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What are all the differences between the iPad Air (5th Gen) and the iPad 4th Gen? Which one is best for me?
Please note that Apple discontinued the iPad 4th Gen upon introducing the iPad Air on October 22, 2013 and then re-introduced a 16 GB configuration of the iPad 4th Gen on March 18, 2014. This Q&A has been updated and can be quite useful for anyone purchasing either model whether new or used.
With just a quick glance at the 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, as well. There are some major similarities that are worthwhile reviewing, too.
External Similarities & Differences
Both the iPad 4th Gen and 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 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 were offered with 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB of storage from day one.
Although the iPad 4th Gen and iPad Air models use completely different case designs, it is not possible to visually differentiate between the different cellular capable models within each line. It also is highly likely that future iPad models will use a case design similar to the 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 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.
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 and Android.
Connectivity & Battery Life Differences
Both the iPad 4th Gen and 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.
All other iOS 7 features are fully supported. This includes Control Center, Notification Center, Multitasking, Safari and iTunes Radio as well as Siri, AirDrop, Filters in Photos, and more advanced photo functionality that Apple formally refers to as "square and video formats and swipe to capture."
As originally shipped, the iPad 4th Gen and iPad Air models were offered for the same prices:
|Capacity:||16 GB||32 GB||64 GB||128 GB|
|Price with Wi-Fi:||US$499||US$599||US$699||US$799|
|Price with Wi-Fi, Cellular Data & A-GPS:||US$629||US$729||US$829||US$929|
The major differences between the iPad 4th Gen and the iPad Air are summarized below:
iPad 4th Gen
|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|
|Original Storage:||16, 32, 64, 128 GB||16, 32, 64, 128 GB|
|Current Storage:||16 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)|
|Max Battery Life:||9-10 Hours||9-10 Hours|
|Original iOS:||iOS 6||iOS 7|
|Maximum iOS:||iOS 7||iOS 7|
|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|
|Current Price (US):||US$399, US$529||US$499-US$929|
So, which iPad is best for me?
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 is available at a discount, particularly on the used market. For those on a budget, and who don't mind (1) a bit more more weight, (2) a bit less speed, and (3) potentially less capacity, the iPad 4th Gen remains well worth consideration.