iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Which tablet is right for you?

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple's iPad, iPad Air and iPad mini are far more alike than they are dissimilar, which can make it hard to choose one. You could go for the iPad because it's the most affordable, the iPad Air because it's the biggest or the iPad mini because it's the small one.

But outside of those obvious facets, there are key differences between each of these tablets. So, having used all three, we've made the ultimate iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini face off to help you figure out which Apple tablet is right for you. 

And we're glad we put the iPads through these rounds of comparisons, because the iPad mini, which had gone 4 years without an update, pulled off a surprising amount of wins in this face-off. 

Here is everything you need to know about how the iPad, iPad Air and iPad mini stack up. 

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Specs 

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPad (2019) iPad Air (2019)iPad mini (2019)
Starting price $329 ($299 for schools, $459 with LTE)$499 ($629 with LTE)$399 ($629 with LTE)
Screen 10.2 inches (2160 x 1620)10.5-inch True Tone display (2224 x 1668)7.9-inch True Tone display (2048 x 1536)
Battery life 11:58 (tested)11:54 (tested)12:40 (tested)
ProcessorA10 FusionA12 Bionic with Neural EngineA12 Bionic with Neural Engine
Storage 32GB to 128GB64GB, 256GB64GB, 256GB
Cameras8MP (rear) 1.2MP FaceTime HD (front)8MP (rear), 7MP FaceTime HD (front)8MP (rear), 7MP FaceTime HD (front)
Video recording Up to 1080p HD at 30 fps Up to 1080p HD at 30 fps Up to 1080p HD at 30 fps
SecurityTouch IDTouch ID w/ 2nd gen. fingerprint sensorTouch ID w/ 2nd gen. fingerprint sensor
Apple Keyboard support Smart Keyboard Smart Keyboardnone, Bluetooth only
Pencil supportApple Pencil (1st generation)Apple Pencil (1st generation)Apple Pencil (1st generation)
Dimensions 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inches9.8 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches8.0 x 5.3 x 0.2 inches
Weight 1.1 pounds1 pound0.7 pounds

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Design and ports

When I think of the iPad, iPad Air and iPad mini next to each other, I think "wow, Apple has a type." Available in silver, space gray and gold, each tablet has the same basic look: machined aluminum on the back and white or black bezels on the front, with the home button that was taken out of the iPhone. 

When it comes to their measurements, the 10.2-inch iPad (1.1 pounds; 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.3 inches), 10.5-inch iPad Air (1 pound, 9.8 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches) and 7.9-inch iPad mini (0.7 pounds, 8.0 x 5.3 x 0.2 inches) are, again, more similar than different. 

(Image credit: Future)

The only real difference in their designs is that the iPad Air has smaller top and bottom bezels, while the iPad mini's are the most pronounced. 

In terms of connectivity, all share the Lightning charging port and the headphone jack. 

Winner: iPad Air (by the hairs of its thinner bezels) 

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Display

The iPad, in every generation and size, has long been known for excellent screens that make for great displays for your next Netflix or YouTube marathon. So, as expected, the iPad, iPad Air and iPad mini all have great screens — but one is best.

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini - iPad mini

(Image credit: Future)

According to our colorimeter, the iPad produces 105% of the sRGB spectrum, while the Air hits 132% and the mini reaches 135%. Our light gun rated the iPad mini as the brightest of the bunch at 490 nits, while the iPad (450 nits) and iPad Air (425 nits) trailed behind.  

The iPad Air and iPad mini also win points because their panels offer True Tone display technology, automatically adjusting white balance against the ambient lighting situation. While I've never found huge gains to be made when turning TrueTone on, it's nice to have at the least.

Winner: iPad mini

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Keyboard and Pencil

Sure, you can use any stylus or Bluetooth keyboard with all three of these iPads. But while the iPad and iPad Air support Apple's Smart Keyboard Folio, the iPad mini does not. 

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini - iPad

(Image credit: Future)

Yes, most Bluetooth keyboards are cheaper than Apple's but it's impossible to argue with how easy it is to attach and pair Apple's own. That being said, this is understandable, as a keyboard that would match the mini's 7.9-inch screen would be awfully cramped. 

All three iPads support the Apple Pencil, but I wish they worked with the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil, which has a better charging method (avoiding plugging into the lightning port). Unfortunately, this version of the Apple Pencil is exclusive to the higher-end iPad Pro.

Winner: iPad & iPad Air

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Performance

This round is pretty easy if you look at the processors powering each tablet. The iPad runs on the A10 Fusion processor (a variation of the chip introduced in 2016's iPhone 7), while the iPad Air and iPad mini rock the A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine (which first appeared in 2019's iPhone XS and XR phones). 

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini - iPad mini

(Image credit: Future)

Therefore, we're not surprised that the iPad Air clobbered the iPad on the Geekbench 5 test, posting a score of 2,519 to the iPad's 1,429. We didn't get to test the iPad mini on the Geekbench 5 test, but its Geekbench 4 score of 11,515 is actually a hair above the iPad Air's score of 11,471. So we can say that the iPad Air and mini offer similar performance, as would be expected by the fact that they both run on the same processor.

Similarly, the iPad Air beat the iPad on graphics performance, scoring a 77,385 on the Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark and beating the iPad's 38,929.

Winner: iPad Air and iPad mini

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Battery life

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini - iPad mini

(Image credit: Future)

iPads have a great reputation for solid battery life, and so the iPad, iPad Air and iPad mini all last a pretty long amount of time. But just like with their excellent screens, one iPad stands out.

The iPad mini lasted 12 hours and 40 minutes on our battery test, which measures how long a tablet can browse the web at 150 nits of brightness before giving up the ghost. The iPad (11:58) and iPad Air (11:54) both lasted just under an hour less. 

If you're curious, this difference in times makes sense if each iPad's battery is similarly sized, as the iPad and iPad Air have larger screens to illuminate. The iPad mini's battery could last longer because it's got fewer pixels to light up. All three of Apple's tablets last very long on a charge, but the mini will get you the best endurance. 

Winner: iPad mini

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Value and price

The $329 iPad might be the most affordable of these tablets, but looking at how each tablet performs I don't think its value proposition gives you the best bang for your buck — unless screen size or keyboard support are deciding factors. 

Meanwhile for $70 more, the iPad mini has faster performance, twice as much storage, a better selfie camera, longer battery life and a brighter screen. In terms of getting the most bang for your buck, it's the clear winner.

Winner: iPad (on price) and iPad mini (on value)

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini: Scorecard and verdict

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Row 0 - Cell 0 iPadiPad AiriPad mini
Design and ports (10 points)798
Display (20 points)151520
Keyboard and Apple Pencil (10 points)10105
Performance (10 points)71010
Battery life (30 points)171720
Value and price (20 points)151015
Overall (100 points)717178

Shockingly, the iPad mini was the little tablet that could all along, beating (or tying) its bigger brothers in so many rounds that it picked up the overall win. Its competitive price means that its wins in performance, display quality and battery life overshadow its lack of a Smart Keyboard or its smaller screen.

That being said, the iPad and iPad Air's battery life and screen quality aren't bad at all. They're actually pretty great, and so shoppers who want the cheapest iPad, or the biggest iPad won't be disappointed. 

iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad mini - iPad mini

(Image credit: Future)

Our iPad vs. iPad Air vs iPad mini face-off shows that sometimes bigger isn't always better, and that the best things can come in small packages. But overall, you can't go wrong with any of Apple's mainstream tablets. 

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.