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What are all the differences between the iPad Air and the iPad mini Retina (2nd Gen)? Which is best for me?
With even the most cursory of glances at the iPad Air models -- the iPad Air (Wi-Fi Only) and iPad Air (Wi-Fi/Cellular) -- and the iPad mini Retina (2nd Gen) models -- the iPad mini (Retina/2nd Gen - Wi-Fi Only) and iPad mini (Retina/2nd Gen - Wi-Fi/Cellular) -- it is obvious that the iPad Air models are larger and the iPad mini 2nd Gen models are smaller.
Although size and weight are major differences -- the iPad Air models are 9.4 inches tall, 6.6 inches wide, and 0.29 inches thick and weigh around a pound and the iPad mini 2nd Gen models are 7.87 inches tall, 5.3 inches wide, and 0.29 inches thick and weigh around three fourths of a pound -- dimensions and heft are not the only differences.
There are differences in performance, display quality, and identifiers that are important. There also are a large number of similarities that are useful to note, too.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad Air -- Left, iPad mini 2nd Gen -- Right)
Both the iPad Air and iPad mini 2nd Gen models use designs in the same style introduced by the original iPad mini line -- with thinner bezels on the sides of the display and thicker bezels above and below the display (when held upright in portrait orientation). The cases use an aluminum "unibody" design with softly rounded corners and a chamfered front edge. Both are available with either a white front and a silver back or a black front and a medium-toned gunmetal gray that Apple refers to as "Space Gray."
Both devices also have identical cameras. Specifically, both have a rear-mounted 1080p 5 megapixel "iSight" camera with a f/2.4 aperture and a front-mounted 720p 1.2 megapixel "FaceTime HD" camera. Both models can be configured with 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB of storage, too.
Other identical features include a "Lightning" port for power and connecting the device to a computer, if desired, support for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11n MIMO-capable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Both devices additionally have the standard iPad accelerometer, three-axis gyroscope, ambient light sensor, and digital compass, as well as dual built-in speakers and dual microphones (for better noise cancellation than a single mic).
Display & Technical Differences
A major point of differentiation beyond physical size are the displays. Both displays use IPS technology, are LED-backlit, and are dubbed "Retina" by Apple, but they are not the same in dimensions or quality.
The iPad Air models have a 9.7-inch 2048x1536 display at 264 ppi whereas the iPad mini 2nd Gen models have a 7.9-inch 2048x1536 display at 326 ppi. Although this means that the iPad mini 2nd Gen display has greater pixel density, as first noticed by the always detailed AnandTech, it has a narrower color gamut than the iPad Air and falls short of sRGB coverage.
In basic terms, this means that the iPad mini 2nd Gen display still is relatively good quality, but colors are not as accurate -- particularly in "reds/blues and magenta" and as a result "you don't get the same visual punch you do on the iPad Air."
Both devices have 1 GB of RAM and are powered by the same dual core 64-bit Apple A7 processor and same M7 motion coprocessor, but the iPad Air runs at roughly 8% faster clockspeed. Specifically, as first recorded by the third-party Geekbench benchmarking software, the Apple A7 processor runs at 1.4 GHz in the iPad Air and just 1.3 GHz in the iPad mini 2nd Gen.
Although the iPad Air uses a unique case design, it is likely that future iPad models will share the general design and the iPad mini 2nd Gen models use essentially the same design as their predecessors. Consequently, visual identification is not a good long-term method for differentiation.
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.
Specifically, the iPad Air and iPad mini 2nd Gen model numbers are as follows:
These iPad models can be differentiated by other identifiers as well, such as the Order Number, which can be located by selecting the Settings app and pressing General > About and scrolling down to what is specified as "Model" within the iOS. For example, the Wi-Fi/Cellular configuration of the iPad Air in black on AT&T with 16 GB of storage is ME991LL.
To pinpoint an exact iPad by a variety of different identifiers -- including its Serial Number -- please refer to the Ultimate iLookup feature as well as the EveryMac app available for iOS 5 or later and Android.
Connectivity & Battery Life Differences
Although the iPad Air and iPad mini 2nd Gen models have different batteries -- providing 32.4 watt hours and 23.8 watt hours of energy, respectively -- the battery life is the same. When using Wi-Fi, all of these models support a maximum of ten hours of runtime, but the cellular data capable models only support a maximum of nine hours of runtime when using cellular connectivity.
Connectivity is the same for the Wi-Fi only and cellular capable models from both lines.
The iPad Air (Wi-Fi/Cellular) and iPad mini (Retina/2nd Gen - Wi-Fi/Cellular) have the same Wi-Fi capabilities as the Wi-Fi Only models, but also support LTE (bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, and 26), CDMA EV-DO Rev. A and Rev. B (800, 1900 MHz), GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) and UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz). These devices support A-GPS, too.
The cellular capable models are shipped unlocked and support AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon in the US. The physical procedure to switch between carriers is little more than removing the Nano SIM card and putting in another one, but some carriers still may require activation or configuration before the iPad will work properly -- or at all -- on their network.
For example, as EveryiPad.com makes it easy to lookup, the cellular capable 16 GB iPad mini 2nd Gen configuration in white and silver on AT&T is MF074LL. Presumably, Sprint would not activate this model on their network, which could become an issue on the used market should someone be interested in using Sprint.
iOS Support Similarities
Both the iPad Air and iPad mini 2nd Gen devices first shipped with iOS 7.0.3 and are fully supported by the operating system with the exception of the "Panorama" and "Filters in Camera" photographic features.
All other iOS 7 features are fully supported. This includes Control Center, Notification Center, Multitasking, Safari and iTunes Radio as well as Siri, AirDrop, Filters in Photos, and more advanced photo functionality that Apple formally refers to as "square and video formats and swipe to capture."
The black and white color options within each line cost the same amount. Pricing within lines only is differentiated by capacity and connectivity with the iPad Air meriting a US$100 premium over an otherwise identically configured iPad mini 2nd Gen:
|iPad mini 2nd Gen:||16 GB||32 GB||64 GB||128 GB|
|Wi-Fi, Cellular & A-GPS:||US$529||US$629||US$729||US$829|
|iPad Air:||16 GB||32 GB||64 GB||128 GB|
|Wi-Fi, Cellular & A-GPS:||US$629||US$729||US$829||US$929|
The major differences between the iPad Air and the iPad mini 2nd Gen are summarized accordingly:
iPad mini 2nd Gen
|Resolution:||2048x1536 (264 ppi)||2048x1536 (326 ppi)|
|Processor Speed:||1.4 GHz||1.3 GHz|
|Processor Type:||Apple A7||Apple A7|
|Motion Coprocessor:||Apple M7||Apple M7|
|RAM:||1 GB||1 GB|
|Storage:||16, 32, 64, 128 GB||16, 32, 64, 128 GB|
|Data Networks:||Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi & Cellular Data||Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi & Cellular Data|
|Front Camera:||720p (1.2 MP)||720p (1.2 MP)|
|Rear Camera:||1080p (5 MP)||1080p (5 MP)|
|Max Battery Life:||9-10 Hours||9-10 Hours|
|Dimensions (In):||9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29||7.87 x 5.3 x 0.29|
|Weight (Lbs):||1.0, 1.05||0.73, 0.75|
So, which iPad is best for me?
Either the iPad Air or the iPad mini 2nd Gen would be an excellent choice for a tablet and the devices are much closer together in many respects than the previous "full size" iPad models and the original iPad mini. Both offer the same design, cameras, connectivity, and battery life.
However, the choice comes down to which aspects of the purchase are most important to you. If size, weight, and price are most important, get an iPad mini 2nd Gen. Alternately, if a bigger and higher quality display as well as faster performance are most important, get an iPad Air.
Of course, if price is the highest concern, any number of iPad models on the used market are well worth considering, too.