Review: Which is the better iPad buy, mini or full-size?

TORONTO – Should you go 7.9 or 9.7?

It’s one of two big questions facing indecisive consumers who are thinking about buying a new iPad but aren’t sure which one to choose.

The new iPad mini, which went on sale in Canada on Friday, has a 7.9-inch screen, versus the 9.7-inch display on the newest full-size iPad (that’s about 20 and 24.6 centimetres for metric system sticklers).

The other magic number to consider is 170 — as in the price difference between an iPad mini and a similarly equipped version of the latest large-sized iPad.

On the low end, a WiFi-only 16-gigabyte iPad mini is $329, versus $499 for the big iPad. The most expensive 64-gigabyte iPad mini — out later this month — is WiFi and mobile network-ready. It’ll go for $659, while the latest upgrade of the iPad with the same specs goes for $829.

So is it worth an extra $170 for the larger iPad? Or put another way, will price-conscious buyers regret not spending the extra $170 if they go with the cheaper iPad mini?

The iPad mini’s smaller screen brings down its cost and Apple also saved a few bucks by sacrificing a bit of screen quality. Since the third generation of the larger iPad, Apple has used its so-called Retina Displays, which have a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels, and a pixel density of 264 per inch. In plain English, more pixels equal more detail and better sharpness. Because the iPad mini has a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels and a pixel density of 163 per inch, it is noticeably less sharp. Text on the iPad mini has some clear raggedness around the edges. But it may not be apparent to many users unless they’re doing a side-by-side comparison with a larger iPad or another tablet with better screen resolution. In any case, many will find the slight increase in sharpness isn’t worth an extra $170 and is an acceptable sacrifice to safe a considerable chunk of change.

There are advantages to choosing the smaller screen including better portability and a more comfortable grip. The iPad mini weighs in at about .68 pounds to the 1.44 pounds of the newest WiFi-only iPad. It doesn’t sound like a lot but the weight difference makes it far more comfortable to hold one-handed for long stretches of time. The smaller format also makes it easier to palm. I could comfortably cradle it in one hand without feeling like it might slip and take a tumble. The onscreen keyboard is also a little easier to type on with less thumb stretching needed to reach all the keys. And although the form factor still doesn’t feel right for using as a camera, the iPad mini is less awkward to snap photos and shoot video than on a large iPad. It has a five-megapixel lens for taking pictures and can shoot high definition 1080p video.

For those that envision carrying their tablet around on a daily basis, the iPad mini is a little easier to lug around, with its smaller size and lighter weight. Those who would keep it on their coffee table or kitchen counter most of the time might not appreciate the smaller size as much.

In another cost-saving measure, the iPad mini also has a less powerful processor than its larger, more expensive cousin — an A5 chip, which was also at the heart of the iPad 2 — but it likely won’t be noticed by most users. A iPad mini can do anything the larger iPads can and there’s no danger of it become obsolete any time soon (even the original iPad is still fully functional, although it can’t be upgraded to the latest iOS 6 software, which means some apps eventually won’t work on it).

Even starting at $329, Apple’s latest tablet isn’t exactly dirt cheap. In fact, when compared against some similar-sized competing tablets, it looks expensive. Google’s WiFi-only 16-gigabyte Nexus 7 is $209. It has a slightly smaller seven-inch screen but is sharper, with a resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels and a pixel depth of 216 per inch. Don’t let the price deceive you, the Nexus 7 is a quality product. It’s speculated that Google may be selling it at cost in an effort to challenge Apple’s supremacy in the tablet market.

But for those who know it’s an iPad they want, it comes down to making a decision on size and price. If you value portability, take a look at the iPad mini; but the bigger iPad is the better choice to use on the couch. If cost is a bigger factor, $170 is a significant savings for a minimal trade-off.