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...

Richard Devine

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