Apple’s iPad range is an excellent line-up of tablets, and that’s no secret. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, you have two brilliant devices – the original iPad, and the iPad Mini. But given the choice, which should you go for?
The iPad is Apple’s cheapest tablet, but also its least powerful. The Mini costs more, but has a faster processor under the hood in the A12 – the same one that the recent iPhone uses.
We help you choose the right iPad for you, taking into account your needs and budget.
The iPad and iPad Mini may share a lot of features, but they have some striking differences too. We compare their key features side by side:
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iPad Mini 2019
iPad Pro 2018
iPad Air 2019
iPad Pro 2017
The best choice iPad for most people
New and portable, great for on the go
The most modern iPad, but expensive
Latest model, but difficult to justify the extra cost over the 9.7
A little older, but still a great iPad for business users.
Up until recently, the iPad Mini had been somewhat neglected by Apple. Years without an update and languishing with older specs, yet never receiving an official price cut from Apple, it really wasn’t an appealing prospect.
Fast forward to 2019, and the most recent refresh has not just elevated the Mini into a contender – it’s been given such a specs and features boost that it should go straight to the top of your shopping list.
First of all, Apple has given Mini users the gift of an incredibly powerful A12 processor, which is what the latest iPhones are packing. This is a very powerful tablet, especially for the $399 price tag.
It’s also been given Apple Pen compatibility, bringing it in line with the rest of the series, as well as a little bump in Ram, going from 2GB to 3GB.
It’s a compelling package for those looking for a powerful tablet, especially if you’re after something that’s on the smaller side.
A12 Processor, more powerful than the iPad
Increase in RAM 3GB
Not as cheap as the 9.7 iPad
iPad 9.7 Overview
The classic iPad might seem something of a bore these days. With its A10 processor, it’s the least powerful device in the line-up, and on the surface, it looks like the same old iPad we’ve known for almost a decade.
However, make no mistake – the standard iPad can still pull hold its own. That ‘older’ A10 processor will still comfortably tackle most demands you throw at it, without so much as a stutter. Granted, if you’re a designer or someone who needs a high-end tablet for your work or hobby, then this isn’t it. For everyone else though, it really is.
The 2018 update brought with it the ability to use the Apple Pencil to draw on the screen, and to make annotations. As this was previously reserved for the premium models, it’s a great addition, and while the Pencil costs extra, it’s easier to justify using the money you save to buy the standard iPad instead of a pricier model.
Apple’s cheapest tablet
Now compatible with Apple Pencil
Excellent battery life
Not suited for demanding users, who should go for the Pro
If you have a large screen phone, the mini may be less compelling
The iPad 9.7 is Much Better Value
We think there are few better deals in tech than the original iPad. The retail price of $329 is something of a bargain in itself, especially when stacked against the entry level Mini ($399) and the iPad Air ($499). However, retailers will also regularly discount the iPad, meaning you can easily pick it up for under $300.
For your money, you get a 9.7-inch Retina display, an A10 processor, 4GB Ram (up from 2GB in its previous version), and 32GB storage for the entry-level model.
The iPad received a much welcomed update last year that saw it become compatible with the Apple Pen, a feature which at the time was solely reserved for the premium Pro range. This additional versatility makes the standard iPad even more compelling, especially for the price.
The iPad Mini is More Portable
It probably goes without saying that the iPad Mini is the most portable tablet in Apple’s line-up. The entire range is impressively slim and light, but with its 7.9-inch screen, it’s the Mini that wins the award for being the easiest to carry around.
Weighing slightly over 300 grams, the Mini is half the weight of the standard iPad, and while it won’t slip into your jeans pocket, it will happily go into a coat or jacket pocket. It’s not too much bigger than some of the more popular large screen cell phones – the Apple iPhone XS Max, for example, is just 1.4 inches smaller.
The iPad Mini is Faster
If you think that the larger iPad of the two is the more powerful, then you’ll be surprised to learn that in a battle of brawn, it’s the Mini that emerges victorious. The reason for this is that the Mini is the newer release of the two, and has benefited from the A12 processor – the iPad 9.7, last refreshed early in 2018, is ‘making do’ with the A10.
We say ‘making do’, but in reality, the standard iPad still packs plenty of punch. It can serve up your media and entertainment, as well as you work apps, without so much as breaking a sweat – just as long as you’re not doing anything too demanding.
The Mini wins the arms race on paper, but most casual users will never notice the difference between the two.
Both Make More Sense than the iPad Air
Think of the iPad Air as the Mini’s big brother. Specs-wise, they’re practically identical, both boasting that speedy A12 processor, a 7Mp front camera, and an 8Mp rear camera.
The main difference is the price. At a starting price of $499, the Air comes in at $100 more than the iPad Mini, which leaves the question – why buy the Air?
There’s no doubt that in its own right, the Air is an excellent iPad. However, when placed side-by-side with the Mini, it becomes a much harder sell – unless you really want those extra inches of screen real estate. At 10.5 inches, the Air is much bigger than the 7.9-inch Mini, and slightly larger than the 9.7-inch iPad.
If you’re a casual user, and want a bigger screen than the Mini can offer, then consider the standard iPad. If you need that combination of screen and high end processor, then take a look at the Air. That said, if you really want a large screen iPad with plenty of horsepower, you should be looking at the Pro series…
Verdict: Which iPad Should You Buy?
Good news: You can’t buy a bad iPad. With the recent refresh to the Mini line-up, each one is now up to date specs-wise, and they’re all fantastic tablets in their own right.
We think that most people who pick up the standard iPad won’t ever be aware of that extra power they’re missing out on by not opting for the Mini, and that the standard iPad will provide them with years of excellent service.
For those that like to know that their tablet can run demanding apps, and who want to futureproof themselves in the long run, the Mini is the best choice.
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Jack is the Content Manager for Tech.co. He has been writing about a broad variety of technology subjects for over a decade, both in print and online, including laptops and tablets, gaming, and tech scams. As well as years of experience reviewing the latest tech devices, Jack has also conducted investigative research into a number of tech-related issues, including privacy and fraud.