Apple iPad Air vs. iPad (2018): Which Apple tablet is right for you?

The new iPad Air replaces the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but it doesn’t pack quite the same punch. It is a fair bit cheaper, starting at $500, but it’s a lot more expensive than Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad which starts at $330. If you’re shopping for an iPad today, you may well be looking at these two options and trying to decide which is best for you.

We’re here to help with a breakdown of the specs and a full explanation of everything that sets these two Apple tablets apart.

Specs

iPad (2018) iPad Air
Size 240 x 169.5 x 7.5 mm (9.45 x 6.67 x 0.30 inches) 250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1 mm (9.87 x 6.85 x 0.24 inches)
Weight 469 grams (16.8 oz) 456 grams (16.1 oz)
Screen size 9.7 inches 10.5 inches
Screen resolution 2,048 x 1,536 pixels 2,224 x 1,668 pixels
Operating system iOS 12 iOS 12
Storage space 32GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB
MicroSD Card slot No No
Tap-to-pay services No No
Processor Apple A10 Fusion Apple A12 Bionic
RAM 2GB TBC
Camera Rear 8MP, front 1.2MP Rear 8MP, front 7MP
Video 1,080p at 30fps, 720p at 120fps 1,080p at 30fps, 720p at 120fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 4.2 Bluetooth 5.0
Ports Lightning Lightning
Fingerprint sensor Yes Yes
Water resistance No No
Battery 8,827mAh TBC
App marketplace Apple App Store Apple App Store
Network support All major carriers (cellular version only) All major carriers (cellular version only)
Colors Silver, gold, space gray Silver, gold, space gray
Price $330-plus $500-plus
Buy from Amazon Apple
Review score 4.5 stars 4 stars

Performance, battery life, and charging

apple ipad pro 10.5 review touch screen
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The 2018 iPad has an A10 Fusion processor inside, which is the same chip you find in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The new iPad Air has an A12 Bionic processor, which is what powers the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. A couple of generations later, the A12 is much faster and more efficient. We don’t know how much RAM is in the iPad Air yet, but it’s likely to be more than the 2GB in the 2018 iPad. The newer iPad will be much quicker to load apps and capable of handling more graphically demanding games.

Apple suggests you can expect up to 10 hours of mixed use from either of these tablets. They both recharge via the Lightning port and neither supports wireless charging.

Winner: Apple iPad Air

Design and durability

apple ipad 9 7 inch 2018 in hand
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The designs of these two tablets are very similar indeed and they clearly belong to the same family. The iPad Air is just a bit bigger, offering a 10.5-inch screen to the 2018 iPad’s 9.7-inch screen. You will find bezels top and bottom, Touch ID, and an aluminum back in the same choice of silver, gold, or space gray. The iPad Air is exactly the same design as the outgoing 10.5-inch iPad Pro.

There’s no water resistance rating and both will benefit from a good case for protection.

Winner: Tie

Display

ipad pro

The main difference here is size. The iPad Air has a 10.5-inch screen with a resolution of 2,224 x 1,668 pixels and the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels. That gives both screens a pixel-per-inch rating of 264. Where the iPad Air does have an advantage is in the wider color gamut, higher brightness, and support for Apple’s True Tone technology, which automatically adjusts the white balance to make the screen as legible as possible in different lighting conditions. Sadly, it doesn’t retain the 120Hz refresh rate of the outgoing iPad Pro.

Winner: Apple iPad Air

Camera

apple ipad pro 10 5 review rear camera
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The main cameras are exactly the same on paper, both rated at 8 megapixels. They support HDR, Live Photos, burst mode, and a host of other handy extras. Around front, the 2018 iPad has a weak, 1.2-megapixel camera, whereas the iPad Air has a 7-megapixel front-facing camera for better Face Time calls and superior selfies.

Winner: Apple iPad Air

Software and updates

best products 2018 apple ipad 9 7 inch tablet v2

The software experience is going to be virtually identical on these tablets, with both running iOS 12. We expect them both to continue being updated for years to come, but we’re giving the iPad Air the win as it will continue to be supported for longer thanks to the more powerful processor it’s packing.

Winner: Apple iPad Air

Special features

apples new ipad mini and air are seriously underwhelming 2019

Both these tablets offer support for the first generation Apple Pencil, allowing you to sketch or take notes with Apple’s stylus, but it will cost you an extra $100 to buy one. You can also try out augmented reality apps and games on both iPads, but you can expect significantly better performance on the iPad Air. There’s really nothing to divide them here.

Winner: Tie

Price

The iPad Air starts from $500 for the 64GB Wi-Fi version and goes up to $780 for the Wi-Fi and Cellular model with 256GB of storage. The 2018 iPad will cost you $330 for the 32GB version with Wi-Fi and goes up to $560 for the 128GB model with Wi-Fi and Cellular connectivity. Both are available directly from Apple, lots of retailers, and a wide range of carriers.

Overall winner: Apple iPad Air

The Apple iPad Air is the clear winner here, but there isn’t a huge gap between these tablets. If you pay an extra $170, you get a slightly bigger and slightly better screen, an improved front-facing camera, more storage, and most importantly, much faster performance. Whether it’s worth it depends on how you intend to use your iPad. If you’re just going to read, watch movies, maybe play some casual games, then save yourself some money and snag the 2018 iPad. If you use Face Time a lot and you want to play demanding games, then the iPad Air will justify the extra investment.

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