iPad mini retina vs iPad Air from a Knowledge Perspective


Revised Jan 29. I have both iPads so have been using and comparing them for about two months now. Both iPads are extraordinary and leaps ahead of previous iPads. Choosing one is difficult.

Here are some of the places each wins:

iPad mini with Retina

  • Easier to Carry
  • Easier to Hold
  • More Portable – not for pockets but fits purses
  • Cheaper by $100

iPad Air

  • Bigger Screen
  • Faster
  • Better Color Gamut
  • Better for important work

The Casual User

In my view, the more casual user is better off with the handier, smaller, lighter device in most cases because the demands on it are less. If I’m a casual user, I want easy and fun above all else and the mini wins here. The casual user is reading, watching videos, listening to music, playing games, emailing, texting, looking at photos, taking notes, checking the weather.

The Knowledge Enthusiast / Professional User

This large group of knowledge enthusiasts and professionals may have different needs when it comes to iPads. An employed or self-employed knowledge professional is doing his life’s work at work or in off hours as a serious hobby. These people lose the distinction between work and leisure in a large part of there days, nights and weekends.

In my case, a lot of my reading, note-taking, research and creating is related to my technology consultant and software developer work. I try to take off one day a week – Saturday. Still and all I might do an experimental software project that day or read about designers or read the new Jony Ive book partly because I want to do better design in my work.

I need a tablet that does well in work and play. My 2 months work and play with these iPads tells me that the iPad Air competes well against the mini when you want an all-purpose iPad. Just like with paper notepads and notebooks, a roomier canvas can help the creative process. It can help you think.

The Argument For a Bigger Screen

If you like larger for your eyes and/or fat fingers, you’ll like the iPad Air:

  • If you have large fingers and get frustrated finding the exact spot to tap.
  • If you are big and strong, the iPad Air at 1 lb might seem small and light already. No need for an itty bitty iPad mini.

Any time you need to do a lot of interaction with the screen pressing buttons, selecting, pinching in and out and moving things,  or even typing, that extra screen real estate comes in handy. I will call this serious use. The serious nature of your work and benefits of the larger screen might trump the portability and holdability advantages of the iPad mini.

If you Can’t Decide Get the iPad mini with Retina

If you are right in the middle stuck there and can’t decide. I would recommend the mini just because that portability and hold-ability will have you use it and carry it more – so you get more value that way. And, you save $100 out of the box. That $100 could pay for the LTE version or double the storage, both nice to haves.

If you Can’t Decide Get Both

There is a third alternative if funds are available and you can justify the expense. Getting both. As a technology professional, I could justify the purchase. If money is a big concern, though, you may find it frustrating to have both and mostly be only using one at a time.

I use the iPad mini when:

  • Reading in bed or on the couch.
  • I’ve got it in my hand already which doesn’t happen as often with the Air.

I use  the Air when:

  • I want to do serious work with it.
  • I want to use an external keyboard and write. The portable keyboards like the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover that I have are better with the wider iPad Air. But, an external keyboard like the Apple wireless works as well with the mini just takes up more space in your kit bag.
  • I’m home and can use whichever iPad suits me. Web browsing can be nicer on that bigger screen… Big screens rock!
  • As a laptop substitute when I am going out, expect to have some sitting time and I am not taking my laptop.
  • These iPads are so light that you can take both with you out the door and leave your Mac home and come out pretty well.

The Mac is not Dead Yet Either

This first month, I haven’t taken a keyboard with me to a coffee place to facilitate typing. Instead I either take my pretty light Macbook Pro retina along with the mini when I need to do FileMaker development (which can’t be done yet on an iPad) or use a Mac app that has no iPad equivalent like Scapple! I’ve been reassured that Scapple for iPad is in the works. And, I would bet money that modest FileMaker development will become a paid option on an iPad within a year or so. The roomier iPad Air screen will be nice for some of these applications.

Final Verdict

Ok, Ok. If I had to choose 1 today, I would go with the iPad mini. I’m a woman and the size of the mini is really nice. The mini is a better value by a hair and you’ll use it more often than the larger tablet unless you really don’t prefer the smaller size.

If you have further thoughts, I would love to hear them here or have you direct me back to your entry elsewhere.

Happy New Year!

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2 thoughts on “iPad mini retina vs iPad Air from a Knowledge Perspective”

  1. Good analysis! Another factor to consider is what else you are using. When I was using my old Mac Book Pro 15″ with the poor battery life, I always carried my iPad to meetings at Starbucks, etc. My iPad Mini wasn’t quite big enough for that use, so I gave it to my wife, who uses it mostly to read Kindle ebooks.
    But I just got a Mac Air 13″, and its good battery and small size make it much more portable for the Starbucks meetings. Thus I’m using my iPad3 less these days. I might be better off now with the Mini, which would fit better between the Air and my iPhone.
    The iPad may turn out to be better for use during air travel than the Air, esp. for those of us crammed in Coach.
    My Retina confession: I really can’t tell the difference between Retina and not! So why pay extra for it? I wonder how many people bought Retina just because they were told it’s better.

  2. It does matter what kind of laptop you have when it comes to whether an iPad of any size can replace it. If you have a really good portable laptop with long battery life, like you do, Mike, you’ll be more inclined to use it for its extended powers that still exceed the iPad in many ways. Any single person has at least one app they love that isn’t available or at least isn’t as good on an iPad as it is on their laptop. In your case, I know you like Word and like being able to draw upon everything you have on your computer with ease using Spotlight, for example. I like Scapple and need FileMaker Pro for my work which I like to be able to do at moment’s notice no matter where I might be.

    Nevertheless, the iPad Air is amazing and the apps that run on it get better, more powerful and more compelling every day. Take FileMaker Go 13, for instance, it is really fast now and customizable even though you’ll need to use FileMaker Pro to do that customization. My guess is that big complex applications that don’t happen to fall into massively popular categories like photography will not make it over to the iPad or other tablets for at least a couple more years maybe much longer. Actually, what I like are the apps that have started mobile and crossed over to the Mac or vice versa. One of my favorites is Day One and I’m liking what I see in iA Writer Pro. I know Literature and Latte are working on iPad versions of both Scrivener and Scapple, so we are going to have the luxury of crossing back and forth with ease. I also like your thought that maybe the iPad mini (retina or not) would be a better compliment to your shiny new MacBook Air than your current iPad 3.

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