger iPad trade it in for the air. Honestly I personally prefer the rMini in every way. Sent from the iMore App
  • Well said, as usual Rene. I'm getting both - for the family, mind you....
  • Mini or Air. No larger quandary has ever been thrust upon man. God help us.
  • Unfortunately you can't compare them both side by side at the Apple store. They are tethered on separate tables. I asked an employee about that and he said he gets tons of requests to from people wanting to compare them side by side but is not able to do it.
  • So hard to decide. I think I would pick the iPad Air and then wait for a bigger screen iPhone.
  • Got the Air and bought the mini on launch. The mini was returned since the big screen of the air spoiled me I didn't know if I can downgrade and plus my phone is 5.5 inches so a 7 inch wasn't really that different. Also I cannot type on the mini due to the smaller screen.
  • My employer got me the iPad Air and I bought the rMini for myself at home. I have equal access to both devices (they are both listed under my Apple account) but the rMini is super convenient. Most of the time I go with the rMini. If I need something bigger (haven't found that yet) I go with the Air.
  • I had iPad 1, 2 and 3. So when I sold my 3 I decided I wasn't going to run another full size iPad until I used a Mini. I tried out an iPad Air in an Apple store and although I was amazed at how light it was I still felt like "been there done that". It's been 2 weeks with my rMini and I'm loving it. I think next year will be the real decider for me now that I have used both. So depending what they bring to each model I may either go back to a full sized iPad or stick with the Mini.
  • For me since the introduction of the ipad mini the decision will be always the Mini!! It's just super convenient, light and ultra portable!! I see it this way: The air is catered towards business use and creative professionals and the mini towards everyday use say class, spare time, kitchen! Because of its size and now that it has a retina display i would say its MUCH MORE convenient for someone in the market for practical everyday use tablet! Sent from the iMore App
  • For me, iPad Air is my choice. I read a lot and I use a tablet at work so the larger screen is a must. Plus, the new form factor makes it easier to carry in a briefcase. Apple made a wise choice with the new form. Sent from the iMore App
  • All I can say is I'm supremely jealous of those with either. :-( (But push come to shove would take the Mini). Sent from the iMore App
  • iPad air. I just love the big retina screens Sent from the iMore App
  • I have the iPad2 and iPhone 5S, I think the Mini may be next only because I consume way more than I create so portability would rate highest...
  • I pick the mini. The smaller iPad is perfect to carry around.
  • iPad Air definitely. It's light, powerful and Apple. Oh, and it has larger screen so more content on your face.
  • I just picked up the Air. I was a very difficult decision between the two for me, but after playing with both I decided to get the full-size model. To me, the screen was just better. The lower color gamut on the mini did bug me and everything just seemed larger and more accessible on the Air. Plus, with a 75$ gift card for black Friday it was hard to pass up a larger screen for just 25$ more instead of the usual 100$.
  • The one line that says it all >> "you can't go wrong with either option". Different strokes for different folks! Sent from the iMore App
  • I've had iPads 1, 2, 3, and mini (sequentially, not at the same time!), and have carried my iPad with me everywhere since day 1. I fell in love with my mini when I got it a year ago - until I left it on a plane a week ago. Grrrr.... I finally replaced it yesterday...with an Air. Very tough decision. But the deciding factor for me was that I don't have a laptop, and I type on my iPad a lot. Over time, I just find that I had a lot more typos typing on the mini, even though I have small hands. I do have a Bluetooth keyboard, but I don't want to carry it around with me all the time. I use it at conferences, but that's about it. I don't want a keyboard case; I only use a Smart Cover, because I love how light and thin iPads are. I'm loving my new Air, though it's taking me a while to get used to the huge screen. I have a couple of weeks to return it, if I decide I it's not worth the size trade-off. But I suspect I'll be sticking with the Air. Laura
  • It definitely is a bit of a toss-up, and each is suited for slightly different people, the tough part is deciding which one you are. Personally, I don't have either ( :( hopefully I'll win an iMore contest! ), but based on what Ive read about them I totally agree with what Rene said about missing the size with the Mini and missing the lightness with the Air. That seems about right to me, and it's very well said! Personally I'd like to have an Air for the extra size, but would it be nice to save a little cash too. Sent from the iMore App
  • Nothing beats the portability, now that the big and small versions are nearly identical in power and performance. iPad mini Retina FTW! Sent from the iMore App
  • I have a gen 1 iPad that I bought when first released and had no clue why I needed it, but immediately loved it. It has served me faithfully. But everyone else in my family now have minis, both retina and non-retina, and the performance of those had me green with envy. Santa brought me a new iPad Air and the performance and screen quality compared to my old one is amazing. I was undecided on an Air or mini with Retina, so far after 1 day am loving the Air. Since I had the gen 1 iPad, I'm used to the bigger form factor,.
  • I bought the iPad Air through Sprint and met a guy through my job that was desperate for cash and so $150 dollars later I now also own a black iPad mini with Retina. It's only 16gb but it's a cellular iPad mini that I was able to setup a free 200MB TMobile data account on. I must say that while at home I use the Air almost exclusively and the mini for when I go out and about or when I am just going to do casual web browsing such as looking up tv programs and info. They are both fantastic device and go great with my iPhone 5$.