Best iPad - which one do you get?

22 January 2015

It’s easy to forget just how many iPads there are to choose from. Apart from the five on Apple’s own website, you can still occasionally find discontinued models for sale from a variety of vendors. Even carriers. On top of that, Apple has a habit of retroactively renaming its iPads, so you might be looking at two seemingly different options that turn out to be identical.

To keep things as simple as possible, we’ll stick to the iPads that Apple still proudly shows off, as well as any that you can get on plans through Aussie carriers. We’ll also be sure to mention any other names by which any of these are, or have in the past, been known.

The lineup

  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Air
  • iPad mini 3
  • iPad mini 2 (originally 'iPad mini With Retina Display')
  • iPad mini
  • iPad With Retina Display (AKA 'iPad 4th Generation', 'iPad 3rd Generation')
  • All current iPads have LED-backlit display panels with IPS technology. This means that they enjoy vibrant, accurate colours and good viewing angles
  • Not every iPad has a Retina Display, but most do
  • All iPads are available in both WiFi-only and in WiFi+Cellular models, with the latter being the more expensive option
  • All cellular model iPads support both 3G and 4G
  • No iPad comes with a MicroSD slot for expandable storage
  • They all support the latest iOS8 update

Things to consider first

Before we get started you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by narrowing your choices. The three most important questions to ask yourself are:

  • How much storage?
  • WiFi-only, or Cellular + WiFi?
  • What size?

All iPads are available with multiple options for on-board storage. They also all come in a WiFi-only version or with a SIM slot that can receive 3G and 4G coverage.

Smaller storage is cheaper, as is opting for WiFi-only. Larger storage and cellular connectivity will both independently raise your spending, at which point you can either go for an older model, or convince yourself that the extra features are worth paying for.

As for physical sizes, there are only two: a 9.7 inch screen or a 7.9 inch one. If you’re considering lots of at-home use then the full-sized option is a common favourite. For travelling to and from work you may prefer a little more portability, as well as the reduced weight of the mini-sized iPads.

iPad Air 2

Starting RRP: $619


  • Lightweight and thin
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • The fastest and most powerful iPad
  • 16GB, 64GB and 128GB storage options


  • Expensive
  • May find it difficult to justify price increase over iPad Air

The Air 2 is the latest and greatest in the iPad lineup. Of the full-sized iPads it’s the thinnest and the lightest. At just 6.1mm thick and 437g it’s an amazing piece of engineering.

It still sports the same old Retina display resolution of 2048 x 1536, delivering 264 pixels per inch (ppi), but Apple claims to have improved colours and contrast over previous models.

Its A8X processor is 40% more powerful when it comes to processing and 2.5x faster on the graphics front than its predecessor, yet it still maintains that ‘up to’ 10 hour battery life.

For security there’s the fingerprint scanner that has become so popular on iPhones. This is located directly under the home button (now called the Touch ID button), and is a great shortcut for purchases made through the app store. If you have kids pay attention to this one; it means that all transactions can require your authentication, without you having to type in your password every time.

Storage options are where it really stands out. You can get the iPad Air 2 with 16GB, 64GB or a whopping 128GB. Previous models maxed out at 64GB when they were released, but these days nothing else but the 16GB and 32GB versions are still produced.

The Air 2 is also the only iPad with an 8MP rear-facing camera, as opposed to 5MP, just in case you’re one of the five people that uses their tablet to take photos.

16GB iPad Air 2
Carrier Plans
64GB iPad Air 2
Carrier Plans
128GB iPad Air 2
Carrier Plans

iPad mini 3

Starting RRP: $499


  • Fast and powerful
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • Small and light-weight; good for portability
  • 16GB, 64GB and 12GB storage options


  • Expensive
  • No more powerful than the iPad mini 2
  • Same quality screen as iPad mini 2

The iPad mini 3 is the other top-tier tablet from Apple. Despite its smaller size it still packs a punch. It uses the same A7 chipset as the larger (original) iPad Air and that good old 2048 x 1537 Retina resolution. As a slight bonus, thanks to the smaller screen you get a good 326 pixels per inch on the iPad mini 3, meaning an even sharper image.

Being a current flagship, the mini 3 also comes in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions. It’s a bit thicker than the Air 2 at 7.5mm, but weighs just 331g for the WiFi and 341g for the Cellular versions. Once again, there’s the oh-so-handy fingerprint scanner to make your app-related purchases and overall security just that little bit easier.

16GB iPad mini 3
Carrier Plans
64GB iPad mini 3
Carrier Plans
128GB iPad mini 3
Carrier Plans

iPad Air (original)

Starting RRP: $499


  • More affordable than the iPad Air 2
  • Still quite fast and powerful


  • Only 16GB and 32GB options are common
  • No fingerprint scanner

The first tablet to bear the name ‘iPad Air’ is still far from past its day. It’s as powerful as the mini 3 thanks to its A7 processor, and sports the same slim-bezelled form factor as the Air 2. Once again we have the Retina display, giving you the exact same 264 pixels per inch as the Air 2, except with a slight decrease in colour vibrancy and contrast. Although you’d be hard pushed to notice unless you held the two tablets side by side.

Generally available with just the 16GB and 32GB options for storage, this isn’t the tablet for hard-drive hungry mediaphiles, but it will still store plenty of music and apps and is perfect for browsing. However, you can still find some 64GB models kicking around if you look.

Just keep in mind that there’s no fingerprint scanner this time around.

16GB iPad Air
Carrier Plans
32GB iPad Air
Carrier Plans
64GB iPad Air
Carrier Plans

iPad mini 2

Starting RRP: $369


  • Cheaper than the iPad mini 3
  • Just as powerful as the iPad mini 3
  • Same quality screen as the iPad mini 3
  • Small and light-weight is good for portability


  • No fingerprint scanner
  • 16GB and 32GB options only still in production

The iPad mini 2 was called the “iPad mini With Retina display” when it was first released, so some vendors still sell it under that name. As you may have guessed, it was the first mini iPad to rock the 2048 x 1537 resolution that Apple holds so dear for its tablets, which is still a market-leading feature to this day.

A lovely perk is that the iPad mini 2 also has the A7 processor, placing it on even terms with the iPad mini 3 and original iPad Air when it comes to raw grunt.

In fact, the iPad mini 3 and iPad mini 2 are all but identical except for three key factors: price, storage options and a Touch ID button.

The mini 2 is only made as 16GB and 32GB models these days, has no Touch ID (fingerprint scanner) and is quite a bit cheaper. If storage and security shortcuts aren’t high on your list then you can save a good $130 by opting for the mini 2 over its newer sibling.

Of course, there are still some 64GB iPad mini 2s kicking around the web. You should be able to find one with minimal searching, but stocks won't last forever.

16GB iPad mini 2
Carrier Plans
32GB iPad mini 2
Carrier Plans
64GB iPad mini 2
Carrier Plans

iPad mini

Starting RRP: $299


  • The cheapest iPad
  • The lightest iPad
  • Small and portable


  • Outdated CPU
  • Low resolution screen
  • Might not handle many more iOS updates
  • Hard to find on plans
  • 16GB storage only

The mini was the first pint-sized iPad. It does not have a Retina display, instead sporting a 1024 x 768 resolution, giving it 163 pixels per inch. As such this isn’t the best tablet for gaming or watching video.

It’s not too powerful, either, running on the much-older A5 processor from three generations before the iPad Air launched.

You can still do most things with an iPad mini. It’ll run your apps, play music, stream video and all that good stuff, it’ll just be a little slower and more-pixelated than the rest.

Thanks to these sacrifices it’s the lightest at 319g and is thinner than the other two iPad minis at just 7.2mm. It’s also quite a bit cheaper, but you can only get it with 16GB of storage. There’s no options for anything higher still being made, although you might get lucky and find one somewhere. This time around you really will need luck, though. The larger storage minis went out of production long enough ago that most of them are gone by now.

iPad with Retina Display


  • Affordable, if you can find it
  • Retina display


  • Thick bezels and heavy weight
  • Powerful enough for now, but maybe not for long
  • Has been discontinued by Apple, so support will be more limited

Both the iPad (3rd generation) and iPad (4th generation) went by the name “iPad with Retina Display”, but in general only the 4th generation is still around. Certainly, it’s the only one still available on plans in Australia. Even then you can only get it through Telstra.

To be fair to Apple, the two identically-named iPads were doppelgangers by nature, except that the 4th generation (the one in question) sported the then-new lightning adapter port, instead of the old 36 pin.

This is a big, old iPad with wide bezels and hefty weight of 651g. To its credit, it’s not the least-powerful on this list, weighing in with the A6X processor that is noticeably faster than the A5 found on the iPad mini.

If you’re after something to keep in the lounge room for browsing, light entertainment and general use stuff then this could be an affordable option. Just remember that the older they come, the sooner Apple will stop sending out software support.



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