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iPad Air vs. iPad mini: How to figure out which Apple tablet is right for you

by Ben Bajarin

November 24 2013

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.


"For most consumers the iPad Air is the perfect personal computer."

About this time of year, I get many questions around what tech to buy for the holidays. This year, the burning question many are asking is whether to get the iPad Air or the iPad mini. After thinking it through I realized there are actually some pretty easy ways to figure out which of these Apple tablets is the best fit. 

When to get the iPad mini

In my opinion, and from my experience, the iPad mini is the ultimate PC companion.  

If you are a heavy user of a notebook or desktop computing and use one for multiple hours every day, then the iPad Mini is an excellent companion device for you to use.  

You can use the mini at home, on the couch, and in many areas where it is difficult or impossible to use your notebook or desktop.

When you are on a PC all day the last thing you want to do is all your entertainment activities on it (i.e watch movies, play games, read, browse the web, use apps, etc.)

This is where the iPad mini comes in as it is great for all your non-PC related activities.  

For those things you need a mouse, keyboard, and big screen for, just leave them for the PC and get the iPad mini for all your non-PC tasks.  

What makes the mini great is that even though it has a smaller screen that makes doing more heavy and time demanding content creation a bit more difficult than on a PC or on the iPad Air, it runs all the full iPad apps. So if you want to make a movie, or music, art, write a paper, etc., you can.  

(For iPad news, trends, apps and reviews, sign up for the free TabTimes for iPad newsletter)

But which iPad mini?

Now, if this sounds like it is the right fit for you then the question is iPad mini with Retina display or the first generation iPad Mini without retina display which is a little less expensive.  

To this I say if you can afford it, and can find one in stock, get the iPad mini with Retina display.  

Just as in old days PC days when the rule of thumb was to get as much processor as you could afford, in this case, get as much screen resolution as you can afford. Your eyes will thank you.

If you are still on the fence then just go to an Apple store and take a look. Seeing for yourself is the best way to decide if the high res Retina display is worth the extra money to you.  

The other consideration is which is the better investment.

You shouldn't have any performance issues with the original iPad mini, but the iPad mini with Retina display sports a more advanced 64-bit processor that makes it even zippier.

As Apple and its army of third party developers come up with new apps to take advantage of the 64-bit A7 chip in the newest iPad mini in 2014 and beyond, its advantages (versus the original ini) will become more distinct.

When buying the iPad Air is a bettter bet

If you have been asking yourself whether you should just replace your PC with an iPad then the iPad Air is for you.

I say this because if you need a PC to do 'work' or run certain work-based or professional software then you know you need a notebook or a desktop.  

But if you don't need a notebook or desktop and you believe that most of the stuff you do on your notebook you can do on an iPad then you are the customer for the iPad Air. 

Why? Because the iPad Air is the ideal PC replacement for those who don't spend their days writing long email, or doing graphic design, or living in Excel or other Office apps.  

For most consumers the iPad Air is the perfect personal computer. If you need to write a document, or do a spreadsheet, make a movie, touch up an image, etc., you can use iWork and iLife to create content not just consume it.  

The iPad is fully capable of many PC tasks but also is a great tablet to use to play games, watch movies and TV shows and all the other entertainment based tasks. 

(For all things iPad, bookmark TabTimes.com/ipad)

To elaborate on this let me share how I’m already using my new iPad Air.  

Keep in mind I am a heavy 'PC' user and I own and use a notebook frequently.  

However, I spend a lot of my working time being mobile and traveling to conferences, client offices, and meetings all over the Bay Area.  

I can actually get quite a bit of actual work done using the iPad. I can respond to email, edit one of my presentations or spreadsheets, or finish a report using the iPad Air.  

During my working day, if I am going to be mobile more of the day than I am going to be stationary, I leave my notebook at home connected to my big screen monitor and just take my iPad Air with me because it more than suffices for me as a truly mobile computer. 

On the fun side I use it to make movies, and even use it as a portable recording studio when my friends and I play music together. In fact I would argue that for things like making movies, music, art, etc., that the iPad Air is even better for these tasks than my notebook.   

And as I have been doing this for a few weeks now since getting the iPad Air, I find that I leave my notebook at home in its dock, connected to my big screen monitor, and use the iPad Air with me more and more.

Keep in mind I am (was) a heavy PC user and I find the iPad Air is quite powerful thanks to the rich and robust applications written for the iPad. You’ll always have your old PC as a backup if you need to do something with it. But I think many people will find that the iPad Air is a perfectly functional PC replacement. 

At the end of the day the decision to buy an iPad Mini, with or without Retina, or the decision to buy an iPad Air all comes down to how heavy of a notebook or desktop user you are.  Answering that question is key to knowing which iPad is right for you.

(For other columns like these and the best tablet insights, tips and apps, sign up for the free TabTimes Weekly Best newsletter)

Ben Bajarin is Director of the Consumer Technology Practice at Creative Strategies, a strategy consulting firm in Silicon Valley. His TabTimes column is published every other Sunday.
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