iPad Air 2 vs new iPad Pro 9.7in comparison review

Instead of the iPad Air 3, Apple has launched the new iPad Pro in a 9.7in size. The iPad Air 2 is now cheaper so what's the difference and which one should you buy? Find out in our iPad Air 2 vs new iPad Pro 9.7in comparison review. See also: Best tablets 2016 and iPad Pro 9.7 in-depth review.

The move by Apple is essentially 'here's the iPad Pro mini' to give customers a cheaper and smaller option. The 9.7in size means that the new iPad Pro is comparable to the iPad Air 2. Apple is calling it the "ultimate PC replacement" but the existing iPad Air 2 might be the right choice for some. Also see: Best new tablets coming in 2016.

iPad Air 2 vs new iPad Pro 9.7in comparison review: Price

With the launch of the new iPad Pro, Apple has dropped the price of the iPad Air 2 so it's the cheaper option to a bigger degree. The regular iPad now starts at £349 which is very affordable so you've really got to want the new iPad Pro a lot to spend at least £499.

Is it worth spending £150 extra on the new iPad Pro compared to the iPad Air 2? We'll take a look throughout this review. See a full price comparison breakdown below where you can see all the models available from Apple.

iPad Air 2 vs new iPad Pro 9.7in comparison review: Design and colours

The new iPad Pro is a cross between the iPad Air 2 and the 12.9in original iPad Pro. It's essentially a smaller version of the iPad Pro so it's no surprise to find that it's almost identical to the iPad Air 2 in design.

Apple has effectively put the internals (see hardware below) of the iPad Pro into the iPad Air 2. So, the new iPad Pro shares the dimensions of 170x240x6.1mm and 437g.

Everything is where you would normally find it but there are a few small differences to be aware of in this area. Firstly, the new iPad Pro has a Smart Connector - a set of small metal contacts along the side for use with the Smart Keyboard. Although you can get keyboard cases for the iPad Air 2, this is one reason to opt for the new iPad Pro instead.

iPad Pro 9.7in colours

Another difference is that the new iPad Pro is available in Rose Gold and is the first iPad to be sold in this colour. We urge you not to spend £150 extra for this reason alone, though.

Lastly the new iPad Pro has the same four speaker audio system as the original iPad Pro and, for the first time on an iPad, has a camera bump.

New iPad Pro: podcast discussion

iPad Air 2 vs new iPad Pro 9.7in comparison review: Hardware and specs

Screen

On the surface (not literally), the iPad Air 2 and new iPad Pro use the same screen – both are LED-backlit 9.7in panels with a 2048x1536 resolution (264ppi) but there are some key differences which might help justify the £150 premium.

Compared specifically with the iPad Air 2, the new iPad Pro is 40 percent less reflective, 25 percent brighter and has 25 percent greater colour saturation. It also has a 'True Tone' display which means it can measure the temperature of the ambient light, then adjust the white balance settings accordingly for a better viewing experience.

Related to the screen is the fact that the new iPad Pro supports the £79 Apple Pencil which might be a key decision if this is part of how you want to use your tablet.

iPad Air 2 screen

Processor

One key reason to get the new iPad Pro over the iPad Air 2 is that it's powered by the A9X processor, the same found in the larger iPad Pro. It's Apple's 3rd-generation chip with an M9 coprocessor whereas the iPad Air 2 has a 2nd-generation A8X with an M8 coprocessor. For those seriously wanting to be productive and do demanding computing tasks, this is where the new iPad Pro will be more suited.

Storage

As you can see from the price table, the two tablets don't even come in the same storage capacities. The iPad Air 2 is available in 16- or 64GB from Apple while the new iPad Pro will suit those needing more space with a choice of 32-, 128- and 256GB.

Cameras

The other major differences on the spec sheet are the cameras. As mentioned earlier, the new iPad Pro has a camera bump and that's to fit in the 12Mp iSight camera which has an f/2.2 aperture, a True Tone flash, support for Live Photos, 4K video recording and Slo-mo at 240fps. That's an upgrade compared to the iPad Air 2's 8Mp rear camera which doesn't even have a flash. This is a smaller difference than the screen tech and the processor, mind.

At the front of the new iPad Pro, and arguably more useful for video calls and the like, is a 5Mp FaceTime HD camera with a Retina Flash. Meanwhile, the iPad Air 2 has a 1.2Mp camera.

Audio and Smart Connector

If audio is important, the new iPad Pro uses the same four speaker system as found on the bigger iPad Pro. The iPad Air 2 has the older two speaker setup.

A bigger difference is the Smart Connector which is for use with Apple's Smart Keyboard – available at £129 for the new iPad Pro. This gives it a laptop-like experience and although there are solutions available for the iPad Air 2 it's generally more clunky with things like the need to connect over Bluetooth and charge the device separately.

iPad Pro 9.7in Smart Keyboard

Other specs

Other than the things we've outlined above, the iPad Air 2 and new iPad Pro are essentially the same in terms of specs with things like a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, Apple Pay, dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, Lightning Connector and up to 10 hours battery life.

A small difference is that the iPad Pro 9.7in uses an embedded Apple SIM and supports 23 cellular bands and LTE-Advanced. This, of course, only applies if you're buying a model with Wi-Fi and 4G.

As with a comparison of any iPad, there's no major difference on the software side as both come with iOS 9. However, it's worth pointing out that the new iPad Pro supports always-on "Hey Siri" which the iPad Air 2 does not.

Reasons to buy the new iPad Pro

•    Rose Gold colour
•    Higher storage capacities
•    Better screen
•    Better cameras
•    A9X processor
•    Apple Pencil support
•    Smart Keyboard support
•    Four-speaker audio system
•    Always-on "Hey Siri"

Reasons to buy the iPad Air 2

•    £150 cheaper
•    Just as thin and light
•    No camera bump
•    Still decent specs

Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch: Specs

  • Apple A9X processor with M9 coprocessor
  • 32GB/128/256GB onboard storage
  • iOS 9 (able to use all iOS 9 tablet features, including Split View)
  • LED-backlit IPS LCD, capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours, 2048 x 1536 pixels, 9.7 inches (diagonal), 264 ppi pixel density
  • Touch ID fingerprint sensor
  • Four-speaker audio
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band with MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 12Mp (rear-facing) with True Tone flash
  • 5Mp (front-facing) with Retina flash
  • Smart Connector
  • 170x240x6.1mm
  • 437g (WiFi-only model) or 444g (Wi-Fi plus cellular)
  • Apple A9X processor with M9 coprocessor
  • 32GB/128/256GB onboard storage
  • iOS 9 (able to use all iOS 9 tablet features, including Split View)
  • LED-backlit IPS LCD, capacitive touchscreen, 16M colours, 2048 x 1536 pixels, 9.7 inches (diagonal), 264 ppi pixel density
  • Touch ID fingerprint sensor
  • Four-speaker audio
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band with MIMO
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • 12Mp (rear-facing) with True Tone flash
  • 5Mp (front-facing) with Retina flash
  • Smart Connector
  • 170x240x6.1mm
  • 437g (WiFi-only model) or 444g (Wi-Fi plus cellular)

OUR VERDICT

There are some subtle differences like the Rose Gold option, "Hey Siri" and the camera bump but if you're going to spend £150 on the new iPad Pro instead of the iPad Air 2 it's got to be because you will make use of the better screen, extra processing power, more storage and the way it's setup for productivity. And that's with the additional cost of the Smart Keyboard and/or Apple Pencil. If you're just looking for a decent tablet for pleasure, the iPad Air 2 will suffice.

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