A few weeks back, I declared the iPad Air 4 to be the best iPad I’ve ever owned.
You’re going to tell me off now… because I’m not convinced that’s the case anymore.
To compound the matter, a viewer on my YouTube channel recently slapped me on the wrists for changing my buying guidance on something. I genuinely can’t remember what it was, but I have a feeling it related to the Mac.
This is the problem with being a tech YouTuber; you get your hands on new gear all of the time. You therefore have to balance real-world advice (you know, the world in which people actually keep the same device for a decent amount of time) with remaining up-to-date on the latest and greatest.
The net result is an unrealistic, shifting perception of ‘the best X you’ve ever owned’, because consumers don’t own as many devices as you – nor do they switch quite so readily between them.
A case in point: I now have a new favourite iPad: the iPad mini 6 – and I still own the iPad Air 4. This isn’t a realistic, everyday scenario; no one needs both devices.
But that got me thinking – with these two non-pro iPads being such game-changers for me, there’s clearly an interesting battle going on between the two.
In fact, if you’re after a mid-range iPad, I think the Air and the mini offer a compelling buying decision.
The iPad mini starts at $499, which I think is $100 too expensive. The iPad Air starts at $599, which I think is just about right.
They both have stupid storage options. Starting at 64GB and unfathomably skipping the 128GB option entirely, they go no further than 256GB (for which you’ll need to add $150).
This creates a bit of an issue for the iPad Air because the top-end tier pushes it dangerously close to iPad Pro territory; for an additional $50, you might drop down to 128GB for the 11” iPad Pro, but you gain Pro Motion and the M1 chip (no matter how useless the latter is).
These aren’t cheap devices – they demand a thorough ponder before you place down your hard-earned, and this brings me to three decisions I think you need to make when choosing between the iPad mini and iPad Air.
Decision 1: Screen size
I’m pretty sure that the 11-inch (ish) display on the iPad Air is the perfect do-it-all screen size for a tablet. It isn’t too unwieldy, yet comfortably enables split-screen working.
The iPad mini’s 8.3-inch screen moves it dangerously close to smartphone territory. But it really isn’t that at all.
I listened to a long discussion on MacBreak Weekly yesterday where Leo Laporte spent about fifteen minutes attempting to turn his new iPad mini into an iPhone.
Why? You have a phone for that, mate.
So, a tablet it undoubtedly is. But the iPad mini’s screen is too small for split-screen working. It’s also too small for it to make a legitimate claim for that laptop-sized hole in your life (more on that later).
But you can hold the mini one-handed and use it without dropping the damn thing. For content consumption and note-taking, this is a dream. The iPad Air’s traditional tablet size means you’ll spend most of your time holding it with two hands or placing it on a surface.
Which one feels more appealing to you?
Oh, and you can read my thoughts on the iPad mini ‘jelly scrolling’ issue here.
Decision 2: Note-ability
I bought the iPad mini for one reason (beyond the need to review it): note-taking.
I’ve dabbled with digital note-taking for years, but I’ve always found myself returning to the classic pen-and-notebook setup. There’s just something more tactile and enjoyable about scribbling away on that traditional surface during meetings.
The 12.9” iPad Pro is way too big to be a meaningful note taker. The iPad Air is ok if you prefer to take your notes on A4 paper. But the iPad mini is the digital equivalent of a take-it-everywhere journal. It is super convenient.
Thus far, it has delivered for me, big time, when it comes to note-taking. Its tiny footprint means that the iPad mini doesn’t take up too much space on my desk while writing notes, yet still provides enough screen estate to jot down thoughts, quotes, and promises.
I’m currently waiting for a Paperlike screen protector to arrive because the only thing stopping me from transitioning fully to digital note-taking is the less tactile feel of the Apple Pencil on the iPad’s screen. I’ll report back on that, soon.
But if you’re already a digital note-taking convert, or, like me, want to become that person, the iPad mini wins – hands-down.
Decision 3: Laptop-ability
I know that some people aren’t keen on describing the iPad as a ‘laptop replacement’. I completely understand why; it represents a new realm of computing and one which is incredibly exciting. Alas, until Tim and co. pull their fingers out and do something interesting with iPadOS (not to mention the absence of pro apps on the platform), the iPad will remain a traditional laptop replacement for a great many people.
It’s why trackpad support was introduced. It’s why you can buy a keyboard that attaches permanently, requires no Bluetooth pairing, and which turns it into a laptop.
If you sit in that camp and want to ditch your MacBook or clunky old Windows machine and go iPad-only, the iPad Air is a super smart choice. As noted earlier, it is the perfect size for productivity, and while it might be a smidgen below the most common laptop screen size of 13-inches, it isn’t small enough to make you feel like you’re missing out.
The iPad mini – while equally compatible with trackpads, keyboards, and multitasking – is just too small to be a daily laptop-like carry. For me, anyway.
I can’t tell you which one to buy out of the iPad Air or iPad mini. They’re very different devices, and it’s an incredibly personal choice.
Regardless, I hope my pointers above will spark some thoughts about which one will slot into your life most comprehensively. Whether you’re a digital note-taker, laptop divorcee, or just need a new iPad, the key strengths and weaknesses I’ve covered above should point you in the right direction.
So – let me know in the comments: what’s it gonna be? Air or mini?
I first got the iPad mini 2 way back in 2013 as a companion device. It was perfect since my work confined me to a company issued windows laptop (you know how those were back then). These days my M1 MBP does everything for me, so much so that I struggle to find a use for my iPad Pro 9.7 other than for signing PDFs. I don’t take written notes anymore hence I struggle to find adequate utility for an iPad these days especially considering that my M1 battery regularly matches or even outlasts them. I still wonder if there’s something I’m missing.
[…] the fault of any of the aforementioned iPads. They’re all brilliant in their own right. The iPad mini has been a superb note-taker in the countless meetings I’ve attended this week. I enjoyed using […]
Hey Mark, I like your approach.
I had the iPad air2 which was excellent for quite a lot of years.
After much speccing about I upgraded to iPad mini 2019 (all same functionality updated) bc 2 of my most important uses were reading and note taking, and iPad mini is a perfect size to carry around. I use it a lot, can take it to the beach, lots of scribbling about.
I also bought the iPad Pro 12.9 bc I wanted to work with images in much more detail on it with the pencil. I use that a lot too.
I love the combination of the iPad Pro 12.9 and iPad mini. The best carry around, and the best sit down and work/relax models.
(But (sigh) I also need a MB. For work the 15″ MB Pro (2015) has been an essential. I used to have the 17″ MB Pro, I loved the size…I am thinking the 16″ M1 Pro is the replacement. Which is a bit beside the point…)
[…] sitting within the tablet category, there are some key differences if you’re still thinking ‘iPad’. For instance, there’s no web browser on the reMarkable 2, no app store, and you can’t use […]