Apple has updated its iPad line-up with two brand new tablets: the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display. One is a lightweight 9.7-inch device that’s been given a complete design overhaul. The other is an incremental update to last year’s iPad mini with an improved 7.9-inch touchscreen display.
Choosing between the two tablets seems easy enough if you want a bigger screen or have a smaller tablet-buying budget. But are those the only differences worth knowing about? We compare the key features of the iPad Air and iPad mini to see which you should buy.
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iPad Air vs iPad mini – design
The most notable addition to the new iPad mini is its Retina display with 2048×1536 resolution. This means you can now watch high definition video on Apple’s 7.9-inch tablet, whereas before you had to settle for standard definition. Aside from this, the new mini looks almost identical to Apple’s older model and is even 29g heavier.
As for the full-sized 9.7-inch iPad Air, it’s had a mini-like makeover to become the lightest full-size tablet in the world. Weighing just 469g for its wi-fi model and at a thickness of just 7.5mm, the Air looks dazzling in aluminium and should sit well in your hands when you’re using it. Certainly, it’s similar in design to the iPad mini but to achieve that look in a larger tablet is an undeniable achievement.
iPad Air vs iPad mini – three key features
The iPhone’s processor in a tablet – according to our lab testing, the iPhone 5s is the fastest smartphone available. That’s thanks to Apple’s new 64-bit A7 processor, which is designed to offer a speedy performance when multitasking across apps and playing more graphically intensive 3D downloads. Unsurprisingly, both the iPad Air and new iPad mini feature this new chip too.
Better photos in low light – both tablets feature an improved 5-Megapixel iSight camera. What does iSight mean? Not much in practice. The sensor has an improved ƒ/2.4 aperture, which should produce clearer photos in low light conditions. Really, you’re better off taking photos with your smartphone.
10 hours of battery life, again – In making the iPad thinner, Apple has only been able to maintain its previous 10 hour battery life. That’s not surprising given its smaller form factor. As for the iPad mini, its 10 hour battery life remains the same for less consumer-friendly reasons. You can’t have a cheaper tablet with better battery life, can you?
iPad Air vs iPad mini – pricing and release date
The iPad Air is due for release on 1 November with prices starting from £399 for its 16GB model. If you opt for a 16GB iPad mini with Retina display, you can expect to pay £319 – that’s £120 more than Google’s highly-rated Nexus 7. You’ll have to wait a little bit longer for the mini compared to the Air, Apple says its due in late November.
Which? expert verdict – ‘the iPad Air looks stunning, but hasn’t changed much underneath’
Both tablets are lightweight enough for everyday usage and they cannot be faulted in terms of design. Compared to Samsung’s thirst for plastic and fake leather casing, Apple’s aluminium ethos continues to offer a pleasingly premium feel.
In terms of specs, there’s nothing to disappoint about the Air or indeed the mini for that matter. They’re fast, offer a laudable battery life and run on Apple’s easy-to-use iOS 7 operating system. Because these features have already been incorporated into previous iDevices, or existed in previous iPads, there’s not much that’s exciting about them.
When you look across the new iPad range, there are obvious areas where improvement could have been made. The fingerprint scanner from the iPhone 5s, a better rear-facing camera or, heaven forbid, a marginally cheaper price.
That’s not Apple’s way though. Based on previous form, I’d expect these tablets to do well in our test labs and I’m sure they’ll be swept off the shelves in the run up to Christmas. If I was buying, I’d go for the iPad Air.
Rob Leedham – writer