iPad Air or Retina iPad Mini - Thinking Out Loud

Before Apple's event on October 22, I was sure of one thing — my second generation iPad was going to find itself a new home1. I was also pretty sure that I'd be buying the then rumoured iPad mini (coming from the heavy iPad 2, I so craved the lightness of the mini).

Fast forward a couple of hours and I was more confused than ever. Apple had blurred the lines between the two devices. No longer would I need to sacrifice power to carry around a lighter device, nor would I have support the burden of a heavyweight gadget to gain that little bit extra power — I was confused.

To make matters worst, I was constantly receiving a barrage of reports from the trenches. Friends, colleagues and strangers alike, marvelled at the wondrous weight (or lack thereof) of the new iPad Air and carried on about how they had missed the extra screen real estate of the larger display. My resolve to get the mini started swaying.

Finally I realised that the only way to decide was to break it down by my usage; after all that is why I'm getting an iPad — to use it. As Federico Viticci so eloquently put it, it's no longer a matter of do I need a more powerful device or do I need a lighter device. Both are now equally powerful and closely weighted. So it's just a matter of finding which one suits me best.

Breaking It Down

As like most people out there, I use my iPad for both Work and Entertainment, so obviously those will be the two main groups. Work however can be further broken down into my day job, where I work as a Systems Administrator (yeah those guys that usually complain about your email being over quota). And my night shift gig where I happily write for AppStorm and Mactuts+.

The Day Shift

For my day job, I'm usually on my Mac most of the day, yet my iPad sits readily at hand. I often have Actions2 open to facilitate a few things things and if I'm summoned into a meeting It's ready to go, for taking notes and brainstorming problems. With the exception of Actions, the larger screen is beneficial for note taking and viewing the mind map, so score a point for the Air.

On the rare occasions that I have to go to one of our data centres to get some hands on work done, I'll take the iPad with me for quick access to servers. Be it via ssh or remote desktop. Here, I'd call it a tie since the larger screen real estate of the Air is better for viewing remote screens and console sessions. The slightly lighter mini would make it easier to carry though.

Another aspect of my day jobs requires that I be on call 24/7 during one week of the month, just to make sure things keep running smoothly. Needless to say, that during that week, the iPad follows me around like a love sick puppy. The mini would score extra points here. Although the Air is a mere 130g heavier than the mini, it does add up over time.

The Night Shift

When I get some free time in the evenings I'm fortunate enough to write for AppStorm and Mactuts+. Although I've been a naughty boy when it comes to deadlines lately (I promise I'll start to behave boss ;)), it's something I thoroughly enjoy doing and hope to do more of.

For the most part, writing is done on my Macbook Air. However, I've been drawing much inspiration from people such as Federico Viticci, Eric Prano and Phillip Gruneich to name a few. People that squeeze out every ounce of usefulness from their devices and with that newfound inspiration, I'm looking toward doing increasingly more work on my iPad.

The reasons are obvious. It's inherent portability means that I can pretty much pick it up and go, choosing to work where the creative juices will flow, or just take advantage of some dead time to finish up that next great piece (waiting in the car to pick up my kid — sound familiar).

Now that I've finished rambling, let me finally get to the point. A couple months ago, I wrote an opinion piece for iPad.AppStorm where I defended there was no need for external keyboard. I still stand by my reasoning and therefore I don't really see myself lugging around an external keyboard. So for that reason, I did some testing this weekend.

I hijacked my wife's mini for a couple of hours and simply wrote. Immediately two things jumped at me. 1. While I was able to touch type rather quickly in landscape (I hate thumb typing), I wasn't as fast as I was on the larger iPad. I was also more error prone (fortunately autocorrection isn't always evil) and this inevitably lead to a slower workflow. Instead of getting more done, I was getting less. 2. Given the reduced screen real-estate, I was also seeing less of what I had written. Often I would have to dismiss the keyboard or swipe up and down to re-read a paragraph of train of though. Once again, this was a little more time consuming than what I was accustomed to.

All that being said and done, it's a score for the larger iPad. I need the extra space to type quickly and comfortably and easily read what I've type and given that the Air is remarkably lighter, it won't be such a burden to pick up and go!


Checking email, surfing the web, looking in on my social networks, reading and watching some movies or series are what passes as entertainment for me on the iPad.

Checking email, surfing the web and chatting on twitter or ADN are typically all done in short bursts of time, so weight doesn't really factor in much. On the other hand, reading or watching some engaging content is usually something done for longer periods of time. Therefore, I often find myself snuggly and comfortably seated/laying down in such a manner that I can have my device propped, freeing my hands when needed.

Once again, weight doesn't factor in so much, the larger screen, which would undeniably provide a more immersive experience (it's no home theatre though). So score another point for the Air.

Taking Tally

If you managed to get this far, I commend you. If you've managed to keep score however — well then, you're simply brilliant. As for the rest of us, let me try and sum it up. Somehow, along the way I awarded 4 points to the Air, 2 points to the Retina iPad mini. Bear in mind that this rating is in no way reflective of each devices capabilitues but rather their usefulnes to me.

Breaking things down this way makes navigating through what seemed like murky waters, a trivial matter. I can now clearly see that the device for me is the iPad Air and that will therefore be the deviece I get. Hopefully this little though process will help you too.

  1. The new home isn't too far away since it'll ended up in my little girls room, nonetheless it's a new home.  

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