iPad buyers guide spring 2014 update: iPad Air vs. Retina iPad mini vs. iPad 2 vs. iPad mini: Which iPad model should you get?
Once you're sure you're buying an iPad and now, the next step is to decide which iPad you're going to get. And right now it's a tougher decision than ever. The new iPad Air and Retina iPad mini are identical in every way but screen size, 7.9- vs. 9.7-inches the only differentiator. If money is incredibly tight, though the old iPad 4 is a bit cheaper, and the old iPad mini, a bit cheaper still. No matter which one you choose, however, you'll be paying hundreds of dollars. Either a few, or a lot. So do you go with big or small, old or new, cost or value? Which iPad should you get?
Choosing an iPad: Models and price points
Apple's spring 2014 iPad lineup consists of 4 different models, the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, iPad 4, and iPad mini. The iPad Air and Retina iPad mini have 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB storage options, in either Wi-Fi only, or Wi-Fi and cellular models. The iPad 4 and iPad mini come only with 16GB, but still have Wi-Fi only, or Wi-Fi + cellular models. That makes for a dizzying array of possibilities.
Yes, both the new Retina iPad mini and the old iPad 4 start at $399.
Choosing an iPad: Up-front vs. total cost of ownership
The original iPad mini starts at $299, making it the cheapest iPad ever. The iPad 2 starts at $399. Both cost less up-front than the new Retina iPad mini, which starts at $399, and the new iPad Air which starts at $499. That can be a considerable difference up front, $200 or $100 at the very least, depending on the exact model and options you choose. That's real money, in your pocket, for rent, for food, for car payments, for school, or for other important things in your life.
However, if you keep an iPad over the course of a year or two, $100 or $200 isn't that much spread out over time. In some cases, it's less than $10 a month, for a much better screen, a much better processor, and more.
If you have absolutely no money to work with, the iPad mini is a good tablet and the iPad 4 is a very good one. If money isn't your biggest consideration, go for the iPad Air or Retina iPad mini.
Choosing an iPad: Finite vs. future-proof
Apple is pretty good about supporting older devices. They supported the spring 2011 iPad 2 until spring 2014. That's an eternity in gadget years. However, compatibility comes with compromise. Older generation iPads have older generation hardware. the original iPad mini has a lower screen density — standard instead of Retina — and older processors — 32-bit Apple A5(X) instead of 64-bit Apple A7. They also don't come with any storage options over 16GB - not 32GB, and certainly not 128GB.
So, while the iPad 4 and original iPad mini might were updated to iOS 7 last year. The iPad 4 will almost certainly be able to run iOS 8 later this year. But iOS 9? iOS 10? And even if it can, how well?
Conversely, the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, their awesome Retina displays, beefy 128GB storage options, and monstrous Apple A7 processors should last you for years to come.
Choosing an iPad: Screen size vs. display density
Both the iPad Air and iPad 4 have 9.7-inch screens. Both the original iPad mini and Retina iPad mini have 7.9-inch screens. The iPad Air, iPad 4, and Retina iPad mini have 2048x1536 screens. The i original iPad mini has a 1024x768. Confusing much? The way it works out is this:
The Retina iPad mini has the densest display at 326ppi (same as the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c). That's because it's the same resolution as the iPad Air, but shrunk down to a slightly smaller size. Since you might have to hold it closer, it probably won't make much real-world difference. On paper, however, it's on par with the highest density screens Apple makes.
The iPad Air and iPad 4 have the next densest display at 264ppi (same as the iPad 4 and iPad 3). That's because, while it's the same resolution as the Retina iPad mini, they're slightly larger. Since you might be able to hold it further away, again, it won't make that much real-world difference.
The original iPad mini has a 163ppi screen (the same as the old iPhone 3GS).
If you want an amazing screen, you want the iPad Air, Retina iPad mini, or iPad 4. If you want a big screen, you want the iPad Air or iPad 4. If you want both, and you want lightness as well, you'll want the iPad Air.
If you want an ultra-portable, you want the Retina iPad mini or original iPad mini. If you want the best screen on an ultra-portable, you want the Retina iPad mini.
Who should get an original iPad mini?
The iPad mini launched in October of 2012, and comes with a Lightning adapter. Aside from that, it's all old tech. Standard display instead of Retina, and Apple A5 processor instead of Apple A7. The current version does come with Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + cellular options, but with only 16GB of storage, which isn't much these days.
If there's any way for you to save up an additional $100 for the Retina iPad mini, or better still, $200 for the 32GB Retina iPad mini, you'll have a much, much better experience. Otherwise, if you really want an iPad, and you've got $299 earmarked for it and not a penny more - or you're equipping a school or business by the score - get the iPad mini.
It's just not highly recommended, especially because of the limited storage.
The iPad 4 launched in October of 2012. It has a Retina display andLightning connect, but a 32-bit Apple A5X processor instead of a 64-bit Apple A7, and while it has Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and cellular options, it maxes out at 16GB of storage, which can be hard to manage.
You might want to consider a Retina iPad mini for the same $399. If you can save up even $100 more, a 32GB Retina iPad mini is great, and a 16GB iPad Air is also good. For $200 more, you can get a state-of-the-art 32GB iPad Air. Otherwise, if you really want a full-sized iPad, and you've got $399 in your pocket and that's it — or you're equipping students or employees by the score - the iPad 4 is an option.
It's not bad, it's just also not highly recommended, also and especially because of the limited storage.
The Retina iPad mini comes packed with 7.9-inches of 2048x1536 Retina display and a smoking fast Apple A7 processor. It's identical in every way but size, weight, and price to the iPad Air. That means choosing between them comes down to $100 and just about 2-inches.
If price is a consideration, the Retina iPad mini is a fantastic tablet, and starts at just $399. If size is a consideration, the Retina iPad mini is better if you want to travel with it, use it as a mobile hotspot, and otherwise value portability the most. (It'll fit in a back jeans pocket if it has to.) Likewise, if you already travel with a laptop, the Retina iPad mini is a great companion device.
The iPad Air is the current top-of-the-full-size-line iPad. It has a 9.7-inch, 2048x1536 Retina display and screamer of an Apple A7 processor. Aside from size, weight, and price, however, it's pretty much identical to the Retina iPad mini. So, your choice boils down to an extra $100 for an extra 2-inches.
If money is no object, the iPad Air starts at $499 and is the best big tablet on the market today. If size is something you're debating, the iPad Air is primed for people who use it around the house, office, or school, and otherwise put productively ahead of portability. (Those extra inches can come in handy.) Likewise, if you don't travel with a laptop, the the larger real-estate and keyboard size can make the iPad Air a much better replacement device. - iPad Air: Everything you need to know
If you're still having trouble choosing between the iPad mini, iPad 4, Retina iPad mini, or iPad Air, jump into our iPad discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out.
Bottom line, don't spend money you don't have, but don't skimp if you don't have to. Your iPad will be one of the most often-used, most important possessions in your life for months and maybe years to come. Get as much iPad as you can reasonably afford, and then enjoy!