The iPad Air is no longer the runt of the litter. During its “Peek Performance” event, Apple gave its mid-range tablet the update it should have gotten six months ago. Now the iPad Air is up to date with the rest of Apple’s lineup, with a new processor, camera, and connectivity. But how does it compare with Apple’s other non-Pro tablets, the iPad and iPad mini? Here’s how they break down.
iPad Air vs iPad mini: Specs
8.3-inch Liquid Retina
10.9-inch Liquid Retina
12MP Ultra Wide
12MP Ultra Wide
12MP Ultra Wide
Silver, Space Gray
Starlight, Pink, Purple, Space Gray
Starlight, Pink, Blue, Purple, Space Gray
iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Design
The ninth-gen iPad has the same design as it’s had for many years. Like the iPhone SE, it has a home button, giant bezels, and a tapered design in the classic iPad colors, silver and space gray. It’s not a bad design, but it’s an old one. Due to the giant bezels, it’s as big as the iPad Air despite having a smaller screen and is also the heaviest of the three models here, clocking in at 1.07 pounds.
The iPad mini and iPad Air, on the other hand, are as modern as Apple’s tablets get. They have an all-screen design like the iPhone, with slim, uniform bezels, rounded display corners, and flat edges. They come in a variety of colors (see the Specs table above) and are otherwise basically identical other than the size.
Other than the difference in size (8.3 inches versus 10.9 inches), the iPad mini and iPad Air have identical displays. They both use Apple’s Liquid Retina technology with rounded corners and fully laminated construction, with a wide color gamut and True Tone support. Due to the size, the resolutions are slightly different, with the iPad Air having a 2360×1640 resolution at 264 ppi and the iPad mini having a 2266×1488 resolution at 326 ppi. But your eyes will only see bigger and smaller.
The ninth-gen iPad is closer to the iPad Air with a 10.2-inch screen, but the screen is somewhat inferior. The resolution is similar (2160×1620 at 264 ppi), but the screen isn’t laminated, so the display isn’t flush and images aren’t as crisp (though it is still classified as a Retina display). All three displays feature True Tone and 500 nits max brightness.
iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Processor and specs
The iPad mini has Apple’s newest A-Series chip, the A15 Bionic, while the iPad has the slightly older A13 chip. The performance difference is roughly 30 percent in benchmarks, but you likely won’t notice the faster speeds in real-world use. But the iPad Air is powered by Apple’s M1 chip, which is far more powerful than either A-series chip. But since they’re all running iPadOS, the differences in speeds are somewhat incremental.
All three iPads feature Touch ID, though in different ways. Since the ninth-gen iPad has a home button, the Touch ID sensor is on the front of the device, but on the iPad Air and mini, it’s built into the power button. Similarly, the iPad has a Lightning port like the iPhone, while the Air and mini have USB-C.
You’ll get Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6 on the Air and mini and Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.2 on the iPad. All three models are rated for the same 10 hours of battery life. Finally, the iPad Air and mini have 5G support on the cellular models while the ninth-gen iPad has LTE.
All three iPads have the same front camera and it’s a good one: 12MP Ultra Wide with Center Stage, which uses machine learning to keep you in the frame during FaceTime and other video calls. And it’s good for selfies too.
On the back, the ninth-gen iPad has an aging 8MP Wide camera while the Air and mini have 12MP wide cameras with Smart HDR 3 You can record 4K video on the Air and mini and HD video on the ninth-gen iPad.
iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Apple Pencil and keyboard
All three tablets support the Apple Pencil for drawing and writing, but only the iPad mini and iPad Air support the newer and more expensive second-generation Pencil ($129), which supports wireless charging and a slightly different design. The entry-level iPad supports the first-generation model, which charges via Lightning. Functionally, the styli are identical, with the same drawing abilities and battery life.
The difference between the iPads really shows with the keyboard. The iPad Air is the only one of the bunch to support Apple’s Magic Keyboard ($299), which brings a full-size backlit keyboard and MacBook-style trackpad. The entry-level iPad supports the Smart Keyboard, which doesn’t have any of the Magic Keyboard’s features, and Apple doesn’t make a keyboard attachment for the mini, but you can use any Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad.
All three models also support Universal Control so you can use your Mac’s keyboard and mouse to work on apps or transfer files when in Bluetooth range.
Each iPad is available in the same configuration: a base model with 64GB of storage and a 256GB update option. Each also offers cellular upgrades for $129 (iPad) and $149 (iPad mini and iPad Air). The higher price is due to 5G.
iPad: $329/$479 $459/$609
iPad Air: $599/$749 $749/$899
iPad mini: $499/$649 $649/$799
iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Conclusion
While your choice will ultimately come down to your budget, we recommend saving to get either the iPad mini or iPad Air rather than buying the entry-level iPad. It’s not a bad tablet—especially when compared to any Android tablet—but it has a two-generation-old processor, outdated design, and subpar display. You won’t be unhappy with the iPad—it’s still an iPad after all—but you’ll be much happier if you can save a few bucks to step up to an iPad mini or iPad Air.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read ouraffiliate link policyfor more details.
Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.