Nearly a month after unveiling the new iPad family on Oct. 22, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) can finally say both its new iPads are available for purchase heading into the all-important holiday rush.

The new iPad Air, which features a thinner and lighter 9.7-inch form factor, saw its release date at the beginning of the month (Nov. 1), and the second-generation iPad mini with Retina display quietly launched on Tuesday (Nov. 12) despite its supply constraints.

The iPad will be a hot commodity over the next several weeks, which includes Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and obviously the extended Christmas shopping season in December. Here, we offer an analysis of both 2013 Apple tablets to give you an impression of which one is right for you, or a friend or loved one you may be recognizing this holiday season.

Apple iPad Air Vs. Retina iPad Mini: What Are The Trade-Offs?

Before we get into anything else, we need to talk about the price of these devices. The starting prices of the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini are $100 apart: For 16GB of space, the larger iPad Air starts at $499 while the Retina iPad mini starts at $399, and the iPad Air maxes out at $929 for 128 GB of storage and cellular capabilities, while the smaller Retina iPad mini costs $829 for 128 GB and cellular. 

Where does the $100 difference come in? It’s not in the speed of the devices: The iPad Air and Retina iPad mini are both powered by Apple’s latest A7 processor with 64-bit architecture and M7 co-processor, which are the same chipsets that power the iPhone 5s. It’s also not in the cameras: The iPad Air and Retina iPad mini feature identical FaceTime HD cameras with 1.2-megapixel photos and 720p HD video, as well as identical iSight cameras with 5-megapixel photos and 1080p HD video recording with 3x zoom. The iPad Air and iPad mini also release with the same Wi-Fi capabilities (sorry, no Wi-Fi ac in either), multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) tech, and Bluetooth 4.0.

There is only one difference between the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini, which explains its $100 price difference, and it's the display size. That’s it — it seems like a simple notion, but it really means everything to the iPad experience.

As I’ve said in past iPad reviews (either praising or knocking down the devices), “display is king,” especially when you’re talking tablets, since the display is the tablet. The display is the medium for presentation and user interaction all-in-one, and its size, shape and quality completely color the entire experience of owning a tablet.

The displays of the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini are 9.7-inches and 7.9-inches, respectively. The trade-off in owning an iPad Air is that you get a bigger but equally sharp display with a larger and heavier form factor, while the iPad mini is smaller, cheaper and lighter, but its display is not as big.

But does size really matter for tablets? For many tasks, it really doesn’t. In fact, many people seem to prefer the portability of the iPad mini, since it can be easily be held and used with one hand for extended periods of time. The iPad Air weighs one pound, while the Retina iPad mini weighs just 0.73 pounds. Both tablets are equally thin at 7.5mm, but the iPad Air is 1.53 inches taller and 1.3 inches wider than the Retina iPad mini.

On one hand, the size difference isn’t huge, but on the other hand, it’s nicer to have an iPad with a bigger screen for certain things like games, movies, but also productivity. I personally use several different apps for writing, editing, spreadsheets and presentations, and I’m not sure how much I’d like gazing into a smaller display for extended periods of time. The Retina iPad mini isn’t a major size sacrifice compared to the iPad Air, but given how similar both are in nearly every single other facet, the screen is certainly worth considering.

Eventually, the choice between the iPad Air and Retina iPad mini boils down to personal preference. Both tablets are similarly fast, beautiful and portable, but unlike 2012, there are so many similarities across the new 2013 iPads in terms of lightness and display quality. Many may gift the Retina iPad mini simply because it’s $100 cheaper and equally powerful as the iPad Air, but for those considering the iPad for themselves or families, the larger iPad Air may be preferable for working and playing with more visual real estate.

Besides the new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display, Apple also continues to sell its 9.7-inch non-Retina iPad 2 for $399 (same price as the Retina iPad mini), as well as the first-generation iPad mini sans Retina display, which saw its price dropped from $329 to $299.

What do you think of the 2013 iPad lineup? If you were to buy any iPad, which would you prefer? Do you like the bigger iPad Air, or are you a fan of the smaller but equally powerful iPad mini with Retina display? Sound off in the comments section below.

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