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A decade of Apple iPads: can older tablets still cut the mustard?

As Apple launches its 2020 iPad and iPad Air, we look back at the evolution of this iconic device to work out if you really need to splash out on the latest models

A decade of Apple iPads: can older tablets still cut the mustard?

It’s been 10 and a half years since the then chief executive of Apple, Steve Jobs, took to the stage in California to announce its first tablet.

Since then, more than 25 different models of the iPad have been launched, including eight generations of the classic ‘iPad’ and five generations of the ‘mini’.

Below, we look at the two latest models and how they stack up when compared with a decade of older models.

iPad Air (4th generation), £579 (available soon)

The 2020 iPad Air comes with a new design, more powerful processor and a larger screen, Despite being loaded with new tech, it retains an impressively low 458g weight.

What’s changed from the previous iPad Air?

Both the design and specifications have undergone significant updates, including:

  • A brand-new Apple A14 ‘Bionic’ processor, which is 40% faster than the processor in the 3rd-generation iPad Air, according to Apple.
  • A USB-C connection (instead of Apple proprietary Lightning charger), fast charging and a new fingerprint scanner built in to the power button.
  • A bigger screen, although this comes at the expense of the traditional ‘Home’ button. This may not be a popular decision for those who liked the convenience of the front-facing button
  • A more angular design to the tablet’s shell, giving it a more modern look.

We’ll be sending the 2020 iPad Air to our lab for testing as soon as it hits store shelves, which is likely to be some time in October, although Apple has not yet confirmed the date.

For now, take a look at our iPad Air first look to see in more detail how it stacks up against its predecessor and other iPads in the range.

iPad 2020 (8th generation), £329 (available now)

The new iPad is more evolution than revolution; it looks much the same as its predecessor.

The main specification changes is an upgraded processor, from the fairly old A10 processor from 2016, to the newer 2018 A12 ‘Bionic’.

With no other notable hardware changes, the iPad keeps its same attractive starting price of £329, making it the second-cheapest iOS product you can buy. The cheapest? The 2019 iPod Touch, at £199.

The latest iPad is being put through its paces in our test lab as I type, so watch this space for our verdict on how big a difference that new processor makes.

In the meantime, take a look at our full reviews for older generation Apple iPads. 

iPads over the past 10 years

If you’re tempted by an iPad but don’t want to fork out for the very latest models, you may be able to keep costs down by opting for an older model. We’ve taken a look at how iPads have changed over the last decade, looking at four key periods in their evolution, plus whether models are still getting software updates from Apple.

2019-20: iPad Air and iPad mini get first upgrades in years

Last year saw several significant updates to Apple’s tablet lines, including:

  • A bigger screen on Apple’s basic, cheapest iPad, boosting the screen size from 9.7 inches up to 10.2 inches without making the overall device size any larger.
  • The relaunch of the iPad Air, which hadn’t had a refresh for several years. The relaunched Air was similar in specs and design to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, although without a facial-recognition camera and with a Lightning connector instead of USB-C.
  • The first new iPad mini for four years; it came with pretty much the same design but a much more powerful processor.
  • A redesigned iPad Pro in the early months of 2020, launching second-generation 11-inch hand fourth-generation 12.9-inch options.

Unsurprisingly, all of Apple’s 2019 and early 2020 iPads are still receiving updates, so if you find one used or on sale for cheap in the near future, you should get many years of use without having to worry about security and software issues.

For example, the 7th-generation iPad, which has been superseded, is still on sale in the likes of Currys PC World for £299, £30 off its original price. Click on the links below to find out how well each tablet performed in our full reviews.

2015-2018: iPad goes Pro

This period saw the introduction of the Pro to Apple’s iPad range, with four different models (in various sizes) making their way into the hands of those looking for a premium tablet.

The Pro was a leap forward in what iPads were capable of, with a dedicated connector for attaching a keyboard along with, for the first time, the ability to write directly on to the screen using the first-generation Apple Pencil.

This was a busy time for Apple, launching four different iPad Pro models along with two new basic iPads and an updated mini.

Apple didn’t neglect more budget-conscious users, though, launching two new base-level iPads with lower prices and specs similar to that of the previous-generation iPad Air models, plus an updated iPad mini.

All of the iPads launched in 2015-2018 are still receiving updates, and could be worth looking out for on the second-hand or refurbished market, as long as you don’t mind not having the very latest tech.

2012-2014: iPad mini and iPad Air enter the fray

In 2012, Apple introduced the iPad mini. With a much smaller 7.8-inch screen, it was designed to appeal to commuters who wanted an iPad that was easy to hold with one hand while standing.

In our review, published online in October 2012, we sung its praises: ‘If you find 10-inch tablets too large and bulky, the iPad mini is the best alternative. It’s light enough to hold in one hand, fast and easy to use, and the battery lasts ages. If you can swallow the slightly higher price compared to rivals, it’s your best bet.’

Apple issued two new-generation minis in 2013 and 2014. However, none of the minis from this era are still receiving software updates, so if you’re looking for an ultra-portable iPad your best bet is likely to be the iPad mini (5th generation).

Find out if the 2019 Pad mini did as well as its predecessor in our expert review. 

In 2013, the first iPad Air arrived, weighing 469g compared with the iPad 4’s 652g. It was also much slimmer. There was a faster processor inside, too, justifying its premium price of £479. At the time, we called it ‘one of the best tablets we’ve ever tested’.

Along with the mini, the Air got a revamp in 2014, with a better screen and thinner, lighter design, respectively. The 2014 iPad Air 2 is still receiving software updates, although its 2013 predecessor isn’t.

2010-2012: four generations in three years

All of which brings us back to the birth of the iPad. Between 2010 and 2012, Apple launched no less than four different versions of the original iPad. While cutting-edge at the time, some of them would now appear museum relics in the face of recent updates and none of them are still receiving software updates. 

  • 2010 iPad This weighed what would now be considered a ridiculous amount for a sub-10-inch tablet, tipping the scales at 680g. The latest model weighs 200g less and has a larger screen. It’s hard to believe, but the very first iPad had no camera.
  • 2011 iPad 2 The lack of camera was rectified with the second-generation model, which was endowed with both a front and rear-facing camera. They weren’t much good, though. In our review, published online in December 2011, we said the cameras were ‘merely average’, producing ‘grainy’ photos.
  • 2012 iPad (3rd generation) A little over a year later, a third generation had appeared, with much-improved screen, processor, and better cameras.
  • 2012 iPad (4th generation) Hot on version three’s heels, the 4th-generation iPad was the first to feature Apple’s Lightning connector, which is still in use today on the majority of its iOS devices. We said it was the ideal at-home tablet, although it was still very ‘heavy and awkward’ to hold out and about.

Do I need the very latest iPad?

Apple’s delivered a veritable cornucopia of devices in a decade. The good news for tablet buyers is that this means there are lots of second-hand and refurbished models available if you’re willing to sacrifice that new-tablet excitement to save a bit of money, and opting for a recent previous-generation model could cut costs without you having to make too many sacrifices.

That said, we wouldn’t recommend you opt for a second-hand model that isn’t receiving software updates from Apple, as you won’t get important security updates and some software may stop being compatible sooner than expected.

In practice, with the one exception of the 2014 iPad Air 2, that means opting for a device launched in 2015 onwards. Bear in mind that, given Apple’s recent flurry of launches, the older of these may not be supported for too much longer either.

If you’re already using an older iPad, read more on this in our guide to using older phones and tablets safely. 

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