Which iPad Mini Should You Buy?

Oct 24, 2012 - 26 Comments

Which iPad Mini You Should Buy

Now that the iPad Mini has been added to Apple’s tablet lineup, you’re probably wondering which model you should buy. If you’re impatient and don’t want to read the justification, we’ll go ahead and suggest you should get the base model iPad Mini 16GB and probably in white. If you want more opinion as to why that model is generally the best, read on.

Color: Black or White?

Choosing the device color is probably the toughest decision. White devices are a pleasure to read on because the onscreen text seems to flow out of the borders, but black devices tend to emphasize whats on screen better and are better for watching video. Both devices look beautiful so some of this will be a matter of opinion, but due to the more scuff-prone nature of the black anodized iPhone 5, we’re going to assume the black anodized iPad Mini will be equally sensitive, making the white models appearance more durable. If you’re neurotic about a scratch here and there, get the white model, or get something like a ZAGG Shield.

Verdict: White if you care about scratches being less visible

Storage: Capacity Matters Less Than You Think

Here’s a little secret, I’m considered a power user and I have 10GB available on my 16GB iPad. In fact, with the exception of those who store a lot of movies on their iPads, I don’t know anyone who has used up the 16GB available on a base model iPad. The reasons are fairly simple; with the cloud, streaming services, and normal usage patterns, most users don’t need or use much storage on such devices. iPad is generally used more for media consumption than media storage, and the iPad Mini won’t be any different. Besides, most people use tablets for reading, whether that’s your favorite websites (osxdaily.com right?), saved articles in Pocket or Instapaper, or just tons of iBooks and ebooks, and none of that requires much of any storage capacity.

Verdict: 16GB is plenty

LTE: Don’t Pay for LTE Twice, Use Hotspot Tethering Instead

Question time: in this day and age, when do you not have your phone with you? Just about never, right? Well, your iPhone (or Android) already has 3G or LTE service, and all cell carriers offer Wi-Fi Hotspot tethering service to allow you to connect other devices to the phone and use it as a hotspot. Yes, that means the Wi-Fi only iPad Mini can get on the internet through your iPhone. As a result, there is very little reason to pay for LTE service twice, though there are exceptions to this rule for the data hungry, grandfathered unlimited plans, and some other situations.

Verdict: Skip it, use iPhone Hotspot instead

Resale: Base Models Hold Resale Value Best

If you ever plan on reselling the iPad Mini to upgrade down the road, the base models of iPads, iPhones, and iPods consistently hold the resale value the best. What initially costs $100 more to increase storage or $130 more to get LTE connectivity does not translate into equivalent price differences on the resale market, particularly for older hardware.

Verdict: Spend less now to save more long term

Wait: Do You Even Need an iPad Mini?

Let’s step back a minute, because this whole article assumes you’re in the market for an iPad Mini. Do you actually need one? Well, that probably depends on if you already own an iPad, what you use it for, what you want to use it for, and how many other people use it.

If you have a family who all fight over a single iPad, sure you could probably use an extra iPad and the iPad mini is a great choice.

If you already have an iPad and it only gets used by yourself, you probably don’t need an iPad Mini to go along with it unless the size difference is important.

If you don’t have an iPad at all, the Mini is a very compelling offering, but doesn’t yet offer the Retina display, which means there’s a chance the full sized iPad would be better for you instead (though we still recommend the base model). The retina vs non-retina decision is best made after seeing the screens in person so you can determine if the price and size difference is worth it, but generally speaking it’s hard to go back to a non-retina device after you’ve become accustomed to the ultra high resolution displays.

If you think you need an iPad Mini only because it’s the new shiny gadget, you probably don’t need one. Yet at least.

Finally, if you just bought an iPhone 5 and that excitement is still new, wait a few weeks, enjoy your new iPhone, and circle back on the idea.

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Posted by: AJ in iPad

26 Comments

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  1. Nick TLA says:

    Agree 100% on always buying simple model, but I would go with black instead because who cares about the scuffs when it’s amazing looking.

  2. Gordon says:

    How about: None!

    I already own an iPad 3, I would have sold it and got an iPad Mini if it was retina screened. Looks like I will wait another year instead.

  3. Dave McKee says:

    You and it appears Apple has overlooked that a wifi only mini does not have GPS functionality which severely restricts its use in mapping applications.

    • Jack says:

      Load up Google Maps on your Mac, it works really well right? Same thing, no GPS. Uses IP addresses and triangulation instead, surprisingly accurate given the limitation.

      • Adrian says:

        Yes but if you have downloaded maps to use offline – I use the ViewRanger app – and you are not in range of a wi-fi hotspot – you need GPS which (at least on the iPad 3) is only present on the 4G model.
        If you’re in an area where there is no mobile signal, using the iPhone wi-fi hotspot feature isn’t an option.

        For GPS in an iPad 3 you need the 4G model though you don’t need to have a SIM card installed.

  4. Mike Whless says:

    Very well written. Concise and useful. Not many reviewers would suggest getting fewer bells and whistles, not to mention to consider NOT buying the new toy. Good review!

  5. iAmManny says:

    Color: Black (All my iOS products have been black)

    Storage: I would say 32 gb. The 16 gb model starts off at 14 gb. Also, keep in mind that the iPad Mini will run iPad Apps, not iPhone Apps. iPad apps tend to use up more space. I love apps, I’ve filled up my 14 gb up with just apps, so the 32 gb (Actually 28 gb) is perfect! It’s better to have more of something, than less!

    LTE: Couldn’t agree more, you don’t need to pay for an extra data plan!

    Resale: For the most part, you know when a new Apple product is going to come out, if you sell your product a month in advance, you will get a good resale value. The 16 gb and 32 gb tend to keep their resale value the highest.

    Do you need an iPad Mini?: You necessarily don’t need one, but most people that read these sites are all about gadgets and will get one! :)

  6. William Scott says:

    I have an iPod 1, and, grudgingly, a “dumb” $10 Best Buy pay as you go tracfone. No iPhone or other “smart” phone. I was thinking of getting the iPad mini with cellular capability so that when traveling, for $50 for a contract-free month, I could use it to send texts and iMessages and use google voice occasionally. Would it make sense under these circumstances?

  7. David says:

    I’m really conflicted. I love my iPad but mainly for the screen, particularly it’s sharpness more than its size. The device itself though is just too big, too heavy and too cumbersome to use because of that. The mini looks perfect for me, something about the size and weight of my Kindle e-reader is exactly what I wanted. It’s such a great size and weighs barely anything meanwhile the screen won’t be too small for Internet use, updating Twitter or streaming Spotify. In fact typing on the portrait keyboard with this iPad mini should offer the best typing solution, a full size iPad is just too wide for typing with thumbs, an iPhone screen just a tad too narrow. Sadly though the screen on this iPad mini will definitely feel like a step down and that’s the only area giving me doubts. I think it might be painful to take that step down initially but I think on the whole it could be a more useful and just a far more pleasant device all round. I think I might trade down, from my 32GB iPad 3 to the base wifi mini, will still make some money back and have an iPad which for me fits into my lifestyle better. Oh and yes I will be crazy and upgrade to a retina equipped mini when one comes around. If that’s in 6 months time again then I might be just a little bit mad… Decisions decision :S

    • Chris says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more, if it had the retina screen I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it & probably never shown up on this forum – BUT, it doesn’t, so here I am. Just another thought I’ve been tossing around is that the original iPhone, 3G & 3Gs all had a PPI of around 132 or something like that. The iPad 3/4 Retina has a PPI of 264, and the iPad mini has a PPI of 163 – so it WILL look better than the original iPhone, which the 30 or so more PPI does make a bigger difference than it sounds. The iPhone 4/4s/5 all have PPI’s of 326 which is, admittedly, amazing & I LOVE the display on my iPhone 5. That being said, I am excited about the Mini, I think it will be an incredible product & I think it’s awesome that Apple decided to go ahead and make it. As of right now (3-1/2 hours before pre-orders go live) I’m planning on getting a 32GB Black iPad Mini with Wifi, and I ABSOLUTELY will upgrade again when they come out with the retina.

      PS – I’ve thought a few times that Apple probably decided NOT to go with a retina display because it’s such a new product, people will still buy it, then in 6 months or a year or whenever they update it, they’ll put the retina on it & a ton of people will upgrade to that because they already know how awesome the retina display is. After reading tons of reviews from people saying that Apple is evil for releasing the iPad 4 so quickly (because they bought the 3 & now feel like losers or something) I’ve decided that those people are all idiots. Apple sold you your iPad 3 as an iPad 3, not an investment or anything else. You may have bought it for a different reason but that’s not Apples fault. The fact of the matter is that Apple is the MOST VALUABLE COMPANY IN THE WORLD for a reason – they are incredibly smart when it comes to making decisions like this. It doesn’t make me mad that they are going to release a retina version of the mini sometime in the near future, even if it IS in 6 months – I’m HAPPY about it, I love to see the company continue to release awesome products & I’m happy to support their innovation & I can’t wait to see what they do throughout my life.

  8. Brrr says:

    Great article as usual, but I think I have to disagree with some of the points.

    • Our 32GB iPad is always FULL and it’s a pain to manage such a small SSD. Yes, we are carrying several movies around all the time, but that’s a big part of what we use it for, especially to keep our daughter occupied in the car. I would not even consider getting another iOS device of any kind with less than 64GB

    • I don’t really think most people need LTE either (and since I have unlimited tethering on my iPhone plan, I definitely don’t), but the GPS chip is only on the LTE version, and it’s pretty important. I’ve never seen a situation in my area where those wifi triangulation maps actually worked at all. On the highway at least, the only ones that work for me are the ones that use GPS like Motion X or Navigon.

    • Used low-spec hardware is harder to sell. If people can’t afford the newest item, they at least want the best older one they can get. Check ebay’s “completed listings” for iPad 2, and sort by highest price. 64GB/GPS units generally fetch several hundred dollars more than 16GB/wifi ones.

    • Jason says:

      I think you have nailed the exception to the storage rule perfectly: parents. Any parent on a long car ride knows how useful an iPad loaded up with movies and entertainment is to pass the time.

      There should be a note about the article: if you are a parent, get the most storage you can afford on that iPad.

  9. Ric says:

    Good article! I was curious about your statement:

    “there is very little reason to pay for LTE service twice, though there are exceptions to this rule for the data hungry, grandfathered unlimited plans, and some other situations.”

    I have a grandfathered unlimited data plan on AT&T. Why would an unlimited plan be an exception to your advice to dispense with LTE on the iPad Mini? Thanks!

    • Jason says:

      If you want to get Personal Hotspot on your iPhone you have to give up the unlimited data plan on AT&T and Verizon, so that’s a pretty significant trade off.

      • Ric says:

        Yikes! I didn’t know it worked that way. Thanks for the info.

        Man, I have trouble keeping up with the ever-changing rate plan landscape! Guess that’s why I haven’t given up my unlimited plan or my 200-texts-for-$5 plan. A lot of people use iMessage, but a lot of people don’t. Maybe I should rethink the whole thing.

        Thanks again!

  10. clasqm says:

    If you tether through your iphone, the GPS data comes along for the ride. This has been known for over a year, you can google it if you like, and I haven’t heard that the situation has changed with iOS6.

    My recommendation would be slightly different: either get the base model with 16GB and wifi only, or go for the full top of the line approach. Anything inbetween will sooner or later be irritating.

  11. Ken says:

    Am I the only one who finds hotspot tethering a pain? You have to manually enable it on your phone, connect your ipad’s wifi, and it chews through your phone battery like crazy.

    If I am gonna have to take out my iphone, I may as well use it for surfing than to hotspot my ipad.

    I suppose you are argue that there will be some inconvenience for monetary savings every month, but that seems to kinda defeat the purpose of having an instant-on device like the ipad.

  12. Alex says:

    Just for the last point, I don’t have an ipad and am planning on getting a mini, not because its cheaper, but because it is smaller and lighter. The ipad always seemed a bit big to me, so I’ve been waiting for a smaller one for a year. While the screen may not be ‘retina’ quality, it’s still good enough for me.

    • Chris says:

      The screen will definitely look good on the Mini, I think the biggest disappointment when it comes to the screen quality comes from people who already have the iPhone or iPad Retina display – the iPhone has a 326 PPI and it’s CRAZY smooth & looks amazing… the iPad Mini will have 163, that’s a big drop. At the same time, I can’t wait to get the iPad Mini & even though it’s NOT a retina, it will still look great & be a joy to use

  13. Rodney says:

    I actually disagree with some of the points in this article quite a bit. First of all, the lack of storage space even on the 64GB model has been an issue for me since the very first iPad. Apps alone could easily take up more than 64GB if I was able to do so. Many recent games weigh in at over 1GB each.

    I read comic books and those take up a fair amount of room, even though I delete them as soon as I finish an issue. Magazines in the Kindle app and a few books also take up space.

    Music and podcasts take lots of room as well. While I could spend lots of time debating what music to have loaded at any one time, I prefer to have access to my entire collection, which is a large advantage of digital music for me. As it is, I still have an iPod Classic due to the limited storage on even the top of the line iPod Touch. So, I end up having little or no music on my iPad and end up carrying the iPod with me as well.

    Then, if I want to load a movie or two to watch when flying on a business trip, those will take a good bit of room, especially when ripped from Blu-ray at reasonable quality instead of the relatively low resolution movies available for download from iTunes and elsewhere. I have to delete quite a few smaller apps in order to load even a single movie.

    I rarely have more than 1GB free and only when I mercilessly delete apps that it would be nice to have easy access to. It is easy to acquire large numbers of high quality apps if you pay attention to websites such as Appshopper.com which alert to price drops. Almost everything goes free or $.99 on sale at some point to attract sales. Given how bad iTunes is at managing large numbers of apps, it is really annoying to have to frequently swap these out. Especially given that games and other apps lose all data that is stored only on the iPad (or iPhone) when deleted from the device.

    Then there is the LTE issue. Tethering is possible, but as other people have pointed out, is rather annoying to make sure that it is enabled on the iPhone when needed without having to stop and reconfigure the phone and iPad to use it. One of the reasons to have the iPad is to be able to use it instantly when I want to look something up. LTE is much more convenient for that than Wifi (when I’m away from home or usual, known locations).

    I have Verizon’s minimal data plan on the iPad and never seem to go beyond that for the browsing and email that I mostly use the access for on the iPad. Plus, I have an AT&T iPhone so that I can use voice and data at the same time on that. The phone is with me everywhere and the iPad isn’t always. So that is important. Unfortunately, Verizon can’t do that yet, so I’m stuck with AT&T and their slower/less readily available LTE access on the iPhone right now. Cost of data plans is certainly a consideration, but I’ve found it worthwhile to have both of the data plans for now.

  14. Atthead says:

    I read comics – AT LEAST the 32GB version I suggest, and I really want to transfer my iGo GPS app to the new device, so would never buy a unit without GSM support.
    And, thanks to Apple, even if I a nice amount of GBs free, when updating in the appstore, pressing the update all button may result in a message saying I do not have the appropriate place free to make it… go for the 32 or 64 if you can, if not… dont buy Apple, really, and sorry.

  15. cheri says:

    I am excited for the iPad Mini, and it is definitely something I am going to upgrade to. I have a regular iPad now, but it is too heavy to carry around with me in my purse, so I have been shopping around for a smaller tablet. I have been looking for a while, but none of the other small tablets has been appealing to me, which I guess is because I already have an iPad. A co-worker at DISH told me about the iPad Mini a couple months ago, so I was looking up everything I could find on it. With having to travel a lot and always being on the go, I like to have my iPad with me so I can watch all my shows on the DISH Remote Access app. I can access my DVR and subscription channels and watch live TV. The smaller iPad would definitely work for that, and I can easily carry it with me everywhere I go. I have pre-ordered mine, and I cannot wait to get it!

  16. Rebecca says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s a way to SAVE ON DATA PLANS with a lightweight tablet, the Ipad Mini, IF SECURE WEB ACCESS MATTERS to you and you do not have a smart phone/data plan currently. (I’ve read online and talked extensively with my cell carrier, T-Mobile.)
    -Buy data access separately.
    -For equipment, get the lowest model: 16GB Wi-fi Only Ipad Mini
    -Also get a mobile wi-fi box ($125) e.g., from T-Mobile
    -Use T-Mobile’s $29.99 unlimited data plan (shows $10 savings from having a voice plan) which gives you password protected web access via your mobile wi-fi box — which seems to be 40% lower cost than via major carriers who cap your data at 5GB. In contrast, T-Mobile charges no overage here (since data is unlimited) and simply slows the speed after 5GB. This set-up saves over $360/year, which more than pays for the wi-fi box in the 1st year, and is perfect if you’re a web user away from home but not literally “on the go” i.e., while walking or driving. The box weighs 3.8 ounces, which keeps the Ipad Mini set-up at under a pound – a key factor is you dislike lugging weight. If you’re a New Yorker, be aware that T-Mobile is strengthening its network in the city in mid-Nov. (obviously a plus).

  17. N says:

    I disagree with your LTE advice. Having just endured more than four days without power thanks to Hurricane Sandy, having an LTE hotspot with much longer battery life than the iPhone would have been very helpful and well worth the extra cost. These devices are literally lifelines during such crises.

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