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iPad Air or iPad mini Retina: Which new Apple tablet should I buy?

Back on Tuesday, Apple unveiled the iPad Air and iPad mini, and somewhat surprisingly there were actually a few interesting twists in Cupertino’s new tablet line-up. The iPad mini with Retina Display got a big spec bump along with a price increase, and the newly renamed iPad Air has slimmed down quite a bit and still got some fast new internals. These two devices are more competitive now than they were last generation, so let’s take a look at how they stack up against each other.

On the inside both the iPad mini and iPad Air are running the Apple A7 ARM chip which was just announced recently with the iPhone 5S. This system-on-a-chip uses a new custom ARMv8 architecture from Apple that offers the first 64-bit computing experience on a mobile device. Of course, there isn’t really any software to take advantage of that, but ARMv8 includes a number of important optimisations and tweaks. You get this future-proofed CPU in both versions of the iPad, though clock speeds aren’t known yet – Apple probably cranks it up a bit higher in the full-sized iPad.

When you first set eyes on an iPad, your gaze will surely be drawn to the LCD that dominates the front of the device. The 7.9in mini and the 9.7in Air both have the same 2,048 x 1,536 resolution now that Apple has brought the iPad mini into the Retina Display club. Both screens will look awesome, but they’ll offer different experiences. This is obviously the main differentiator between the iPad Air and iPad mini.

The iPad mini boasts a whopping 326 pixels per inch (ppi), which is incredibly high for a tablet. Smartphones can reach into the mid-400s with 1080p screens, but the 2013 Google Nexus 7 is the only other tablet in the same ballpark as the mini when it comes to pixel density. The iPad Air still packs a nice display at 9.7in – it works out at 264 ppi.

Although the mini’s screen will be crisper, obviously, the iPad Air has the advantage of being physically bigger. Well, that’s an advantage to some people – it’s easier to read text, and browsing the web is better on a larger screen. The redesigned Air isn’t even much heavier than the mini – it weighs just 469 grams, and the mini is 331 grams. They are also exactly the same thickness at 7.5mm. The 9.7in iPad Air isn’t as ungainly as its predecessor, but the mini will still be a bit more manageable.

The iPad mini with Retina Display will cost £319 for the basic 16GB Wi-Fi-only edition. That’s a shade pricier than the old version which launched at £269. The iPad Air will start at £399 like all the previous full-scale Apple slates. If price is no object, the only other consideration is how impatient you are – the iPad Air is coming out on 1 November, but the iPad mini isn’t hitting shelves until sometime later in November.

For more on the new iPads, hop on over to our hands-on with the iPad Air, and we’ve also had a test drive with the iPad mini Retina. You might also want to read our in-depth look at the Wi-Fi specs on Apple’s new slates.