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New Apple iPad 9.7 vs iPad Air 2: What's the difference?

Pocket-lint logo Pocket-lint 23-03-2017

Apple has quietly released a new iPad on its online store. Simply called iPad, the new model replaces the iPad Air 2 as Apple's standard tablet offering, sitting above the iPad Mini 4 and below the two iPad Pro models.

But while Apple may not be officially selling the iPad Air 2 through its online store, you can still pick it up at other retailers, so it remains a relevant product. 

We have put the specs of the new iPad 9.7-inch against the iPad Air 2 to see what the differences are and what changes have been made for Apple to introduce a revised version of the rather successful Air 2.

  • New iPad is slightly heavier than iPad Air 2
  • No Rose Gold colour option for new iPad
  • Both tablets have same dimensions

The Apple iPad Air 2 measures 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm and weighs 437g. It comes in three colours and it features Touch ID within the Home button. It's thinner than its own Air predecessor, lighter, and it offers a solid design that is lovely.

The new Apple iPad 9.7 has the same design as the Air 2, and on the face of it, you'd assume they would be exactly the same. However the new iPad has put on a bit of weight, coming in at 469g on the scales for the Wi-Fi only model - making it heavier than the iPad Pro 9.7 at the same time - and 478g for the Wi-Fi and 4G LTE variant. In the real world, this weight difference likely won't make much difference to your experience, but it's something worth noting. 

The extra weight of the new iPad is represented by a slightly thicker frame, coming at 7.5mm compared to the iPad Air 2's svelte 6.1mm, however both tablets are the same when it comes to height and width. They also have the same Touch ID sensor in the home button and same aluminium build. 

Apple has continued to reserve the Rose Gold colour finish for its Pro models, as the new iPad 9.7 is only available in the same Space Grey, Gold and Silver finishes as the iPad Air 2. 

New Apple iPad 9.7 vs iPad Air 2: Display

  • Both have 9.7-inch displays
  • New iPad has brighter Retina display

The Apple iPad Air 2 sits in the middle of the iPad line up when it comes to size. It has a 9.7-inch display in comparison to the 7.9-inch screen of the iPad mini and the 12.9-inch size of the larger iPad Pro.

The iPad Air 2 has a resolution of 2048 x 1536, which means it offers a pixel density of 264ppi. That's the same as the original Air but the Air 2 comes with an anti-reflective screen, as well as a bump in contrast and colour. The latter aren't hugely noticeable but the anti-reflective technology makes a big difference and overall the Air 2's display is great.

The new iPad 9.7 has the same resolution as the Air 2, but Apple claims its now brighter, although fails to mention just how much brighter. We'll have to wait until a proper side-by-side comparison to see if there's any discernible difference. 

Once again, Apple has reserved the more premium screen features for its Pro models. There's no True Tone display on the new iPad 9.7 and no anti-reflective coating. 

We'd expect the new iPad 9.7's real world performance to largely emulate the performance of the iPad Air 2, which is no bad thing as the iPad Air 2 has one of the best displays on the market in its price bracket.

  • Both tablets have same front and rear cameras
  • 8-megapixel rear camera with autofocus
  • 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime HD camera

The Apple iPad Air 2 features a 1.2-megapixel front camera, coupled with an 8-megapixel rear camera. As tablets aren't as commonly used for taking shots as smartphones, this is more than adequate. It's the same cameras as found on the iPhone 5S which means that while the iPad Air 2's cameras are good, they aren't as good as the iPhone 6S and therefore the iPad Pro 9.7.

Apple hasn't made any changes to the cameras for the new iPad 9.7, again holding back from giving it the higher quality cameras found on the iPad Pro models. 

Regardless of what you think about using an iPad as a camera, the iPad Air 2 performs well. If you really want to take photos using your tablet, the Air 2 and therefore the new iPad 9.7 will hold you in good stead.

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  • New iPad gets A9 processor
  • Same internal storage options

The Apple iPad Air 2 comes with the A8X chip and the M8 motion co-processor. This is supported by 2GB of RAM and there are internal storage options of 32GB and 128GB with no microSD support, as is the way with all Apple devices.

The new iPad 9.7-inch meanwhile has been given a slightly faster 64-bit A9 processor. It's not quite on the same level as the A9X processor found in the iPad Pro, but it should provide a noticeable increase in performance over the iPad Air 2.

The new iPad 9.7 gets the same 32GB and 128GB storage options as the outgoing Air 2 and of course, there's no microSD support. Apple has once again stuck to its dual speaker setup for the new iPad, so while sound quality will be good, it won't be as powerful as the four speaker setup on the iPad Pro.

  • Both run iOS 10

Both the Apple iPad Air 2 and the new iPad 9.7 run on iOS 10, meaning the software experience will be almost identical across these two models.

The new model doesn't come with any additional features, such as Apple Pencil compatibility, so in this instance the two will be completely identical.

  • New iPad 9.7 is £40 cheaper

The Apple iPad Air 2 starts at £379 and goes up to £499, depending on which storage capacity you choose and whether you opt for Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and Cellular.

The new iPad 9.7 on the other hand, has a starting price of £339, stretching to £469 for the highest storage capacity and Wi-Fi and Cellular. 

The iPad Air 2 is a great tablet, and based on our experiences with it, we can have no problem with recommending the new iPad 9.7 before even testing it. The inclusion of an updated processor is a welcome one, and the fact Apple has left pretty much everything else unchanged, we can conjure up a good idea of how the new model will perform.

The fact that Apple has managed to update the iPad, and bring down its price is something not to be sniffed at. If you were putting off buying an iPad because you felt it was too expensive to join Apple's ecosystem, now could be the best time yet.

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