Despite the iPad Mini's portability, battery life, and great looks, I decided to make the move to the iPad Air. Here's a look at my early experience.
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Moving from the iPad Mini to the iPad Air

iPad Mini reveal

This whole thing started around a year ago, when I sold my 3rd Generation iPad in preparation for the release of the 4th Gen model. Before last year’s Fall iPad Event, the fact that Apple was releasing some kind of smaller iPad was the world’s worst kept secret. We all knew it was coming. We had seen the photos and knew all the specs. The only real mystery at that point was the price. At the time I had little to no interest in getting one myself, but my wife was very interested, so I ordered one up for her and figured that was that.

150746-ipad_ios4_screenshots.jpgThe surprise of last year’s iPad announcement was that Apple was refreshing the larger screen model only six months after the release of the iPad 3. Since I had purchased a 3 on launch day, I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that my tablet was now, in a sense, obsolete. I typically sell my iPads in preparation for the next model, often before its announcement, so I can maximize what I can get out of it. Unfortunately, since I didn’t see the iPad 4 coming, I was now in a bit of a spot. I would need to sell right away to get top dollar. However, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with what the iPad 4 was bringing to the table. Lightning? Meh. A processor bump? Cool, but not really worth the trouble. Its enhanced battery life was the only feature that I found attractive.

 

Selling Out

ipad_3_launch_8am.jpgOn one hand, I felt like I had to go ahead and sell my iPad 3 to keep from falling a generation behind and losing a lot of resale value. On the other, I really didn’t care that much about the device I would be upgrading to. There’s nothing like the choice between losing between $50 and 100 now, or even more later because of an uninspiring hardware update. Between this and the Mini’s higher than expected price tag, I wasn’t too thrilled with Apple for a couple of weeks.

I was incredibly busy working on an out of town project when all of this happened, so I took my time. I did manage to sell my iPad 3 a couple of weeks later, but I had to lower the price a bit to do it. And after I did sell it, I didn’t move quickly to get a new one. I was working so many hours that I really didn’t have much free time to use a new iPad anyway. And even though I did use my iPad 3 a ton for work earlier in the year,  I was now working on a job site where some construction work was still taking place. I didn’t feel comfortable using it there, for obvious reasons. So I waited until my time off the week of Thanksgiving last year to finally make a move.

 

Life in Miniature

iPad mini 1

I had already heard my wife rave about how thin and light the iPad Mini was. And from my positive experience with the iPad 2, I knew that the battery life would be far superior to the iPad 3 or 4, and the processor and memory would enough to meet my needs. After playing with hers for a couple of days, I decided to get one myself and give it a try instead of getting a 4. The big question was the screen. Would it be disappointing enough to make me go back to the full sized iPad, or would the portability win out? It didn’t take long for me to figure out the answer. Initially, the portability of the Mini really won me over. And while the Retina display of the iPad 3 and 4 was impressive, I wanted the battery life more, so I decided to stick with the Mini.

For a while, I was quite happy with my decision. The size, weight, and battery life were compelling, and the fact that it ran tablet optimized apps and felt more like a “real” tablet than the top 7″ Android competitors that I tried also had a big impact. However, while the Retina display wasn’t a deciding factor for me, the size of the screen eventually became a big one. I had used my previous larger iPads for a couple of tasks that the Mini proved to be much less effective at.

ZAGGfolio.jpg

First, I used to draft most of my articles with an iPad and Bluetooth keyboard. I also used it as a second screen for my laptop while working on the road. I did this in a couple of different ways. I would either pull up documents that I was working off of out of cloud storage apps, such as Box and Dropbox, or use an actual second screen app, such as Air Display, to display a secondary window from my laptop. Dragging a monitor around in a car and pulling it out at a the local Starbucks isn’t a very attractive option, so my earlier iPads had met a real need for me in this respect.

Unfortunately, while I tried using the iPad Mini for these kinds of tasks, it was never better than adequate, and was usually a pretty poor experience. It just wasn’t designed with use as a second screen in mind. The Mini worked alright for displaying documents, but was terrible as a secondary display for my laptop. The screen just wasn’t large or clear enough. This is the one area where a Retina would have been more than just a luxury, but as I said before, the smaller size of the screen was the bigger drawback.

As for drafting, I used both the ZAGGKeys Folio and the Logitech Ultrathin Bluetooth Keyboard with my Mini, which are two of the better models that are designed specifically for it.

zaggkeys_folio_ipad_mini_open

Unfortunately, while both were solid accessories considering the smaller screen and overall size of the Mini, they just didn’t compare to their counterparts designed for the larger iPads. Those 2 extra inches make a big, big difference when it comes to the size of the keys, their spacing, and the weight distribution of the keyboard with the Mini docked in it. If that last element isn’t right, then the Mini will tip over when sitting on an uneven surface, such as your lap.

After a few months of using the iPad Mini, I knew I would be moving back to a larger screen device. However, since I wasn’t exactly in love with the design and weight of the iPad 4, I decided to wait for the next generation to come around before I made the switch. I still do love how thin and light the iPad Mini is. It’s ideal for many things, but unfortunately for me, it fell short in areas that had made the iPad a pleasure to use in the past. Thin and light only go so far if a tablet doesn’t fit the bill of what you’re looking for.

 

Into Thin Air

ipad-air

My Dad ended up taking the iPad Mini off my hands, and I picked up my brand new 64GB Space Gray WiFi iPad Air yesterday at the Saddle Creek Apple Store in Germantown, TN. According to the employee who helped me (who, for full disclosure, is a good friend of mine), there was only a small line when they opened, but demand was steady through the morning. However, there didn’t seem to be any shortages when I arrived around lunchtime. I had my new Air and was out the door in less than 15 minutes.

As I already stated, I’ve been looking forward to picking up larger screen iPad since well before it was announced, and my expectations only rose after Apple’s announcement confirmed the size, weight, and specs of the Air. So far, it has definitely not disappointed in my first few days of use. The main thing I loved about Mini was its thin profile and light weight, so the design changes Apple made to the Air really stand out. Here are the things that really struck me:

1. One pound lighter doesn’t sound all that impressive until you put your hands on an Air. If you’ve spent any time holding a previous gen larger screen iPad, you will probably be impressed. Size and weight aren’t a tradeoff for the larger Retina display anymore. They are a now headline features that are reflected in the device’s new name.

2. As for the rest of the design, the thinner side bezels are a welcomed change. Like the change in weight, the dimensions aren’t drastically different, but you can feel it when the iPad Air is in your hands.

3. I also love the look of the iPad Air, and feel like it’s a solid upgrade on what Apple started with the Mini last year. While I loved the shape of the Mini’s back, I’ve never been a big fan of the silver brushed aluminum look. It’s durable and feels good in the hand, but I loathe scratches on my devices, and those silver backs will all eventually show wear if you don’t put a skin on them. I much prefer the look and feel of the Space Gray back on my Air. The darker shade has more of a matte appearance, and should help to hide some of the imperfections that the future will surely bring.

4. As for the usefulness of the Air, I am already excited with what I see. I picked up a new ZAGGfolio for the Air yesterday, and the two devices make a great pair. The balance is much better than the Mini version thanks to the larger keyboard, and it stays nice and steady sitting in my lap as I sit here and draft this article. I can already see that this is how I will be doing my drafting for the site for the time being. Now I just need to find a new second screen app, since my previous one is no longer available in the App Store.

In the past, I loved the screen size and the app selection of the iPad, and was willing to tolerate the overall size and weight of the original and the 3rd Gen because of those benefits. The iPad 2 was a bit different, since it was so much thinner and lighter than its predecessor, but it lacked the extra punch of the Retina display. The Air is different. It brings everything together in one package for the first time. It’s thin and light. It has the latest specs. It has a top notch, crystal clear Retina display. And the battery life claims aren’t stretched like they were for the 3rd and 4th Gen iPads. In terms of battery use, the Air feels more like an iPad 2 or Mini in my limited time with it. It lasted me all day yesterday through a restore and constant use after. I’ve been working on this article and doing some surfing for 3-4 hours today, and I’m only down to 87%. Very nice.

I have to congratulate Apple for not sitting still. They’ve obviously put a lot of time and effort into the design and construction of the iPad Air and the new Retina Mini. Both look to be great devices that have finally shed the tradeoffs that they used to be saddled with. Size matters when it comes to the new iPads, but it looks like that’s all. Now that the Air isn’t burdened with extra weight and lesser battery life, and the Mini isn’t shortchanged with a lesser screen and last year’s processor, users can simply choose a screen size and know that everything else is squared away. If you aren’t looking to be productive with the iPad, and are more concerned with portability, the new Mini should be an excellent choice. However, for someone like me, who prefers the larger screen but switched to the Mini because of its svelte design and better battery life, the new iPad Air is the perfect tablet. I definitely happy that I made the switch.

What do you think of the new iPad Air? Would you switch to it from the Mini? Are you holding out for a Retina Mini? Sticking with your current iPad? I’d love to hear what you’re doing and why. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, on Twitter @jhrogersii, or on Google+. I would love to hear from you.

 

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  • I was going to wait for the iPad mini’s release but after visiting the apple store and playing around with the iPad air, I was sold! The new slimmer size is perfect for my needs without being massive. It does feel a bit heavier than the “air” moniker alludes, but it wasn’t a deal killer. Picked mine up on day 2 of launch and I couldn’t be happier. It really feels luxurious in my hands. Btw I advise everyone to purchase the “Smart Cover” along side your iPad. It’s $39 but worth every dime.

  • Edgar Cervantes

    I still prefer my iPad Mini. I never use it for work, though, so my experience is different. I love the device’s portability. I have never liked the larger tablets. Might as well use my laptop at that point.

    • James Rogers

      I can understand that. I actually use mine a lot to supplement my laptop while I’m on the road. Dragging around a monitor is not a very appealing option.

      I used to use it a lot more for writing and email in lieu of my old laptop because it was on the slow side. However, my current laptop has an SSD and boots up in just a few seconds. So I find I’m using the iPad a little less for these things during the day.