Apple iPad Pro 9.7 vs iPad Air 2

Vs
29 Apr, 2016

What’s the difference between the new 10in iPad and the old one?

The world may have been expecting the iPad Air 3, but Apple decided to go for a new name to accompany the substantial revamp to its flagship 10in tablet. The iPad Pro 9.7in, as its name suggests, is a smaller version of the original 12.9in iPad Pro. This makes the new Pro Mini (if you will) a tablet that’s both similar to and very different from the iPad Air 2.

Casing and screen

The casings of the new iPad Pro 9.7in and the iPad Air 2 have exactly the same dimensions and both weigh 437g in their WiFi-only configurations. There are some physical differences though, and we’re not just talking about the new rose gold colour. 

Most of these new differences relate to the Pro-specific features. The rear camera lens now protrudes slightly, while there’s a smart connector for connecting keyboards and four speaker grilles rather than just two for the increased number of speakers.

One of the most notable physical changes to the new smaller iPad Pro is an unseen enhancement to its Lightning port. It can supply enough power to USB devices plugged into the optional full-size USB to Lightning adapter so that previously non-functional USB devices will now work.

This includes microphones and, most notably, USB to Ethernet adapters. For a company that has slowly been shunning built-in Ethernet in its computers, this is a notable move and a godsend for anyone who has ever struggled with woefully inadequate hotel or convention centre WiFi.

While both tablets have 9.7in screens with a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels, the Pro’s screen has a sensor so it can automatically adjust its screen temperature to suit the ambient lighting around you. It also allegedly has a 25% greater colour gamut and is less reflective too.

Camera

The rear-facing camera lens now protrudes slightly as the 9.7in iPad Pro appears to have a completely different rear-facing camera compared to the Air 2. While the older tablet has a merely adequate eight-megapixel f2.4 camera of a quality comparable to the smartphones of a few years ago, the Pro has a 12-megapixel snapper. 

It has the f2.2 aperture with the faster autofocussing, 4K video recording and slow motion video capabilities of the iPhone 6s camera – it is the 6s camera. This marks a major step forwards for tablet photography and a long overdue one too. Although we still think tablet photography is still too conspicuous, intrusive and just plain naff looking (with the possible exception of mini tablets), a lot of people clearly love taking photos with their tablet judging from what we’ve seen on the streets of the world’s major cities.

Pencil and keyboard

Apple’s official accessories for the iPad Pro 9.7in also immediately set this new tablet apart from its predecessor. The excellent Apple Pencil will be a boon to graphic design artists and CAD/CAM workers with its top-notch pressure-sensitivity, accuracy and palm rejection. 

We were less enthused by the 12.9 version of Apple’s official keyboard case and the 9.7in official keyboard case is very similar with many of the same design trade-offs and drawbacks. We’ll likely see third party keyboards and keyboard cases taking advantage of the magnetic smart connector on the smaller Pro.

Performance and battery life

Naturally, the Pro has an A9X processor, like its bigger brother, instead of the A8X processor of the Air 2. It is clocked slightly slower than the chip in the larger Pro at 2.16GHz, but it still runs circles around the Air 2 - the A9X is still one of the fastest tablet processors we’ve ever seen.  

The 9.7in Pro has 2GB of RAM instead of 3GB like the Air 2, but this was still more than enough for buttery smooth multitasking and a good measure of future proofing.

Apple claims ten hours of battery life for the 9.7in Pro, as it did for the Air 2. In our tests, the iPad Pro 9.7 lasted 11 hours when playing video on a loop, half an hour longer than the iPad Air 2. It’s pleasing that battery life is no shorter despite the increase in performance and interior space given over to the new speakers, but other 10in tablets can last even longer.

Apple claims ten hours of battery life for the 9.7in Pro, as it did for the Air 2. This almost certainly refers to video playback and while we’re confident that the new iPad Pro can match this, other tablets can last even longer.

This head-to-head was first published on 29/3/2016 and has since been updated, most recently on 29/4/2016.