Answering the debate: The iPad vs. the iPad Mini

What is your current impression of the iPad Mini vs. the regular size iPad? Mine was, before Tuesday, that for an uber-user like myself the iPad Mini was too small and too “not-retina” to replace the regular size iPad (I’m just calling it the “iPad” going forward in this post). But after using the iPad Mini all day Tuesday, my impression has changed dramatically.

I had held a few iPad Minis since they came out but never had the chance to use one for a long period of time to get a true sense of the device. My impression was that it was not large enough for me to be able to really work on it and therefore wouldn’t replace the iPad in my gadget arsenal. But as I’ve learned in the past, until you really use a device (like the way I forced myself to use the Windows 7 phone for two weeks when it came out), you really won’t know if its a good fit for you or not.

So I borrowed an iPad Mini, set it up with all of my apps and settings, and spent this past Tuesday only using it. No iPad, no laptop. And Tuesday was a great day for trial as I was traveling in-and-out of New York so I was able to test it in pretty much every scenario.

I’ve put the notes that I took below but I thought I’d jump to my conclusion: The only time the iPad is better than the iPad Mini is when you are sitting at a table or desk. Otherwise, the iPad Mini wins out in every scenario. Even without the retina screen.

I should make a few other points of context before I dive into the notes.

  1. When I’m creating content I almost always use a laptop. Writing blogs, working on presentations, creating Word/Pages documents, etc, are all things I still prefer to do on a laptop. I can and have done them on an iPad, but I try hard not to do that. I mostly consume content – blogs, articles, books and video – and read/respond to email.
  2. I don’t take notes digitally in meetings. I’ve written before about my love for the Evernote Moleskine and why I prefer taking notes on paper. So the iPad isn’t something I use in meetings much.
  3. I went into this a huge retina snob. I have the 15” Retina Macbook Pro, the newest (retina) iPhone and the Retina iPad 4. My assumption going into this was even if the iPad Mini is great, I’m going to wait until the retina one because the quality won’t be very good.

Ok, here are my notes having spent a day with the iPad Mini

I was stuck in a middle seat on the airplane as I pulled out the iPad Mini for the first time on Tuesday. This thing is made for the middle seat on an airplane from a size perspective. Holding and using it while my arms were pinned to my sides thanks to the two huge dudes I was sitting next to was pretty easy.

The Walking Dead, my new obsession since @ratpack convinced me to dive in, however, is not made for a middle seat on an airplane. It freaks people out, so I learned. But watching a show on the iPad Mini was far better than I expected.

I could barely tell the screen wasn’t retina when watching the movie. I think its because the screen is smaller and therefore more dense, but either way this was a pleasant surprise. I expected that to be the deal-breaker, but it wasn’t at all.

It’s nice that the same apps that run on the iPad also run on the iPad Mini but some of the apps need to be optimized for this size. The Mail and Safari apps, for instance, have some buttons that are now very tiny on the iPad Mini. I think Apple needs to focus on a few of their core apps and redesign them a little for the Mini. But otherwise, most of the apps I used were great. Evernote, for instance, is awesome on the Mini, as are my reading favorites: Flipboard and Reeder.

Typing overall is a good experience and I prefer it over the iPad itself (Sans keyboard, that is. I’m a huge bluetooth keyboard + iPad fan). The keyboard is very easy to use in portrait mode which is how I used the iPad Mini the entire day other than watching video and surfing the web. The keys are easier to reach with your thumbs than on the iPad. Which again points to my conclusion, if you’re sitting a desk you can use the iPad + bluetooth keyboard and its a pretty solid laptop replacement, but any other time you have to type directly on the iPad and in those cases, the iPad Mini beats it handily – pun intended.

The battery life is incredible. I used it the entire flight from Atlanta to New York (two hours), watching video, browsing the web, emailing, reading a book, etc, and it was only down to 92%.

Because most of the time you hold the iPad in your hand, gaming is great on the iPad Mini. I didn’t notice any problem with the size of the screen with the two games I tested – Fieldrunners 2 and Letterpress. Nor did I notice any lag in performance, though I imagine if you played the more intense games like Infinity Blade (which I don’t) you might experience a performance drop.

Reading is obviously far superior on the iPad Mini. It’s smaller and lighter, more like the Kindle. I’m guessing its still not as good as the Kindle Paperwhite for simply reading but its a far step up from the larger iPad. This is the one time I noticed the non-retina display as text really pops off the page on a retina device. However, it wasn’t very noticeable and I quickly forgot about it as I continued reading.

Web browsing is not as good on the iPad Mini in most cases. It’s not a far drop off, and its better when you’re actually reading articles, but the smaller size makes searching, online shopping, etc, more difficult. The buttons on websites are very small and at times difficult to click, however I found that if I switched to landscape mode it was a far better experience. Browsing the web isn’t something I do a ton of on the iPad, so I’m not as worried about that aspect.

Final conclusion:

I realized during this experiment that most of the time I’m using the iPad in one of the three scenarios: when traveling (on an airplane, at a hotel), on the couch or reading in bed. There are rare times when I use it at a desk or want to have it in a meeting, but otherwise its not even close – the iPad Mini is far better (for me), even with its non-retina screen. And I really did not expect that to be my feeling after only a day of use.

For that reason I believe it might be a better fit in my life than the regular size iPad. I feel like with the iPad Mini and the Macbook Pro I’ll have the best of both worlds – a great mobile experience and a great desk experience. And yes, when the retina comes out, I’ll probably definitely switch to that, too.


  1. Noah Echols on December 20, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Your last paragraph is probably the most interesting to me. I’ve tried to use the iPad as a mobile device, and I just can’t. It’s too big to carry around, although I do tote it between work and home just as I do my Macbook Pro. And I tried a Kindle Fire because of its smaller size and I still couldn’t comfortably carry it around. I’ve found that I’ve almost entirely abandoned my personal laptop for my iPad at home, save for the occasional need for photoshop or Illustrator, but I still need a solid smartphone for a real mobile experience.

  2. Michelle Batten on December 21, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Jeff – nice write up on Apple’s dynamic tablet duo! I can definitely see the benefits of having a lighter, more nimble device when you are traveling. However, I’m wondering – will we be able to keep up with having a potential arsenal of devices? In other words, I now have potentially 2 smartphones (one for personal, one for work), 2 tablets (mini and regular) and a lap/desktop computer – so to me, the interoperability of data, apps, etc. is going to have to be extremely seamless not to mention the human aspect of remembering to pack and take the right thing with its charging accoutrements every time you leave the house ;) Ah, the joys of 21st century road warrior-dom.

  3. Richard Guy on December 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Alright, that does it. I’m selling my iPad 3 and buying a Mini. If I end up regretting it, I’ll simply blame you and refer to this post! ;)

  4. Kendrick Disch on January 1, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    I love my Ipad Mini! I never did get comfortable with the size of the regular ipad, as it wasn’t really one handed friendly and I usually just preferred to use my phone instead (I think we even had a brief conversation about that!). The first time I held the mini in my hand I knew it was the better device for me. I agree with most of your points above, so I won’t elaborate further. I have yet to buy a case for the mini… anyone have one they love?

  5. […] was almost a year ago that I made the switch to the iPad Mini. I did that for the following […]

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