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Choosing between an iPad or an iPad Mini

You’ve decided to invest in an Apple iPad tablet. Now the question is, do you want to acquire an iPad 2, 4th generation iPad with Retina display, or the iPad mini? All iPad models run iOS 6, come with the same collection of pre-installed apps, and are compatible with more than 700,000 third-party apps that are available from the App Store. In this article, Jason R. Rich will help you choose the best iPad model to meet your needs.
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The iPad has become the most popular tablet computing device in the world, but since it was first introduced, Apple has released updates to both the tablet hardware and the iOS operating system, each time greatly expanding the capabilities of these devices. In September, Apple released, the iOS 6 operating system. It offers more than 200 new and enhanced features (compared to iOS 5.1). Meanwhile, the 4th generation iPad with Retina display, along with the new iPad mini were also introduced.

Prior to the release of the iPad mini, you needed to make a handful of decisions when purchasing an iPad, including:

  • The storage capacity of the iPad (16GB, 32GB, or 64GB)
  • Whether the iPad would use only Wi-Fi or also have 3G/4G (LTE) wireless Internet connectivity, and if so, which wireless service provider you’d use
  • The color of the iPad’s casing (white or black)

The decisions you made all pertained to an iPad with a 9.7-inch Multi-Touch display and determined how much you’d pay for the device (between $499.00 and $829.00). When shopping for an iPad these days, you have a few additional things to consider, because several different iPad models are available, and each model is offered in several hardware configurations.

The older iPad 2 includes a 9.7-inch, LED-backlit screen that offers 1024 by 768 resolution at 132 pixels per inch. It operates using Apple’s proprietary A5 chip. The new 4th generation iPad with Retina display also features a 9.7-inch Multi-Touch display, but it offers a significantly better 2048 by 1056 resolution at 264 pixels per inch, and uses Apple’s A6X processor chip, which is considerably faster than the A5 chip.

The iPad Mini Offers a More Compact Design

Now, there’s also the iPad mini. It offers all of the features and functions of the iPad 2, but is smaller, thinner, and lighter. The iPad mini features a 7.9-inch, LED-backlit display that offers 1024 by 768 resolution at 163 pixels per inch. This smaller iPad runs using Apple’s A5 chip. It’s also available with a black or white casing, comes with 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of internal storage, and is offered with Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (LTE) Internet capabilities.

It’s important to understand that while the iPad mini is smaller in physical size and has a smaller screen, it runs all of the same apps as the other iPad models. It also offers all of the features and functions included with the iOS 6 operating system, and works well in conjunction with Apple’s iCloud service. The iPad mini is also slightly less expensive than the iPad 2 or 4th generation iPad with Retina display, as you can see from the following table.

Currently Available iPad System Configurations and Pricing

iPad System Configuration

iPad mini

iPad 2

4th Generation iPad with Retina display

16GB Wi-Fi Only




16GB Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (LTE)




32GB Wi-Fi Only




32GB Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (LTE)




64GB Wi-Fi Only




64GB Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (LTE)




If you opt for any Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (LTE) iPad model, an additional monthly fee is required for accessing a wireless data network that’s offered by a wireless service provider. This fee is auto-recurring, but can be canceled anytime, and will vary based on the amount of wireless data usage the plan includes.

In the United States, AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint PCS offer wireless data plans for the iPad mini and iPad with Retina display, while only AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless offer wireless data plans for the iPad 2. Prices range from about $15.00 to $50.00 per month.

When you purchase any model iPad, included in the box is the tablet itself, a USB cable, and an AC power plug adapter. Plan on spending extra to acquire an optional Apple Smart Cover and the optional AppleCare+ extended warranty, as well as a case and other optional accessories for the tablet.

Choosing the Right iPad Model to Meet Your Needs

Once you purchase any iPad model, keep in mind that you can not upgrade its internal storage. Thus, it’s important to consider how much storage space you’ll need to store apps, data, files, music, eBooks, photos, videos (including TV show episodes and movies acquired from the iTunes Store), digital editions of magazines and newspapers, and other content.

It’s also not possible to upgrade from a Wi-Fi only to a Wi-Fi + 3G/4G (LTE) iPad model without purchasing an entirely new iPad, so think about where and how you’ll want to connect to the Internet as you use the tablet in your everyday life, knowing that many of the apps you’ll be using require Internet access.

Choosing between an iPad 2 and 4th generation iPad will determine the quality of the graphics you see on the tablet’s screen, as well as the processing speed and power of the device, although both models run the same apps. The thickness and weight difference between the iPad 2 and 4th generation iPad is slight and virtually unnoticeable, and the battery life of all iPad models is pretty comparable (averaging about ten hours per charge, based on how it’s being used).

With its more compact design, many people are opting for the iPad mini. It’s more portable than the full-size iPads, it fits more comfortably in your hand(s), and is lighter weight. But, while the iPad mini runs the same apps as the other iPad models, the on-screen virtual keyboard, text, icons, and other graphic elements that appear on the screen appear slightly smaller. This could make the device harder to use if you have large hands or poor eyesight. 

Holding the iPad mini with both hands and typing with your thumbs is a viable option for fast data entry, however, traditional touch-typing is much more challenging using the virtual keyboard that appears on the iPad mini’s smaller display (especially when it comes to word processing). Of course, you can always use any iPad model with an optional, external, wireless Bluetooth keyboard which allows you to achieve faster typing speeds with greater accuracy.

Before deciding between one of the full-size iPad models or the iPad mini, think about how you’ll be using the device and whether or not the size of the screen and the speed and power of the processor chip is vital to what you’ll be using the tablet for. For example, if your primary objective is to use the iPad to view and edit digital photos, play graphic-intensive games, or to watch high-definition television shows or movies while on-the-go, the 9.7-inch Retina display that’s built into the 4th generation iPad will serve you well.

However, if you want a device that more easily fits into a purse, large jacket pocket, or briefcase, or that you can hold in your hands for extended periods at a time without your hands and wrists getting tired (as you read an eBook or the digital edition of a newspaper or magazine, for example), the iPad mini will be a better choice for you. Younger kids with smaller hands will also find the iPad mini easier to hold and work with.

When it comes to taking photos or shooting video, all current models of the iPad have a front and rear-facing camera, and can utilize the Camera app (or a third-party photography app) to capture photos or videos. Logistically, however, it is easier and less cumbersome to hold the iPad mini in your hands to snap photos or shoot video, due to its more compact size. The quality of the cameras is the same between the iPad mini and the 4th generation iPad (while the iPad 2 offers lower-resolution cameras).

The thing to remember is that when choosing between the iPad mini and the iPad 2, the primary differences are the physical size and weight of the device, and the screen size. When choosing between an iPad mini and the 4th generation iPad with Retina display, the later offers the faster processor, higher-resolution, and larger screen. Both the iPad mini and 4th generation iPad offer Apple’s new Lightning port, which replaces the 30-pin Dock connector port that older iPhone, iPad (including the iPad 2), and iPod touch models offer.

Any model iPad is a perfect companion product to an iPhone and/or Mac or PC, and allows you to perform a wide range of tasks while on-the-go. However, if you already have an iPad, you probably won’t have the additional need for an iPad mini, since what a full-size iPad and iPad mini can do is basically identical.

Final Thoughts

Once you decide what you’ll be using your iPad for, take a look at the different iPad models and see which fits more comfortably in your hands, and which model will work best for you, based on your personal preferences, budget, and work habits.

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