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iPad vs iPad mini: which 2021 iPad is right for you?

iPad vs iPad mini
(Image credit: Future)

September 2021 was a big month for iPad fans, with the company seeing fit to update both the entry-level iPad, and the iPad mini. The latter was a particularly significant upgrade, with the tiny tablet having languished without any design love for years. But while these might represent Apple's two cheapest iPads, they're very different machines indeed.  

Deciding between an iPad vs iPad mini means taking various factors into consideration, from (of course) size, to price, to compatibility with certain accessories. And you'll also need to think about what tasks you're planning to use the iPad for. But make no mistake, both are highly capable tablets. Check out our roundup of the best drawing tablets if you're looking for more inspiration.

iPad vs iPad mini: Price & release date

iPad vs iPad mini

(Image credit: Future)

Both the 9th generation iPad and the iPad mini 6 were announced along with the iPhone 13 line up in September 2021. The entry-level iPad is the cheapest of the bunch, starting at just £319/$329 for 64GB of storage, going up to £579/$609 for the 256GB version with cellular data. £319 is a seriously impressive price for an iPad, especially one with speedy and future-proof A13 chip. 

The iPad mini 6 has been given a price bump over the 5th generation model, starting at £479/$499 for 64GB and going all the way up to £759/$799 for 256GB with cellular. While the price jump might put some users off, it's arguably worth it for the significant design and feature upgrades to the mini model (more on these below). 

iPad vs iPad mini: Design & features

iPad vs iPad mini

(Image credit: Apple)

The main difference between the two devices is the design. The 9th gen iPad sports a now very familiar design, complete with curved edges, chunky bezels and a home button. The 10.2-inch display is non-laminated, which means you'll see some warping when pressing hard with a finger or Apple Pencil. 

The 10.2-inch features a Lightning port for charging, as well something that's hard to come by with Apple products these days – a headphone jack. Overall, it's a solid design, if not a little dated. Over the years, bezels have shrunk and edges have flattened, but this is an unapologetically round-edged and chunky-chinned iPad. And at £319, you can't really go wrong.

The iPad mini is an entirely different story. The 8.3-inch display is by far the smallest iPad screen around (though it's definitely a jump from the previous version's 7.9-inches). But make no mistake, this is a contemporary tablet, which has been given the iPad-Air treatment. That means an edge-to-edge, laminated display, flat edges, quad speakers and USB-C for charging – which means far greater versatility when it comes to connecting accessories.

Which is right for you? It all depends if you're after a bigger screen or something more portable. The iPad mini is sized like a paperback book, while the iPad looks more like a sheet of A4 paper. The former is perfect for carrying around, while the latter offers more screen real estate. But if you're wanting something bigger with that modern design, you might want to check out our iPad Air vs iPad Pro comparison.

iPad vs iPad mini: Accessories

iPad mini with Apple Pencil 2

The iPad mini is compatible with the Apple Pencil 2 (Image credit: Future)

Again, lots of differences here. With its modern design, the iPad mini is compatible with the Apple Pencil 2, which offers tons of benefits including magnetic charging and tap controls (here's how to use an Apple Pencil 2). 

But the iPad mini doesn't feature a Smart Connector, which means you can't use it with any of Apple's keyboards, such as the Smart Keyboard or Magic Keyboard. It will work fine with most Bluetooth keyboards, however.

iPad smart connector

The 9th generation iPad features a Smart Connector (Image credit: Future)

The 9th generation iPad does feature a smart connector, and is compatible with the Smart Keyboard – but not, unfortunately, the Magic Keyboard – which means no scissor-switch keys or touchpad.

The 9th gen iPad is also only compatible with the original Apple Pencil. While this is perfectly serviceable when it comes to drawing itself, it does come with some design frustrations, particularly with regard to charging. Not only does it stick awkwardly into that Lightning port at the bottom, but it also features an easily losable cap, which needs removing in order to charge.

iPad vs iPad mini: Software

This one’s easy: there’s no real difference between these two iPadOS machines, software-wise. Both currently run on iPadOS 15. This means enhanced multitasking and homescreen widgets, drag and drop between apps, the incredible new Live Text feature, mouse, trackpad, and keyboard support and so much more. Software-wise, you're going to get a similar experience on both – and a great experience it is, with iPadOS arguably the most seamless mobile operating system out there.

iPad vs iPad mini: Verdict

It's worth reiterating up-front that neither the iPad mini or iPad 9th generation offer the ultimate iPad experience – features like the ProMotion display and LiDAR scanner are reserved for the iPad Pro. But sitting at the cheaper end of Apple's offering, these are two very attractive devices.

As for which is better than the other, it all boils down to what you're looking for from an iPad. Not only does the iPad mini offer unrivalled portability thanks to its tiny form factor, but it also has the added benefit of a contemporary iPad Pro-inspired design, and if you're a digital artist, that Apple Pencil 2 support is essential. If portability is your main concern, the iPad mini is a no-brainer.

But if you'd prefer more screen real-estate, the 10.2-inch iPad could be the option for you. And if price is top of your agenda, there's no beating £319 – it's simply fantastic value. But with such a low price comes compromises, such as Apple Pencil 1 support and a frankly dated design. But still, yes, £319. 

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Daniel Piper

Daniel Piper is senior news editor at Creative Bloq, and an authority on all things art, design, branding and tech. He has a particular penchant for Apple products – some corners of the internet might call him an 'iSheep', but he's fine with this. It doesn't bother him at all. Why would it? They're just really nicely designed products, okay? Daniel is also a comedian and national poetry slam champion, and his favourite Bond is, obviously, Sean Connery.