Apple released its first generation iPad in 2010. Since then Apple has sold 170 million iPads and changed the way we use computers. Last fall Apple started offering a second model, the iPad mini. On Tuesday Apple announced two new iPads that will be available in time for the holiday shopping season, the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display.
The iPad Air has the same 9.7″ screen as the original iPad. It gains the ‘Air’ moniker because it’s received a drastic redesign. The prior generation iPad, what we’ll call the iPad 4, weighed 1.4 lbs. The new iPad Air comes in at a svelte 1.0lb. This will allow users to hold their iPad much longer, especially one handed, without getting tired. The iPad Air is also much thinner coming in at 7.5 millimeters compared to the iPad 4 which is 9.4 millimeters. The side bezels in portrait mode have also been greatly reduced. The iPad Air is just 6.6″ across compared to 7.31″ on the iPad 4.
Internally there are some nice upgrades also. The iPad Air is equipped with Apple’s just released 64 bit architecture A7 chip. This is the same chip that powers the iPhone 5s. It’s blazing fast and shouldn’t have any problems powering the iPad Air. Alongside the A7 is Apple’s new M7 co-processor. The M7 helps perform tasks but with more optimal battery life as its focus. Both the 5 MP rear camera and 1.2 MP front facing camera remain the same from the iPad 4.
The pricing and storage remain unchanged. The Wi-Fi model starts at $499 for the 16 GB version and goes up $100 with each storage option of 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB. The Wi-Fi + Cellular model starts at $629 and goes up by the same $100 dollars with the 32 GB, 64GB, and 128 GB models. All models come in either Space Gray or Silver.
iPad mini with Retina display
Last October Apple announced the 1st generation iPad mini. For many it was the perfect form factor for both portability and usability. However, there were two glaring weaknesses to last years model when compared to its big brother.
First was the lack of a retina display. The 3rd generation iPad (iPad 3 forsake of our converstation) from early 2012 was the first iPad to sport such a screen. Going from an iPad 2 to an iPad 3 was a drastic improvement. Text was super clear and personally I couldn’t go back to a non retina iPad. The retina display does come at a cost however. Just as the iPad 3 gained a little weight and thickness over the iPad 2, the iPad mini with Retina display is slightly bigger (.73 lbs vs. .68 lbs, and .29 inches in depth vs. .28 inches) than its predecessor.
Secondly the first generation iPad mini sported an A5 chip. The same chip first introduced in the iPad 2. While still serviceable, the long term viability of the product could be questioned. After two years would the iPad mini be able to run the newest apps without a hiccup?
Flash forward to Tuesday and Apple has rectified both of these issues in a big way. Apple added a 2,048 X 1,536 pixels to the 7.85″ screen of the iPad mini. This works out to be the same 326 PPI (pixels per inch) as the latest iPhones and even greater than the iPad Air, which sports the same amount of pixels but with a PPI of 264 because of its larger screen. No doubt the screen will be a huge reason for users to upgrade.
Many expected Apple to keep costs down in the iPad mini with Retina display by using the A6 chip from last year. In a somewhat surprising move Apple has added the same A7 chip as it uses in the iPad Air.
The iPad mini with Retina display will start at $399 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model and goes up $100 with each storage option of 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB. The Wi-Fi + Cellular option will start at $529 and go up by the same $100 dollars with the 32 GB, 64GB, and 128 GB models. All models come in either Space Gray or Silver.
Which iPad should you buy?
Along with the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display Apple has kept the iPad 2 ($399) and the iPad mini ($299) around. We can quickly get rid of the iPad 2 as an option. Even at $319 for a refurbished 16GB iPad 2 in no circumstances should you buy this product. The iPad mini is a bit tougher of a decision but I still believe it is a poor value at $299. If price is your number one concern and you are only considering iOS then Apple is offering the iPad mini refurbished for $249. It comes with Apple’s same 1 year warranty alongside a completely new battery and outer shell. I still think spending the extra money for the iPad mini with Retina display or buying Google’s recently released Nexus 7 ($229) represents a much better deal long term. However, $249 to get into Apple’s ecosystem has its benefits for some users.
It’s no surprise that the really tough decision comes when comparing the iPad Air to the iPad mini with Retina display. Going into this event I was convinced that the iPad mini form factor plus a retina display would make the iPad mini the slam dunk choice for most consumers. But after seeing the iPad Air I am not so sure.
iPad Air-The Good
The problem I have with my iPad 3 is that it gets too heavy after prolonged use. I always end up propping it against a pillow or my legs when I am using it in bed. But making it a measly 1 pound and only 6.6″ wide may change that for me. The iPad Air is now 28% lighter and 20% thinner than before. Surfing the web on the 9.7″ screen is great and so is reading text in portrait orientation. The A7 Processor is fast and capable of rendering iOS 7 on the big screen no problem.
iPad Air-The Bad
It’s tough to find anything wrong with this product. We were hoping that the base model priced at $499 would include 32GB of storage instead of 16 GB. Also, while Apple brought Touch ID to the iPhone 5s last month, many were expecting them to do the same for their iPads. This is likely due to supply constraints and we will see this added sometime next year.
iPad mini with Retina display-The Good
Considering it’s the most important part of the iPad, the retina display is a huge upgrade from the screen of its predecessor. Also, the addition of Apple’s latest chip, the A7, is a welcome surprise that should help this generation iPad mini with Retina display stay relevant for years to come.
iPad mini with Retina display- The Bad
To accomodate the retina display, the iPad mini with Retina display is ever so slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor. While the difference will be negligible even when you are holding both in your hands, we are trained to want thinner and lighter, and for good reason. The bigger disappointment is the new price. At $399 it’s far from an impulse buy. There were many who were disappointed last year when the price started at $329 and they will be even more so this year. It may be hard for many that aren’t married to iOS to justify paying $170 more for the iPad mini with Retina display when they can go pick up the Nexus 7 and its Android 4.3 for $229 this holiday season.
What Should You Do?
If price is your number one factor I recommend checking out the Nexus 7. It runs vanilla Android, has a beautiful screen that can fit in most pockets, and can be had for significantly less money than either new iPad.
For everyone else that just wants to get the best product they can, it is really a matter of preference. If you already own a full sized iPad, Note 10.1, or Nexus 10, do you find that form factor convenient? If you want something you can operate one handed the iPad mini with Retina display might be right for you. If you like the screen size of the full sized iPad but its weight is the problem, the iPad Air might be your best bet. Maybe you are torn between the two new iPads and the fact that both have a retina display and the A7 chip makes your decision even tougher. If this is the case go for the iPad mini with Retina display. This will save you $100 over the iPad Air, while still getting a great product.
If you still are unsure of what to do I recommend going into an Apple Store and playing around with both products. Use it exactly how you would use it at home, whether thats watching videos, surfing the web, or playing games and see what you prefer. The iPad Air will be available starting November 1st while the iPad mini with Retina display will be available ‘later in November’.
I personally will be sticking with my iPad 3 this go around. I use it mainly for watching Netflix and surfing the web and it is still more than capable of doing that for me on iOS 7. Let us know what you think of the iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina display in the comments or on Twitter!