Apple has made some slight changes to its iPad lineup this week: it swapped out the dated iPad 2 for a newer fourth-generation iPad that boasts a Retina Display for the same $399 price.
Although the company is still offering four tablet options, this change could certainly affect the buying decision. Previously, people in the market for a larger-size iPad had two options: cough up $500 for the top-of-the-line iPad Air or purchase a dated model that's three generations behind and $100 cheaper. Now, Apple is offering a tablet with faster performance, a Retina Display, and the newer Lightning dock connector for the same $399 price.
So which iPad should you buy? Here are how the models compare.
Should I buy the iPad Air ($499) or fourth-generation iPad ($399)?
The real question here is, how much does design matter to you? The key difference between the iPad Air and fourth-generation iPad is in its size, shape and weight. The iPad Air is one of the slimmest and lightest 10-inch tablets on the market, measuring 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.4 inches and weighing 1.05 pounds.
The iPad Air, like the iPad Mini, features straighter edges that make the tablet easier to grip. The fourth-generation iPad is a bit heavier and chunkier than the iPad Air, measuring 9.5 x 7.31 x 0.37 inches and weighing 1.44 pounds. Its edges are softer and more rounded than those of the iPad Air. The iPad Air's side bezels are also thinner, creating the illusion that the display is actually slightly larger than that of the iPad 4.
The iPad Air runs on Apple's improved A7 processor capable of 64-bit computing, whereas the iPad 4 uses the previous-generation A6X chip. Chances are you won't notice this different just yet, but as developers create more 64-bit-optimized apps, the iPad Air and other Apple products using this processor will seem more smooth and efficient. Still, if you typically use your iPad for browsing the Web, playing casual games, streaming Netflix and checking your email, the A6X chip is more than capable.
This is where the differences end. The iPad Air and fourth-generation iPad both feature a 9.7-inch 2,048x1,536-pixel-resolution Retina Display, a 5-megapixel main camera and a 1.2-megapixel front camera.
If you're trying to save a few bucks and are looking to replace your aging Apple tablet, the fourth-generation iPad has everything you need. But if design really matters to you and you use your tablet as your primary personal computer, you may benefit more from the Air's sleeker design and speedier internals.
The iPad 4 and iPad Mini with Retina Display cost the same ($399). Which one should I buy?
The obvious question here is your preference in screen size. The smaller iPad Mini with Retina features a 7.9-inch display, compared with the iPad 4's 9.7-inch screen, which makes it more portable. This, however, can also affect how content looks on both screens, and your choice depends on how you most frequently use the device. For example, if you want to use your iPad to watch movies in bed or pair it with a Bluetooth keyboard for productivity, you might want to go with the larger model.
The iPad Mini with Retina Display is lighter, more compact and easier to hold in one hand. So if you frequently use your tablet to play games or read news articles on the subway and need to squeeze it in your purse, the Mini may be a more viable option. To be precise, the iPad Mini with Retina Display is 0.71 pound lighter than the iPad 4 (0.73 pound vs. 1.44 pounds).
Although smaller, the iPad Mini with Retina Display offers a slightly better value since it uses Apple's 64-bit A7 processor. It's a miniature version of the iPad Air in every sense of the word — meaning it features the same angular lightweight design and slim side bezels.
Another important factor to consider is storage space. Apple is only offering a 16GB version of the iPad 4 and non-Retina iPad Mini, so if you're hoping to grab a 32GB, 64GB or 128GB iPad, you'll have to go with the Air or Retina Display Mini.
Should I buy the Retina Display iPad Mini ($399) or the first-generation iPad Mini ($299)?
Price is the biggest part of this decision. The newer iPad Mini comes with a higher-resolution display (2,048x1,536 pixels vs. 1,024x768 pixels) and a faster A7 64-bit processor, compared with the previous-generation's A5 chip. This means that images and video will look sharper and more detailed compared with what they look like on the older model, and iOS will feel smoother thanks to the A7 chip's processing power. The extra $100 is certainly justifiable and very much worth it in this case.
If you're looking for a cheaper 7-inch tablet and don't want to make the switch to Android, the iPad Mini without Retina will still get the job done. It's also just as portable as the Retina Display Mini, but although it's cheaper, the non-Retina iPad Mini isn't a great value.
The iPad Mini had been considered to be behind the curve in the overall tablet market before the Retina version was released. For example, Android tablets such as the Nexus 7 (2013) offer a faster quad-core processor and sharper screen for less than $300, whereas Apple's tablet was still stuck on dual-core computing until the second-generation Mini was released. Although more expensive than its Android rivals, the iPad Mini with Retina was essentially Apple's answer to the competition.
Should I get a Wi-Fi-only model or step it up to LTE?
If you're looking for the cheapest iPad possible, stick with Wi-Fi only. Adding LTE support will immediately tack on $130 to your final price, and it's also likely to make your monthly phone bill more expensive. The benefit, however, is that you won't have to worry about constantly scouting out a Wi-Fi connection. You'll be able to use your iPad on the bus, in the park and anywhere else you get cell service.
How much storage should I get?
This is a bit trickier to answer, but like most of these questions, it depends on how much you're willing to spend and how you plan to use your iPad. For most users, the 16GB iPad is entirely sufficient. If you plan to use your device for things like checking email, playing casual games, reading the news, and streaming video through Netflix or Hulu, the smallest storage option is just fine.
You may need to bump up to 32GB if you're the type of person who likes to save larger files on your tablet. For instance, if you download the occasional movie or book and install graphics-intensive apps or games from the App Store, you may benefit from paying the extra $100 to double your storage space.
You probably won't need the 64GB version unless you really plan on filling your iPad with downloaded movies and TV episodes and feel the need to install dozens of large apps. Don't opt for the 128GB iPad unless you plan on storing your entire HD movie collection on your iPad.
What color iPad should I buy?
This is a purely aesthetic decision, but it's still a crucial one. The choice largely depends on your personal preference, although some may argue that a black screen is better for consuming video. Since the brain tends to ignore the black border around what you're watching, it can offer a more suitable viewing experience — which is why HD TVs are usually black. Black, however, does tend to show fingerprints and smudges on the screen more prominently.
Which retailer should I buy from?
You don't need to shop at an Apple store to buy an iPad, and third-party retailers tend to offer compelling discounts every so often. Both Walmart and Target are currently selling Apple's lineup of iPads for the same price as the company's store, but you can grab a free $30 Target gift card when you buy the 16GB Wi-Fi only iPad Mini without Retina Display. At the time of writing, Best Buy offers the most intriguing discount. The electronics giant is cutting the prices of different variations of the iPad Mini with Retina Display and the iPad Air, which you can view here. The discounts range between $20 and $60.
Which carrier should I go with if I buy an iPad with LTE?
This depends on a variety of factors, but here's a general breakdown of how the major carriers compare.
T-Mobile offers the 16GB iPad Air for $0 down and 24 consecutive monthly payments of $26.25. You can also choose to buy the iPad at its full retail price up front. The case is similar with the Retina Display iPad Mini — you can opt to pay $22.08 per month for 24 months or you can purchase the 16GB slate for $529.92 up front. Prices vary depending on how much storage space you choose.
In terms of data plans, T-Mobile offers 500MB for $50 per month, 2.5GB for $60 per month and unlimited data for $70 per month.
Verizon is selling the 16GB LTE iPad Air for $429.99 with a two-year carrier contract and $629.99 off-contract. Similarly, the iPad Mini with Retina Display starts at $329.99 on a two-year contract and $529 off-contract.
With the carrier's Share Everything plan, you can choose data capacities ranging from 4GB ($30) to 50GB ($335) per month.
Sprint offers a few options for iPad buyers, but its subsidized prices are a bit higher than Verizon's. The 16GB iPad Air costs $529.99 with a two-year Sprint contract; the iPad Mini with Retina Display starts at $429.99 and the 16GB non-Retina iPad Mini sells for $199.99 on contract. Sprint also offers the 128GB iPad 4 for $649.99 on a two-year contract.
The carrier offers a few options under its Tablet Only plan, with choices ranging from $10 for 100MB per month to $49.99 for 6GB per month.
Like Sprint, AT&T is also selling the 16GB iPad Air for $529.99 on a two-year contract. The iPad Mini with Retina Display and iPad 2 are both available for $429.99 on a two year contract.
AT&T's shared data plans range from $30 for 4GB per month and $335 for 50GB per month, which is very similar to Verizon's pricing options.