Which iPad Mini To Buy? [Buying Guide]

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Which iPad mini to pick?
Which iPad mini to pick? You probably only want the $329 model.

Starting November 2nd, Apple fans will finally be able to buy themselves an iPad mini, Apple’s diminutive new 7.9-inch tablet with an A5 chip, a 1024 x 768 display, a 5MP camera and that comes in the usual flavors of between 16 and 64 gigabytes and in white or black.

So which iPad mini is right for you?

We’ll make it easy for you. Across the board, for almost everyone, the cheapest iPad mini — the $329 Wi-Fi only model in black — is the one most worth considering. There are some exceptions worth considering though. Here’s why.

Let’s break it down. The following matrix recommends which iPad mini model is right for certain types of customers, depending upon what they are going to use it for and which previous iOS devices they own.

If This Is Your First iPad If You Already Have An iPad 2 / 3 If You Have  Just An iPhone 4 / 4S / 5 If You Have Both An iPad & iPhone
Gamer 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329)
Photography & Video 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329)
Reader 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329)
Artistic 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329)
Professional 32GB Wi-Fi + Cellular Black ($559) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329)
Internet addict 32GB Wi-Fi + Cellular White ($559) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 32GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329)
Media lover 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($429) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 32GB Wi-Fi Black ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi Black ($329)
Parent 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329) 16GB Wi-Fi White ($329)

Here is the rationale we used when coming up with this chart.

The iPad mini is mostly a device aimed at people who are making it their first tablet. If you’ve got a full-sized iPad, the larger, clearer display is going to be better in most circumstances for browsing the web, playing games, reading books and comics, typing, word processing, editing photos, and so on.

As such, we feel that the iPad mini is a supplementary, not essential, device to individuals who already have an iPad, and that existing iPad owners can usually get away with simply buying the cheapest iPad mini, the 16GB Wi-Fi only model for $329.

What if you don’t have an iPad, though? Then we think it depends on two things: what you plan to do with your iPad mini, and whether or not you have an iPhone. If you have an iPhone, but no iPad, we with a few exceptions recommend upgrading to a 32GB iPad mini, but avoiding the cellular tax by tethering the Wi-Fi only model to your iPhone.

Here are our explanatory notes for determining which iPad mini is right for which type of user:

Gamer: Gaming is one of the most demanding activities you can do on an iPad when it comes to using up your storage space. A game like Infinity Blade or Galaxy On Fire 2 can takeup over 1GB of storage. If your iPad mini is your only iOS gaming device, then, you need a minimum of 32GB of space, or you’ll constantly be juggling apps. As for the color, we recommend black as a natural letterbox to help immerse you in the action.

Photography + Video: Photography, and video especially, ends up taking up a lot of storage room on an iDevice, and because of its 5MP camera and smaller size, the new mini is probably the best digicam replacement in Apple’s iOS line-up outside of the iPhone. If the iPad mini is your ownly device, then, we recommend starting at 32GB, Wi-Fi only. If not, we recommend a 16GB model only if you have an iPhone with a better or equivalent camera to the iPad mini’s. Here, we again think black is the color you should choose for its natural letterboxing effect, making it easier to see your photos and videos.

Reader: Some people have been holding out for the iPad mini as a fancier kindle: a portable tablet to do mostly e-reading. Since most of what I do on my tablet is reading, that’s why I’m buying one. E-books, however, are rarely space intensive, and even Newsstand pubs rarely clock in at too massive a size. There’s little reason to buy anything more than a 16GB iPad mini here. We recommend white, since it looks more like the extensions of a page’s margins, and helps immerse you in your books.

Artistic: If you’re a musician and want to write tunes in GarageBand, an editor who wants to sketch out movies in iMovie or a designer who wants to sketch out ideas in drawing apps, or if you are otherwise a creator of content, not just a consumer of it, 32GB is the least you can get away with. You need enough of a scratch disk so that you can fill your iPad with ideas, and unfortunately, the files created by many artistic apps are pretty big. The color we recommend is black, because of letterboxing.

Professional: If you’re a business user and the iPad mini is your first iOS device, you probably need that cellular connection, and 32GB of storage to manage all your work files and PDFs. We’re recommending the 32GB iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular as the baseline, in black, just to play it safe.

Internet addict: If you love browsing the web and checking Twitter and Facebook, you’re going to need a iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular if you don’t have another iOS device. We say 32GB is the least iPad mini to consider, simply because apps are constantly getting bigger and 16GB doesn’t give you much wiggle room. We recommend a white model, for easier reading.

Media lover: Do you have a massive iTunes library? Have a ton of videos that you want to watch? If the iPad mini is your first iPad, you’re going to need at least 32GB to get by. Black’s the best choice here, since the black borders on an iPad mini will look like an extension of a video’s letterbox effect.

Parent: If you’re a parent, and want an iPad mini so it can mostly be handled by your kids, we recommend a 16GB iPad mini Wi-Fi only across the board. Why spend more on something your kids might easily break? We’re recommending white as the best choice, just because we think it’s friendlier and less stolid to kids.

Black or white? As for which color you should buy, black or white, there was some confusion in the comments about why we were recommending black or white in certain circumstances. To reiterate the rationale stated above and expound upon it a bit, white is a better choice if you’re mostly going to be reading text on a device, because it blends in with the page margins, effectively extending the page. Black, on the other hand, is a better choice for people using primarily visual apps, since it functions as an extension of standard letterboxing and offers better contrast for a wider range of colors.

Obviously, which iPad mini someone chooses to buy is a highly subjective matter, and the iPad mini that is right for you might be completely different than the iPad mini that is right for someone else. This chart is only intended to be  baseline buying advice for people trying to make a choice as to the minimum iPad mini that matches their requirements, not an argument that the 64GB iPad mini Wi-Fi + Cellular in white you are planning on buying tomorrow is “wrong.” Even so, if you disagree with any of our rationale below, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.