Watch our video as we unbox and set up a new iPad Air. Many thanks to Square Group for the loan!
Should you buy the iPad 2 or the iPad Air? We help you decide in our iPad buying guide, covering specs, price, features and more.
Apple has unveiled its next full-size iPad - the iPad Air - alongside a new version of its iPad mini with a Retina display. The iPad Air is now available to buy, but we haven't been got an onsale date for the Retina iPad mini (we've simply been told 'late November' by Apple). Here, we help you decide whether you should buy the iPad 2, which is still available to buy and comes in at just £329 for the WiFi model, or go for the more expensive iPad Air (which starts at £399).
The beautifully slender iPad Air, seen edge-on (obviously)
We discuss some of the issues surrounding this buying decision in our comparative review: iPad Air vs iPad 2 comparison review: Which iPad should you buy? But we'll try to summarise the key points here, and help you decide if the iPad 2 or iPad Air is the iPad for you.
iPad 2 vs iPad Air: Retina display
The iPad 2 was the last full-size iPad to come with a non-Retina display. What's a Retina display? Essentially it's screen where the pixels are packed so tightly that it fools your eye into thinking it's not a screen at all. We explain the ins and outs more fully in our feature What is a Retina display, and are they worth the money?
Essentially, though, the difference is relatively minor: the iPad Air's Retina display is super-sharp and vivid, but the iPad 2's screen isn't bad; you'll notice some pixellation when reading and on some highly detailed images, but it's not painful. If you've never used a Retina display, you'll find the iPad 2's screen fine; once you've tried Retina, though, you may find it harder to go back.
iPad 2 vs iPad Air: Processor power
We're keen to run our benchmarking test suites on the iPad Air - we've got one in our offices right now so we'll be bringing you the results soon. But we can say without any doubt that it will be a lot quicker at general processing and handling graphical tasks than the iPad 2.
If you only want an iPad for light use - email, web browsing, FaceTime, a little light work on the go - then the iPad 2 will be fine. But for more demanding tasks - 3D games, video and photo editing, and a vast range of processor-intensive apps that will be released in the next few years with the iPad Air in mind - then you're likely to find yourself struggling.
iPad 2 vs iPad Air: Weight and dimensions
The iPad 2 is perfectly portable, and indeed seemed a dazzlingly lightweight portable computing device when it launched. But the popularity of the iPad mini and other mini-tablets shows that there is a demand for lighter and slimmer devices.
The iPad Air is about 28 percent lighter than the iPad 2, and significantly slimmer too. For one-handed use it'll be a lot less tiring on the arm - for reading in particularly this will make a difference.
iPad 2 vs iPad Air: Lightning connector
One aspect that's been somewhat neglected is the iPad 2's old-fashioned 30-pin dock connector port (used for charging and syncing with PCs and Macs). The iPad Air, like the iPad 4 before it, has the newer Lightning connector.
Accessories are increasingly becoming wireless, which means speakers and other devices can work with any model of iPad. But if you've got an old speaker dock, say, and it's got the old style of connector, you may need to pay for an adaptor to use the iPad Air - or you may need to buy a new dock altogether. On the other hand, you'll struggle to find new accessories now with the 30-pin connection.
The iPad Air's Lightning dock, with speaker grilles either side
iPad 2 vs iPad Air: iOS 7 (and beyond)
Finally, while both iPad 2 and iPad Air will come with iOS 7 preinstalled if you buy them now, they won't handle it in the same way.
The iPad 2 is the lowest rung of the iOS 7 ladder - the oldest device that can run it. Accordingly, it doesn't get the full set of features. And being the bottom rung is risky when it comes to future updates. It's possible that when iOS 8 comes round next year, the iPad 2 gets an even more barebones version or (quite feasibly) can't update at all.
The iPad Air, on the other hand, is thoroughly future-proofed, for iOS updates as well as for third-party apps.
iPad 2 vs iPad Air: price
The iPad Air costs:
Wi-Fi: £399 (16GB), £479 (32GB), £559 (64GB) and £639 (128GB). Cellular: £499 (16GB), £579 (32GB), £659 (64GB) and £739 (128GB)
The iPad 2 is only available in 16GB capacities, and costs £70 less than the iPad Air in each of its versions: £329 for the Wi-Fi model, and £429 for 3G.
See also: Should I buy a refurbished iPad?
So, should I buy an iPad 2 or wait for the iPad Air?
Overall, the iPad 2 is a decent tablet and a popular one too. However, a new design, a lighter body, a more powerful processor and various other feature upgrades we haven't even touched on here make the iPad Air stand head and shoulders above previous iPad models, and well above the iPad 2.
We'd say that the extra £70 is well worth it, and would strongly recommend the iPad Air over the iPad 2, unless you simply want a full-size iPad at the lowest possible price and aren't worried about processor speeds, display quality and future-proofing. This will apply to some school buyers, perhaps.
Otherwise, consider saving another £80 and buying the first iPad mini, which is still available for only £249 and has a faster processor than the iPad 2. It's also lighter and more portable, of course - although its screen is smaller.
If you've decided you want to go for the iPad Air, here's how to get an iPad Air today.