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iPad Air vs iPad 4: What's the difference?

UPDATED on 18th March 2014 as Apple announce that the iPad 4 (now known as the iPad with Retina Display) is back on sale as a budget option to the iPad Air.

The iPad Air, Apple's latest tablet, improves on the previous generation iPad 4 in a number of ways, but are they enough to make it a must-have upgrade? We've compared the headline specifications to work out which you should buy.

DESIGN

With a sleeker, more streamlined design that borrows heavily from the original iPad Mini, the iPad Air is definitely a thing of beauty. The iPad 4 is positively bulky in comparison; the iPad Air is thinner (7.5mm vs 9.4mm), smaller (240x169mm vs 241x185mm) and lighter (469g vs 652g). This is only in part down to the thinner screen bezels, with Apple refining the design to make the most of every last millimetre of internal space.

Apple iPad Air

Both models are available in a choice of Space Grey or Silver colours. There will be no Champagne gold edition like there was with the iPhone 5s, but in our opinion that's definitely a good thing.

WINNER: iPad Air

DISPLAY

Apple's push towards Retina displays saw the iPad 4 launch with the same 2,048x1,536 resolution as the iPad 3. With a 264 pixels per inch (ppi) density, it's impossible to see individual pixels from an average viewing distance.

With no need to increase the resolution any further, Apple has stuck with the same sized panel for the iPad Air. It's still a 9.7in panel, with a 2,048x1,536 resolution and 264ppi pixel density, which should look just as good in the new model as it does in the old one.

TIE

PERFORMANCE

Apple introduced the A6X processor with the iPad 4 - it was an evolution of the chip found in the iPhone 5, with dual CPU cores but four graphics cores to better render the huge Retina resolution display. It's still a potent combination, even running iOS 7, but there was clearly still room for improvement.

Apple iPad Air

With the iPad Air, Apple has brought the Apple A7 processor from the iPhone 5s. It's a 64-bit processor, paired with the M7 motion co-processor that doubles CPU performance over the previous generation. It will comfortably run anything the iTunes App store has to offer, including the latest games, at Retina resolutions.

The iPad Air can be configured with either 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 128GB of internal storage, in either Wi-Fi only or 4G LTE variants. The iPad 4, however, is only available with 16GB of storage in either Wi-Fi only or 3G/4G variants. However, the iPad Air has dual antenna MIMO Wi-Fi, which may not make it any faster but will improve signal reception over the iPad 4.

WINNER: iPad Air

PRICE

The iPad 4 cost £399 when it first launched, firmly putting it at the high-end of tablet market. As Apple tends to keep its prices consistent, it should come as no surprise that the iPad Air will also start at £399 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only model. Add extra capacity and 4G networking and the price quickly jumps, reaching as high as £739.

Apple iPad Air

The iPad 4, on the other hand, has had its price lowered to £329 for the Wi-Fi only version and £429 for the cellular model. However, seeing as you get more for your money with the iPad Air, we're giving this one to the new model.

WINNER: iPad Air

WIRELESS AND 4G

Although the iPad Air uses 802.11n (dual-band) rather than the newer 802.11ac standard, Apple has fitted it with a Multiple In Multiple Out (MIMO) system. This helps improve both range and throughput compared to the iPad 4, which uses 802.11n with a single antenna.

In addition, Apple has overhauled LTE support for the iPad Air Wi-Fi + Cellular version. With the iPad 4, 4G is only available with EE. The other networks are only available with 3G options. A new chip means that the iPad Air now works with all of the UK networks.

WINNER: iPad Air

CONCLUSION


The iPad Air is a significant upgrade to the iPad 4 in terms of looks and performance. While there hasn't been any change to the camera or display, we think you'd feel short-changed if you chose an iPad 4 over an iPad Air in 2014. With only £70 separating each tablet, you're getting much more for your money with the iPad Air and its slimmer dimensions will continue to feel much more comfortable to hold and use over the tablet's lifespan. If you choose an iPad 4 now, you'd be stuck with a significantly heavier and thicker tablet until you next decide to upgrade, and its ageing A6X chip will begin to feel slower at a much faster rate over the coming years than the iPad Air's A7 chip. If anyone still on the fence should definitely pick the iPad Air over the iPad 4.

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