Apple improves low-end iPad value, but is it enough?

iPad 4
iPad 4 (Image credit: iMore)

The iPad 2 is finally gone, and in its place is an iPad that's a much better value.

While the iPhone 5c 8 GB model didn't merit even a peep from Apple's PR department, they certainly were happy to announce that the fourth-generationiPad has replaced the iPad 2 as the value-priced model in the lineup. Will the iPad with Retina display have the same sort of extraordinarily long run as the iPad 2?

One hell of a run

Let's toast the iPad 2. It had one hell of a good run for a device in as fast-moving a market as tablets. The second generation iPad was introduced in March, 2011 and lasted three years and one week. It was the first refresh of the iPad, a then still-novel tablet device that had come on the scene in April of 2010.

Apple trimmed the device, made it lighter, changing the shape of the back to make it easier to hold, putting inside a new, faster A5 processor and a rear-facing camera, which gave rise to the pheonomenon of iPad users blocking your view of special events by holding up their devices to record them.

The iPad 2 has remained around since then, surviving not one, not two but three refreshes to the 9.7 inch iPad line. The third and fourth-generation iPads sported Retina Displays and significantly better electronics inside the case, but kept the same case design. And then last fall Apple scrapped that form factor all together in favor of a totally redesigned full-sized iPad — the lightweight, nimble and incredibly powerful iPad Air.

Through all of it the iPad 2 stayed in production, a steady target for schools, institutional buyers and others interested in a lower-priced iPad device.

New (old) kid on the block

But that changed on Tuesday when Apple replaced the iPad 2 with the fourth-generation iPad as the value-priced model; it's available for the same price as its predecessor, but comes much better equipped.

The iPad with Retina display, as Apple calls it, touts a lot of other features besides just the higher-resolution display: It has an A6X chip, better iSight and FaceTime cameras and ups its cell offering with optional 4G LTE for another $130. Like its forebear, the new "old" iPad is limited to only one memory configuration — 16 GB, but that base model sets you back $399, $100 less than the iPad Air. You have a Lightning connector-equipped device so you don't have to jockey different charging/sync cables everywhere you travel.

What's more, you have a device that not only runs iOS 7, but runs it well. The iPad 2 was left out of video sharing via iCloud. AirDrop didn't work on the iPad 2. The iPad 2 didn't have Siri, either.

All told, this new value-priced iPad is a much better deal than the iPad 2, and certainly worth considering if you're in the market for a new laptop and haven't got the cake for a new iPad Air.

Low-end value improves

Just like before, the new low-end iPad is the same price as the entry-level iPad mini with Retina display. Comparing the iPad with Retina display to the iPad mini with Retina display, the mini clearly wins out on spec — it has a dramatically faster processor. It's thinner, more lightweight, a bit more future-proof.

But the iPad mini with Retina display is just that — mini. And that 9.7 inch screen is a popular choice for schools buying iPads for students, for corporate use and for people who just simply don't want a smaller 7.9 inch screen.

There's undoubtedly still a place at the table for the iPad with Retina display. Whether it'll stick around as long as its predecessor will depend on how many get sold and how the iPad itself and the iOS platform both develop. One thing's for certain: you're getting better bang for your buck today. Suddenly a low-end iPad is an attractive purchase.

At least until the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display get refreshed. Then all bets are off.

What do you think? Is the new low-end iPad a more attractive proposition? Are you considering picking one up to replace an older iPad? Tell me what you think in the comments.

Peter Cohen