Supersized or mini? Choosing between two iPads

The new iPads offer support for the first-gen Apple Pencil. — Picture courtesy of Apple
The new iPads offer support for the first-gen Apple Pencil. — Picture courtesy of Apple

KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 — “What do you mean there are two more iPads?”

In a world where a new phone is probably launched every time someone breathes, it’s become a struggle to keep up even with Apple’s relatively limited product releases.

Thus for the last month I decided to try to answer this question: the iPad Air or the iPad mini? It’s been an interesting experience trying to fit not one but two iPads into my daily routine but it felt like a better, more realistic comparison than reviewing them one after the other.

The iPad mini might not be the best for video unless you’re already watching movies on too-small phone screens. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni
The iPad mini might not be the best for video unless you’re already watching movies on too-small phone screens. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni

On the surface

Specs-time! Both iPads share the same processor, an A12 Bionic which is also the same chip on the iPhone XS and XR. 

It’s a pretty powerful chip that Apple says offers 15 per cent improved CPU performance and 50 per cent lower power consumption.

Both also share the same amount of RAM — 3GB to be precise. They’re both fairly powerful machines so what differentiates them apart from the obvious (size)?

They also support the first-generation Apple Pencil, the funny one that you can charge by sticking it into the iPad’s Lightning port or by a using a dongle attachment I seem to have mastered misplacing every 50 seconds.

About those screens... the iPad mini has a 7.9-inch display and the iPad Air has a 10.5-inch screen, both of which are shiny Retina quality which means bright colours as well as Apple’s adaptive True Tone display.

The iPad Mini’s resolution is slightly denser at 326 pixels per inch (ppi) while the Air is 264ppi but to my naked eye, both are sharp and easy on the eye thanks to the P3 colour gamut, which offers a wide range of colours

Now how are they to live with? Here is a shortened account with my usual bad jokes.

Day-to-day

Apple is pushing the iPad mini as an alternative to a paper notebook. Thus I disengaged from my usual paper journal to try it. 

It is, at first glance, about the size of the Amazon Kindle and likely to be more useful than one.

To be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy using the Pencil with the mini as opposed to with a larger iPad as its length and feel felt a little awkward. 

Maybe a smaller size, such as a Logitech stylus alternative would have felt better in the hand with a smaller screen.

There’s also the Pencil constantly getting lost in the depth of my tote bag but then everything, including my self-restraint at malls, gets lost in there.

It was a lot more fun to instead reach for the mini when I was lounging and wanting to surf the Web or read. Being smaller it would hurt a lot less if I dropped it on my face when I dozed off. 

Dropping-a-tablet-on-your-face-in-bed is a thing, you guys. I found out a long time ago I wasn’t the only moron to have a tablet or phone fall out of my face onto my forehead.

Fans of the iPad mini have been clamouring for an updated version for a long time and I can understand why — on commutes it’s the perfect size. 

Less cumbersome than a larger iPad, fits into almost any standard handbag and is easy to conceal in papers or magazine to deter thieves. 

The iPad Air offers support for a Smart Keyboard which makes it a possible laptop replacement. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni
The iPad Air offers support for a Smart Keyboard which makes it a possible laptop replacement. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni

Now, the iPad Air. Unlike its smaller brother, it supports a Smart Keyboard — the same that the previous 9.7-inch iPad Pro used. 

Which means the keyboard is softer and floppier than the latest iPad Pro tablets but it’s not a terrible keyboard to be honest.

Have been doing some travelling and I find the iPad Air is a nice alternative to an iPad Pro if you don’t need as much processing power. 

If you’re a dedicated digital artist or graphics professional I think the Pro models would make better investments but for everyone else? The Air is pretty zippy and handles multitasking or at least Apple’s idea of multitasking (a split screen of two apps at a time with maybe an extra one floating) just fine.

Why this over the basic iPad? I’d think the Air offers a lot more power with not that much of a difference in price and would likely last you a lot longer.

Both machines delivered fairly decent battery life — with ordinary usage I would usually only need to charge them every other day. 

Because let’s be real: no one uses tablets quite as much as phones unless they’re their dedicated work machines. 

The one time I did use the iPad Air exclusively for work it lasted a good eight hours before I decided some charging would be necessary.

The sound of course isn’t quite as impressive on the iPad Air as on the iPad Pro models though they’re fairly loud and I wouldn’t really recommend watching shows on the mini’s smaller screen unless you watch them on your phone a lot already.

Both models use the same Lightning port that Apple is rumoured to be considering dropping from its devices — after all the latest iPad Pro is using USB-C now.

There’s also the same big home button at the bottom and some might argue there’s too much bezel as compared to the sleeker, nearly-all-screen displays on the iPhone or new iPads.

Honestly I don’t find that to be a dealbreaker and if it means the iPads won’t be nearly as expensive as iPhones or iPad Pros, it’s a worthy trade-off. 

On whether the iPad Air could be a laptop replacement — it really depends on whether you use specialty software. 

I know people who find the iPad freeing, having no huge power adapters, easy charging, more durability and a less painful price tag.

iOS still feels limiting for some serious business applications but if you’re willing to adjust your workflow, the iPad could be an alternative especially if the Pencil would be useful in your day-to-day work.

Which is it then?

If I could have just one iPad? I guess it would be the iPad Air because it is flexible enough for work in a pinch and I’ve even written a fair amount of articles on it. Most likely, it would last most people at least three years.

For someone who values portability and casual media consumption on the go, the iPad mini is a steady companion that might cost more than a Kindle but would offer a lot more value in the long run. 

The iPad mini is a very niche product but it’s a niche with loyal fans who value its special form factor.

You can purchase both iPads online and here’s a refresher of the prices:
iPad Air

WiFi-only — RM2,199 (64GB) and RM2,849 (256GB)

3G — RM2,799 (64GB) and RM3,399 (256GB)

For the iPad mini: 

WiFi-only — RM1,699 (64GB) and RM2,349 (256GB)

3G — RM2,249 (64GB) and RM2,899 (256GB)

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