Retina iPad Mini Vs. Slimmer iPad 5: Which One’s Best For You?

Eliminate the bezels, and the big iPad isn't that much bigger than the mini.

Eliminate the bezels, and the big iPad isn’t that much bigger than the mini.

There will almost certainly be new iPads this fall, and the Apple Predictotron in the CoM basement says that we’ll see a Retina-screen iPad mini, plus a thinner, smaller iPad 5 – a kind of enlarged iPad mini, complete with tiny side bezels.

Which might create a dilemma. You see, Like many folks I have all but ditched my large iPad for the mini. I still long for that amazing screen whenever I pick up the Retina iPad 3, but the mini is so just so damn convenient I choose it over the big version every time.

But what if the iPad 5 is small enough to compete with the mini?

The mini is my constant companion. Pretty much the only time I leave the house without it is if I’m going to the beach or heading out to grab an excellent takeaway pizza from the place around the corner – you have to wait outside in a dodgy spot, and so I take my lower-value Kindle instead.

Other than that, I use the mini for everything: reading, writing, e-mail, video, web browsing, photo-editing, you name it. The only thing I use the iPad 3 for is watching movies, partly for the bigger screen, and partly because HD video looks amazing on that Retina display.

That’s not to say the mini is better at all those things. It’s just that it’s good enough, and the tiny, lightweight body makes it super convenient to carry everywhere, and to use for long periods. Here’s a list of the times I wish I had a Retina display on the mini:

  • Reading
  • Viewing photos

Short, huh? Surprisingly I don’t feel the need for higher resolution when I edit pictures, only when I view them. This might be down to editing on the iPad, where I work in broader strokes than I would on the Mac.

What I do miss is a bigger screen. Here’s another list, this time of things that work better (for me) on the big iPad’s almost–11-inch screen:

  • Viewing photos
  • Editing photos
  • Typing
  • Watching movies
  • Reading comics

You may be starting to see the shape of my dilemma. When the mini launched, it was up against the huge, fat iPad 3, a monster that was actually thicker and heavier than its predecessor thanks to the giant battery needed to power its Retina display, and which needed a whole night to charge. But if the iPad 5 is lighter and thinner and almost bezel-free like the mini, then the boundaries blur. No longer is it “big and heavy and Retina” vs. “small and almost weightless but low-res.” The whole choice comes down to screen size.

Of course, this assumes that the mini gains a Retina display without getting fatter or heavier, and that it also gets a boost to the RAM so that it’s not dumping apps and relaunching them all the time. But those seem given. After all, the mini’s USP is its size and weight. I figure Apple would be more likely to skip the Retina than to make the mini heavier, but the new “retina” Nexus from Google makes that unlikely too.

So which one will I choose?

I’m donating my iPad 3 to the Lady (I already have done, in fact) so we can use that for watching movies and TV. And while I prefer typing on the bigger 9.7-inch screen, I can do it easily enough on the mini; and as the CoM reviews edior I always have a few iPad keyboards around the place.

And I figure the Retina display and a chunk of RAM will fix up most of my other moans about the mini. Then again, if the iPad 5 is super slim and light, why not enjoy the extra screen size, with almost no weight or portability penalty?

But when it comes down to it, I’m gonna have to head over to an Apple Store and try them both out in person. When I picked up the mini for the first time, I know I would buy one. And that’s how it works Apple gear: In the end it’s not about the specs, no matter how many tables you draw up to compare them. It’s about how it feels when you use it.

If you happen to see me at the store, just do me one favor: If it looks like I’m about to buy both, then please stop me.

  • kid_slickarus

    One minor correction, the full size ipad is 9.7″, not 10.7″.

  • Adrayven

    If they did get the 9.7″ down in weight and thickness, it would be hard for me.. but in the end.. I can drop the mini into my coat pocket.. I can’t do that with a standard iPad.. not even if it’s slimmed down unless I buy a ‘special’ coat and cloths to do it. lol

    I want/need that ultra portability, because I do take the thing with me just about everywhere.

  • Scott

    I’ve been using the iPad 3 since launch day, and ever since I had a chance to use an iPad Mini at work, I’ve been waiting to replace my full-sized iPad with a Mini – as soon as it had Retina, and a more up-to-date processor.

    The Mini is better for taking notes on the go (holding the unit and two-thumb typing), which I something I find myself needing to do more often than not.

    I love having the full-sized iPad for wireframing and diagraming, but the Mini – for me, anyway – is the better choice for 90% of what I do.

  • ryboflavan

    Yeah you were like “almost 11″ ipad” and I was like “huh?”

  • ryboflavan

    I desperately want the iPad 5 to be unveiled on Sept 10th but I am not holding my breath. I have been saving up for a new iPad for about a year and a half now and I keeping adding money to an apple gift card that I have. Here is my dilemma, I have almost $600 dollars ready to go and I was planning on purchasing whatever was to be the 4th iPad. I crazily assumed that it would be the one that got a full revamp not a three generation old design with just bumped up specs. I was supremely disappointed with iPad 4 and I decided to wait the long haul for a 5th Gen device. Surely this finally has to be the one that gets lighter and thinner and all around better. I only waited because I will keep the same iPad for at least 4 years before upgrading. I just recently sold my iPad 1, for example (to put towards the new one) So longevity of iOS upgrades are important to me. If iPad 5 releases with iOS7 I will most likely get and upgrade to at least iOS9 and maybe a dumbed down version of iOS10. Thus extending the freshness and usability of my device. My wife has an iPad 2 and it feels so heavy and bulky after holding it for a while. I cant imagine using a 3 or 4 that is even heavier! I have been waiting quite a while for this new iPad 5, I can almost taste it! My body is SOOOOOOO ready!

  • sakadafreak

    Definitely iPad mini with retina display, the iPad is too big.

    Btw really love the wallpaper in the iPad mini above, where can i get that?

  • MarcusV

    I love that you spelled “editor” wrong.

  • silverlik

    Correction: “big iPad’s almost–11-inch screen:” nope… it is 9.7″, so it is almost 10″
    I will grab Retina Mini… Already have iPad 3, no need another big ipad.

  • iMobileRescue

    Both! The mini with retina will be awesome, and the new design on iPad 5 will be cool to have. Particularly for us though, learning the internals is paramount! So we’ll get them just because of that.

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About the author

Charlie Sorrel Charlie Sorrel is the Reviews Editor here on Cult of Mac. Follow Charlie  on Twitter at @mistercharlie.

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