Apple iPad Air vs iPad mini with Retina Display

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Which should you choose? The Apple iPad Air or the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display?

Apple has recently revealed the latest versions of their tablets, the Apple iPad Air (Apple iPad 5) and Apple iPad mini with Retina Display (Apple iPad mini 2). Offering new 64-bit A7 processors, improved design and tech specs and the aforementioned Retina Display for both tablets it now makes for an interesting choice of which Apple tablet to choose. We'll be covering this question in this comprehensive tech specs comparison between the Apple iPad Air and Apple iPad mini with Retina Display, so do read on. 

Design and Tech Specs - What is different? 

A quick Tech specs comparison between the Apple iPad Air and Apple iPad mini with Retina Display reveal that not much is different. Even the GPU and MIMO dual-antennas are the same for the two tablets but there is a definite size advantage going on for both tablets. One one hand, the iPad Air has the larger 9.7-inch Retina Display. On the other hand, due to the smaller 7.9-inch Retina Display with the same 1536 x 2048 pixel resolution, the iPad mini with Retina Display has a much higher 324ppi pixel density than the 264ppi pixel density on the iPad Air. While both tablets are the same 7.5mm thin and share the same ultra-slim bezel design, the iPad mini with Retina Display has a definite weight advantage at just 331g compared to the 469g of the iPad Air (for the WiFi versions). An extra 138g is nothing to scoff at as both these tablets are going to be handheld more often than not and even that slight weight can make the difference when you're holding them for long periods of time. All other tech specs and features remain the same though, right down to the 5MP camera, 10 Hour battery and multiple 4G LTE band connectivity. Colour options are also the same as both tablets come in now standard Space Grey and Silver.

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Both tablets have the same design, same Retina Display, same processor and same thickness 

Performance - More or less the same as well

Early impressions of the new Apple iPad Air reveal that you can now hold it one-handed more comfortably as compared to the previous version. While tests have not been exhaustive yet, early benchmarks indicate that the 64-bit A7 processor and chipset is very fast and capable. There also don't seem to be any heat issues in the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display that usually occur when you shrink down the hardware like this. WiFi and other connectivity options are all top notch and with the new and improved hardware, both tablets can now handle all types of apps on the App store, including those 64-bit applications which haven't appeared yet. As expected of the better graphics and bigger screens, games and apps that take advantage of the A7 chipset certainly look nicer on the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display than on the much smaller screen of the Apple iPhone 5S. Comprehensive battery tests still haven't been done yet either, but according to Apple, both tablets should be able to offer the same 10 hour battery life as their predecessors. Do note though that the iPad Mini has been noted for it's slightly shorter battery life before. The new iOS 7 operating system works great on both tablets and to top it off, Apple have also updated and included the iWork and entertainment app suites as well for free.  

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The Apple iPad Air is both thinner and lighter than it's previous version

Price - Just a bit more

While we have yet to see official Malaysia pricing for either the Apple iPad Air or the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display we can make comparisons based on the US pricing of the 2 tablets. In general there are two versions for each tablet, one with just WiFi and another Cellular version with WiFi and 4G LTE (and 3G) connectivity. There are also differently priced storage options starting from 16GB of onboard storage. The prices for the base 16GB versions are listed below:

  • Apple iPad Air 16GB WiFi ~ $499 (RM1574)
  • Apple iPad Air 16GB Cellular ~ $629 (RM1984)
  • Apple iPad mini with Retina Display 16GB WiFi ~ $399 (RM1258)
  • Apple iPad mini with Retina Display 16GB Cellular ~ $529 (RM1668)

*currency converted using Google

In terms of availability, the Apple iPad Air is currently being rolled out and is available in the US and other select markets (which don't include Malaysia yet) while the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display is expected to be available in November 2013. We expect the prices to increase somewhat when the two tablets get officially launched in Malaysia as a reflection of the price increase recently seen for the Apple iPhone 5S and Apple iPhone 5C, perhaps by RM200 or so more than before. This would make the base 16GB WiFi version of the Apple iPad Air cost RM1774 while the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display would go for RM1458. So in essence, you would pay RM316 more for another 1.8-inches worth of screen size for the iPad Air.

Conclusion - Portability vs Screen size 

Apple made a wonderful decision making the Apple iPad Air look and feel more like the Apple iPad mini. The iPad Air is a much better, thinner and lighter device than it was before, but it is still a larger and heavier tablet compared to the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display. Sure, you can use the iPad Air one handed now, but in terms of portability the iPad mini with Retina Display is the better choice, even more so that it can now perform just as well as the iPad Air. The difference in ppi isn't such a big thing as we doubt most users will see any change in clarity or sharpness even if the two tablets get placed next to each other.

However, there are still going to be users out there who prefer a tablet with a bigger screen, which is what the iPad Air is perfect for. So, in answer to the earlier question of which tablet you should get, it depends on what you use it for. If you're looking for a more portable tablet the answer is the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display. If you're looking for a tablet with larger screen size then the Apple iPad Air is the one for you. If price is also a big concern then we would recommend getting the Apple iPad mini with Retina Display as the estimated RM316 is still a good amount of money by comparison. 

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The Apple iPad mini with Retina Display gets our vote