It may not look like it at first glance, but Apple is making it a simple decision to update from your iPad Air 2, introducing the iPad Pro 9.7. If you are wanting a new iOS tablet with the same overall size as the original line of iPad, the iPad Pro 9.7 is what you’ll be wanting.
I don’t want to begin with my conclusions here, but I plan to show you why the iPad Pro 9.7 is the superior tablet. We still like the iPad Air 2, but if you can afford the newer Pro version, go for it.
Let’s get into this, join us for our iPad Pro 9.7 vs iPad Air 2 quick comparison.
Announcing the iPad Pro last September, and releasing it for sale later in the fall, Apple’s big new device was a 13-inch tablet with all the best that iOS 9 had to offer. On the other side of things, the iPad Air 2 was introduced in 2014 at the familiar 10-inch size range. I cannot help but consider the iPad Pro 9.7 to be the lovechild of these two devices, offering up the size of the iPad Air 2 with the power and features of the iPad Pro.
As far as Apple’s tablet offerings go, the iPad Pro 9.7 is one of our favorite – so how does it compare to the last generation iPad Air 2? Well, it’s more powerful, it has better battery life, the display is greatly improved and you can use the new Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil smart stylus. If none of that matters to you, maybe the 12MP camera sensor with support for 4K video recording will help? No? Well then, the iPad Air 2 had its price reduced recently, head on out and grab one.
I’ll stop being facetious, I just wanted to make it clear that the iPad Air 2 is still a good device. For your more basic web browsing, social media perusing and light gaming needs, you’ll do just fine with the older tablet.
Aside from that, the outside of these two tablets is near identical. The primary differences are the addition of the Smart Keyboard docking pins, an additional two speaker grills along the top edge of the tablet, a camera flash and the new protruding camera sensor. Oh, and the new Rose Gold (pink) color.
Stepping things up, the iPad Pro 9.7 includes the A9X chipset with M9 graphics coprocessor, as compared to the A8X and M8 coprocessor of the iPad Air 2. While never directly comparing the two, Apple claims that the A8X is 1.4x faster than the A7 before it and the A9X is 2.4x faster than that older A7. By this logic, the iPad Pro 9.7 is about 1.7x faster than the iPad Air 2.
Forget those numbers, let me just tell you straight up, yes, the iPad Pro 9.7 is appreciably faster than the iPad Air 2. Navigating a web page is not where you’ll see this, as both devices are capable of loading the browser faster than my network can load the page content, nor will you see the difference navigating the OS, instead, go ahead and load a large game to see what I’m talking about.
As you may already know, I like to use Asphalt 8 as my benchmark. I can get from the Home screen to the start of a race about 9 seconds faster on the iPad Pro 9.7 than on the iPad Air 2. Considering we’re talking about a 20 second process (29 seconds on the Air 2), that is a huge advantage. Further, the entire process is just smoother with fewer dropped frames, there is no doubt whatsoever that the newer tablet is more powerful.
There are further improvements when we talk about camera capabilities, but we’ll save that for later.
Although I’ve already explained the bulk of the performance differences between the iPad Pro 9.7 and the iPad Air 2, let me talk briefly about a few key parts.
First up, let’s talk display. Despite coming with the same size and resolution, you will find the display on the iPad Pro 9.7 to be brighter and produce a cleaner color palette. These sound like words used by the marketing department, but they are accurate.
At full brightness you can see the difference, then snap a photo from each tablet of a dynamic scene, like a flower garden, have a close look, it’s not like you will see specific colors on one and not the other, but you should be able to see a difference in the overall color vibrancy and accuracy.
While the color and brightness differences are really only visible under close scrutiny, the color temperature of the display is something else. The new True Tone display uses four ambient light sensors to change brightness and color temp. Due to this, you will often see a much softer, orange-hued, color on the new tablet. However, turn off True Tone and you’ll see a much cooler, bluer, color. It looks great on its own, but put beside the iPad Air 2, it almost looks grey.
Next up, sound. The iPad Air 2 has two speakers that live fairly close together on the bottom edge of the tablet. The iPad Pro 9.7 spread those speakers to the sides more, then added two more to the top edge of the tablet. The result is greatly improved sound quality, including a pleasant stereo sound experience.
The iPad Pro 9.7 has a much richer sound to it, you can almost hear bass on your favorite songs. Sure, the iPad Air 2 has decent sound, but that is the entire moral of my story today, placed side-by-side there are few who’s auditory senses will prefer the sound out of the older tablet. However, volume levels are not much changed, both are loud and clear.
Finally, the camera. There is little point explaining that Apple’s newest and most advanced 12MP sensor is better than the old 5MP sensor. We’ll put a camera shootout at the end of this section, but what you need to know is that there are greatly improved video capture capabilities.
The iPad Air 2 is capable of recording 1080p video and slo-motion video at 720p and 120 frames per second. The iPad Pro 9.7 essentially doubles these capabilities, offering up slo-motion video at 240 frames per second on 720p or 120 frames at 1080p resolution. On top of this, you can now capture 4K videos.
Hidden in the software is a new camera feature, Live capture records a short video clip of the scene when you take a still photo. Perhaps the perfect moment was just a moment after the camera snapped, or perhaps you just want to remember the ambiance of a photo, Live capture will help take advantage of these wants. Head into your gallery and simply long press on an image to see the short video clip.
With two capable tablets in front of us, many of you may be tempted to make a purchasing decision in one of two ways. First, you may simply purchase the newer, more expensive iPad Pro 9.7 because it is the latest and greatest, as they say. Conversely, you may be looking to grab the iPad Air 2 because it is now far more affordable than it was a few months ago.
Allow me, once again, to ask you to consider your needs and wants on these two tablets. It may just be that the older, but still powerful iPad Air 2 is enough for your basic needs, I would easily recommend it as a couch companion or the iPad you’d let your friends and children play with.
However, if you are looking to be productive, not only is the iPad Pro 9.7 the more powerful and capable tablet, it also has the optional Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil smart stylus support.
In the end, Apple’s latest is, essentially, their greatest. We are still piecing together our thoughts on the iPad Pro 9.7 vs the larger iPad Pro, but I consistently reach for the smaller of the two when given the option.
iPad Pro 9.7
iPad Air 2
Add $130 to any model
Add $130 to any model
Pricing starts at $599 for the iPad Pro 9.7, with the iPad Air 2 now running a starting price of $399. We can’t compare these devices at equal storage capacities, the older tablet comes with 16GB or 64GB of storage, the iPad Pro 9.7 offers 32GB at the bottom, with 128GB and 256GB options running you upwards of $900.
Now you see the dilemma, the iPad Air 2 is a great casual use companion tablet for $400. On the other hand, the more attractive, more powerful and more capable iPad Pro 9.7 can wrack up a hefty price tag. The absolute top model (256GB of internal storage + LTE connectivity) plus the optional Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil will run you a total bill of $1277.00.
We think the iPad Pro 9.7 is worth the upgrade, just please consider your needs closely before you dive in on 256GB of internal storage, that’s a lot of money for a feature you may never use.
What is your take, is the more powerful and capable iPad Pro 9.7 worth the premium over the aging iPad Air 2?