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What are all the differences between the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd Gen?
Please note that the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd Gen both have been discontinued. However, this Q&A has been updated subsequently with the latest on iOS support and more and can be quite useful for those considering either model on the used market.
It is very easy to mistake the third generation iPad models released in 2012 -- the iPad 3rd Gen (Wi-Fi Only), iPad 3rd Gen (Wi-Fi/4G LTE AT&T/GPS) for AT&T in the US (and Bell, Rogers, and Telus in Canada), and iPad 3rd Gen (Wi-Fi/4G LTE Verizon/GPS) for Verizon in the US -- with the iPad 2 models first released in 2011 -- the iPad 2 (Wi-Fi), iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/GSM/GPS), and iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/CDMA/GPS).
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad 2 - Left, iPad 3rd Gen - Right)
Both lines look similar and are effectively indistinguishable from the front if turned off even with detailed inspection. However, there are significant differences with regards to the display, processor, rear camera, and connectivity. Size and weight are modestly different, too, and model numbers are different as well.
Both the iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen models are available with either a black or white glass front and an aluminum back (with a black plastic area for configurations with cellular data connectivity) and have a speaker, built-in microphone and support system-wide video mirroring and up to 1080p video out.
Both lines have 9.7-inch multitouch, glossy, IPS LED-backlit displays, but the iPad 3rd Gen models have a "resolutionary" 9.7-inch 2048x1536 (264 ppi) "retina" display. This compares to a resolution of just 1024x768 (132 ppi) on the iPad 2 line.
To really appreciate the quality of the iPad 3rd Gen display, it is helpful to see it in person, but this short video from DetroitBorg provides an excellent side-by-side comparison nevertheless:
Both lines have front and rear mounted cameras -- and both lines share the same front-mounted VGA-quality "FaceTime" camera -- but the rear camera on the iPad 3rd Gen line is considerably higher-quality.
The iPad 2 models have a 0.7 megapixel camera that shoots stills and is capable of recording 720p video, whereas the iPad 3rd Gen models have a 5 megapixel "iSight" camera capable of shooting 1080p video and includes software that provides enhanced stabilization. The iPad 3rd Gen also supports Siri when running iOS 6 or later, whereas the iPad 2 does not.
The height and width of both devices is the same -- 9.5 inches by 7.31 inches -- but the iPad 3rd Gen is slightly thicker -- 0.03 of an inch -- and about a tenth of a pound heavier.
Both the iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen models support the magnetic "Smart Cover," too.
As first shipped, the iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen lines have 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of storage, but with the release of the iPad 3rd Gen, Apple "downgraded" the capacity of the iPad 2 to just 16 GB. Of course, all capacities of these iPad models now are available on the used market, though.
All models from both lines house 802.11n wi-fi and have an accelerometer, a three-axis gyroscope, an ambient light sensor, and a digital compass. However, there are significant internal differences, as well.
The iPad 3rd Gen models are powered by a dual-core 1 GHz Apple A5X processor with quad core graphics whereas the iPad 2 models have an older dual-core Apple A5 processor with a single graphics processor. Apple does not formally release the amount of RAM in any iPad device, but the third-party Geekbench benchmark has confirmed that the iPad 3rd Gen models have 1 GB of RAM whereas the iPad 2 only has 512 MB of RAM.
Connectivity is substantially different. The cellular capable iPad 2 models -- the iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/GSM/GPS) and iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/CDMA/GPS) -- support 3G networking whereas the cellular capable iPad 3rd Gen models -- the iPad 3rd Gen (Wi-Fi/4G LTE AT&T/GPS) for AT&T in the US and Bell, Rogers, and Telus in Canada and the iPad 3rd Gen (Wi-Fi/4G LTE Verizon/GPS) for Verizon in the US -- support faster 4G LTE networking. The iPad 3rd Gen models also support Bluetooth 4.0 whereas the iPad 2 models support the earlier Bluetooth 2.1+EDR standard.
Despite that a higher resolution display and 4G LTE are significantly more power hungry, both the iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen models provide an estimated ten hours of battery life "surfing the web on wi-fi, watching video or listening to music" and 9 hours of surfing the web using cellular data. This is largely due to a massive 42.5 watt-hour battery in the iPad 3rd Gen line, up from a 25 watt-hour battery in the iPad 2.
Although it is possible for one with good vision to visually differentiate the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd Gen by the display when the devices are sitting side-by-side and turned on, it otherwise can be challenging.
The iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen models can be differentiated by other identifiers as well, such as Order Number, which can be located on the device itself 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 only iPad 2 in white with 64 GB of storage is MC981LL/A.
To pinpoint a specific iPad 2 or iPad 3rd Gen 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 for iOS 5 or later, Android, and Kindle Fire.
iOS Support Differences
The iPad 2 models originally shipped with iOS 4.3 and the iPad 3rd Gen models originally shipped with iOS 5.1. Both models essentially are fully supported by iOS 5 and iOS 6, except that Siri is not supported on the iPad 2 and Panorama is not supported on either iPad.
Both the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd Gen support iOS 7, also; but neither device provides support for all features. Furthermore, the supported iOS 7 features are different, too. Both devices support all iOS 7 basic functionality, which includes Control Center, Notification Center, and Multitasking, as well as Safari and iTunes Radio.
However, running iOS 7, the iPad 3rd Gen also adds support for Filters in Photos and more advanced photo functionality that Apple calls "square and video formats and swipe to capture," and it continues to support Siri, as well. The iPad 3rd Gen does not support the new iOS 7 AirDrop or Filters in Camera functionality, though, and it still does not support Panorama. The iPad 2, on the other hand, supports none of these advanced iOS 7 features.
Finally, both the iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen support iOS 8 and iOS 9, as well, but support is minimal with no advanced features. It also is worth noting that iOS 8 is slower on the iPad 2 and iOS 9 is no faster, so those most interested in performance may prefer to stick with iOS 7 on the iPad 2 in particular.
Neither the iPad 2 nor the iPad 3rd Gen support iOS 10 at all.
Original Pricing Differences
As originally shipped, the iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen models were offered at the exact same price points:
|Capacity:||16 GB||32 GB||64 GB|
|Price with Wi-Fi:||US$499||US$599||US$699|
|Price with Wi-Fi, Cellular Data & A-GPS:||US$629||US$729||US$829|
With the introduction of the iPad 3rd Gen, Apple discontinued the 32 GB and 64 GB configurations of the iPad 2 and cut the price of the 16 GB configurations of the Wi-Fi only iPad 2 to US$399 the 3G/A-GPS-equipped models to US$529.
The major differences between the iPad 2 and the iPad 3rd Gen are summarized below:
iPad 3rd Gen
|Resolution:||1024x768 (132 ppi)||2048x1536 (264 ppi)|
|Processor Speed:||1 GHz||1 GHz|
|Processor Type:||Apple A5||Apple A5X|
|RAM:||512 MB||1 GB|
|Storage:||16, 32, 64 GB (16 GB*)||16, 32, 64 GB|
|Data Networks:||Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi & 3G||Wi-Fi/Wi-Fi & 4G|
|Video Mirroring:||System Wide||System Wide|
|Rear Camera:||720p (0.7 MP)||1080p (5 MP)|
|Battery Capacity:||25 Watt-Hours||42.5 Watt-Hours|
|Max Battery Life:||9-10 Hours||9-10 Hours|
|Siri (iOS 6+):||No||Yes|
|iOS 7 Support:||Yes (Minimal)||Yes (Partial)|
|iOS 8 Support:||Yes (Minimal)||Yes (Minimal)|
|iOS 9 Support:||Yes (Minimal)||Yes (Minimal)|
|iOS 10 Support:||No||No|
|Color Options:||Black or White||Black or White|
|Dimensions (In):||9.50 x 7.31 x 0.34||9.50 x 7.31 x 0.37|
|Weight (Lbs):||1.33, 1.35, 1.34||1.44, 1.46|
So, should I buy an iPad 2 or an iPad 3rd Gen?
Most users would be best suited with a newer iPad as neither support the current version of the iOS and app support will begin to wane quickly.
However, just compared to one another, the (1) significantly higher-quality display, (2) better rear camera, (3) support for 4G LTE as an option and (4) improved graphics performance of the iPad 3rd Gen make it a better purchase than the iPad 2.
However, others on a tight budget may find that the iPad 2 is "good enough" for their needs. Of course, those on tight budgets may also wish to consider waiting for a while to save more and buy a newer iPad model, which will provide current iOS support longer than either of these older iPads.
iPad Purchase Options
There many places to buy an iPad. However, purchasing from a quality company 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 has a huge selection of used iPad 2 and iPad 3rd Gen 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).