New iPad 9.7 vs iPad Air 2: what's new on Apple's latest tablet?

With absolutely no fanfare at all, Apple has just announced a new iPad simply called ‘iPad’ or ‘iPad 9.7’. It’s taking the place of the iPad Air 2 in Apple’s tablet line-up, so don’t think of this as an iPad Pro successor so much as a more affordable, mid-range offering.

But the iPad Air 2 was once a flagship tablet and still impresses, so just how does this new iPad 9.7 compare? 

We’ve got all the answers here, as we put the two slates head-to-head, looking at their design, screen, power, price and more.

Design

Not much has changed here, with both the new iPad 9.7 and the iPad Air 2 sporting a slim metal unibody in gold, silver or space gray.

There are differences to the size and weight though, with the new iPad coming in at 240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm and 469g (or 478g for the cellular model), while the iPad Air 2 is 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm and 437g, or 444g for the cellular version.

So they’re the same length and width, but the iPad Air 2 is actually significantly slimmer and a little bit lighter, despite being an older model.

That, perhaps, is why Apple has ditched the Air moniker this year, but at 7.5mm thick the new iPad 9.7 is still far from fat.

Both models also have a home button on the front with Touch ID built in, so from a design perspective it’s really only the weight and thickness that differs – and those things work out in the older slate’s favor.

Screen

Nothing seems to have changed here, with the new iPad 9.7 and the iPad Air 2 both sporting a 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 display with a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch.

The lack of a change here is no surprise though, given that even the pricier iPad Pro 9.7 has a screen of that size and spec.

OS and power

The new iPad 9.7 runs iOS 10.2, and while the iPad Air 2 shipped with iOS 8.1 it’s upgradeable to iOS 10.2, so there’s no difference in operating system, though it’s worth noting that the new iPad is likely to be supported with updates for longer.

Power has been given a boost with the new slate sporting an A9 chipset, along with an M9 coprocessor. The iPad Air 2 meanwhile uses the older Apple A8X chip – that’s a generation behind, so the new iPad 9.7 should be a little snappier, though notably it’s not using Apple’s latest A10 Fusion chip.

Camera

Apple hasn’t upgraded the new iPad’s camera to match the iPad Pro 9.7. Instead it’s stuck with the same snapper as the iPad Air 2, namely an 8MP rear one and a 1.2MP FaceTime one.

Neither camera on either slate has a flash either, and video recording tops out at 1080p at 30 frames per second, so don’t expect to be able to shoot anything brilliant on either tablet – though why you’d want to use a 9.7-inch slate for photography is beyond us anyway.

Battery

Apple doesn’t reveal the exact sizes of the batteries in its devices, so we don’t know yet exactly how the new iPad 9.7 stacks up, but Apple claims it can last for up to 10 hours of video watching or web browsing on Wi-Fi, which is a match for the 7,340mAh iPad Air 2, so it’s likely that they’re the same size.

Price

Apple’s listing the new iPad 9.7 with a starting price of $329/£339/AU$469 for a 32GB Wi-Fi model, and it tops out at $559/£559/AU$799 for a 128GB Wi-Fi and cellular version. There are only 32GB and 128GB versions available.

The iPad Air 2, while no longer available from Apple itself, was recently available starting at $399/£379/AU$569 for a 32GB Wi-Fi model, and rising to $629/£589/AU$879 for a 128GB Wi-Fi and cellular version.

So the new iPad 9.7 is actually cheaper than the iPad Air 2 was (and that’s following price drops – the iPad Air 2 launched at a higher price), though don’t be surprised if other retailers now drop the price of the iPad Air 2 below that of the new iPad.

Takeaway

The new iPad 9.7 doesn’t appear much different to the iPad Air 2 and in some ways – notably the thickness and weight – it’s arguably worse.

But with a faster chipset it could be slightly better and slightly more future-proofed overall. 

It’s also cheaper, which is perhaps the single biggest reason to buy it – that and the fact that the iPad Air 2 could become increasingly hard to get hold of.

It’s definitely not the slate to replace your aging iPad Air 2 with – check out the iPad Pro 9.7 or wait for the iPad Pro 2 if you’re interested in doing that. But if you’re after an Apple slate that won’t break the bank, the new iPad could be a strong option.