Three Weeks With Two iPads



Gosh. Well, I’ve been using both an iPad mini and an iPad Air, side-by-side, for the past three weeks. The goal of my parallel usage is to see if the mini can be used for “real work” (it can), and ultimately to see if I’ll prefer the smaller form factor of the mini or the larger screen of the Air (I don’t know yet).

So far, when around the house, I’ve been grabbing the iPad mini more frequently. Part of this may still be the novelty of the smaller iPad. This is the first iPad mini I’ve used for an extended period of time and even though the iPad Air is crazy light and still nice and easy to use, the iPad mini is more “fun” to use around the house.

These uses mostly include:

  • Scrubbing my to-do list in the morning (in OmniFocus)
  • Streaming Pandora or Rdio to our living room’s Airplay speaker
  • Reading Instapaper and sometimes posting links to shawnblanc.net
  • Making edits and reviewing documents in Editorially
  • Doing email
  • Twittering

On the go, I do writing in Editorial. And, actually, I’ve felt no remorse when I’ve set up the iPad mini with my keyboard to do writing from it or to log into my website via Diet Coda and make edits to code when needed.

So far, the biggest advantage the iPad Air has over the iPad mini is when it comes to reading comics. I’m not an avid comic book reader, but I do subscribe to the Marvel Unlimited app and read a few comics during the week. Unfortunately, the Marvel Unlimited app is not very good. And one of the biggest things that makes it difficult to read on the iPad mini is that you have to view full page spreads (you cannot zoom in and read pane by pane). And so the iPad Air really does make a superior reading experience for that because the text is larger and more comfortable to read.

Typing on the on-screen keyboard of the iPad Air is obviously much more manageable. I don’t do much typing, but when I do it’s usually via the landscape keyboard on the Air or else the portrait keyboard on the mini. Those are the two more comfortable options for each device. Long-form writing with the on-screen keyboard of the mini would stink. But, since I almost always use a bluetooth keyboard when doing long-form typing, it’s virtually a non-issue for me as to which device’s onscreen keyboard is better.

Let’s answer some questions

I asked you guys on Twitter if you had any questions about the two iPads, and I’ve done my best to answer them below. Some questions I can’t give a clear and dry answer to because there are so many variables about how you, dear reader, use your iPad, what your budget is, etc. But I will at least try to put my thoughts down to maybe give you some context that may help you make the best decision.

  • What are your general thoughts on “content creation versus consumption” between the two iPads? This sort of is the quintessential question, and I think it boils down to this:

    The iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices; pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.

  • Both iPads are sitting there, which one do you grab? The iPad mini. But I’m not yet sure if that’s telling of anything. I’ve had a full-sized iPad since the original in 2010 and this is the first iPad mini I’ve used at length. The smaller size is still a novelty to me, and I’m really enjoying it.

  • Which gets warmer during use? Both of my iPads get warm during use, but the iPad mini gets more warm than the Air. Neither get uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.

  • Do you notice the differences in display quality (PPI) in day-to-day use? Surprisingly, no. I was quite excited about the iPad mini’s 326 PPI display — it is the most dense pixel display Apple makes, and up until now it’s a pixel density that has only been in the iPhone. But now it’s in a 7.9-inch iPad. However, even when using both iPads side by side — with the mini showing my Twitter replies and the Air running Editorial as I type in the Questions and my answers — I cannot see a noticeable difference in the clarity and sharpness of the screens.

  • Have you noticed the difference in color gamut? Yes, but it’s hardly noticeable. and it’s only with some shades of red — the iPad Air displays them a bit more like firetruck and the iPad mini a bit more muted. But really, looking at the two screens side by side and comparing them using the same apps and images and Home screens, everything looks virtually identical.

    My pal, Matthew Panzarino, traded his iPad mini in because of the color issues. Maybe I got lucky, or maybe he got unlucky, but I’ve had two Retina iPad minis so far (the wi-fi version at first that I returned to get an LTE version) and the screen colors have been fine on both of them.

  • How do they perform in note taking? If you’re a student and you plan to take your iPad to the classroom, or if you take your iPad to meetings, the biggest question to ask is if you plan to use an external bluetooth keyboard or not. If you plan to go sans-keyboard, then I would go for the iPad Air without hesitation. Its larger screen set in landscape mode makes for a much better typing surface than the mini’s on-screen keyboard. If, however, you plan to bring a bluetooth keyboard along as well, then it’s a toss-up. So keep reading some of the other questions below.

  • I have an iPad (1 / 2 / 3 / 4), should I upgrade? If you can afford it, and if you use your iPad a lot, then yes. This year is a big leap for the iPads and even going from an iPad 4 to an iPad Air is a nice upgrade. You’ll notice improvements in both performance and size. I upgraded from an iPad 3 and it was a huge boost.

  • Which iPad should I upgrade to? I got both iPads in the 32GB with LTE flavor. I highly recommend at least that combo and to get more storage if you think you’ll need it. As for if you should get the Air or the mini, well isn’t that what all these questions are about? In short, though, my advice this year still stands as it has been since the mini first came out: if you’re just not sure which one to get, get the mini.

  • Are there any specific tasks that one iPad is more suited for? Yes.

    A few things the iPad Air’s larger screen is arguably better for: Writing and typing, because of its somewhat larger font size and bigger on-screen keyboard; reading comics, PDFs, and other “font locked” documents/periodicals; watching video; editing photos and videos; and taking hand-written notes, drawing, or painting (with apps like 53’s Paper). Is the iPad Air significantly better for these things? I don’t think so. And really, it just boils down to a matter of opinion and personal preference.

    A few things the iPad mini is arguably better for: reading books, RSS feeds, twitter feeds, Instapaper queue, etc. In any app where you can adjust the font size, if the iPad mini’s display is a bit too dense for you, you can adjust the font size to be a bit bigger; and anything that would normally be done while holding the iPad.

    Though the Air is great in size and weight, it’s not as light as the mini and the latter truly is easier to hold in one hand while standing, sitting, leaning back, etc.

  • In what contexts is the iPad mini “less of an iPad” than the Air? So, when does the screen size play the biggest role? Drawing, painting, typing, photo/video editing, watching movies. These are tasks where having a bigger screen really is nicer.

  • Are there any apps that work better on a mini? Any app that you use while holding the mini (specifically reading / browsing).

  • Is it difficult to use two iPads at the same time? Actually, no, not at all. Since everything I use on my iPad syncs to the web, the two are literally in perfect sync with one another.

  • How does each iPad fare as a laptop replacement? They both fare the same.

  • What use cases make me reach for one iPad over the other? When I’m doing writing, I reach for the iPad Air. For everything else (scrubbing OmniFocus, reading Twitter, RSS, quick email checking, Instapaper, etc.) I grab the mini.

  • When you’re using the Air, what do you miss about the Mini? If I’m typing with my keyboard, I miss nothing. If I’m reading Instapaper or surfing the Web, I miss the mini’s smaller size.

  • Which iPad do you tend to use when in the house? The mini. Since, when I’m in the house, and am writing, I am most likely at my desk using my MacBook Air. And thus, any other task

  • Which iPad do you tend to grab when heading out on the road? The iPad Air. Since, as I’ll mention below, the iPad Air still feels like my “real” iPad.

  • Which apps do you most use on the Air? Editorial, Instapaper, Drafts, Poster.

  • Which apps do you most use on the Mini? Tweetbot, OmniFocus, Instapaper, Safari, Pandora, Rdio.

* * *

So far, the iPad mini seems to be becoming my preferred iPad, but the iPad Air feels like my “real” iPad. Let me try to explain. For my needs, there’s nothing about the iPad mini that makes it less capable in any significant way — I can read and write just fine from the mini. However, the iPad mini has a “feeling” of being less capable simply because of its size.

Is the iPad Air a bit better suited for some tasks such as writing? I think so. For me, the larger screen size allows me to have a bigger font size and see more words on the screen at the same time (something nice for my aging eyes). And for times when I’m doing typing with the on-screen keyboard, the iPad Air’s larger screen is much nicer for hitting the keys. But for almost every other task (except for watching movies and reading comics), I find the mini to be just as good if not even better suited.

After 3 weeks, I’m actually leaning slightly more towards the mini if I had to pick one. Though I do work a lot from my iPad, the iPad is not my main work machine. I still spend most of my time at my desk working from my MacBook Air. And so, for the things I do use an iPad for, the iPad mini is better for about 80-percent of them and “good enough” for the other 20-percent. I plan to keep using both iPads, side by side, for at least another month or two, so I’ll check back in again soon.

As I said in response to the first question above, the iPad mini and the iPad Air are both equally capable and usable devices. Pick the one you think you want and you will acclimate to it just fine.