Ipad (5th generation) vs ipad air 2

Apple has a new iPad in town and it’s the most affordable ‘full size’ tablet the company has ever produced. Unfortunately it also resides in one of Apple’s most confusing product families making it harder than it should be to understand which model of iPad is best for you.

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So let’s break down what the tablet Apple simply named ‘iPad’ brings to the table and how it compares to both the range it replaces (the iPad Air) and its smaller (iPad Mini) and more expensive (iPad Pro) stablemates…

Size - Familiar, But Fatter

The most obvious point of comparison for the new iPad is the iPad Air 2 which is being discontinued with the launch of the new 9.7-inch ‘iPad’:

iPad 9.7 (2017): 240 x 169.5 x 7.5 mm (9.45 x 6.67 x 0.30 in) and 469 / 478g (1.03 / 1.05lbs) for cellular/non-cellular iPad Air 2, iPad Pro 9.7: 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm (9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches) and 444 / 437g (0.98 / 0.96lbs) for cellular/non-cellular iPad Pro 12.9: 305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9mm (12 x 8.86 x 0.27 inches) and 713 / 729g (1.57 / 1.59lbs) for cellular/non-cellular iPad mini 4: 203.2 x 134.8 x 6.1 mm (8 x 5.3 x 0.24 inches) and 298.8 / 304g (0.65 / 0.67lbs) for cellular/non-cellular

Perhaps the most surprising stat here is that the iPad (2017) is notably wider and heavier than the 2014-released iPad Air 2 and (2016) iPad Pro 9.7 which is disappointing. Apple gave no reason for this and there is no obvious explanation (at least until someone is able to crack open the new model and see if any specific components have changed).

Aside from the weight gain, the new iPad looks almost identical to the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro 9.7. Note that like the iPad Air 2, the new iPad has dual external speakers rather than the powerful quad arrangement seen in the iPad Pro models.

Displays - Sharp, Bright, Reflective

Moving onto the display you’ll notice that at first glance all 9.7-inch models look identical:

iPad 9.7 (2017), iPad Air 2, iPad Pro 9.7: 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit Multi‑Touch display, 2732‑by‑2048 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi), oleophobic coating iPad Pro 12.9: 12.9‑inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit Multi‑Touch display, 2732‑by‑2048 resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi), oleophobic coating iPad Mini 4: 7.9‑inch (diagonal) LED‑backlit Multi‑Touch display, 2048‑by‑1536 resolution at 326 pixels per inch (ppi), oleophobic coating

That said, the new iPad does feature a downgrade compared to all other iPad models: Apple has removed the anti-reflective display coating. This will be annoying if you regularly work under bright lights or outdoors and for some that will make it a deal breaker.

Less surprisingly, the new iPad also misses out on True Tone display seen in the premium iPad Pros. True tone measures the white balance of the display so that colours look correct no matter the lighting environment. Given the new iPad is budget friendly (more later) I’d argue this is a less significant omission than anti-reflective coating and Apple does say it has increased contrast and colour compared to the older iPad Air 2.

Separately it is worth noting that 3D Touch, the pressure sensitive screen technology seen on flagship iPhones, is still absent from all iPad models. Though I’d expect the next generation of iPad Pro models to add this if Apple wants to warm the lukewarm response 3D Touch has had so far.

Performance - A Speedy Step Back In Time

The next place you’ll find some cost cutting in the new iPad is its horsepower:

iPad 9.7 (2017): Apple A9 with dual-core 1.84 GHz (Twister) CPU and PowerVR GT7600 (six-core) GPU, 2GB of RAM iPad Air 2: Apple A8X with Triple-core 1.5 GHz Typhoon CPU and PowerVR GXA6850 (octa-core graphics) CPU, 2GB of RAM iPad Pro 9.7: Apple A9X with dual-core 2.16 GHz (Twister) CPU and PowerVR Series 7 (12-core) GPU, 2GB of RAM iPad Pro 12.9: Apple A9X with dual-core 2.26 GHz (Twister) CPU and PowerVR Series 7 (12-core) GPU, 4GB of RAM iPad mini 4: A8 second-generation chip with 64-bit architecture, CPU: 1.3x faster, Graphics: 1.6x faster compared to A7, M8 motion coprocessor

While the new iPad moves a generation on from the ageing (2014) A8 and A8X chipsets found in the iPad Mini 4 and iPad Air 2 respectively, Apple has still fitted it with a chipset from 2015. The A9 is found inside the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus and the new iPad has a significantly higher native resolution to drive than either of these smartphones.

I suspect Apple found itself in a dilemma here. It couldn’t fit a newer processor in the iPad 9.7 given it has yet to update the 2015 A9X inside the significantly more expensive iPad Pros. As such while the A9 remains a speedy chip, the iPad 9.7 is not a model power users should buy.

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Cameras - Functional Rear, Flimsy Front

Apple has something of a split personality when its comes to camera technology. The company is determined to push its iPhones to their very peak (even if the Google Pixel and Galaxy S7 recently stole their thunder), but iPads are always fitted with much older camera modules and this remains the case with the iPad 9.7:

iPad 9.7 (2017), iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4 and iPad Pro 12.9 - rear: 8MP, ƒ/2.4 aperture, 1080p video, no OIS. Front: 1.2MP, f2.2 aperture, 720p video, no OIS iPad Pro 9.7 - rear: 12MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 4K video recording, no OIS. Front: 5MP, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 1080p video recording, no OIS

Yes, the 2017 iPad 9.7, 2014 iPad Air 2 and 2015 iPad Mini 4 and iPad Pro 12.9 all use the same optics which come from the 2013 iPhone 5S. This means no 4K video recording, no optical image stabilisation (OIS) and the front 1.2MP camera is really only good for basic video conversations. These are not selfie friendly iPads.

The good news is the rear camera is still a fairly competent snapper in good light, but four years remains a long time to recycle camera technology and I can’t help but feel Apple should have given us something newer here. Again the fact the premium iPad Pro 12.9 uses this technology probably stopped Apple from upgrading the new iPad.

The standout shooter in the iPad range is the 2016 iPad Pro 9.7 which has front and rear modules taken from the iPhone 6S. This still doesn’t bring OIS but it does deliver significantly better photos, especially from the front camera. But be careful because iPad Pros are due an upgrade soon.

Battery Life - 10s All Round

One of the great strengths of the iPad range is its stamina and while that hasn’t changed in many years, the iPad 9.7 keeps its end up by also toting a familiar 10 hour battery life (9 hours using cellular).

There are no other flourishes like fast charging (though an iPad charger will increase the speed an iPhone charges) or wireless charging, but the aim of an iPad is you shouldn’t need to charge it often in any case.

Capacity And Price - Good and Bad News

If you’ve been reading this article and wondering why the iPad 9.7 has a number of compromises, then here is the answer: it’s the cheapest iPad in the range:

The iPad Air 2 is not featured because Apple has ended the Air range with the launch of the new iPad. But you can find some decent second hand bargains around if that’s the model you want.

Ultimately ending the Air simplifies Apple’s branding to iPad, iPad Mini and iPad Pro and I suspect the Mini range could also be on the chopping block as it hasn’t featured any significant upgrades since the iPad Mini 2 in 2013. ‘iPad’ and ‘iPad Pro’ lines would give Apple’s tablets a clarity they have lacked for a long time.

The other option to consider is whether you want a WiFI-only or Cellular model. Personally I’m happy tethering tablets and laptops to smartphone as it saves the complication of multiple carrier contracts, you’ll get a lighter iPad and the $130 you save can be put towards upgrading your phone’s data allowance.

Early Verdict

Simply put: the new iPad 9.7 is not the most exciting tablet Apple has ever released. It’s essentially a cheaper, (surprisingly) fatter version of the iPad Air 2 with a slightly faster chipset and no anti-reflective screen coating. But the iPad 9.7 is cheap.

Furthermore it is the only iPad I would consider buying at this time. Apple is likely to upgrade the iPad Pro 9.7 and iPad Pro 12.9 in the very near future and the iPad Mini range looks set to be retired alongside the iPad Air when this happens.

If you’re in the market for a productivity machine then a budget Windows or Chrome OS laptop (you’ll get better performance from the latter at this price point) is the way to go. But if you have your heart set on an affordable tablet then I’d strongly suggest you save up for the new iPad 9.7 rather than an Android tablet where app support remains disappointingly thin on the ground.

Ultimately the iPad 9.7 may not be an exciting tablet but it’s solid, well priced and will get the job done.


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I am an experienced freelance technology journalist. I have written for Wired, The Next Web, TrustedReviews, The Guardian and the BBC in addition to healthforinsure.com. I began in b2b print journalism covering tech companies at the height of the dot com boom and switched to covering consumer technology as the iPod began to take off. A career highlight for me was being a founding member of TrustedReviews. It started in 2003 and we were repeatedly told websites could not compete with print! Within four years we were purchased by IPC Media (Time Warner"s publishing division) to become its flagship tech title. What fascinates me are the machinations of technology"s biggest companies. Got a pitch, tip or leak? Contact me on my professional Facebook page. I don"t bite.

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