COMPARE APPLE IPAD 9 - IPAD AIR 2 VS IPAD PRO 9

Apple has a new i
Pad in town and it’s the most affordable ‘full size’ tablet the company has ever produced. Unfortunately it also resides in one of Apple’s most confusing product families making it harder than it should be to understand which model of i
Pad is best for you.

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So let’s break down what the tablet Apple simply named ‘i
Pad’ brings to the table and how it compares to both the range it replaces (the i
Pad Air) and its smaller (i
Pad Mini) and more expensive (i
Pad Pro) stablemates…


Size - Familiar, But Fatter

The most obvious point of comparison for the new i
Pad is the i
Pad Air 2 which is being discontinued with the launch of the new 9.7-inch ‘i
Pad’:


i
Pad 9.7 (2017): 240 x 169.5 x 7.5 mm (9.45 x 6.67 x 0.30 in) and 469 / 478g (1.03 / 1.05lbs) for cellular/non-cellular i
Pad Air 2, i
Pad Pro 9.7: 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm (9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches) and 444 / 437g (0.98 / 0.96lbs) for cellular/non-cellular i
Pad Pro 12.9: 305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9mm (12 x 8.86 x 0.27 inches) and 713 / 729g (1.57 / 1.59lbs) for cellular/non-cellular i
Pad mini 4: 203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1 mm (8 x 5.3 x 0.24 inches) and 298.8 / 304g (0.65 / 0.67lbs) for cellular/non-cellular

Perhaps the most surprising stat here is that the i
Pad (2017) is notably wider and heavier than the 2014-released i
Pad Air 2 and (2016) i
Pad Pro 9.7 which is disappointing. Apple gave no reason for this and there is no obvious explanation (at least until someone is able to crack open the new model and see if any specific components have changed).

Aside from the weight gain, the new i
Pad looks almost identical to the i
Pad Air 2 and i
Pad Pro 9.7. Note that like the i
Pad Air 2, the new i
Pad has dual external speakers rather than the powerful quad arrangement seen in the i
Pad Pro models.

Displays - Sharp, Bright, Reflective

Moving onto the display you’ll notice that at first glance all 9.7-inch models look identical:

i
Pad 9.7 (2017), i
Pad Air 2, i
Pad Pro 9.7: 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit Multi‑Touch display, 2732‑by‑2048 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi), oleophobic coating i
Pad Pro 12.9: 12.9‑inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit Multi‑Touch display, 2732‑by‑2048 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi), oleophobic coating i
Pad Mini 4: 7.9‑inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit Multi‑Touch display, 2048‑by‑1536 resolution at 326 pixels per inch (ppi), oleophobic coating

That said, the new i
Pad does feature a downgrade compared to all other i
Pad models: Apple has removed the anti-reflective display coating. This will be annoying if you regularly work under bright lights or outdoors and for some that will make it a deal breaker.


Less surprisingly, the new i
Pad also misses out on True Tone display seen in the premium i
Pad Pros. True tone measures the white balance of the display so that colours look correct no matter the lighting environment. Given the new i
Pad is budget friendly (more later) I’d argue this is a less significant omission than anti-reflective coating and Apple does say it has increased contrast and colour compared to the older i
Pad Air 2.

Separately it is worth noting that 3D Touch, the pressure sensitive screen technology seen on flagship i
Phones, is still absent from all i
Pad models. Though I’d expect the next generation of i
Pad Pro models to add this if Apple wants to warm the lukewarm response 3D Touch has had so far.

Performance - A Speedy Step Back In Time

The next place you’ll find some cost cutting in the new i
Pad is its horsepower:

i
Pad 9.7 (2017): Apple A9 with dual-core 1.84 GHz (Twister) CPU and Power
VR GT7600 (six-core) GPU, 2GB of RAM i
Pad Air 2: Apple A8X with Triple-core 1.5 GHz Typhoon CPU and Power
VR GXA6850 (octa-core graphics) CPU, 2GB of RAM i
Pad Pro 9.7: Apple A9X with dual-core 2.16 GHz (Twister) CPU and Power
VR Series 7 (12-core) GPU, 2GB of RAM i
Pad Pro 12.9: Apple A9X with dual-core 2.26 GHz (Twister) CPU and Power
VR Series 7 (12-core) GPU, 4GB of RAM i
Pad mini 4: A8 second-generation chip with 64-bit architecture, CPU: 1.3x faster, Graphics: 1.6x faster compared to A7, M8 motion coprocessor

While the new i
Pad moves a generation on from the ageing (2014) A8 and A8X chipsets found in the i
Pad Mini 4 and i
Pad Air 2 respectively, Apple has still fitted it with a chipset from 2015. The A9 is found inside the i
Phone 6S and i
Phone 6S Plus and the new i
Pad has a significantly higher native resolution to drive than either of these smartphones.


I suspect Apple found itself in a dilemma here. It couldn’t fit a newer processor in the i
Pad 9.7 given it has yet to update the 2015 A9X inside the significantly more expensive i
Pad Pros. As such while the A9 remains a speedy chip, the i
Pad 9.7 is not a model power users should buy.

Cameras - Functional Rear, Flimsy Front

Apple has something of a split personality when its comes to camera technology. The company is determined to push its i
Phones to their very peak (even if the Google Pixel and Galaxy S7 recently stole their thunder), but i
Pads are always fitted with much older camera modules and this remains the case with the i
Pad 9.7:

i
Pad 9.7 (2017), i
Pad Air 2, i
Pad Mini 4 and i
Pad Pro 12.9 - rear: 8MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture, 1080p video, no OIS. Front: 1.2MP, f2.2 aperture, 720p video, no OIS i
Pad Pro 9.7 - rear: 12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 4K video recording, no OIS. Front: 5MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 1080p video recording, no OIS

Yes, the 2017 i
Pad 9.7, 2014 i
Pad Air 2 and 2015 i
Pad Mini 4 and i
Pad Pro 12.9 all use the same optics which come from the 2013 i
Phone 5S. This means no 4K video recording, no optical image stabilisation (OIS) and the front 1.2MP camera is really only good for basic video conversations. These are not selfie friendly i
Pads.


The good news is the rear camera is still a fairly competent snapper in good light, but four years remains a long time to recycle camera technology and I can’t help but feel Apple should have given us something newer here. Again the fact the premium i
Pad Pro 12.9 uses this technology probably stopped Apple from upgrading the new i
Pad.

The standout shooter in the i
Pad range is the 2016 i
Pad Pro 9.7 which has front and rear modules taken from the i
Phone 6S. This still doesn’t bring OIS but it does deliver significantly better photos, especially from the front camera. But be careful because i
Pad Pros are due an upgrade soon.

Battery Life - 10s All Round

One of the great strengths of the i
Pad range is its stamina and while that hasn’t changed in many years, the i
Pad 9.7 keeps its end up by also toting a familiar 10 hour battery life (9 hours using cellular).

There are no other flourishes like fast charging (though an i
Pad charger will increase the speed an i
Phone charges) or wireless charging, but the aim of an i
Pad is you shouldn’t need to charge it often in any case.

Capacity And Price - Good and Bad News

If you’ve been reading this article and wondering why the i
Pad 9.7 has a number of compromises, then here is the answer: it’s the cheapest i
Pad in the range:


The i
Pad Air 2 is not featured because Apple has ended the Air range with the launch of the new i
Pad. But you can find some decent second hand bargains around if that’s the model you want.

Ultimately ending the Air simplifies Apple’s branding to i
Pad, i
Pad Mini and i
Pad Pro and I suspect the Mini range could also be on the chopping block as it hasn’t featured any significant upgrades since the i
Pad Mini 2 in 2013. ‘i
Pad’ and ‘i
Pad Pro’ lines would give Apple’s tablets a clarity they have lacked for a long time.

The other option to consider is whether you want a Wi
FI-only or Cellular model. Personally I’m happy tethering tablets and laptops to smartphone as it saves the complication of multiple carrier contracts, you’ll get a lighter i
Pad and the $130 you save can be put towards upgrading your phone’s data allowance.

Early Verdict

Simply put: the new i
Pad 9.7 is not the most exciting tablet Apple has ever released. It’s essentially a cheaper, (surprisingly) fatter version of the i
Pad Air 2 with a slightly faster chipset and no anti-reflective screen coating. But the i
Pad 9.7 is cheap.

Furthermore it is the only i
Pad I would consider buying at this time. Apple is likely to upgrade the i
Pad Pro 9.7 and i
Pad Pro 12.9 in the very near future and the i
Pad Mini range looks set to be retired alongside the i
Pad Air when this happens.


If you’re in the market for a productivity machine then a budget Windows or Chrome OS laptop (you’ll get better performance from the latter at this price point) is the way to go. But if you have your heart set on an affordable tablet then I’d strongly suggest you save up for the new i
Pad 9.7 rather than an Android tablet where app support remains disappointingly thin on the ground.

Ultimately the i
Pad 9.7 may not be an exciting tablet but it’s solid, well priced and will get the job done.

___

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*

I am an experienced freelance technology journalist. I have written for Wired, The Next Web, Trusted
Reviews, The Guardian and the BBC in addition to Forbes. I began in b2b print journalism covering tech companies at the height of the dot com boom and switched to covering consumer technology as the i
Pod began to take off. A career highlight for me was being a founding member of Trusted
Reviews. It started in 2003 and we were repeatedly told websites could not compete with print! Within four years we were purchased by IPC Media (Time Warner"s publishing division) to become its flagship tech title. What fascinates me are the machinations of technology"s biggest companies. Got a pitch, tip or leak? Contact me on my professional Facebook page. I don"t bite.

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: Maxing out your pads

Apple’s gone and done it again. Its latest product launch not only showed off a new i
Pad and a new phone – the i
Phone SE, apparently the tech mega-giant is now greener than Captain Planet.

We’re not going to delve into the legitimacy of Apple’s environmental claims right now. We’ll save that for later.

What we’re looking at now is whether the i
Pad Pro 9.7 is really that much better than the i
Pad Air 2. Let’s answer the big question: should Air 2 owners be looking to upgrade already?

From a distance it may seem obvious. No, of course you shouldn’t. But there’s more to this ‘upgrade’ when you get closer.

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Related: WWDC 2016 – What to expect

WATCH: 9.7-inch i
Pad Pro – All you need to know


i
Pad Pro 9.7 vs i
Pad Air 2: The smart keyboard

We use a Mac
Book. We use Windows laptops. There’s not a hope in hell of us replacing a proper laptop with an i
Pad any time soon.

However, hook up an Apple smart keyboard to an i
Pad Pro and you can turn it into a passable computer for writing docs, emails and so on. Apple has made a special version of the keyboard it rolled out for the 12.9-inch i
Pad Pro for the new 9.7-inch version.

It costs £129, but may mean some of you can get rid of your knackered old laptop. While you might imagine the keyboard will also work with the i
Pad Air 2, the Apple Store’s compatibility notes say it’ll only function with the new i
Pad Pro, that’s because it attaches via the Smart Connector – those three circles on the sides.

It clips into place using magnets, then uses a folio-style case part that folds into a support for the screen.

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: Yep, it gets the pencil too

If you’ve had any interest in the i
Pad Pro to date, it’s probably the Pencil that got you interested. It’s the one tablet stylus that has had a lot of arty types saying it is better than a Wacom Cintiq, which is the industry standard for graphics tablets.

Using exactly the same core hardware as the i
Pad Pro 12.9, you can expect the pen to feel great, with near-zero latency making it feel like you’re actually drawing on the screen. With a pencil.

You get none of this in the i
Pad Air 2. While you can grab a whole load of different styluses for the tablet, they’ll either be dumb capacitive sticks, meaning you’re just replacing your finger with a fake pen (no pressure sensitivity), or third-party systems that simply aren’t going to work as well.

If you’re a bit of a comic book artist like our own reviews editor Alistair, there’s no competition. The Pro is going to be miles better.

So there. All done? You get a bit of extra scribbling and a bit of extra tapping away at Word documents, right? Not quite, there’s actually a whole load more to the i
Pad Pro 9.7

Related: i
Pad Pro 9.7-inch feature and specs

*

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: It has a much more powerful CPU

Sorry i
Pad Air 2 owners, your tablet is now officially an underdog. The i
Pad Pro 9.7 features a much faster A9X CPU, the same used in the 12.9-inch version.

This is built on a completely different processor architecture than the Air’s A8X, so while the i
Pad Air 2 has a tri-core CPU and the i
Pad Pro 9.7 a dual-core one, the newer tablet is still a lot faster.

We’ve not had a chance to run any benchmarks on the thing yet, we’ll cover that in our review, but existing Geekbench 3 results for the i
Pad Pro 12.9-inch give you a good idea of what to expect. According to the benchmark’s own aggregate league table, the i
Pad Pro scores 5466 points, the i
Pad Air 2 4527.

Phil Schiller gave us some pretty tasty little soundbites as he unveiled the tablet too. Its CPU has over “three billion” transistors, and the 12-core GPU offers 0.5 teraflops of power, “more than an Xbox 360”.

For a bit of wider context, the Ge
Force GTX980 offers 5 teraflops. But then it is a £500 graphics card.

Related: i
Phone SE vs i
Phone 5S

*

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: The Pro has much better screen colour

With the original i
Pad Pro, Apple redesigned the display driver of its tablet, and the 9.7 version gets this too. Some of this technology is about making the display respond naturally to the Pencil, though, so let’s focus on the bits you’ll really notice.

The i
Pad Pro 9.7 will get you richer colours than an i
Pad Air 2. This is one of those upgrades we’ll have to get a bit technical to appreciate because we, like just about everyone else, think the Air 2 has very nice display colour already.

Until now i
Pads have focused on the s
RGB colour gamut. This is a standard rainbow of colours that HP and Microsoft agreed in the 90s as something monitors and printers should aim for.

Tablets with 100 per cent s
RGB coverage and decent calibration, like the i
Pad Air 2, look great. But now Apple says the i
Pad Pro is made to satisfy the DCI colour spectrum.

This is a whole new rainbow laid out by the film industry, and features tonnes of all colours way deeper than anything you’ll see in the fairly limited s
RGB range. We review screens a lot, and even good ones can fail to reach 50 per cent of the DCI gamut.

If the 9.7-inch i
Pad Pro manages to cover 100 per cent of it, well, that’ll be impressive. Of course, Apple didn’t actually claim full coverage. But unlike many Androids with wide colour gamut OLED screens, you can bet the i
Pad Pro won’t look unnaturally oversaturated despite its “wide colour gamut”.

*

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: The Pro will be much better to use outdoors

If you’re not an epic screen snob, you probably don’t have to worry about whether DCI is better than s
RGB. Leave that to the nerds.

However, that it’s going to look much better outdoors on a sunny day is going to benefit just about everyone. Phil Schiller says the 9.7-inch i
Pad Pro is 40 per cent less reflective than the i
Pad Air 2, even though that older tablet’s anti-glare coating was sold in as one of its key features back at its birth in 2014.

After all the excitement about an anti-glare i
Pad died down, people also found that the i
Pad Air 2 was a bit less bright than its predecessor, which is something the new Pro fixes. Schiller says it is “25 per cent brighter than the i
Pad Air 2” with 500-nit output.

*

Colour matching for the environment is in

As part of i
OS 9.3, both of these tablets will be able to use a feature called Night Shift, which is where the colour temperature of the screen gets warmer as the sun goes down. This means it’ll gradually look more orangey as it gets later.

Why? Blue colour spectrum light is part of the reason why using an LCD screen device at bed time can keep you awake. It may also give you a bit of eyestrain.

Cyanogen
Mod has had this temperature-shifting feature for a while, in fact.

Where the i
Pad Pro gets another boost over the i
Pad Air 2 is that it has an extra-special ambient light sensor that lets it tweak the colour temperature of the screen to suit lighting conditions as well. Schiller says it has “two four-channel ambient light sensors”. The net effect is that whites should look white no matter what funky lighting is around the tablet.

Messing around with white balance is why that whole ‘is the dress blue or gold?’ internet sensation cropped up in 2015.

*

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: Four speakers are better than two, right?

Yet more proof the i
Pad Air 2 isn’t really a top-end Apple tablet anymore, the 9.7-inch i
Pad Pro has much better speakers. The Pro has four drivers, the Air 2 just two.

In the i
Pad Air 2, the drivers sit on the bottom of the tablet, one to each side of the Lightning connector. The Pro moves the drivers, with one at each corner.

This is a very significant upgrade for the i
Pad as a media and gaming device, meaning you’ll get stereo sound you can actually appreciate. Schiller says the Pro puts our “two times the volume” as an i
Pad Air 2. So does that mean the drivers are working at the same level, but there are two more? Perhaps.

The i
Pad Air 2 is already one of the best-sounding tablets money can buy, so the Pro will almost certainly be the best-sounding 10-inch tablet.

*

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: The Pro actually has a good camera

Just as we wouldn’t use the i
Pad as our main computer, we wouldn’t use a tablet as our camera either. Maybe it’s pride. Let’s be honest: people taking pictures with tablets look silly.

We’re not going to be able able to use the excuse that tablets have crappy cameras anymore, though, because the i
Pad Pro 9.7-inch gets the same 12-megapixel i
Sight camera as the i
Phone 6S (or so it would seem). It’s a terrific sensor, with on-sensor phase detection pixels and much larger-than-average photosites, making it much better for low-light photos than the vast majority of mobile devices.

The i
Pad Air 2 has an 8-megapixel camera that, while good for a tablet, already lagged way behind the i
Phone 6 in 2014. Apple has not specifically said the i
Pad Pro matches the i
Phone 6S component-for-component, but the specs available are identical. As well as the same sensor resolution, it has a 5-element lens with an aperture of f/2.2 and those tell-tale “Focus Pixels”.

Unlike previous i
Pads, including the 12.9-inch i
Pad Pro, this doesn’t appear to be a cut-down camera. It can even shoot 4K video.

For the selfie hunters, the i
Pad Pro 9.7-inch has a 5-megapixel front sensor and supports the same Retina flash as the latest i
Phones. This is where the screen’s backlight goes supernova briefly to act like a regular flash. By comparison, the i
Pad Air 2’s 1.2-megapixel selfie camera seems flat-out rubbish.

*

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: It comes in new models, including pink ones

Here’s the bit you’ve really been waiting for. You can get the i
Pad Pro 9.7-inch in Rose Gold. It’s the first time an Apple tablet has been available in this dusky pink shade.

More exciting, but something we’re equally unlikely to buy, is the a 256GB i
Pad Pro. That’s truly mammoth storage for a tablet, the same amount we use on a day-to-day Mac
Book Pro. Both Pro models are now available with this extra space.

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: Price – the deal-breaker?

The 9.7-inch i
Pad Pro is much more than just an i
Pad Air whose had its screen fiddled with to make the Apple Pencil work. It’s a comprehensive, really quite impressive boost in almost every area.

But you do have to pay for it.

The i
Pad Pro starts at £499/$599, which gets you the 32GB version. You’ll pay £619/$749 for the 128GB edition and £739/$899 for the Big Mac 256GB one. Need 4G? That’ll be an extra £100/$130 for each.

Bear in mind the Pro doesn’t come with the keyboard (£129) or Pencil (£59) either. It can get very expensive.

Apple doesn’t offer directly comparable models of i
Pad Air 2 instead filling-in the gaps with a £349/$399 16GB version and a £429/$499 64GB one. Again, add £100 for 4G.

There’s no way around it, the entry price of an i
Pad Air 2 is a lot more affordable.

9.7-inch i
Pad Pro vs i
Pad Air 2: First Impressions

Ok, ok, we admit it. The i
Pad Pro 9.7 seems like a pretty good upgrade. A great one really. We were ready to bash it with the cynicism stick, to do our best to shatter that smug Appley screen and laugh at Apple’s great ruse of trying to get us to use these toys as our main PCs.

And now we kinda want one. We still wouldn’t want to use an i
Pad Pro as a full-on computer, but even without all the Pro-themed upgrades, Apple has actually done enough to make this a worthwhile alternative to the i
Pad Air 2 for new buyers. New screen, new camera, new speakers.

I still don’t think many current Air 2 owners should feel the need to upgrade, though. Does your tablet really feel old? It shouldn’t do unless you let your dog use it as a comfort blanket or something.

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