Mobile Technology

iPad Air 2 vs. iPad Air and older 9.7-in iPads: Worth the upgrade?

iPad Air 2 vs. iPad Air and ol...
Gizmag compares every 9.7 iPad to date, including the 2014 iPad Air 2
Gizmag compares every 9.7 iPad to date, including the 2014 iPad Air 2
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Gizmag compares every 9.7 iPad to date, including the 2014 iPad Air 2
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Gizmag compares every 9.7 iPad to date, including the 2014 iPad Air 2
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It may be called the iPad Air 2, but it's really Apple's sixth-generation full-sized iPad. Maybe you have one of the older 9.7-in models, and are wondering if it's worth upgrading? Let Gizmag lend a hand, as we compare the iPad Air 2 to the iPad Air 1 and all the older full-sized iPads.

Before we jump in, let's break down exactly which iPads we're going to be looking at:

  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Air
  • 4th-gen iPad
  • 3rd-gen iPad
  • iPad 2
  • iPad

For each category you'll see two rows of images, ordered exactly as they are in the list above. If you lose track, just hop back up here.

Model numbers

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If you aren't sure which iPad you already have, just find its model number (written in tiny text near the bottom of the tablet's back) and check it against this list.

Release date

Original release dates (row 1)
Original release dates (row 1)

Original release dates (row 2)
Original release dates (row 2)

Forget how long you've had your current iPad? Or maybe you had no idea that your iPad 2 first launched three-and-a-half years ago? These are the dates that each tablet originally released.

Size

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Dimensions (row 1)

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The first four iPads had similar heights and widths, but varying thickness. Then with last year's iPad Air, Apple gave the product a makeover, with a narrower face and dramatically thinner build.

This year's iPad Air 2 takes things even farther, with an insane 6.1 mm (0.24-in) thickness. That's 19 percent thinner than last year's model.

Weight

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We see a similar trend with weight: the first four iPads were relatively hefty, but then the iPad Air turned a corner. And the iPad Air 2 is 7 percent lighter than last year's Air.

Build

Build (row 1)
Build (row 1)

Build (row 2)
Build (row 2)

You won't see any plastic on Apple tablets, as all six iPads have aluminum unibody constructions.

Colors

Color options (row 1)
Color options (row 1)

Color options (row 2)
Color options (row 2)

The iPad Air 2 is the first to come in more than two color options. You can now buy it in the same three hues as you can the latest iPhones.

Display (size)

Display (size) (row 1)
Display (size) (row 1)

Display (size) (row 2)
Display (size) (row 2)

If this post's title didn't spoil it for you, all six full-sized iPads have 9.7-in screens. They also all share the same 4:3 aspect ratio.

Display (resolution)

Display resolution (and pixel density) (row 1)
Display resolution (and pixel density) (row 1)

Display resolution (and pixel density) (row 2)
Display resolution (and pixel density) (row 2)

In early 2012, the iPad's display quality took a big leap forward with the first iPad Retina Display. It packs in 4x the pixels of either of the first two iPads.

Apple hasn't changed the resolution since then, but the company says that the iPad Air 2 has greater contrast and better viewing angles.

Anti-reflective display

Anti-glare display (row 1)
Anti-glare display (row 1)

Anti-glare display (row 2)
Anti-glare display (row 2)

The iPad Air 2 is also Apple's first tablet to have an anti-glare coating on its display. Apple says it can reduce glare by 56 percent.

Fingerprint sensor

Touch ID fingerprint sensor (row 1)
Touch ID fingerprint sensor (row 1)

Touch ID fingerprint sensor (row 2)
Touch ID fingerprint sensor (row 2)

The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 both have Apple's Touch ID sensor in place of the old home button. It lets you easily secure your tablet and log into Touch ID-enabled apps.

Pay

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Apple Pay (row 2)
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Touch ID also lets you pay with the online portion of Apple Pay. As for the physical (in-store) portion, you'll need an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, or the upcoming Apple Watch.

Storage

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The iPad Air 2 follows the iPhones 6 and 6 Plus in skipping the 32 GB storage tier, and jumping straight to 64 GB.

Chip

System-on-a-chip (row 1)
System-on-a-chip (row 1)

System-on-a-chip (row 2)
System-on-a-chip (row 2)

As you might expect, each new iPad was faster than its predecessors. The last two iPads have 64-bit architecture, which moves the tablets' foundations closer to that of desktop PCs.

RAM

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The 2 GB of RAM in the iPad Air 2 should be a nice upgrade. After returning from another app or tab in the iPad Air 1, I find browser tabs needing to reload more often than I'd like.

Connector

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Connector (row 1)

Connector (row 2)
Connector (row 2)

The last three 9.7-in iPads have moved to Apple's smaller and reversible Lightning connector. The older iPads used the big 30-pin cables, which you can trace all the way back to some of the early iPods.

Side switch

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Side switch (row 1)

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Side switch (row 2)

In the name of thinness, Apple cut the side switch from the iPad Air 2. In the older models, it could be used to either lock the screen's orientation or mute audio.

LTE

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LTE (row 1)

LTE (row 2)
LTE (row 2)

All of the iPads were originally sold in either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi with cellular models, but only the last four have supported LTE.

Apple SIM

Apple SIM (row 1)
Apple SIM (row 1)

Apple SIM (row 2)
Apple SIM (row 2)

With the iPad Air 2, Apple is dropping a bomb on the wireless carriers with the Apple SIM. This customer-friendly card lets you switch among carriers (in the US and UK only) without changing SIMs. Of course you have to be using a more expensive cellular-enabled iPad though.

Battery

Battery (row 1)
Battery (row 1)

Battery (row 2)
Battery (row 2)

The batteries in the newer models might look weaker, but, thanks to more power-efficient processing, all the iPads should have roughly the same battery life (Apple originally advertised the same "up to 10 hours of web surfing over Wi-Fi" in every model).

Siri

Siri (row 1)
Siri (row 1)

Siri (row 2)
Siri (row 2)

Apple didn't add Siri to the iPad until iOS 5 arrived on the 3rd-gen model. Jailbreakers have proven that the voice assistant can run on the iPads 1 and 2 without a hitch, but Apple chose not to include it (perhaps as an incentive to upgrade?).

Smart Cover support

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Smart cover support (row 1)

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The original iPad doesn't have the internal magnets needed to use Apple (or third-party) Smart Covers. You know, the ones that automatically turn your screen off when the cover is closed, and vice versa.

Software

Current software version (row 1)
Current software version (row 1)

Current software version (row 2)
Current software version (row 2)

Even the three-and-a-half-year-old iPad 2 received the big iOS 8 update in September. The original iPad is stuck on iOS 5.1.1 – from way back in May of 2012.

Starting price (current)

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Current starting price (row 1)

Current starting price (row 2)
Current starting price (row 2)

All of these iPads originally started at US$500 for 16 GB and Wi-Fi only. Today only the iPad Airs are still officially available (though you can probably still find the iPad 4 for a little while, until retailers clear out their stock).

Upgrade time?

If you own an iPad from 2012 or earlier, even last year's iPad Air will be a big step up from what you have right now. And its new $400 price tag makes it the best deal on a discounted (year-old) iPad yet.But the iPad Air 2, while not a dramatic upgrade, is a bigger update than you might think. You can hit up our full iPad Air 2 review for more.

7 comments
Dom Soni
I definitely think one should upgrade... from the iPad to the tab s or the tab pro
Seth Miesters
Dom has a point. Apple is out of gas. They can refine their wares but without Steve Jobs, they are no longer able to create new product.
Ralph Oldman
Since not so green Apple stopped supporting my original ipad making it pretty much a landfill piece, I won't be getting a newer model.
rubley
I just bought an iPad Air for testing software. What a piece of crap. Can't even see the numbers on the keyboard with shifting, even though there is plenty of room. Browser sucks compared to Android. Still has a 9.7" screen. Browser tries to draw everything at 1024 x 768 still. Screen isn't even impressive compared to the newest Samsung tablets. Still can't see it as mass storage in Windows. Ugg, why do people put up with zero progress? Get a Galaxy Tab S 10.5
Bob Smogango
Can't design a new product? At least Apple is on their second gen 64 Bit ARM processors whereas Android products aren't even at 64 Bit.
rubley
You realize 64 bit is MEANINGLESS right?? There is literally zero benefit to an end user. I'm supposed to care that its 64-bit, but ignore the fact that I can't get a keyboard that always displays the @$# numbers? Why can't I have widgets on the dashboard? Why can't it remember my store password? Why can't I drag-n-drop files to it? Why doesn't the browser, after all these years of failing, not allow scrolling an iframe? Ugg, the iPad is the absolute worst tablet on the market.
AussieTechHead
I took these articles too seriously and upgraded to iPad Air 2 from ipad 3 believing the hype it's the best tablet in the world, and I am kicking myself for it. IOS buggy and laggy with only a few apps running, worse still it requires occassional restart to make internet work among other things. Battery life, terrible, not the 10 hours reported. Peformance, screen, user experience, to be honest it feels no different to my old iPad. This review and others like it are just hype. The only truth is that it's lighter and thinner. To add insult to injury, my nephew showed off his galaxy tab. It was also light and thin, only easier to hold and with a screen that made better use of the real estate, thinner borders, and the screen clearly richer and brighter. The fluid and dynamic nature of the android OS widgets and menus, made my feel old and obsolete. You got me this time Apple, but my next device, while it probably won't be android, it definitely will not be Apple.