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iPad Air vs Retina iPad mini: The other decision!

As Rene pointed out yesterday, one of, if not the most frequent question we've been asked this past few weeks is which iPad should you buy. Which iPad would we buy? Podcasts, buyers guides, reviews of each, but it seems everyone really wants to know which gets our personal recommendation. Rene outlined some fine points in both camps, so we'll not go over the same ground again – so if you haven't, go read! – but we came to a different decision. For me, if I really, truly, had to choose just one, I'd be taking the Retina iPad mini.

At heart, I've always preferred the smaller sized tablets. From the original iPad, the iPad 4 was the next full sized tablet I owned. In between there was a Nexus 7, a BlackBerry PlayBook, an Amazon Kindle Fire, mainly for mobility. I do a lot of travelling, both personal and for work, and even though the iPad Air is insanely slim, insanely light and insanely easy to carry around, nothing beats the 7.9-inch iPad mini when it comes to travel. It fits in a jeans pocket, a jacket pocket, or better still, the dedicated tablet pocket in my gear bag.

The decision to avoid the first generation iPad mini was based on hardware alone. I longed for that smaller iPad form factor, but I made the decision to go with the Retina Display and added horsepower of the iPad 4. But the iPad 4 didn't really travel much with me, whereas the Retina iPad mini has gone everywhere I have since picking it up. It's sat beside me right now as I type this. As much as I enjoy using the iPad Air, even at home, I find myself reaching for the mini.

The biggest hurdle to overcome was productivity. I'm no stranger to leaving the house for the coffee shop, just taking an iPad and a keyboard and hammering out some work in Byword. I enjoy doing that, no distractions, it's a pleasant experience. While I've not yet tried an iPad mini keyboard – I am skeptical of shrinking something to that size – I've discovered that thumb typing on the Retina iPad mini is really comfortable. My thumbs are never reaching too far, and just yesterday I wrote about 1000 words on it just sat on the train.

So for me, the decision is different, and it just might be for you. If you're a traveller, constantly mobile, then like me you may well be better off with the Retina iPad mini. If you're predominantly using it at home, or just plain need that larger display, then go with the iPad Air. Even though it may sound clear cut, coming to this decision has been extremely tough.

Whichever one you choose though, you no longer have to compromise the experience or the performance. Slight differences under the hood aside, you're getting pretty much the same great experience now whichever one you buy. Now, I'm going to stop writing, before I change my mind...

Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy. Follow him on Twitter and Google+

  • Ordered a mini retina 2 with cellular capability weeks ago from my local Sprint store, but they don't even have a shipping date for it yet. Anyone know the latest on the supply and shipping dates of these babies?!
  • Cancel that order and get it right from apples web site. Or even an apple store would of had it by now
  • You'd be surprised to find out how many Apple Stores still have limited quantities of certain models, even now! Sent from the iMore App
  • Wonderful counter point, Richard.
    My kids received iPad minis about this time last year and our [my] experience with them have made them a beloved Apple product in our home and especially when on the go.
    The new [retina] minis are a fantastic upgrade to the line. And if I could get a new mini, I absolutely would! Sent from the iMore App
  • In a perfect world we could all have both. It's not a perfect world though so really I'm just glad the decision comes down to personal preference. Better to have two great devices than one. I just hope we'll have these decisions next year except for different sized phones. I think this years lineup of iPads goes to show that choice is a good problem to have. Sent from the iMore App
  • Absolutely. You're not missing out on hardware or experience any more whichever you go for. And that is a really great thing :)
  • "I just hope we'll have these decisions next year except for different sized phones." Cross my fingers that this happens as well.
  • Well the decision is relative just like the decision is relative for someone who needs a 128gb iPad vs someone who really doesn't need that much space and opts out for a 16gb version. The decision between an iPad Air and iPad mini retina is relative do you want a bigger screen or do you want a smaller screen, Since the specs on the iPad Air and the iPad mini retina are almost identical, being the only difference is the screen size and price their confused, that's why they keep asking more knowledgeable people for a recommendation such as the folks here at iMore. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes, a point for Team Retina Mini! Thank you, Richard.
    I, too, have always preferred the smaller sibling of the iPad Air. Gone are days where the bigger iPad clearly outclasses the Mini in terms of specs and performance. I can't wait to get my own. So far, it's a tie. 1-1. I wonder what the rest of the iMore gang would choose between the two. Perhaps on another article? (Similar to the round robin discussion you did with iMore crews' take on iOS 7) Sent from the iMore App
  • Easy decision for me. Have an iPad 2 but wanted portability and retina display. Love my retina mini. Just throw it in my purse and off I go.
  • Got mine Monday. Almost perfect size. Nexus is a good amount thinner so I can email a bit better on that. Screen and battery life on this are much better though. Looking at 20% and haven't plugged it in at all. Great upgrade from the iPad2. Gonna live with it through the holidays and see how I feel about it compared to my N7. New hotness right now. Good job Apple. (Although I still haven't found a killer ipad app) Absolute perfect gaming tablet too.
  • Same comment from the other post applies. :-) Would give a lot to have either, but I know that on public transit and in bed I'd rather have the mini. Full-size shines for newspapers, magazines, comics and videos though and it's something I still miss after having to sell my iPad 3. Sent from the iMore App
  • I went with the iPad Air and it really came down to how I wanted to be able to use it. My goal is to eliminate ever having to turn on my PC. Anything I can pass on to the iPad I will. Posting to Mobile Nations, word processing, resumes, email, and all of that sort of thing are a breeze on an iPad and even better on the larger screen. Plus, cutting out that .5 pound from the 4 made a load of difference when carrying the Air from place to place. The only downside is trying to read in bed with it because it is just a bit heavier than the Mini, but it isn't a deal breaker for me. I'd rather have a Kindle and a computer replacement than a Kindle replacement and a computer. Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree. My iPhone provides the portability I need. My reason for purchasing a tablet is for no other reason than having more screen real estate. Full size magazine pages and web pages etc. I am now infrequently using my laptop. The iPad 4th Gen and now the Air does everything I need. When I commute, it's on my lap. I won't read or use any tablet while walking etc. for that, I have an iPhone. But I agree with the other posts on here. It's purely personal preference and how you use it.
  • I tried the iPad Air for two weeks
    And it was really great. I had the iPad 4th generation and it was everything I wanted. I've had a desire for the mini, but was hesitant about the size and non retina screen of the mini. Well when apple finally release the new iPad Mini with retina, I couldn't resist. I took the jump and haven't looked back. The Mini is awesome! Sent from the iMore App
  • With an IPad Mini you can hold a baby in one hand and the mini in the other. Useful for those 2am moments.
  • I am trying to decide still on what to buy. I am mainly looking for something I can use for school purposes. I do a lot of typing and reading. Which do you prefer?
  • I have been going through the same debate over and over in my head. I have the Air and my sister just got a mini. I am a grad student and have been deciding which one will serve me best for at least 3 years until I get a new one. I think i have finally come to a decision that the Air is perfect for school because I read alot of powerpoints and study guides. Not having to zoom when annotating and viewing pages is wonderful and really saves you eye strain. I also love the keyboard on the Air, its a great size and fits quite nicely when typing in either orientation, I admitedly type faster holding this right now that with a PC. I love the mini form factor, but practicality wise I much prefer the Air. One thing that I feel I should mention that other people havent adressed is that the Airs screen gets a little brighter, meaning its better for reading documents with white background. It is quite noticable when I compare the two. Text books are best with the Air and I know this quite well when struggling to read a genetics textbook on the mini. Having to adjust and scroll around is quite bothersome. Get the Air if you wish to get work done and read textbooks. Get the mini for if you need it for everything else as its fun as heck. Sorry about the long and somewhay incoherent post. I hope this helps!
  • No! This was great thank you! You convinced me to buy the Air. In fact, I just picked it up now! Thank you so much for the input!
  • The most exciting in this mini iPad, finally, is that it is a viable option. You want a smaller iPad? Here is the mini. Bigger? Look on the side of the ipad air. Degoute Apple products for one reason or another? Paf, Kindle Fire HDX. The taste of adventure and Windows? Surface. There is a tablet to suit a whole world to me. The ipad mini retina was just a missing puzzle piece.
  • The most exciting in this mini iPad, finally, is that it is a viable option. You want a smaller iPad? Here is the mini. Bigger? Look on the side of the ipad air. Degoute Apple products for one reason or another? Paf, Kindle Fire HDX. The taste of adventure and Windows? Surface. There is a tablet to suit a whole world to me. The ipad mini retina was just a missing puzzle piece.
  • Anyone take part of the Black Friday deals with the new Air or mini Retina? Sent from the iMore App
  • I have the Air and my sister just got a mini. I do a lot of typing and reading. look <a href="" title="coque galaxy note 3">coque galaxy note 3</a>