iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: which Apple tablet comes out on top?

The mid-range members of the iPad lineup are closer than ever in terms of specs

iPad Air vs iPad Mini
(Image credit: Apple)

Looking for an iPad that's more advanced than the cheapest model, but not at pricey as the iPad Pro? Then the battle is between the iPad Air 5 and iPad Mini 6 – the two mid-range iPads.

They look incredibly similar and share a lot of the same features – but there are differences, and we're not just talking about the size. They're both among the best tablets available today, but each may suit different people.

So we're here to explain where they're the same, break down all the differences, and help you work out which is best for you.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: Price

The iPad Mini 6 is absolutely the cheaper of the pair: you can pick up the base Wi-fi model, with 64GB storage, for $499/£479/AU$749, whereas the iPad Air starts at $599/£569 for the 64GB Wi-Fi version. That's not the biggest price jump in the world, but if you're on a budget we can absolutely see the attraction of the Mini. 

Add on 5G connectivity and bump the storage up to 256GB and the iPad Mini can reach $799/£759/AU$1,209; the top end Air, with the same storage and connectivity, will cost you $899/£869/AU$1,389. That's close, we think, to the tipping point that's going to send people over to the iPad Pro instead.

So does the Mini actually represent better value than the Air? Monetarily, sure. But the Air offers a lot more performance, and has a much larger screen – the latter in particular is preferable in a tablet unless you really want one that's small. If you're not specifically looking for a tiny tablet, we can see little reason to opt for the Mini.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: Size & Screen

iPad Air range

The iPad Air comes in a pastel-tastic selection of muted colours: Space Gray, Starlight, Pink Purple and Blue

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad Mini 6 is, as befits is name, the smallest tablet in Apple's line, skirting dangerously close to the larger end of the iPhone range with its 8.3-inch screen. It is, if you're wearing the right outfit, just about pocketable – and certainly small enough to hold in one hand while you poke it with the other.

The iPad Air 5 sticks to the same-sized case as its predecessor, with a 10.9-inch screen. 

Visually, the iPad Air very much the bigger brother of the Mini, which recently pivoted its design to move away from that classic iPad shape and more closely ape the shape of the Air and Pro; corner-to-corner measurements don't paint the full picture, with the 195.4mm x 134.8mm dimensions of the Mini far smaller than the 247.6mm x 178.5mm of the Air.

Both share a certain amount of design DNA, and also more than a little with current generations of the iPhone, with squared-off edges and rounded corners. The iPad Air 5 is a hair thinner than the iPad Mini 6, literally, coming in at 6.1mm compared to the Mini's 6.3mm-thick body. It's so close we defy you to notice the difference.

For a while, the two smaller iPads have settled at a vague parity in terms of their screens, both with LED LCD panels, both with similar brightness and colour reproduction, and both with close resolutions. The iPad Air's resolution is 2360x1640, while the iPad Mini's is 2266x1488.

It's worth pointing out, though, that the iPad Mini's lower resolution doesn't make it lower quality than the Air – if anything, it's the opposite. Owing to its smaller screen, it manages a far higher pixel density, making images sharper. It's just that they're also smaller.

Both tablets support Apple Pencil 2, including the magnetic attachment and wireless charging system. There's no difference in drawing performance between them.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: Performance & Battery

iPad Mini range

The iPad Mini can be had in Space Gray, Starlight, Pink or Purple

(Image credit: Apple)

The new iPad Air delivers a massive boost in power compared to either the old iPad Air or the current iPad Mini, because it includes the Apple M1 chip that powers the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) and the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020).

It's incredibly fast, with eight CPU cores (four high-performance, four energy-efficient), eight GPU cores, 8GB RAM, and a whole host of extra features. It's not just laptop-level performance – it's high-end laptop-level performance.

That's not to say the iPad Mini is any kind of a slouch. Its Apple A15 Bionic chip, a slightly customised processor from the iPhone 13 range, makes it an entirely responsive tablet, and it's perfectly suited to something of its size. It's no M1 when it comes to peak performance, but little is – the A15 Bionic still flies in everything you need generally.

For many people, you won't ever even need the maximum performance that the iPad Air offers, so the iPad Mini's speed will be more than enough. But as far as future-proofing goes, at least you know that the iPad Air's chip will be able to handle literally anything you could want to throw at it.

Apple is still quoting its usual 10 hours' life for both devices, which sounds entirely reasonable and is line with our experience.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: Connectivity

iPad Air 2022

Thanks to its Smart Connector you can use the iPad Air with the same accessories as the iPad Pro.

(Image credit: Apple)

The 5G option of the iPad Mini placed it dangerously close to iPhone territory, though you'd have to be a serious phablet fan (and wrangle Wi-Fi Calling on its data-only cellular radios) for it to truly replace your phone. But it really drove home that it was the ultimate in pocket-sized portable computing.

But now the iPad Air has caught up – the new version also has a 5G option, or you can stick with the Wi-Fi-only model.

Where the iPad Air has the Mini beat is in more physical connections: they both include a USB-C port, but the new Air's port is USB 3.1 Gen 2, which means a big boost in potential speed, and it has a Smart Connector to attach to compatible accessories.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: Camera

iPad mini editing

The iPad Mini may be compact, but compatibility with the Apple Pencil makes it a great creative device.

(Image credit: Apple)

Where once there was a gap, with the more recent iPad Mini trouncing the previous generation of iPad Air in terms of cameras, now things have almost levelled out: both get a Centre Stage-compatible 12MP ƒ/2.4 front camera, and both now get a ƒ/1.8 12MP wide rear camera – though the Mini does have the advantage of a quad-LED flash next to its rear cam.

Practically, just in terms of size alone, the Mini is a better device for shooting both photos and video, though the extra screen real estate of the Air as well as the M1's built-in image processing smarts does make it a stronger photo-editing tablet. 

For video, the M1 iPad Air is even stronger – it can handle more 4K video streams than most people could even imagine throwing at it.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Mini 6: Conclusion

Though the boosted specs of the iPad Air give it a slam-dunk win on paper, and if you're the creative type its larger screen makes it the far superior platform, there's something to be said for the svelte form of the iPad Mini. It's a size which basically doesn't exist elsewhere, and it'll open up avenues to use it in far more situations – if you want a note-taking device you can take with you everywhere without weighing you down, it's unmatched.

That said, if you can find the extra $100/£90/AU$180 for the new iPad Air, we very much doubt you'll be disappointed, pocketability or not. That M1 processor, at the price, is absolutely worth the effort of having to hold it in your hand.

Alex Cox

T3 magazine's own Gadget Guru is a 25-year veteran of the tech writing wars, and has the scars to prove it. He's written for the UK's biggest technology publications, and knows everything from smart doorbell voltage needs to how to bend Windows to his every whim.