Apple iPad Air vs. iPad Mini (2019): Which One Should You Buy?

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Apple's new iPad mini and iPad Air shake up the company's tablet line, but they're quite similar, making it hard to figure out which is best for you. Fortunately, we've tested both, pitting them against each other side-by-side to see which new slate wins.

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So while the bigger iPad Air's got the advantage of the Smart Keyboard, the iPad mini does beat it in a few categories that you might not expect, considering their similar specs.

Which iPad lasts the longest? Which packs the brightest screen? Here's how Apple's two newest tablets stack up.

iPad mini vs. iPad Air Specs

  iPad mini iPad Air
Starting Price $399 $499
CPU Apple A12 Bionic SoC Apple A12 Bionic SoC 
Display 7.9-inch, 2048 x 1536 pixels 10.5-inch, 2224 x 1668 pixels
Storage 64GB | 256GB 64GB | 256GB
Battery Life 12:40 11:54
Size 8 x 5.3 x 0.24 inches 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.24 inches
Weight 0.66 pounds 1 pound

 

Design

The iPad mini and iPad Air look so similar that they remind me of small- and medium-size versions of the same shirt. From their color options (silver with white, space gray with black and gold with white) to their machined aluminum backs, they're only visually distinguished by their dimensions. One benefit of the iPad Air's larger size is that its bezels don't look as chunky as the iPad mini's.

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And even there, they're kind of similar, as the iPad mini measures 8.0 x 5.3 x 0.24 inches, while the iPad Air measures 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.24 inches. So while the devices have different heights and widths, they've got the same thickness. The 0.68-pound iPad mini is also lighter than the 1-pound iPad Air.

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Essentially, this comes down to whether you want a device that's easier to use with one hand, or prefer the larger format, which is better for split-app view multitasking. Both tablets are good for two-handed typing with your thumbs, provided you use them in portrait orientation.

Winner: Tie

 

Display

Watching the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on the iPad Air and the iPad mini, we saw a very slight advantage on the iPad mini's side. The difference — slightly stronger colors, seen in Miles Morales' red hood and Kingpin's seafoam-green super-collider — was so hard to notice, though, that I didn't see any issue when looking at the iPad Air on its own.

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Our tests show slight differences that prove out what I saw on my screens. The iPad mini produced a high 135 percent of the sRGB spectrum, a notch or two above the iPad Air's 132 percent rating. The iPad mini also gets brighter, measuring up to 490 nits, compared with the iPad Air's 425 nits.

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Both iPads sport a fantastic range of viewing angles. Colors stayed strong even when viewed at angles of up to 85 degrees to the left or right.

Winner: iPad mini

 

Performance

Armed with the same A12 Bionic system-on-chip, the iPad mini and iPad Air are equals when it comes to speed. Neither stuttered as I split their screens between half a dozen Safari tabs and a 1080p YouTube video.

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Their Geekbench 4 scores — the iPad Air earned an 11,471, less than 50 points shy of the iPad mini's 11,515 — are practically the same. The Air's 77,385 score on 3D Mark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark was similarly close to the iPad mini's 78,045.

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Fortnite ran equally fast and crisp on both iPads, with smooth movement as I rotated the camera around my soldier as they descended from the Battle Bus and ran across the treacherous terrain.

Winner: Tie

Special Features

One of the biggest differences between 2019's iPad mini and the Air is found in its accessory support. While both support the Apple Pencil (a $99 extra), only the iPad Air has the proprietary port needed for using Apple's Smart Keyboard ($159).

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While both iPads support external Bluetooth keyboards, access to Apple's proprietary models is a huge perk. Not only do they pair effortlessly and not need batteries, but they fold onto the face-side of the slate for ultimate portability.

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Both the iPad Air and mini also sport the same Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which I would have liked to see upgraded to Face ID.

Winner: iPad Air

Battery Life

The iPad Air and mini both boast lengthy endurance, but one reigns supreme. The iPad mini lasted 12 hours and 40 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing at 150 nits), which is almost an hour longer than the iPad Air's time of 11:54.

Winner: iPad mini

Value

If size and accessories are no matter, but your budget dictates your needs, the iPad mini is the best option for you. At $399, it's $100 cheaper than the $499 iPad Air, while still boasting the same processor, a slightly brighter screen and almost an hour of additional battery life.

Winner: iPad mini

Overall Winner

  iPad mini iPad Air
Design (10) 8 8
Display (20) 19 17
Audio (10) 8 10
Performance (20) 19 19
Special Features (10) 6 10
Battery Life (20) 18 17
Value (10) 9 8
Overall (100) 87 89

Winner: iPad Air, barely

These iPads are similar but different enough for us to name a winner. While the iPad mini edges the Air out in certain categories, the larger tablet's Smart Keyboard support gives it a clear advantage for power users. But if your bag is on the smaller side, or you need to use your tablet outside and need the brightest screen you can get, I would definitely recommend the iPad mini for your next purchase. But overall, though, the iPad Air is the better of Apple's latest tablets.

Credit: Laptop Mag 

Author Bio
Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey,
Henry is a senior writer at Laptop Mag, covering security, Apple and operating systems. Prior to joining Laptop Mag — where he's the self-described Rare Oreo Expert — he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. You can find him at your local pro wrestling events, and wondering why Apple decided to ditch its MagSafe power adapters.
Henry T. Casey, on