The iPad Air and the iPad with Retina Display (4th generation) have more similarities than they do differences. This can make deciding which to buy difficult, especially since a last-generation model will always be less expensive than what’s just been released.
This article will highlight the changes Apple has made with the iPad Air, and help discern which is a ‘better buy’. If you are considering a slightly more portable tablet, a side-by-side comparison of the iPad Air and the iPad Mini can be found here.
The iPad Air and the iPad with Retina Display both feature a 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 resolution Retina Display.
What you need to know: In terms of screen size and quality, the iPad Air and the iPad with Retina Display are exactly the same. If you are going for a tablet with a high-quality and decently large screen, either model will offer it to you.
A brief explanation of what a Retina Display is (compared to a traditional display) can be found in the ‘display’ section of the article “MacBook Pro Versus MacBook Pro with Retina Display“. The same basic principles apply to the iPad.
Storage Capacity and Price
The iPad Air comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB versions, and is priced at $499, $599, $699 and $799, respectively. A Wifi + Cellular model is available for each version, costing an additional $230 per model.
The iPad with Retina Display is only sold new in a 16GB version for $399, with a Wifi + Cellular model costing $529.
What you need to know: Customers looking to buy an iPad that is new and not pre-used are not given much choice in terms of storage capacity when it comes to the iPad with Retina Display. This is a major drawback for anyone hoping to carry more than 16GB of movies, songs, apps, etcetera, will them at all times. The iPad Air, on the other hand, has four different storage options, ranging from 16GB to 128GB.
Both models feature Wifi + Cellular versions, allowing users to access data services through a cellular network. These services cost a monthly fee, however, and the Wifi + Cellular iPads are significantly more expensive than their wifi-only counterparts.
Looking specifically at the 16GB versions of each model, the iPad Air costs $100 more than the iPad with Retina Display. For many consumers, cost alone is a deciding factor.
Processing Chip and Battery Life
The iPad Air comes with a 64-bit ‘A7’ processing unit with an M7 motion coprocessor. The iPad with Retina Display comes with a duel-core ‘A6X’ unit with quad-core graphics. Both models last up to 10 hours on their built-in batteries.
What you need to know: A newer processor is almost always a faster and more efficient processor. The iPad Air will perform some tasks better than the iPad with Retina Display. These tasks might include 3-D gaming and video editing. However, the speed differences between the two models is likely to be unnoticeable.
Due to their comparable processors, both iPad models will last up to 10 hours on a full charge.
Physical Specifications and Cameras
The iPad Air is 9.4 inches tall, 6.6 inches wide, and a mere 0.29 inches thin. It weighs approximately 1 pound. The iPad with Retina Display is 9.5 inches tall, 7.31 inches wide, and 0.37 inches thin, weighing approximately 1.44 pounds.
Both models feature a 1.2 mega-pixel FaceTime HD camera with 720p HD video and face detection on their front sides, and a 5 mega-pixel iSight camera with autofocus, f/2.4 aperture, HDR photo creation, and a hybrid IR filter on their backs. Both devices also shoot 1080p HD video.
What you need to know: Where the iPad Air and iPad with Retina Display perhaps differ the most is in their physical dimensions and weight. The iPad Air, as the name might allude to, weighs nearly a half pound less than the iPad with Retina Display. This difference is quite noticeable in a device of this size.
The iPad Air also features a significantly smaller bezel (the area around the screen) than the iPad with Retina Display. This makes the device narrower (effectively smaller) while simultaneously giving the illusion that its screen is larger than that of its predecessor.
In terms of height and thickness, the iPad is only slightly smaller than the iPad with Retina Display.
Lastly, both models have nearly identical camera modules. The only improvement made in the iPad Air is the allowance for 3x video zoom.
The iPad Air and the iPad with Retina Display have the same screen, both in terms of size and quality. Although its not in the name, the iPad Air does have a Retina Display. The two devices are tied in this area.
If storage capacity is a factor in your decision of which iPad to buy, only the iPad Air gives you options. For many, the need to have an iPad with more than 16GB is enough of a reason to go with the iPad Air over its predecessor.
The iPad with Retina Display, being an older model, is hands-down a cheaper buy.
Aside from the iPad Air’s smaller bezel and reduced weight, it is not a drastic physical improvement over the iPad with Retina Display. This does not mean that these improvements are not worth considering, however. It may help to visit an Apple retail store or official Apple retailer in order to see and feel the difference for yourself.
If you are looking to buy an iPad for the first time, buying the latest model (the iPad Air) may be a worthy investment. However, it is a relatively insignificant improvement over the iPad with Retina Display, making paying money to upgrade from the last-generation model questionable.
Both the iPad Air and the iPad with Retina Display can be purchased from the Apple online store, an official Apple retail store, or any authorized Apple retailer.
Thoughts or questions? Leave them in the comments section below.