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What are all the differences between the iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air? Is one of these older models still worth considering?
Please note that both the iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air have been discontinued. However, this Q&A has been updated subsequently with current iOS support details and more and can be quite useful for anyone buying or selling either model on the used market.
With just a quick glance at the original iPad Air models -- the iPad Air (Wi-Fi Only), (Wi-Fi/Cellular), and (Wi-Fi/TD-LTE - China) -- and the iPad 4th Gen models -- the iPad 4th Gen (Wi-Fi Only), (Wi-Fi/AT&T/GPS), and (Wi-Fi/Verizon & Sprint/GPS) -- it is clear that the devices are quite different from one another from the perspective of design, size, and weight alone.
Design, size, and weight are important differences and Apple boasts that the iPad Air is "20 percent thinner and 28% lighter" than the iPad 4th Gen. Specifically, when held upright in portrait mode, the iPad Air models are 9.4 inches tall, 6.6 inches wide, and 0.29 inches thick and weigh around a pound whereas the iPad 4th Gen models replaced are 9.50 inches tall, 7.31 inches wide, and 0.37 inches thick and weigh nearly a pound and a half.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad 4th Gen -- Left, iPad Air -- Right)
Although the reduction of nearly half a pound of weight certainly is impressive, bulk is not the only difference. There are important differences in terms of performance and connectivity, as well as unique identifiers that are important, also. There are some major similarities that are worth reviewing, too.
External Similarities & Differences
Both the iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air have the same display -- a glossy, IPS LED-backlit 9.7-inch 2048x1536 (264 ppi) "Retina" display -- but the iPad Air uses a completely different case design in the same style as introduced by the original iPad mini line -- with thinner bezels on the sides of the display than the iPad 4th Gen.
The iPad 4th Gen models either have a white or black front and a silver aluminum back, but the iPad Air models are available with either a white front and a silver back or a black front and a medium-toned gunmetal gray back that Apple refers to as "Space Gray."
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad 4th Gen -- Top, iPad Air -- Bottom)
The case shape also is quite different as the iPad 4th Gen models have a back that is not only .08 of an inch thicker, but that tapers much more sharply from the corners than the iPad Air, which has smoother, rounded rear corners.
Both the iPad 4th Gen and the original iPad Air also have dual cameras. Officially, both the rear-mounted 1080p 5 megapixel "iSight" cameras (f/2.4 aperture) and the front-mounted 720p 1.2 megapixel "FaceTime HD" cameras are identical.
However, as first discovered by iLounge, both cameras in the iPad Air have slightly smaller lenses than those in the iPad 4th Gen. In real world use, the iPad Air cameras produce slightly different colors and lighting than their predecessor, but none of these cameras produce particularly high quality images relative to recent iPhone models.
Additionally, both models have a "Lightning" port for power and connecting to a Mac or Windows PC, if desired, but the iPad Air models have stereo speakers and dual microphones, rather than just a single speaker and a single microphone like the iPad 4th Gen line.
Both the iPad 4th Gen and iPad Air models have 1 GB of RAM, but otherwise are quite different internally.
Specifically, the iPad 4th Gen models have a dual core 32-bit 1.4 GHz Apple A6X processor and originally were available with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of storage (with a 128 GB configuration added later). The iPad Air models, on the other hand, have a significantly faster dual core 64-bit 1.4 GHz Apple A7 processor and an M7 motion coprocessor and originally were offered with 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB of storage from day one.
However, on October 16, 2014, Apple discontinued the 64 GB and 128 GB configurations of the original iPad Air and cut the price of the remaining 16 GB and 32 GB configurations. Apple discontinued the original iPad Air altogether on March 21, 2016. Of course, all capacities remain available on the secondary market.
Although the iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air models use completely different case designs, it is not possible to visually differentiate between the different cellular capable models within each line. Subsequent iPad models also use a case design similar to the original iPad Air. Consequently, visual identification is not a good long-term method for differentiation.
Instead, one of the best methods for external identification is via Model Number. Model numbers are provided in tiny type toward the bottom of the back of each iPad.
Specifically, the iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air model numbers are the following:
These iPad models can be differentiated by other identifiers as well, such as the Order Number, which can be located by selecting the Settings app and pressing General > About and scrolling down to what is specified as "Model" within the iOS. For example, the Wi-Fi/AT&T configuration of the iPad 4th Gen in black with 16 GB of storage is MD516LL/A.
To pinpoint an exact iPad by a variety of different identifiers -- including its Serial Number -- please refer to EveryiPad.com's Ultimate iLookup feature as well as the EveryMac app available for iOS 5 or later, Android, and Kindle Fire.
Connectivity & Battery Life Differences
Both the iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air support Bluetooth 4.0 and both support dual stream 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi, but the iPad Air adds MIMO capability.
The battery life of both lines is the same, as well. When using Wi-Fi, all of these models support a maximum of ten hours of runtime, but the cellular data capable models only support a maximum of nine hours of runtime when using cellular connectivity.
Specific mobile data connectivity for the iPad 4th Gen and iPad Air include:
|4th Gen (Wi-Fi Only)||A1458||None||None||None||None|
|4th Gen (Wi-Fi/AT&T/GPS)||A1459||850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz||850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz||None||4, 17|
|4th Gen (Wi-Fi/Verizon & Sprint/GPS)||A1460||850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz||850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz||800, 1900, 2100 MHz||1, 3, 5, 13, 25|
|Air (Wi-Fi Only)||A1474||None||None||None||None|
|Air (Wi-Fi/Cellular)||A1475||850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz||850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz||800, 1900 MHz||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26|
|Air (Wi-Fi/Cellular - China)||A1476||850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz||850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz, TD-SCDMA 1900 (F), 2000 (A)||None||38, 39 (TD-LTE)|
All iPad 4th Gen and iPad Air models with cellular connectivity support A-GPS, as well, whereas the Wi-Fi only models do not.
The cellular capable models all ship, or shipped, unlocked and can be used on any carrier that provides a compatible Nano SIM card and that supports the underlying cellular technology. Nevertheless, even if the device is compatible, some companies may require activation or configuration before the iPad will work on their network.
In addition, the iPad 4th Gen (Wi-Fi/AT&T/GPS) (A1459) generally is intended for use in the US and Canada, whereas the iPad 4th Gen (Wi-Fi/Verizon & Sprint/GPS) (A1460) supports Verizon and Sprint in the United States and many more countries globally.
On the other hand, the iPad Air (Wi-Fi/Cellular) (A1475) supports AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint in the US and most major carriers around the world. The iPad Air (Wi-Fi/TD-LTE - China) (A1476), sold only in mainland China, is intended for use on China Mobile.
iOS Support Differences
The iPad 4th Gen models first were shipped with a version of iOS 6. The iPad Air models first shipped with iOS 7.0.3 and are not capable of running the earlier iOS 6 operating system.
Both lines are fully supported by iOS 7, with the exception of the "Panorama" and "Filters in Camera" photographic features. Both lines also almost are fully supported by iOS 8 with the exception of the "Health" and "Apple Pay" features.
Interestingly, the first release of iOS 8 did not support Panorama on the original iPad Air, but Apple quietly added Panorama support with iOS 8.0.2. The company did not add support for this feature for the iPad 4th Gen models, though.
Both lines are supported by iOS 9, but the iPad 4th Gen lacks support for Transit and each of the most notable new iPad multitasking features -- Slide Over, Picture-in-Picture, and Split View -- whereas the iPad Air supports Transit, Slide Over, and Picture-in-Picture and merely lacks support for Split View.
Finally, both models are supported by iOS 10, but the original iPad Air supports Rich Notifications whereas the older iPad 4th Gen does not. Neither model support the minor "Raise to Wake" or Ride-Booking features.
Original & Subsequent Pricing Differences
As originally shipped, the iPad 4th Gen and iPad Air models were offered for the same prices:
|iPad 4 & iPad Air Capacity:||16 GB||32 GB||64 GB||128 GB|
|Original Price with Wi-Fi:||US$499||US$599||US$699||US$799|
|Original Price with Wi-Fi, Cellular & A-GPS:||US$629||US$729||US$829||US$929|
The reintroduced 16 GB configuration of the iPad 4th Gen (Wi-Fi Only) was US$399 and the (iPad 4th Gen (Wi-Fi/AT&T/GPS) and iPad 4th Gen (Wi-Fi/Verizon & Sprint/GPS) were US$529. These models were discontinued on October 16, 2014.
On October 16, 2014, Apple also discontinued the 64 GB and 128 GB configurations of the original iPad Air and cut the price of the remaining configurations accordingly:
|Final iPad Air Capacity:||16 GB||32 GB||64 GB||128 GB|
|Final Price with Wi-Fi:||US$399||US$449||--||--|
|Final Price with Wi-Fi, Cellular & A-GPS:||US$529||US$579||--||--|
On March 21, 2016, Apple discontinued the original iPad Air entirely.
The major differences between the iPad 4th Gen and the original iPad Air are summarized below:
iPad 4th Gen
Original iPad Air
|Resolution:||2048x1536 (264 ppi)||2048x1536 (264 ppi)|
|Processor Speed:||1.4 GHz||1.4 GHz|
|Processor Type:||Apple A6X||Apple A7|
|Motion Coprocessor:||None||Apple M7|
|RAM:||1 GB||1 GB|
|Storage Options:||16, 32, 64, 128 GB||16, 32, 64, 128 GB|
|Data Networks:||Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi & Cellular Data||Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi & Cellular Data|
|Front Camera:||720p (1.2 MP)||720p (1.2 MP)|
|Rear Camera:||1080p (5 MP)||1080p (5 MP)|
|Panorama Support:||No||Yes (iOS 8.0.2+)|
|Max Battery Life:||9-10 Hours||9-10 Hours|
|Original iOS:||iOS 6||iOS 7|
|Maximum iOS:||iOS 10||iOS 10|
|Slide Over (iOS 9):||No||Yes|
|Split View (iOS 9):||No||No|
|Transit (iOS 9):||No||Yes|
|Dimensions (In):||9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37||9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29|
|Weight (Lbs):||1.44, 1.46||1.0, 1.05|
|Original Price (US):||US$499-US$929||US$499-US$929|
So, which iPad is best for me? Is one of these older models still worth considering?
The older iPad 4th Gen and original iPad Air models remain quite capable and are well worth considering.
For most users, the iPad Air is a major improvement compared to the iPad 4th Gen. Although both devices have the same display, the iPad Air provides (1) significantly reduced size and weight, (2) significantly improved performance, (3) better audio, and (4) the option of much more global LTE coverage, a major advantage for those who travel internationally, in particular.
However, the iPad 4th Gen does have the exact same display and naturally is available at an even lower price on the used market. For those on a tight budget, and who don't mind (1) a bit more more weight, (2) a bit less speed, and (3) more limited iOS 9 and iOS 10 support and likely a shorter timeframe for future iOS support, the iPad 4th Gen definitely remains well worth consideration.
iPad Purchase & Sale Options
There are many places to buy an iPad 4th Gen or iPad Air. However, purchasing from a quality business with extensive Apple knowledge -- and after sales support -- will provide the best experience and save you money and time, too.
In the US, site sponsor PowerMax sells the iPad Air and the iPad 4th Gen as well as all other iPad models free of sales tax. If you need to sell an iPad, PowerMax accepts trade-ins on older iPads toward the purchase of a newer iPad or anything else they sell and BuyBackWorld will buy your older iPad directly for fast cash.
Please also see EveryiPad.com's Ultimate iComparison feature to dynamically compare any iPad to any other iPod, iPhone, or iPad (new or old alike).