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iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3

iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3

Apple has unleashed two new tablets for 2014 and 2015, the iPad mini 3 and the iPad Air 2. If you own an older iPad, you’re holding onto a has-been, folks.

But if you’re thinking about buying a tablet, or upgrading from a current one, which should you buy?

We’re going to compare Apple’s two new tablets to find out which you should buy: the iPad Air 2 or the iPad mini 3.
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iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3: Design

iPad mini 3: 7.5mm thick, 331g
iPad Air 2: 6.1mm thick, 437g

There’s a big, very obvious, difference between the iPad mini 3 and the iPad Air 2. As thin and light as the new Air is, the mini remains much more convenient to use if you want a tablet to take out with you every day. You’ll also find it easier to hold in one hand, simply by virtue of its lighter weight and lesser dimensions.

The iPad Air 2 weighs 437g, the iPad mini 3 331g. That’s a pretty big difference, especially after you’ve been holding these things up one-handed for 10 minutes.

Surprisingly, though, the iPad Air 2 is actually significantly thinner. It’s 6.1mm thick, making it the thinnest tablet we’ve ever seen. The thinnest in the world, according to Apple.
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Both of these tablets use the Touch ID sensor you may have used on one of Apple’s iPhones. This is the first time we’ve seen the fingerprint scanner introduced in its tablets, and Apple isn’t messing about – all the new-generation tablets have one.

With each model, you can choose between dark grey, silver and gold versions. It’s the gold version that’s new – it’s only been available in the iPhone series to date.

The one other key difference is something most people won’t notice. The iPad Air 2 has a barometer, the iPad mini 3 doesn’t. Should you care?

No, probably not.
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iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3: Screen

iPad mini 3: 7.9-inch 2048 x 1536-pixel IPS screen
iPad Air 2: 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536-pixel IPS screen

The screen sizes of these two tablets are exactly the same as they were on last year’s models. With the iPad Air 2 you get a 9.7-inch screen, with the iPad mini 3 a 7.9-inch one.

As both screens use the same 2048 x 1536 resolution, pixel density is actually significantly higher in the smaller tablet. It’s one spec point where the iPad mini 3 can claim a victory.

In other respects, though, the iPad Air 2 display is a good deal more advanced. Firstly, it uses a new screen lamination process. What this means is that the display’s layers are fused together, getting rid of the air gaps that exist in the previous models, and in the iPad mini 3.

iPad mini 3

This should give the iPad Air 2 that bit more image ‘pop’ than the iPad mini 3, which is a good win for the more expensive tablet. We’ll have to wait to get our review units in to see if, like the iPad mini with Retina display, the iPad mini 3 also offers slightly worse colour performance.

There’s yet another bonus for the iPad Air 2 as well – a new anti-reflective coating. This will make it better to use outdoors, and even indoors if there’s strong lighting.

The iPad mini 3’s seeming display superiority doesn’t last long – it’s outclassed by the iPad Air 2.  iPad mini 3 9

iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3: CPU and RAM

iPad mini 3: Apple A7 CPU
iPad Air 2: Apple A8x CPU

With its Apple A8X CPU, we see the iPad Air 2 once again pull ahead of the mini model.

With the iPad mini with Retina display last year, the two sizes of iPad achieved a degree of parity. That’s gone, and Apple has reestablished the hierarchy: the iPad Air 2 is the top-end model the iPad mini 2 a mid-range one.

The iPad Air 2 uses the Apple A8X CPU, a tweaked version of the processor used in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Rather disappointingly, the iPad mini 3 uses the same Apple A7 processor as the last iPad mini.

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Apple says you get a 2.5x improvement in GPU speed and a 60 per cent improvement in CPU power with the A8X. It’s a huge difference, and puts the iPad mini 3 in quite a weak position.

Looking to the future, both chipsets have a 64-bit architecture so longer-term support shouldn’t be a problem. However, you’re likely to see graphical effects in the iPad Air 2 that are simply left out of the iPad mini 2.

iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3: Storage

iPad mini 3: 16/64/128GB
iPad Air 2: 16/64/128GB

It’s mostly business as usual for storage in the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. There’s no memory card slot in either, and memory upgrades are fairly pricey.

Apple is trying to get us to opt for the larger-capacity models, though. It has ditched the 32GB model, which was previously the mid-level upgrade for people who didn’t want to splash out too much, but also didn’t want to make do with a meagre 16GB.

You can still get a 16GB model, but the capacities then ramp up to 64GB and 128GB. If you can afford it we recommend upgrading as 16GB really doesn’t stretch too far on an iPad if you like gaming.
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iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3: Cameras

iPad mini 3: 5-megapixel camera, f/2.4 lens, 1.2MP front camera
iPad Air 2: 8-megapixel camera, f/2.4 lens, 1.2MP front camera

As well as losing out on processor power and the screen upgrades seen in the iPad Air 2, the iPad mini 3 misses out on the camera improvements of the larger tablet.

Where the iPad Air 2 has an 8-megapixel main camera, the mini has a 5-megapixel main camera and a 1.2-megapixel front one, just like its predecessor.

Apple also says that the Air 2’s A8X CPU provides a better image signal processor, which should be able to combat the extra noise that can be produced when dealing with a higher-resolution sensor.

You also get some extra modes in the iPad Air 2, ones that apparently the iPad mini 3 can’t handle. These extras are slo-mo video and a burst mode for photos.

Neither of these cameras can really compete with a good mobile phone camera, but the iPad Air 2 camera is clearly better than the iPad mini 3’s.iPad mini 3 13

iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3: Anything Else to Consider?

The iPad Air 2 offers Wi-Fi 802.11ac support where the iPad mini 3 is stuck with good old 802.11n. While ac is a neat addition, we don’t think this is something to hinge your buying decision on.

Early Verdict

These 2014 models see the iPad mini get a bit of a demotion. The iPad mini 3 is now clearly, unavoidably lower specced than the iPad Air 2 in a number of respects. Last year, the smaller and larger Apple tablets were much more evenly matched.

Apple seems to be trying to lead more buyers towards the iPad Air 2, and we think it’s a tactic that should work for enthusiasts. A more advanced screen and much more power on tap make the Air the more exciting tablet this year.

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