The iPad is more affordable than ever, thanks to recent price cuts from Apple to its 9.7-inch and mini line, along with better storage options and great internal tech.
But if you already have an older 9.7-inch iPad or iPad mini, are these latest models worth the upgrade? Let's take a peek.
If you're considering the 2017 iPad or iPad mini 4 instead of an upgrade to the iPad Pro, chances are it's at least in part pricing-related. Apple's two base-model iPads are the cheapest tablets the company has ever sold, and they're inexpensive without a huge compromise on great features.
The iPads Pro begin at $649; in contrast, the 2017 iPad starts at $329, and the iPad mini 4 starts at $399. If you're on a budget, the 2017 iPad or iPad mini 4 are great options to upgrade from a previous iPad.
If you're still unsure about which model you want for your home, schoolwork, or office, check out our comparison piece before continuing.
The 2017 9.7-inch iPad sports a 2048x1536 display with a Retina density of 264 PPI (pixels per inch), while the iPad mini 4 has a 7.9-inch 2048x1536 display at 326 PPI — the best pixel density available on an iPad. The mini also has a fully laminated display, which removes the gap between the screen's pixels and the top glass, along with an antireflective coating for direct viewing in the sun.
In comparison, Apple's older 9.7-inch iPad, the iPad Air 2, has the exact same display as the 2017 iPad, but it also has the laminated display and antireflective coating of the iPad mini 4. No arguments to be made here: In terms of tech only, it's a superior display to the 2017 iPad.
The 2017 iPad's screen is very close in design to that of the iPad Air, which also has a 2048x1536 Retina density at 264 PPI, though it has a slightly different construction on account of the changes to the iPad's body.
Where the 2017 iPad reigns in display is over its even older 9.7-inch siblings, the second- and third-generation iPads.
The iPad mini 4 has no real competitor in display at its size: It's better than all prior iPad mini models, and its density is only beat by the iPhone 7 Plus with its 401 PPI display.
If you care about display quality, the 2017 iPad isn't going to win any awards — but it's a solid Retina offering from the Cupertino company. iPad Air 2 owners considering an upgrade might be better off with a 10.5-inch iPad Pro than the slight downgrade this screen provides.
If you're looking for an iPad mini upgrade, the iPad mini 4 has an excellent screen that rivals all but the high-end iPad Pro models; it excels for reading in direct sunlight, playing games, and browsing articles on the web.
Processors and graphics
The iPad has come a long way since its first-ever chipset, the 32-bit A4. The 2017 iPad ships with an A9 64-bit processor and M9 co-processor along with 2GB of RAM, while the mini 4 has the slightly older 64-bit A8 and M8 co-processor.
In this arena, the 2017 iPad and mini 4 beat all but their iPad Pro siblings: The iPad Air 2 has an A8X processor, while 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.
When announcing the A9 processor, Apple described the jump as being 70% faster than the A8, along with 90% faster graphics speeds. The jump from the A8X is a little smaller, but still provides a decent power boost for single-core operations. iMore's Geekbench scores peg the 2017 iPad at 2556 in single-core and 4453 in multi-core operations; in contrast, the iPad Air 2 comes in at 1810 in single-core and 4530 in multi-core. From Rene's review:
iPad  isn't the leap over the iPad Air 2 that iPad Pro was, especially for multi-threaded operations. But for single-threaded operations, which includes most user interactions, it's a respectable hop.
Realistically, very little outside high-end graphics apps, extremely intensive photo filters, or bleeding-edge games will peg an Apple A9 chipset. If you're coming from anything other than an iPad Air 2, things will be hockey-stick-graph better. Even coming from an iPad Air 2, the single thread improvement is enough to make everything seem snappier and more responsive.
The iPad mini 4, admittedly, has the slowest processor of the modern iPad line; despite storage and pricing changes over the past few years, the mini 4 has remained with an A8 processor. But in comparison to the other (even slower) mini models, the mini 4 still retains an edge.
As with display options, iPad Air 2 owners may be better off upgrading to an iPad Pro or waiting a year or two for the next iteration of the 9.7-inch model. But for all other iPad owners, the 2017 iPad is a more-than-respectable upgrade.
Here's one arena where the new 2017 iPad and iPad mini 4 trounce their past models. The 9.7-inch iPad comes in 32 and 128GB models, while the mini 4 comes in a single 128GB model.
Not only is more storage a welcome move from Apple, but it's at a huge discount for previous iPad owners looking to upgrade. 128GB rang up at a crazy $699 for the iPad Air 2 (that's $5.46/GB); in contrast, Apple charges just $429 for a 128GB 2017 iPad ($3.35/GB), and $399 for a 128GB mini 4 ($3.12/GB).
If you're looking on getting some of the best bang for your storage buck, both of these models are excellent upgrade opportunities.
Cameras and photography
Whether I love it or not, front- and rear-facing cameras have become a standard feature on the iPad line. Both the 2017 iPad and iPad mini 4 have an 8-megapixel rear camera sensor along with a f/2.4 aperture, five-element lens, and software features like Live Photos and 1080p video recording and image stabilization. The front-facing camera is a little less advanced, with a 1.2-megapixel sensor, f/2.2 aperture, 720p video, Retina Flash, and Live Photos.
This is the same camera architecture present in the iPad Air 2 but far superior to previous iPad models; the iPad Air has only a 5-megapixel rear camera sensor and lacks the improved ISP (image signal processor) of the 2017 iPad, Air 2, and mini 4.
iPad Air 2 owners should be fine without an upgrade this cycle, but if camera technology matters in your iPad purchase, it's worth looking into either the 2017 iPad or mini 4 when considering an upgrade.
If you care about networking speeds and you're considering picking up a cellular iPad, the 2017 iPad and iPad mini 4 have some of the most advanced iPad antenna technology out there. Both support 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi, multi-in, multi-out (MIMO) connections, and LTE (21 and 20 bands, respectively, including LTE Advanced). They also both ship with the Apple SIM, which makes it easy to pick a carrier on the go both at home and abroad.
As might not be surprising if you've gotten this far in the article, the iPad Air 2 is almost identical to the 2017 iPad in this department; earlier 9.7-inch iPad and mini models, however, support fewer bands (or no LTE connections at all).
If you're planning on picking up a cellular-enabled iPad, not only are the 2017 iPad and iPad mini 4 the cheapest options available, but they offer the most connectivity outside of the iPad Pro and Air 2 models.
Touch ID and Apple Pay
Touch ID is practically a necessity on Apple's devices at this point: It provides an easy unlock process for opening your iPad, sure, but it also lets users pay for purchases online and via the App Store with their fingerprint, rather than typing in lengthy passwords or remembering credit card information. (You can also authenticate third-party apps, like password managers and banking clients.)
Both the 2017 iPad and iPad mini 4 offer Apple's first-generation Touch ID sensor. The iPad Air 2 and mini 3 also have this sensor, but no other iPads sport it; as such, if you're rocking an older iPad and considering an upgrade to a Touch ID model, the 2017 iPad and mini 4 are the cheapest options for such a purchase.
iOS and multitasking support
iOS 11, coming in Fall of 2017, will build off iOS 9 and 10's multitasking support for iPad to introduce new interactions for tablet users.
Apple's iPad Pro models will get access to all the new multitasking features, but the 2017 iPad and iPad mini 4 still receive a decent chunk. From our FAQ:
9.7-inch iPad Pro, iPad mini 4 (7.9-inch iPad), and all other 9.7-inch iPads:
Slide Over: Supports Slide Over; only the Slide Over pane is useable when on the screen, with the background app or Split View apps greyed out.
Split View: Supports Compact (iPhone UI) size classes in Split view; it supports 50-50/25-75/75-25 views horizontally and 25-75/75-25 views vertically.
Picture-in-Picture: Supports PiP next to Slide Over and on top of Split View with only PiP and Slide Over in focus.
If you want to multitask like a champ in iOS 11, you'll need an iPad Pro, 2017 iPad, iPad Air 2, or mini 4 to do it. If you don't have any of these devices, it's worth considering an upgrade.
Who should upgrade to the iPad mini 4?
Users who want a smaller tablet with the full weight of iOS behind it will love the $399 iPad mini 4. Even with a slower processor than its peers, the mini 4 still speeds along like a champ. It also has the best non-Pro display currently for sale, and at some of Apple's best storage pricing.
Who should upgrade to the 2017 iPad?
If you need a larger tablet but don't have the budget or the need for Pro-level features, check out the $329 2017 iPad for your next tablet purchase. It offers many of the same features as the iPad Air 2, but at a lower price and more attractive storage capacity.
Who should wait?
iPad Air 2 owners who don't have the cash for the iPad Pro nor an urgent need to upgrade (a broken tablet, for example) can keep on enjoying their current tablet — it's on par with the current 2017 iPad in most every way, and still a great 9.7-inch machine. 2018 might bring a better upgrade opportunity or discounted iPad Pro models: a win either way.
Still have questions about upgrading to a 2017 iPad or iPad mini 4? Hop into our iPad discussion forums for more help or drop a message below in the comments!
- Which iPad model should you get?
- Should you upgrade to iPad Pro?
- iPad Pro vs. MacBook: Which should you buy?
- What storage size should you get?
- What color iPad Pro (2018) should you get?
- Which U.S. carrier and plan should you get?
- Should you get AppleCare+ or insurance?
- The best way to buy your iPad
- How to sell your iPad
- Buy iPad at Apple
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