Apple just announced two new iPads: a new iPad Mini starting at £399 or $399 and a new iPad Air starting at £479 or $499.
The new iPad Mini updates the iPad Mini 4 model that is 3 and a half years old, and was very much in need of a refresh. The previous iPad Air 2 came out 4 and half years ago, and in my mind was replaced by the Pro range of iPads.
This new model now sits in between the basic iPad released last year, and the iPad Pro, both in features and price. The basic 2018 iPad has not been updated but is still available, and is the cheapest model at £319 or $329.
All iPads now support the Apple Pencil, but confusingly the newly released iPads only support the 1st generation Apple Pencil, as does the 2018 iPad. Only the new iPad Pros support the 2nd generation Apple pencil released 6 months ago, which adds support for magnetic charging and gestures. Charging the 1st generation Pencil is clumsy to say the least.
So if you’re after your first iPad, or you’re considering upgrading, which one should you go for?
Firstly let’s compare the entry level iPad against the two new models. They’re all available in the same colours, Silver, Space Grey and Gold. They all have Touch ID.
The new models both have the A12 Bionic chip versus the A10 Fusion chip in the iPad. I don’t think this will be noticable for most people, but it will give the tablet a longer life.
The new models can be spec’d with up to 256GB of storage, versus 128GB for the iPad, but I’d question paying Apple’s prices for extra storage unless you’re sure you really need it. Apple’s optimised storage for photos and videos has really helped here.
As I’ve already mentioned, they’re all compatible with the 1st generation Apple Pencil for an additional £89 or $99.
The iPad Air is the only model that has a Smart Connector to support the Smart Keyboard – a combined keyboard cover costing an additional £159 or $159.
The biggest difference is of course the screen sizes and the screen technology. The iPad Mini makes for a more obvious buying decision with a significantly smaller screen size of 7.9”. If you want a smaller and lighter iPad, this is for you.
The tougher decision is between the iPad and the iPad Air. The new iPad Air has a slightly larger 10.5” screen, but possibly more importantly it has a fully laminated display like the iPad Pros and in fact its predecessor, the iPad Air 2 which was the first iPad to have a fully laminated display all the way back in 2014.
The basic iPad doesn’t have this laminated display, which results in a very small gap between the glass and the screen. This gives a slightly more hollow tap with the pencil on the glass, and if you look really closely a minute gap between the tip of the pencil and what’s being drawn. I’ve never found it an issue and the experience of using the Apple Pencil is still excellent with my basic iPad. Still it’s nice that this feature is now available, without having to pay well over double the price of the iPad for the Pro model.
The upgraded display also has an anti-reflective coating and adds True Tone which automatically adjusts the colour temperature of the display to its surroundings. And it uses the wider P3 colour space for more accurate colours.
The iPad Mini, apart from being smaller, shares all these display upgrades.
The back camera on all three models is the same 8-megapixel f2.4 with all the same features, but the front camera has been upgraded from the iPad’s rather paltry 1.2-megapixel camera with only 720p video resolution, to a half decent 7-megapixel affair with full HD 1080p support.
There’s no upgrade to the two-speaker audio, which will disappoint some.
Comparing the new iPads to the 11” and 12.9” iPad Pros, these models have the even faster A12X Bionic chip, Face ID, better four-speaker audio, can be spec’d up to 1TB and support the 2nd generation Apple Pencils.
They also support the new magnetic Smart Keyboard Folio case and use a USB-C charge cable, not the lightning cable of the the less expensive models. They are also missing any 3.5mm headphone jack that the other models still include, so you might need to invest in some Bluetooth headphones if you haven’t already.
They have the new Liquid Retina display which does look great and also have ProMotion technology with its higher 120Hz refresh rate, that makes everything even smoother and more responsive.
But these extra features come with a huge price bump. The iPad Pro starts at £769 or $799. That’s £290 or $300 more than the iPad Air, and a staggering £450 or $470 more than the basic iPad.
I would have loved the iPad Air to have Face ID and support for the Apple Pencil 2, but as it is I do think it’s a good fit in the iPad range. Whether it’s worth £160 or $170 more than the basic iPad is a tough one. Unless you had them side by side, I really doubt you’d notice the two main differences: the faster processor and the laminated screen. I won’t be upgrading my iPad just yet, and I imagine most people buying an iPad would be more than happy with the base model.
But if you have some extra funds available I’d probably recommend the iPad Air. The extra processing power won’t be particularly noticeable right now, but it will give the tablet a longer life. And the laminated display, especially with an Apple Pencil, should make the experience just that little bit better.
Regarding the Pro models, until Apple can somehow converge iOS and MacOS thus enabling desktop apps, I couldn’t use it as a true laptop replacement as Apple advertise and I personally couldn’t justify the price. But if you’re an artist or illustrator I’m sure it’s much easier to justify the extra cost.