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iPad Mini, iPad, iPod Touch: Which iOS device should you buy?

Too many gadgets! How do you decide? We run down the pros and cons of each of Apple's newest and hottest portable products that aren't the iPhone 5.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
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Apple has unleashed a ton of new iOS devices this holiday season: no fewer than four new products, covering an entire range of sizes and uses. iPhone 5, fifth-gen iPod Touch, fourth-gen iPad with Retina Display, and, of course, the iPad Mini: these join other devices still sold by Apple including the fourth-gen iPod Touch, iPad 2, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S.

Confusing, right? For the purposes of this article (and your sanity), I'm limiting the buying-guide analysis to the non-phone iOS gadgets: the iPods and iPads. It used to be that there was a huge gap between the 3.5-inch Touch and the 9.7-inch iPad. Now there's a spectrum: 4 inches, 7.9 inches, and 9.7 inches.

So, let's look at each one, starting with the newest.

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPad Mini

Starting price: $329 with 16GB storage (Wi-Fi), $130 extra for LTE cellular

Pros: A sweet-spot size; Kindle-like portability; full compatibility with all iPad and iPhone apps; good battery life; and a price that's pretty low (for Apple).

Cons: This is the only new iOS device without a Retina Display; it's not as fast as the newer, larger iPad.

Who should buy it? Anyone who wants to save money, obviously, since it costs less than the fourth-gen iPad. If you don't mind not having a Retina Display, or are considering a second iPad...or if you have kids...or if you're a heavy public transit commuter...the iPad Mini is a very tempting pick.

Recommended storage: 16GB should be fine for many, unless you plan on storing lots of games, graphic novels/textbooks, or videos.

Read the review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fourth-gen iPad

Starting price: $499 with 16GB storage (Wi-Fi), $130 extra for LTE cellular

Pros: Blazing speeds; a beautiful Retina Display; impressive gaming graphics.

Cons: Heavier; bigger (relatively speaking); not that much different from the last iPad.

Who should buy it? If you've never owned an iPad before, the fourth-gen is a perfecting of the third-gen version from March. It's an excellent portable computing device, reading/viewing tablet, game player, and all-purpose tool. However, if you own a third-gen iPad, it's not worth the upgrade unless you're made of cash.

Recommended storage: Because of the size of many HD videos and games, go with 32GB or larger.

Read the review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fifth-gen iPod Touch

Starting price: $299 with 32GB storage (Wi-Fi), no cellular option

Pros: A 4-inch Retina Display that matches the iPhone 5's; a solid camera with LED flash; good battery life; general iPhone-like functionality minus the phone; 32GB of base storage; and it's incredibly thin and small.

Cons: Not as fast as the iPhone 5; lacks cellular.

Who should buy it? The iPod Touch is really a phoneless iPhone. Therefore, iPhone owners really need not apply. It's for music lovers, those who like ultra-portable gadgets, those who value more storage over larger screens like the iPad Mini's for their money, those who want the least-expensive new iOS device, period. It can be used as an e-reader in a pinch, and a Web browser, but it's not as comfortable or versatile as an iPad.

Recommended storage: The base 32GB on the fifth-gen version should be fine for music and games/videos. If you're using it as a video camera, too, go with 64GB.

Read the review.

And now, for some quick-hit recommendations.

If you're a Windows user and iOS-curious: buy an iPad Mini.

If you want to show off your hottest toy: buy an iPad Mini.

If you value speed and performance: buy a fourth-gen iPad.

If you have a desktop and want a laptop alternative: buy a fourth-gen iPad.

If you own a MacBook Air and an iPhone: buy an iPad Mini.

If you want to buy your first iPad, and want the best: buy a fourth-gen iPad.

If you're buying your second iPad: buy an iPad Mini.

If you're on a budget: buy an iPad Mini or consider the iPod Touch.

If you're a music addict and don't have an iPhone: buy an iPod Touch.

If you just care about music, not videos/photos: buy a fourth-gen iPod Touch.

If you want the best camera: buy an iPod Touch.

If you don't have a smartphone: buy an iPod Touch.

If you want the best universal e-reader on the go: buy an iPad Mini.

If you want Retina Display but don't want to pay a lot: buy a used third-gen iPad.

Hope that helps.