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Which 9.7-inch iPad is right for you? iPad Pro versus iPad Air 2 spec showdown

Seasons turn, and as spring lurches into view, it brings not just flowers, bees, and longer daylight hours; but also a new iPad from Apple. At its latest gathering in Cupertino, Apple announced a 9.7-inch model iPad Pro to compliment the Pencil and Smart Keyboard. Keen followers of Apple products might note that that sizing puts the new Pro in direct competition with the iPad Air 2. Forced obsolescence is not a new trend for Apple products, and consumers may be wondering whether they need this new iPad or worse, that it makes the one they own a relic.

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Some reports hint that an iPad Air 3 may still be on the way, but if you’re thinking about upgrading now, how exactly does the new iPad Pro compare to the iPad Air 2?

9.7-inch iPad Pro 

Small iPad Pro

iPad Air 2

iPadAir2

 

Size 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 in 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 in
Weight 0.96 lbs 0.96 lbs
Display 9.7-inch Retina display 9.7-inch Retina display
Resolution 2048 x 2536 (264 ppi) 2048 x 2536 (264 ppi)
Operating System iOS 9 iOS 9
Storage 32 / 128 / 256 GB 16 / 64 GB
Processor A9X (2.26 GHz) A8X (1.5 GHz)
RAM 2 GB 2 GB
Camera 5 MP (Front), 12 MP (Rear) 1.2 MP (Front), 8 MP (Rear)
Video 4k video at 30 fps 1080p at 30 fps
Connectivity Wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.3, LTE Advanced Wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.3, LTE
Sensors Touch ID, Three-axis gyro, accelerometer, abrometer, ambient light sensor Touch ID, Three-axis gyro, accelerometer, abrometer, ambient light sensor
Battery up to 10 hours up to 10 hours
Marketplace iTunes iTunes
Price from $600 from $400
Colors Silver, Gold, Space Gray, Rose Gold Silver, Gold, Space Gray
DT review Coming soon 4.5 out of 5 stars

Power and productivity

When the original iPad Pro was announced, it’s A9X chip was a notable upgrade over the Air 2’s A8X chip. The former offers nearly twice the CPU performance of the latter. Nothing has changed with the transition to a smaller screen. The 9.7-inch Pro’s processing speed is a league above the Air 2’s, allowing it to handle far more intense tasks than its relatively antique ancestor.

Related: Let us loop you into this new 9.7-inch iPad Pro for $599

Early reports indicate that the 9.7-inch Pro has 2GB of RAM, which is half of the RAM in the 12.9-inch model. Still, that is the same amount of RAM you’ll find in the Air 2. In terms of performance, there is simply no question that the new iPad Pro is superior. The Pro also comes with a better selection of storage options, starting at 32GB and rising to as much as 256GB. The Air 2’s entry-level 16GB model seems blasphemously small these days.

Winner: iPad Pro

Design

The original iPad Pro had one distinct drawback (if it could even be called that) compared to the Air 2: size. The Pro was larger, which meant a bigger screen for games and movies, but it also meant a heavier, more cumbersome device. The Air 2 was the lightweight alternative, perfect for daily travel. That distinction is gone now, as the 9.7-inch Pro is the same size and weight as the Air 2. The Pro’s four built-in speakers give it an additional edge as an entertainment device, allowing users to listen to music, watch movies, and play games with a vast soundstage. Moreover, for those who like to keep up with the latest trends, the 9.7-inch Pro comes in Rose Gold.

9.7-inch iPad Pro

9.7-inch iPad Pro

Both devices have 9.7-inch Retina screens with the same resolution, so there’s no difference in image quality. The 9.7-inch Pro also has a “True Tone” display, which means that it automatically adjusts the color on-screen to suit the environment users are in. Artists should note that the Pro supports the Apple Pencil (sold separately), a first-party stylus that allows users an impressive degree of control over thickness and shading. As such, the 9.7-inch Pro has special pressure sensitivity that the standard Air 2 lacks. If you like to draw, the Pro is the iPad for you.

The differences in design may be small, but they are key. In this case, the iPad Pro wins out with its new display tech, extra speakers, and Apple Pencil support.

Winner: iPad Pro

Camera

Apple did make one notable change in the transition from the classic Pro to the 9.7 inch model: better cameras. Whereas the original Pro had a 1.2-megapixel camera in front and an 8-megapixel in the rear, the 9.7-inch Pro has a 5-megapixel front camera and 12-megapixel rear camera. This is once again bad news for the Air 2, which also has 1.2- and 8-megapixel cameras in the front and rear.

Apple is also touting the addition of True Tone flash to the new Pro. This feature will apparently make it so that skin tones show up well in a variety of lightings.

Related: Which iPad Pro should you buy? 12.9-inch iPad Pro vs. 9.7-inch iPad Pro

The new Pro can also shoot video in 4K resolution at 30 fps, and 1080p at 60 fps. The Air 2 meanwhile, tops out at 1080p at 30fps. Moreover, the new Pro apparently features automatic focusing, whereas the Air 2 requires users to tap to focus. No contest here, the Pro simply outshines the Air 2. However, we don’t condone taking pictures with tablets unless it’s an emergency.

Winner: iPad Pro

Price and availability

Having lost its advantage in size, the Air 2 does have one saving grace: It is cheaper than the new Pro. Starting at $400, the Air 2 can be seen as a budget alternative. Of course, that $400 model only comes with 16GB of storage. The 64GB model costs $500, which is still cheaper than the 9.7-inch Pro’s 32GB base model, which starts at $600. However, given the big improvements Apple made with the Pro, it’s worth the extra dough.

Related: Whip out your Apple Pencil and try out the 8 best iPad Pro drawing apps

Winner: iPad Air 2, technically

Conclusion

The new iPad Pro is lighter and sleeker than its 12.9-inch big brother, but it packs more or less the same power and tech. Since it’s smaller, it encroaches on what was once the iPad Air’s undisputed turf. Now that the Pro is smaller and more portable, the Air 2 has to compete with the Pro on power and price, and there is no question the Pro is a more powerful device. It also supports the Appel pencil and the Smart Keyboard, which are cool additions

Price is the one area where these two products can go toe-to-toe. The Air 2 is cheaper, even if one springs for the 64GB model, and so consumers on a budget may find it more to their liking. The Air 2 can still survive as a budget iPad, which is not bad for a 2014 product in Apple’s Darwinian ecosystem. For those who can afford it, however, the 9.7-inch Pro is the iPad of the future. The Air 2’s A8X chip will start to show its age much faster than the A9X in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. At the end of the day, we’d recommend the new iPad Pro.