2012 was the first year that Apple introduced two iPads at the same time. The fourth generation iPad was debuted alongside the iPad mini. There was no ambiguity between the two products. One was big and bold with all the power and features you could hope for in an iPad, the other was iPad light with slightly less functionality, and a lot less iPad.
The iPad gave people what they thought was a clear choice between two worlds. I contend that people who chose the mini did not, in fact, make as clear of a choice as they were led to believe. Some chose the mini because it was lighter. Some chose it because it was smaller. I contend that a significant percentage of those who chose it because it is smaller really chose it because it is lighter. It was not that the full sized iPad was too big, but that it was too heavy. In either event, the mini was the solution for them at the time.
Last year, the iPad dilemma was not as obvious because the offerings were so different. This year, the challenge is clear. Both iPads are lighter than the previous generation, full sized model. The iPad Air and the Retina mini are so close to the same weight, the difference will be negligible to many buyers. I have already started observing that many who bought last year's mini, are now smitten with the Air. They are admitting that they love having a big screen, but just hated the fact that it was so heavy. Not only does the Air provide the big screen that they have come to love, but it does so in a package that is lighter and smaller than a full sized iPad has a right to be.
Don't get me wrong. There is definitely something to be said for having an item as compact as the mini, and as useful as an iPad. It was nice being able to just throw it in a pocket and keep on trucking. The mini is the perfect size for portable gameplay. It is exceptional for mobile thumb typing. I would even say it is the perfect size for FaceTime calling. Did I mention book reading? Well, I should have.
But, the limitations of a smaller screen become more apparent when one considers web browsing, long form writing, movie viewing, and creative pursuits such as photo and movie editing. If you are never going to be doing any of these things, then a mini just might be the right call. But, it is the rare person, in deed,who uses an iPad, but does not enjoy surfing the web on that device. Anyone who has ever read a comic on an iPad knows that you either have to go big, or go home.
Now that weight is no longer an issue, it really does come down to size. I still believe that size is a secondary concern. I believe your choice should be based on optimization. Either you optimize for maximum productivity, or maximum portability. Either way you are going to have to make certain compromises.
Maximize for productivity, and you will have to either limit the places where you use the iPad, or you will have to find creative ways to carry it about. Maximize for portability, and you will have to limit the tasks that you can comfortably do wit your iPad. For me, the iPad is not about having a great device, but using a great device. I refuse to be limited when it comes to the things I can do with my iPad. I will carry a man purse before I voluntarily limit the possibilities of what I can do. If all you want to do is carry a media tablet, save yourself some money, and pick up a cheap, Kindle Fire. It is even smaller and lighter than the iPad mini. If you want the best tablet on the market that you can use for all it's worth, the iPad Air is in a class by itself.
The iPad mini is a great tablet. I enjoyed mine while I had it. I'm sure the Retina mini is even better. But at the end of the day, the mini is not the full iPad experience. And the iPad is all about experience. Before committing to the mini, I highly recommend you go to the store and handle an iPad Air.
That said, at the moment, my other half is determined to get a Retina mini, so I will have one to review. There are specific reasons why the mini is right for her. I could tell you what they are, but, most likely, those reasons would not apply to you. For the mini to be right for you, you will need your own, very specific reasons. In my opinion, portability is not a very good reason to choose a device if you actually plan to use it. The iPad Air is the ultimate in usability, and is much more portable than you think. To me, the real choice is not between the iPad Air and the iPad mini, but between the iPad Air and the MacBook Air.