iPad vs iPad mini: Which should you buy?

iPad mini
iPad mini (Image credit: iMore)

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While one would think that the iPad mini 5 is just a slimmed-down version of the base iPad, that isn't the case here. Sure, they both have the same A12 processor inside, both run iPadOS 14, and have the same all-day battery life, but that is where things end. Price, display quality, and compatibility with accessories are huge differences, and even though the mini 5 tops the base iPad in one of those categories, we believe that the iPad (2020) is the best iPad for most.

iPad (2020) vs iPad mini 5: What are the differences?

Both iPads, while the most recent models, were introduced more than a year apart. The iPad mini 5 made its debut in early 2019, while the iPad (2020) just hit the market in September of 2020. Despite the lengthy time in-between releases, both iPads share the same A12 Bionic chip that is plenty capable for apps and gaming today with two-efficiency cores and four GPU cores. The inclusion of the A12 in the latest base iPad shows that Apple is confident that it will be enough for years to come.

Before we jump into the deeper stuff, let's step back and take a look at an obvious, but important spec: size. The iPad mini 5 truly lives up to its name here, with Apple's smaller tablet weighing around almost half of the weight as the larger 10.2-inch iPad at 0.66 pounds, and it is almost two-inches shorter and wider than the base iPad.

The smaller size and weight enable the mini 5 to work one-handed in portrait-orientation, just like a phone, and it shines for reading books. By contrast, iPad (2020) is meant more for two-handed use in a landscape position, and its weight may cause some strain on your wrist if you try to use it one-handed for extended periods.

The iPad (2020) has a larger 10.2-inch Retina display that puts more content on-screen when web browsing over the mini and the bigger size helps with Split-View, which puts two apps side-by-side. The iPad mini 5 supports Split-View, but running two apps next to each other on the 7.9-inch is really cramped, making it hard to take notes or pick out text.

With the physical dimensions out of the way, let's dive into the tech specs, as they add more to the story when it comes to the displays.

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPad (2020)iPad mini 5
CostFrom $329 and upFrom $399 and up
Wi-Fi onlyYesYes
Wi-Fi + CellularYesYes
Screen size10.2-inch7.9-inch
Dimensions9.8-by-6.8-by-0.29 inches8.0-by-5.3-by-0.24 inches
Weight1.08 pounds0.66 pounds
Storage32GB or 128GB64GB or 256GB
Resolution2160-by-1620 at 264 ppi2048‑by‑1536 resolution at 326 ppi
Laminated displayNoYes
P3 ColorNoYes
Brightness500 nits typical500 nits typical
Antireflective coatingNoYes
True ToneNoYes
ChipA12 BionicA12 Bionic
Apple PencilFirst-generation onlyFirst-generation only
Smart ConnectorYesNo
Back camera8MP8MP
Front camera1.2MP7MP
Video recording1080P1080P
AudioTwo speakersTwo speakers
Touch IDYesYes
Battery10 hours Wi-Fi, 9 hours cellular10 hours Wi-Fi, 9 hours cellular

As you can see, the older iPad mini 5 sports a higher-quality display than the base iPad (2020). The iPad mini 5's display is laminated, putting content closer to the glass and removing the noticeable air-gap as seen on the iPad (2020). The display on the mini 5 also supports P3 wide color, and it has a higher pixel density at 326ppi, versus 264ppi, which makes text crisper and colors more vibrant. If that weren't enough, the mini has an anti-reflective coating, which helps when using the iPad outdoors.

iPad (2019)

iPad (2019) (Image credit: iMore)

The specs also show that both iPads are compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil, but as you would expect, each iPad has its advantage here. The iPad mini 5 is great for taking quick notes as it can be held with one-hand, but the iPad (2020) is better for drawing with its larger canvas. The larger screen sizes are also better when using the aforementioned Split-View, which gives it the edge for us.

Sticking with accessories, the iPad (2020) is compatible with Apple's Smart Keyboard, while the iPad mini 5 is only compatible with Bluetooth keyboards. The difference is due to the inclusion of Apple's Smart Connector on the side of the larger iPad, which supplies power and transfers data to and from the Smart Keyboard. The Smart Keyboard also acts as a cover for the iPad (2020), and the Smart Connector also works with third-party accessories to charge the iPad wirelessly.

Other differences between the iPads are related to the camera systems and storage. For cameras, Apple decided to hang on to the outdated 1.2MP FaceTime camera on the iPad (2020), which obviously, looks pretty bad. On the older iPad mini 5, Apple includes a 7MP front-facing camera, making it better for video calls and selfies, although neither cameras are truly great. The back cameras on both iPads are 8MP, with no real major differences there, and again, both are good enough, but not great. For storage, the iPad mini 5 starts at 64GB and maxes out at 256GB versus the paltry 32GB and 128GB on the iPad (2020).

iPad (2020) vs. iPad mini 5: Who should buy the iPad (2020)?

If you are in the market for an affordable tablet that can pretty much do it all, then the iPad (2020) is the one for you. Apple's entry-level iPad has plenty of power to run the latest apps and games, and the A12 Bionic chip should keep it humming for years to come.

The iPad (2020) supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, which instantly turns it into a viable laptop replacement, especially for students. Of course, the larger 10.2-inch display also makes it great for binge-watching, and web browsing, so it is the best iPad for most.

iPad (2020) vs. iPad mini 5: Who should buy the iPad mini 5?

If you want a tablet that is light, and comfortable to hold in one hand for hours on end while reading your favorite book, the iPad mini 5 is it. The mini sports an easy to read, 7.9-inch laminated display with support for True Tone that keeps it looking great regardless of the lighting in the room.

The iPad mini 5 also packs in the same A12 Bionic chip as the base iPad (2020), so it is plenty capable enough for today's apps, games, and web browsing. All of the portable power does make it more expensive though, but in some cases, smaller is worth it.

Christopher Close

Christopher spends most of his time writing and dreaming about all things HomeKit and the Home app. Whether it is installing smart light switches, testing the latest door locks, or automating his households daily routines, Christopher has done it all.