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iPad Air vs iPad 4: Which should you buy?

Andrew Williams by

iPad Air vs iPad 4
iPad Air vs iPad 4

iPad Air and iPad 4: What's different?

The iPad Air, once called the iPad 5, is Apple's flagship tablet. It sits above the iPad mini 2, but Apple has now reintroduced the iPad 4 that the iPad Air replaced as the alternative to it instead of the ageing iPad 2. Does this make the 'cheaper alternative' iPad worth considering again?

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The iPad Air is 100g lighter

Easily the most important change in the iPad Air is its new design. Taking inspiration from the iPad mini, the screen surround is much smaller than ever before, and the tablet is much lighter and thinner.

If the iPad mini won you around in the last generation, the full-size one is seriously worth considering this time.

It’s less than 7.5mm thick and weighs under just 469g. That’s a good millimetre and change thinner, and more than 100g lighter than the iPad 4. Just as important, it’s significantly less wide and less tall than the last one. This makes the iPad Air much more portable and much more compact.

It's a serious advantage.

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The iPad Air has a faster processor, but does it matter?

Like the iPhone 5S, the iPad Air has made the jump to 64-bit with its processor. The tablet uses a new Apple A7 chip, designed to give it roughly the same power as the iPhone 5S, once you take into account the masses of extra pixels the tablet needs to account for. We believe it may be clocked faster iPhone 5S's CPU - as the more pixels a device needs to render, the more power it’ll need.

The benefits of the A7’s ’64-bit’-ness won’t become truly apparent for a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s not significantly more powerful than the 32-bit Apple A6X chip of the iPad 4 in its own right. You’ll get better graphics, and better gaming performance (and support) a year or two down the line with an iPad Air. And it already lets you use more tracks in the Garageband music maker.

However, the great majority of people will probably find this doesn't matter much to them day-to-day. The iPad 4 remains a very snappy and reliably responsive tablet, so unless you're playing the latest games there's no need to lose sleep over this.

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And they have (more or less) the same screen

It’s all change for the iPad Air in several respects, but the appearance of the screen hasn’t changed a great deal. The iPad Air has a 9.7-inch ‘Retina’ display of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.

Contrast, colour reproduction and sharpness were all pretty great in the iPad 4 – and they’re just as good in the new one. Both tablets use IPS-type screens, which offer great angled viewing, making them perfect for sharing a movie on (aside from that they’re still pretty small).

The iPad screen used to be a king of displays, but in the last year or so rivals have started to catch up. The Google Nexus 7 2 is a great example – its 7-inch Full HD screen makes the tablet a real bargain. Apple's iPad may be among the best, but it no longer leads the pack in the way it used to.

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They run the exact same software and apps

The iPad Air is cleverer, faster and slimmer than the iPad 4, but will it feel completely different to use? Not a chance.

Both tablets use iOS 7, the software it shares with the iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S and iPad mini 2. All you’ll miss out on with an iPad 4 are the games twelve months or so down the line that choose to drop support for ‘older’ tablets like the fourth-gen iPad, but that's a long way away yet.

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The iPad Air has a better camera

Like the iPad mini 2, the iPad 5 has a camera improved over that of the last generation’s one. The iPad 4 has a 5-megapixel sensor, the iPad 5 still has a 5-megapixel sensor, but the sensor itself has been improved along with the processing engine to offer better image quality.

There’s no flash still, though, so it’s a fairly minor change in terms of how much people will notice it.

iPad Air vs iPad 4

iPad Air vs iPad 4: Which should you buy?

The final key difference between the two is the iPad 4, or iPad with Retina display as Apple calls it, is only available as 16GB Wi-Fi model or 16GB Wi-Fi Cellular. If you want more than 16GB of storage you'll have to buy an iPad Air.

The price difference, meanwhile, is quite small. A 16GB iPad now costs £329 vs. the £399 of the 16GB iPad Air. That's a saving of £70. Our verdict? If you're really not bothered by the extra weight of the iPad 4 then the saving is probably worth it, but in our experience the design and lightness of the iPad Air is transformative. If you can afford an extra £70, we say spend it.<

Go to comments


October 22, 2013, 7:40 pm

what does it do that is different to the iPad 4?


October 22, 2013, 7:56 pm

not much different really but with the new ios update your ipad 4 is gonna be a lot slower and glitchy. my 6 months old ipad 3 is obsolete because its so slow now,


October 22, 2013, 10:24 pm

What does "obsolete" mean?


October 23, 2013, 12:49 am

out of date


October 23, 2013, 2:20 am

Actually, I went to Webster's for the definition of "obsolete". It defined obsolete as "no longer in use or useful".

Hard to see how the iPad 4 fits that description. Hell, even my iPad 2 handles many things perfectly well.

Will probably get a iPad Air, but it is a luxury not a necessity either for work related tasks (where I use my iPad a lot, especially when traveling) or for home personal use.


October 23, 2013, 6:03 am

Why don't you guys ever think about how limited you're gonna be in a years time regards what you can do with it? You'll probably:
- be on a forced upgrade path whereby the new iOS9 has certain apps that will only run on it, but the hardware to run it needs the ipad10 even though the hardware in the ipad1 should be plenty to run it
- you'll be paying a premium on the proprietary connectors. If apple were to ever be not as big as they are you're going to loose support because they don't use standards such as usb
- because the hardware is poorly documented and closed you're not going to be able to run your own software down the line

In short, why are you falling for this upgrade cycle? You're only going to get a few years out of what you're buying. One day it'll sit in your garage like that Psion I PDA.

Just because it's shiny doesn't mean it's good. It may be quality now but it won't be quality for long.


October 23, 2013, 7:24 am

same screen as iPad 4 and 3... zzz, same shape, same icons, same design, same expensive price...


October 23, 2013, 11:38 am

I agree the Ipad 3 is obsolete, the ipad 2 and 4 is not. The 3 was the first to use the new Retina display, but the processor / battery wasnt really upto power. It wasnt a very balanced system. The Ipad 4 resolved those issues and was a very good product. The Ipad2 (Which I own) still does most of what I need, but for be I was waiting for the new iPad to be released. The kids can have the ipad2 for their games.


October 23, 2013, 2:20 pm

No one's forcing you to buy it...


October 23, 2013, 2:44 pm

1. No progress would ever come if every company was forced to release new programs that runs on vanilla software. Will Excel 2012 run on Windows 3.11?

2. They do use USB on the other side of the lightning cable. And with over a billion iOS devices in the wild you would think that there were a billion cables accompanying them. If that's not enough for it to be a standard then I don't know what is.

3. Wait what? Is this the same as no. 1? Who's software? Your own or Apple's?

In short, why are you whining? Moore's states that processing power doubles every 1.5 years which means that you can create more advanced software that utilizes all that power which by extent also means that old hardware isn't powerful enough to run the new software. Point invalid go and play Minesweeper on your Psion.

What exactly do you mean by "It may be quality now but it won't be quality for long."? Quality doesn't deteriorate over time, although new products may come that hold a higher standard, but the general quality isn't less after a while. High quality products last longer. Nothing lasts forever, except original Game Boy, that thing was built to last.


October 23, 2013, 4:43 pm

I'm looking forward to the egg shaped tablet myself. Just what the market needs, more shapes...


October 23, 2013, 10:26 pm

When you start making egg shaped websites then I'm sure they'll appear. The film studios would have to be in on it too.


October 24, 2013, 9:45 am

'You’ll get better graphics, and better gaming performance (and support) a year or two down the line with an iPad 4.'Really?


October 24, 2013, 10:55 am

Now that would be something to write about. Mistake edited! Thanks for the spot.


October 24, 2013, 8:18 pm

I love Apple, but man, there isnt much change.


October 24, 2013, 8:19 pm

Relax, no it isnt.

Michael Kaldezar

November 2, 2013, 1:27 pm

total BS! i have an ipad 2 running iOS 7 without any noticeable slowing down what meds are you on?


November 11, 2013, 10:33 pm

Still beats everyone else! I love how the bezel dimension is better and thinner, best part about the ipad air!

mal t

November 12, 2013, 10:12 pm

now the air is out I got an ipad 4 £100 cheaper ka ching!

Mal T

November 12, 2013, 10:18 pm

not upgradeable maybe but not obsolete, I still have an original ipad that's 3 years old I've given to my mother, it's still going strong on IOS 5! Only upgrading to ipad 4 as I have a bit of spare cash and my mother's always 'borrowing' it


November 25, 2013, 12:33 am

I'm using the iPad 3 with iOS7 and it runs just fine and I wish it wasn't because then I could justify buying an ipad air but I can't. in fact I can honestly say I've never had any issues with processing or battery power despite using it for resource hungry development tools

Edmond DiClemente

December 1, 2013, 8:29 pm



December 31, 2013, 11:10 pm

Back casing is the main reason why ipad air is lighter than the ipad 4. Low quality for the material used but at the same time consider by many as an advantage. Clever isn't it? I have my ipad 4 for 9 months and recently purchase the air. There is not much difference, display wise and connectivity to the internet knowing that Air has A7 chips. Additional features by Air are most likely useful and significant mainly to Apple developed apps.

Prem Desai

March 18, 2014, 11:32 am

I have both and prefer to use the 4 because it feels better. The air feels delicate, not helped by the hollow tapping sounds made when typing on the touchscreen.

From a user experience in terms of response, screen quality, there's no difference. I'm sure benchmarks say otherwise.

I don't use the camera as it's naff on both models.

The only thing in the air's favour is that it's newer so will become obsolete later.

Question is: if the air is so good, they why sell the 4 at all??!!


March 18, 2014, 2:56 pm

Just spend the extra £70 your spending £300+ anyway so what's £70 more for at least a 2 year product!?

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