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Which to buy: iPad vs. iPad mini, or wait for next generation updates?

Sections: Features, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Opinions and Editorials

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Macworld UK’s David Price has posted an omnibus guide to addressing questions those facing the iPad vs. iPad mini conundrum may have. Specifically, do you go with the iPad 4 with Retina display, the iPad 2, or the iPad mini? Or, is it prudent to wait for the iPad mini 2 or iPad 5? Should you even get a new iPad at all if you already have one?

iPad vs. iPad mini

What storage capacity should you go with? Will Wi-Fi be adequate, or do you need cellular connectivity?

The overview answer is along the lines of “different strokes for different folks,” and there’s no one size fits all solution. The right iPad for you depends on your needs and tastes.

First, do you need one at all?

I dithered about this for a year before deciding to take the plunge with an iPad 2, and I’ve never regretted it. My first love is still my Mac laptops, but I’ve become totally addicted to the iPad and would now hate to be without it, although it remains very much a complementary device to my anchor Macs. In my estimation, trying to replace a PC totally with an iPad would simply impose too many compromises and limitations.

Other than the obvious portability advantages, there’s really not anything you can do with an iPad that you can’t do—probably more efficiently—with a MacBook, so in that sense I agree with David Price when he says he’s not convinced anyone truly needs an iPad, noting that more than a computer, it feels like a luxury device. While you can derive great joy from one, “need” is a strong word. However, an exception (and likely a fairly common one) is that if your computing requirements are simple and rudimentary—mainly email, web browsing, word processing, games, perhaps a bit of photo optimization and so forth—you can probably stick with the PC you have and rely on a new iPad instead for the bulk of your computing activity, saving some money in hardware capitalization.

Do you already own a 2nd gen iPad?

Price notes that if you already own an iPad, the issue gets a little more complicated, and it depends on what you’ve got. The original, first-generation iPads April 2010 are well past their “best before …” date, especially being as they can’t run iOS 6, much less the forthcoming iOS 7, so that locks you out of more and more new and updated app software.

Some full-size iPad owners may be hankering after the iPad mini, but in practical terms, the mini offers only iPad 2 performance (its better camera being an exception).

Or do you already own a 3rd gen iPad?

If you have a third-generation iPad, there is little objective sense in upgrading to an iPad 4. The 4 does have a faster processor and Apple’s new Lightning interface connector (the latter may be a mixed blessing if you have 30-pin interface peripherals). But he third-generation iPad has the same Retina display as the 4th-gen, and the two models are otherwise comparable.

Should you wait for the iPad 5 or iPad mini 2?

What about the rumored iPad 5 and iPad mini 2? The latest scuttlebutt is that they will be along in September or possibly October, the second generation mini perhaps a little earlier (my hunch is that it will be both in late September).

On Monday, Max Wang and Adam Hwang reported at Digitimes that trial production of the 5th-generation 9.7-inch iPad will begin soon, with volume production to begin in July. Monthly shipments ramping up to 2-3 million units, and the product will hit Apple Store and reseller shelves in September, according to Taiwan supply chain insider sources.

Wang and Hwang say the new iPad’s Retina display will remain at 2,048 x 1,536 resolution, the same as the screen used in the 4th-generation model, except that the latest iteration will be is built on a glass substrate of 0.2mm, thinner than the 0.25mm one used in the 4th-generation device. Plus, the iPad 5′s enclosure will indeed have a narrow bezel, according to the rumors.

The reporters further note that the touch panel solution for the 5th-generation iPad is GF2 (1 layer of glass and two layers of ITO film) instead of the G/G bonding used in the 4th-generation iPad. According to sources, it will be illumined by one LED light bar for backlighting, compared to the two LED light bars used in the 4th-generation iPad. I understand why Apple is doing this, given the success of the iPad mini and the popularity of 7-8-inch tablets in general, but It sounds like compromise is likely on ruggedness and optimum backlighting, neither of which is, for my purposes, a worthwhile tradeoff for the 25-33% lighter weight and trimmer dimensions than the 4th-generation model. If there were also any substantial power or features enhancements with Generation 5, I would be obliged to reconsider, but for now it looks like I’ll be upgrading to a 4th-gen iPad

Already have an iPhone and/or iPod touch?

David Price explains that the full-sized iPad is an all-purpose portable computing device, capable of word processing, photo editing and relatively complex 3D gaming. It’s absolutely capable of content creation, a point on which I’m in qualified agreement considering I do a lot of content creation on mine these days, but it’s still frustratingly compromised compared to a Mac or PC in that context.

The iPad mini, on the other hand, is more of a content consumption device. I agree. If your main interest is getting real work done as efficiently as possible, consider a MacBook Air instead.

What about specs?

As Price notes, the fourth-generation iPad is the fastest, most powerful iPad thats been made to date. No matter which way you go, Price advocates buying as much storage as you can afford. I agree in theory, but in practice I have lots of free space on my 16GB iPad 2 after two years of intensive use. However, I don’t have large music or video collections.

As for cellular, you probably know if it makes sense for you. I’ve been perfectly happy with Wi-Fi only support.

Conclusion (of sorts)

Price thinks think its increasingly difficult to make a compelling argument for buying the iPad 2, and I agree. As I noted, I’d really like to have an iPad 4, and may well end up with one as my next upgrade once 4s make it into the Apple refurbished stream and after I see what the iPad 5 has to offer.

Read [Should I buy an iPad mini or an iPad 4?]

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