How to choose the perfect iPad upgrade for you.
One of the hardest decisions we face is whether or not to upgrade from our current iPad to the latest and greatest iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4. If you have unlimited funds, you can just buy everything, all the time. Most of us don't, however, so we need to check out the new features, see how they compare to what we already have, and decide if the difference is worth the price of an entirely new device, a price that starts at $399 and goes up considerably from there. So, what's the difference between your current iPad and the new ones, and is there value enough to justify the upgrade cost?
Laminated Retina displays
The iPad 2 and original iPad mini both have standard density 1024x768 pixel displays. So, while both are similarly powered, and both can run iOS 9 apps, neither look as good as their Retina counterparts. This is most noticeable with small text in ebooks and web pages, or the thin lines in iOS 9 glyphs and other interface elements. Even photos won't look as crisp and clear on standard displays as they will on Retina.
What's more, the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 both have laminated displays and anti-glare coating which eliminates the gap between the glass and LCD, making for even better visibility—as though the pixels are really at your fingertips. The iPad mini 4 also has the same, fuller color space as the iPad Air 2 so reds and magentas look deeper and richer.
If you're using an iPad mini or iPad 2 and display density matters to you, you should consider upgrading. If you're using anything up to and including an original iPad Air or iPad mini 3 and display quality matters to you, you may also want to consider upgrading.
Apple A8 and Apple A8X processors
The original iPad debuted with Apple's first branded chipset, the A4. The iPad 2 introduced the A5, which was also used in the iPad mini. The iPad 3 launched with the A5X, which, due to the high-density Retina display, struggled under heavy graphical loads.
The iPad 4 had the Apple A6X, based on Apple's first custom CPU, the Swift, and had plenty of power. The iPad Air, iPad mini 2, and iPad mini 3 all have the 64-bit Cyclone-powered Apple A7 processors and M7 motion coprocessors—the same chips found in the iPhone 5s.
The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 have the second generation 64-bit Typhoon-powered Apple 8 processors and M8 motion coprocessors—the same chips found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The iPad Air 2, however, has the Apple A8
If you have an original iPad, you're going to want to upgrade. If you have an iPad mini, iPad 2, or iPad 3, you're going to want to strongly consider upgrading as well.
The original iPad and iPad 2 don't offer LTE 4G networking. The iPad 3 does, but very limited bands that didn't offer much support outside North America. The iPad 4 and original iPad mini both had good support for international LTE bands. The iPad Air and iPad mini 2 offer even more bands, for even more places, and the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 offers the best LTE support yet, including LTE Advanced up to 150 Mbps.
Likewise, the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 include 802.11ac Wi-Fi with multi-in, multi-out (MIMO) for up to 866 Mbps. That's the fastest Wi-Fi ever put into iPads.
If you have an 802.11ac router and you want as much Wi-Fi speed as possible, you'll want an iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 4.
If you live or travel to a part of the world where the new bands are necessary, you'll want an iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 4 with cellular. If you live in an area with LTE Advanced and speed is important to you, you'll likely also want to look at the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 with cellular.
The original iPad had no cameras at all. The iPad 2 added them for the first time, but they weren't great. The iPad 3, iPad 4, and original iPad mini both had better cameras, at least as far as tablet cameras go. The iPad Air, iPad mini 2, and iPad mini 3 all have improved FaceTime HD cameras with back illuminated sensors and larger sensors.
The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4 both have a much better iSight camera, somewhere between the iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 on paper. They also have the significantly improved Apple A8 image signal process (ISP) which can produce better focused, balanced, and exposed images.
Again, the original iPad fares terribly here, since its camera is non-existant. The other iPads are all middling at best.
The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4, on the other hand, are serious upgrades and compelling ons if cameras matter to you.
The original iPad, iPad 2, and iPad 3 all have the old 30-pin Dock connectors. All new iOS devices will be using the all-new Lightning connector going forward, and that's who accessory makers will be targeting. That means, if you have one of those iPads, it's worth considering an upgrade.
Neither the original iPad nor the iPad 2 have Siri, Apple's virtual digital assistant. All more recent iPads do. Although it's a secondary, natural language-based interface layer, Siri does provide all sorts of benefits, including hands-free control, and faster workflows for many built-in apps, and accessibility for those with visual impairments.
Touch ID and Apple Pay
iPad, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad mini 2 are all bereft of Touch ID. That means you can't use your fingerprint to easily unlock them or authorize iTunes or App Store purchases. You can also authenticate others apps, like password managers and banking clients, and use Apple Pay for online shopping.
If more convenient security, and the ability to use Apple Pay in-app are important to you, you might want to consider upgrading to the iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 4.
iOS 9 compatibility
The ability to run iOS 9, and to be compatible with iOS 9 apps, would normally be a major consideration when talking about iPad upgrades. This year, however, Apple is once again supporting every device going back to the original 2012 iPad mini and the 2011 iPad 2. So, almost everyone will be binary-compatible with all the new apps coming up this year and next. The original iPad, which couldn't even run iOS 7, can't run iOS 8.
If you're running an Original 2010 iPad, you should absolutely upgrade.
Split View multitasking
One of the new, headline features in iOS 9 is multi-app multitasking for iPad. It includes picture-in-picture (PiP), which lets you keep watching video while you work on something else; slide over app access, so you can quickly do a few things in a sidebar and then go right back to your main workspace; and split view, which lets you run two full-blown apps side-by-side. All of them are huge boons to iPad productivity, but due to chipset and memory requirements, they're not all available on all older iPads.
Picture-in-picture (PiP) and slide over only work on iPad mini 2, iPad mini 3, iPad Air, and iPad Air 2. And, thanks to the need for 2 GB of memory, split view only works on iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 2.
If you want to multitask like a champ, you'll want an iPad mini 4 or iPad Air 2.
Should you upgrade to the iPad mini 4?
If you want a 7.9-inch tablet with an Apple A8 processor, 2 GB of memory and the ability to run split view multitasking apps, or an 8 megapixel camera, then you'll want an iPad mini 4.
The laminated screen, gold finish, Touch ID and Apple Pay, and more affordable high-capacity storage might also make it compelling.
Should you upgrade to the iPad Air 2?
If you want a 9.7-inch tablet with an Apple A8X processor, 2 GB of memory and the ability to run split view multitasking apps, Touch ID and Apple Pay, or an 8 megapixel camera, then you'll want an iPad Air 2.
The laminated screen, gold finish, and more affordable high-capacity storage might also make it compelling.
If you're still not sure about about upgrading to an iPad Air or Retina iPad mini, jump into our iPad discussion forums and the best community in mobile will happily help you out.