The iPad 2 vs. iPad 3 vs. iPad 4

Which is the best buy?

Kids using iPads on the floor in front of parent using tablet

Hero Images / Getty Images

This article compares older model iPads. Find out about the latest iPad models.

Despite the iPad 4's release, Apple is continuing to produce and support the iPad 2 as a slightly cheaper entry model. The iPad 3 represented the biggest upgrade to the iPad since the original model was introduced by Apple in 2010, with a faster processor and a new high-definition display leading the list of improvements over the iPad 2. And the iPad 4 improves upon this by supercharging the processor. But which one is the best buy?

A similarly-equipped iPad 4 will cost more than the iPad 2, and while the iPad 3 will probably cost less, it may be harder to locate as Apple switches over to the newest iPad. If you are looking to save a few bucks, you will want to evaluate how you will use the tablet to determine which model to purchase.

The iPad 3 and iPad 4 Shine With the Retina Display

The first thing that stands out about the iPad 3 and iPad 4 is the improved "Retina Display," which features a resolution with four times the detail as the original iPad and the iPad 2. The 2,048 x 1,536 resolution provides 264 pixels per inch (PPI), which is so detailed that the human eye cannot tell individual pixels apart when the device is held at a normal viewing distance. The enhanced display also means support for 1080p video, which is a nice upgrade from the iPad 2. HD movies can be downloaded from iTunes, but Netflix and Hulu will need to update their apps before HD is fully supported.


Apple's "intelligent assistant" technology is only available on the iPad 3, iPad 4 and iPad Mini. And while it might be easy to dismiss this feature as something that is more useful on a smartphone than a tablet, it does provide several cool features. Tops among these added features are voice dictation, which is great if you want to write a long email but doesn't have a wireless keyboard, but other features like easily setting reminders or putting events on your calendar are very nice.

iPad Gaming

In addition to pretty apps and 1080p video, the Retina Display provides graphics that can rival what we see on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The iPad 3 took the iPad 2's chip and added a quad-core graphics processor, so the iPad 3 can dish out these graphics at an increased rate. This means we won't just be looking at stunning graphics, we'll be living in amazing new worlds.

The games may not be quite as in-depth as what we see on consoles, which can often dedicate 7 GB for a single game, but the ability to produce hardcore games grows with each new generation of the iPad.

The iPad 4 Adds Speed

Apple pulled a stunner when they announced the iPad 4 at the iPad Mini event, but in many respects, the iPad 4 is the iPad 3... only faster. The newest iPad cranks up the processing speed with the new A6 chip, which is roughly twice as fast as the iPad 3's A5X chipset. The new iPad also includes a better front-facing camera, and support for dual-band channel bonding Wi-Fi, which can increase connection speeds at home. It also adds extended 4G LTE support for international regions.

None of This Makes the iPad 2 Obsolete

Games and applications will continue to support the display resolution of the original iPad and the iPad 2, with many not even making the jump to the new iPad's higher resolution. And while the iPad 2 doesn't support 1080p video, video still looks very nice on the device and the tablet does support 720p playback when connecting the iPad to your HDTV.

And with the iPad Mini using the same central processor as the iPad 2, we know Apple believes the iPad 2 is plenty fast enough for most purposes. In fact, the iPad Mini ensures that developers will continue to support the same screen resolution and processing speeds for quite some time.

iPad 2 owners may miss is Siri, which won't be coming to this model. But while Siri has a lot of nice features, it is hard to say it alone is worth the increase in price.

Considerations Before You Buy an iPad 2

While the iPad 2 has been able to run six major versions of iOS, some features of the operating system may not be functional because of outdated hardware. Also, iOS X does not run on the iPad 2. 

Our Pick for the Best Buy

The best buy right now may be the refurbished iPad 3. The 16 GB Wi-Fi version can be purchased very reasonably if you shop around.

Prospective buyers may also want to look into the iPad Mini. While it is smaller than an iPad 2, having a 7.9-inch display versus a 9.7-inch display, it is just as powerful as the iPad 2, has better cameras, supports Siri and costs less.

The iPad 2 vs. iPad 3 vs. iPad 4 Comparison Chart

Feature iPad 2 iPad 3 iPad 4
CPU: Dual-Core Apple A5 Dual-Core Apple A5X Dual-Core Apple A6X
Graphics: PowerVR SGX543MP2 PowerVR SGX543MP4 PowerVR SGX543MP4
Display: 1024x768 2048x1536 2048x1536
Memory: 512 MB 1 GB 1 GB
Storage: 16, 32, 64 GB 16, 32, 64 GB 16, 32, 64 GB
Camera: Front-facing and 720p rear-facing 720p Front-facing and iSight 5 MP rear-facing 720p Front-facing and iSight 5 MP rear-facing
Data Rate: 3G 4G LTE 4G LTE
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n 802.11 a/b/g/n 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth: 2.1 + EDR 4.0 4.0
Accelerometer: YES YES YES
Compass: YES YES YES
Gyroscope: YES YES YES
GPS: 3G Version Only 4G Version Only 4G Version Only
Buy Now: Buy on Amazon Buy on Amazon Buy on Amazon