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iPad Air Q&A - Updated November 24, 2014

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What are the main differences between the iPad Air/iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini/iPad mini 2/iPad mini 3 models? Which is best for me?

There are a number of different iPad Air and iPad mini models released from 2012 to the present. In fact, as diligently documented by EveryiPad.com, there are fourteen distinct models.

As all of these models are sold new simultaneously, it can be particularly perplexing to sort out the differences between this bewildering array of options.

iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3

Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad Air 2 - Left; iPad mini 3 - Right)

Main Differences

One reason it is particularly awkward for customers to intuitively compare all of the iPad Air and iPad mini models is that the original iPad mini was released a year before the original iPad Air. The iPad Air and iPad mini 2 were released in 2013 and the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 were released in 2014. Effectively, the lineup is staggered rather than a neat one, two, and three arrangement.

On basic terms, the major differences between these models are physical size, display size and quality, performance, and price. If a smaller tablet or price are the highest priority, an iPad mini likely is your best choice. If screen size and quality along with performance are highest priorities, you would be best served by an iPad Air. Which iPad mini or iPad Air model is best for you likely will require more detailed evaluation, though.

External Design Differences

The iPad Air and iPad mini models all share similar designs with gently rounded sides and corners. The original iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad mini 2 all are available in white and silver or black and gray, whereas the latest iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 add white and gold as a color option.

iPad Air 2 Color Options
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Silver, Gold, & Space Gray iPad Color Options)

Regardless of series, the iPad Air models are 9.4 inches tall and 6.6 inches wide whereas the iPad mini models are 7.87 inches tall and 5.3 inches wide. There are differences in thickness, or thinness if you prefer, but these differences are minor enough to not be a major differentiating factor for most users.

There are minor differences in weight as well, but in general, the iPad Air models weigh around a pound whereas the iPad mini models are three quarters of a pound or less.

Another external design difference worth mentioning is that the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 models include a "Touch ID" fingerprint sensor embedded in the home button but earlier models do not.

Display Differences

All of the iPad Air and iPad mini models have a multitouch-capable IPS LED-backlit display, but there are major differences in size and quality.

Most notably, the original iPad mini has a much lower quality "pre-Retina" display, but other specific differences include:

  iPad mini
mini
iPad mini 2
mini 2
iPad mini 3
mini 3
iPad Air
Air
iPad Air 2
Air 2
Display Size: 7.9" 7.9" 7.9" 9.7" 9.7"
Resolution: 1024x768 2048x1536 2048x1536 2048x1536 2048x1536
Pixel Density: 163 ppi 326 ppi 326 ppi 264 ppi 264 ppi
Anti-Glare Coating: No No No No Yes
Laminated Parts: No No No No Yes


In basic terms, the iPad Air 2 has the best quality display, but the original iPad Air, iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3 all have high quality displays, as well. However, as first noticed by the always detailed AnandTech, the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3 (which share the same display), have a narrower color gamut than the original iPad Air and iPad Air 2 and fall short of sRGB coverage.

Camera Differences

Apple once discouraged those from using the iPad as a point-and-shoot camera altogether, perhaps because it looks so awkward. In terms of camera quality, the iPad has lagged behind the iPhone line from equivalent years, as well.

Although Apple now openly promotes the iPad as a camera, the quality still lags behind the iPhone.

In basic terms, the front-facing "FaceTime HD" cameras are quite similar -- all have a 1.2 megapixel sensor and can shoot 720p video -- but the iPad Air 2 has a "larger f/2.2 aperture that lets in 81 percent more light" in addition to "an all-new sensor and larger pixels." These other models have f/2.4 apertures.

The rear-mounted "iSight" cameras all are capable of shooting 1080p video, but otherwise have some significant differences:

  iPad mini
mini
iPad mini 2
mini 2
iPad mini 3
mini 3
iPad Air
Air
iPad Air 2
Air 2
Megapixels: 5 MP 5 MP 5 MP 5 MP 8 MP
Panorama: No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Burst Mode: No No No No Yes
Video Zoom (3X): No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Slo-mo Video: No No No No Yes


Note that the iPad Air 2 has the highest megapixel sensor of the group -- 8 megapixels -- as well as better feature support.

Identification Differences

Although it often is possible to visually distinguish between these iPad models when they are side-by-side (and powered on), not all models can be differentiated this way and they look so similar that visual identification is not a good method for differentiation overall.

Instead, one of the best methods for external identification is via Model Number. Model numbers are provided in tiny type toward the bottom of the back of each iPad:

iPad

Model Number

iPad mini (Original - Wi-Fi Only)

A1432

iPad mini (Original - Wi-Fi/AT&T/GPS)

A1454

iPad mini (Original - Wi-Fi/VZ & Sprint/GPS)

A1455

iPad mini 2 (Retina/2nd Gen, Wi-Fi Only)

A1489

iPad mini 2 (Retina/2nd Gen, Wi-Fi/Cellular)

A1490

iPad mini 2 (Retina/2nd Gen, China)

A1491

iPad mini 3 (Wi-Fi Only)

A1599

iPad mini 3 (Wi-Fi/Cellular)

A1600

iPad mini 3 (Wi-Fi/Cellular, China)

A1601

iPad Air (Wi-Fi Only)

A1474

iPad Air (Wi-Fi/Cellular)

A1475

iPad Air (Wi-Fi/TD-LTE - China)

A1476

iPad Air 2 (Wi-Fi Only)

A1566

iPad Air 2 (Wi-Fi/Cellular)

A1567

EveryiPad.com's Ultimate iLookup feature -- as well as the EveryMac app available for iOS 5 or later, Android, and Kindle Fire -- also can precisely identify these iPad models by Order Number (referred to as "Model" within the iOS "Settings" app under General > About), and their Serial Numbers, too.

Major Internal Differences

All of these iPad models provide around nine to ten hours of battery life, but have a variety of internal technical differences that influence performance and capability:

  iPad mini
mini
iPad mini 2
mini 2
iPad mini 3
mini 3
iPad Air
Air
iPad Air 2
Air 2
Clockspeed: 1 GHz 1.3 GHz 1.3 GHz 1.4 GHz 1.5 GHz
Processor Type: Apple A5 Apple A7 Apple A7 Apple A7 Apple A8X
Processor Cores: Two Two Two Two Three
Architecture: 32-Bit 64-Bit 64-Bit 64-Bit 64-Bit
Coprocessor: None Apple M7 Apple M7 Apple M7 Apple M8
RAM: 512 MB 1 GB 1 GB 1 GB 2 GB
Current Storage (GB): 16 16/32 16/64/128 16/32 16/64/128
Wi-Fi Support: a/b/g/n a/b/g/n a/b/g/n a/b/g/n ac
LTE Support*: 2-5 Bands 14 Bands 14 Bands 14 Bands 20 Bands
Apple Pay (NFC): No No Yes No Yes
Barometer: No No No No Yes


*Note that only Cellular capable models from each line support 4G/LTE. Wi-Fi only models only support Wi-Fi. For specific LTE band support, click on the link for a particular model of interest.

Most significantly, note that the iPad Air 2 has three processor cores and 2 GB of RAM whereas the entry-level original iPad mini definitely is showing its age with an older 32-bit architecture and only 512 MB of RAM.

iOS Support Differences

The original iPad mini first shipped with iOS 6, the original iPad Air and iPad mini 2 with iOS 7, and the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 with iOS 8.

All five devices support the current version of iOS 8, but specific feature support is significantly different:

AirDrop Panorama Siri Health Apple Pay Continuity
iPad Air Yes Yes* Yes No No Yes
iPad Air 2 Yes Yes Yes No Yes† Yes
iPad mini Yes No Yes No No Yes
iPad mini 2 Yes Yes* Yes No No Yes
iPad mini 3 Yes Yes Yes No Yes† Yes


* Curiously, Apple quietly added Panorama support to the iPad Air and iPad mini 2, but not any earlier iPad models, with iOS 8.0.2.

† The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 models support Apple Pay within apps but not in retail stores.

Although no one outside of Apple knows for sure, for those interested in the longest possible iOS support, the original iPad mini is best to be avoided as it seems unlikely to be compatible with the next version of the iOS. If it is supported, it is unlikely to be compatible with major new features.

iPad Air/iPad Air 2 & iPad mini/iPad mini 2/iPad mini 3 Comparison Chart

The above differences -- as well as US pricing details -- are summarized below:

  iPad mini
mini
iPad mini 2
mini 2
iPad mini 3
mini 3
iPad Air
Air
iPad Air 2
Air 2
Introduced: Oct 2012 Oct 2013 Oct 2014 Oct 2013 Oct 2014
Clockspeed: 1 GHz 1.3 GHz 1.3 GHz 1.4 GHz 1.5 GHz
Processor: Apple A5 Apple A7 Apple A7 Apple A7 Apple A8X
Processor Cores: 2 2 2 2 3
Architecture: 32-Bit 64-Bit 64-Bit 64-Bit 64-Bit
Coprocessor: None M7 Motion M7 Motion M7 Motion M8 Motion
RAM: 512 MB 1 GB 1 GB 1 GB 2 GB
Orig. Storage (GB): 16/32/64 16/32/64/128 16/64/128 16/32/64/128 16/64/128
Current Storage (GB): 16 16/32 16/64/128 16/32 16/64/128
Display Size: 7.9" 7.9" 7.9" 9.7" 9.7"
Resolution: 1024x768 2048x1536 2048x1536 2048x1536 2048x1536
Pixel Density: 163 ppi 326 ppi 326 ppi 264 ppi 264 ppi
Antiglare Coating: No No No No Yes
4G/LTE Internet: Few Many Many Many Most
Wi-Fi (802.11): a/b/g/n a/b/g/n a/b/g/n a/b/g/n a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth: 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Rear Megapixels: 5 MP 5 MP 5 MP 5 MP 8 MP
Touch ID: No No Yes No Yes
Apple Pay (NFC): No No Yes No Yes
Barometer: No No No No Yes
SIM Card: Nano Nano Nano Nano Nano
Original iOS: iOS 6 iOS 7 iOS 8 iOS 7 iOS 8
Maximum iOS: iOS 8 iOS 8 iOS 8 iOS 8 iOS 8
Color Options: Silver
Gray

Silver
Gray

Silver
Gray
Gold
Silver
Gray

Silver
Gray
Gold
Height: 7.87 in. 7.87 in. 7.87 in. 9.4 in. 9.4 in.
Width: 5.3 in. 5.3 in. 5.3 in. 6.6 in. 6.6 in.
Depth/Thinness: 0.28 in. 0.29 in. 0.29 in. 0.29 in. 0.24 in.
Weight: 0.68-
0.69 lb.
0.73-
0.75 lb.
0.73-
0.75 lb.
1.0-
1.05 lb.
0.96-
0.98 lb.
Orig. Price (Wi-Fi): US$329
US$429
US$529

US$399
US$499
US$599
US$699
US$399
US$499
US$599

US$499
US$599
US$699
US$799
US$499
US$599
US$699

Orig. Price (LTE): US$459
US$559
US$659

US$529
US$629
US$729
US$829
US$529
US$629
US$729

US$629
US$729
US$829
US$929
US$629
US$729
US$829

Current Price (Wi-Fi): US$249 US$299
US$349
US$399
US$499
US$599
US$399
US$449
US$499
US$599
US$699
Current Price (LTE): US$379 US$429
US$479
US$529
US$629
US$729
US$529
US$579
US$629
US$729
US$829


For pricing in dozens of countries, see the "Global Prices" on the specs page for each iPad as well as the "By Global Original Prices" section of EveryiPad.com.

So, should I buy an iPad Air, iPad Air 2, iPad mini, iPad mini 2, or iPad mini 3?

The majority of users should either purchase an iPad Air 2 model -- which is the fastest and highest-quality model, albeit the most expensive -- or an iPad mini 2 model -- which is smaller and a good value compared to the newer, but practically identical iPad mini 3.

Only those on the tightest of budgets should consider the original iPad mini as its display is significantly lower quality, it is much slower, and it will not have iOS support for as long as the newer models. Only someone who wants a small iPad, finds the Touch ID capability extremely valuable, and/or loves the gold color option really should consider the iPad mini 3.

Finally, although the iPad Air 2 is better in every way, the original iPad Air also is quite capable and for someone looking to save a bit of money, remains well worth consideration, as well.

Of course, if price is the highest concern, any number of iPad models on the used market should be evaluated, too.

Site sponsor PowerMax sells all new iPad Air and iPad mini models as well as a huge selection of used iPad models free of sales tax.


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