- 1 Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which iPad is best for you?
- 2 Best iPad buying guide 2016: The current iPad line-up
- 3 Macworld poll: How often do you update your iPad?
- 4 Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which size of iPad should you get?
- 5 Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which iPad mini should you buy?
- 5.1 What are the differences between the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4?
- 5.2 Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 1: Speed
- 5.3 Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 2: Physical dimensions
- 5.4 Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 3: Cameras
- 5.5 Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 4: Touch ID fingerprint scanner
- 5.6 Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 5: Price
- 5.7 Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 6: Future releases
- 5.8 Which iPad mini should you buy? Conclusion
- 6 Best iPad buying guide spring 2016: Which mid-size iPad should you buy – iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro 9.7in?
- 6.1 What are the differences between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro 9.7in?
- 6.2 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 1: Display
- 6.3 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 2: Processor power
- 6.4 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 3: Cameras
- 6.5 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 4: Weight and dimensions
- 6.6 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 6: Accessories
- 6.7 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 7: iOS 9 (and beyond)
- 6.8 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 8: Price
- 6.9 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 9: Future releases
- 6.10 iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Conclusion
- 7 Best iPad buying guide 2106: Which model of 12.9-inch iPad Pro should you choose?
- 8 Decision Time! Choosing the best iPad (and final options)
Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which iPad is best for you?
Wondering which iPad to buy? Don’t worry: our iPad buying guide – updated for spring 2016 to add the 9.7-inch iPad Pro – will help you pick the right iPad for your needs.
There’s a few different questions there, but they all come down to one main consideration: what do you need from an iPad? In our iPad buying guide we’ll help you work out your requirements and whether you should get a mini-size, 7.9-inch iPad (the iPad mini 2 or iPad mini 4 – Apple has discontinued the mini 1 and mini 3), a standard-size, 9.7-inch iPad (the iPad Air 2 or 9.7-inch iPad Pro), or the extra-large, 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
We’ll then talk about further options, such as storage capacity, 3G/cellular capabilities and colours. We’ll even talk about whether you should be getting an iPad at all – would an Android or Windows tablet be a more cost-effective option? – and discuss second-hand and refurbished alternatives that will save you money. Finally, for each category of iPad we consider whether an updated version of that device is likely to be unveiled in the near future, and whether the threat of obsolescence should influence your buying decision.
And when you’ve decided which iPad you want to buy, head over to our article Best cheap iPad deals UK for detailed advice on the best places to buy, the best deals, second-hand and refurbished options and more.
Best iPad buying guide 2016: The current iPad line-up
Apple currently sells five iPad models altogether, and each of those offers two to four colour options, two to three storage capacities, and the option to get 3G/cellular or just stick with Wi-Fi. That’s a lot of configurations, by our count 77 combinations in total: clearly we’ve got work to do.
Which iPad: Size category
But we can break the range down pretty quickly. First of all, you can divide it intothree size categories. You’ve got two mini-size, 7.9-inch iPads: the iPad mini 2 and the iPad mini 4; two standard-size, 9.7-inch iPads: the iPad Air 2 and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. And there’s the supersized 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which is the biggest and costliest option.
We help you decide which iPad size to go for in our next section: Choosing between the three sizes of iPad: mini (7.9-inch), standard (9.7-inch) or large (12.9-inch).
Which iPad: Age
Then you can separate the first two of those categories into a newer and an oldermodel. (The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is an entirely new line, so there isn’t an older alternative if you can’t afford the latest one.)
The mini 2 came out in October 2013, whereas the mini 4 came out in September 2015 – it’s two years newer (and should be expected to run the latest apps and iOS updates without slowing down for roughly two years more than its older equivalent), and two generations more advanced.
The iPad Air 2 is a bit newer than the mini 2, having been launched in October 2014, but it’s still a good 18 months older than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which came out in March 2016 – it’s the most recent iPad in the entire range, and therefore the most advanced (and one of the most expensive).
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro came out in September 2015 along with the mini 4. It’s an exceptionally powerful device and the most expensive iPad of all, thanks mainly to its giant screen, but is actually less advanced than the 9.7-inch Pro in a few respects.
We help you decide between the older and newer versions of the mini and 9.7-inch iPads in dedicated sections: Which iPad mini should you choose: iPad mini 2 or iPad mini 4? and Which standard-size iPad should you choose: iPad Air 2 or 9.7-inch iPad Pro?
Which iPad: Budget and requirements
Your choice of the individual models will depend on how much money you’re willing to spend, how portable and powerful you need your iPad to be, how long you need to be able to use your iPad (and for it to support the latest software) and in what areas (if any) you are willing to compromise.
Let’s get started. First of all we’ll decide if you should buy a standard-size, a mini or an extra-large iPad, and then we’ll narrow down your choice from there.
Macworld poll: How often do you update your iPad?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this buying decision, we’d love to hear how often you buy a new iPad. Is this your first iPad ever, or are you a regular updater?
Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which size of iPad should you get?
The first decision will cut our options drastically. Do you want a mini, 7.9-inch iPad (the mini 2 or mini 4), a standard-size, 9.7-inch iPad (the iPad Air 2 or 9.7-inch Pro), or a big-screen, 12.9-inch iPad Pro?
Which size of iPad should you get? Part 1: Screen size
The most obvious aspect of this decision comes down to screen size. The iPad mini models each come with 7.9-inch screens (measured diagonally); the mid-size iPad Air 2 and 9.7-inch iPad Pro both have – fairly obviously in the latter’s case – 9.7-inch screens; and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is also pretty self-explanatory, packing a stunning and spacious 12.9in screen.
But how big a screen do you really need?
You can get an idea of the comparative sizes in the picture above (which goes, left to right, 12.9-inch Pro, 9.7-inch Pro, Air 2, mini 4, mini 2). But you can also think of the tablets in terms of print publications: the mini models are roughly the size of a paperback; the 9.7-inch iPads are closer (in length and width, even though they are very much thinner) to a hardback or Private Eye-style mini-magazine; and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is more like a standard magazine: PC Advisor, for example.
The larger screen is obviously better for immersive entertainment. Whether watching films or playing games, it’s a more enjoyable, richer experience. The iPad minis have only about two-thirds of the screen area of the 9.7-inch iPads; the 12.9-inch Pro has in turn about 78 percent more screen space than the mid-size models.
If you’re worried that an iPad mini will feel cramped, we’d point out that the mini screen feels much closer to the mid-size iPads than you might think. And we’re getting increasingly used to watching films and TV shows on phone screens. Don’t discount the mini as an entertainment device – it’ll do you proud. This is simply a question of priorities. Are you more set on getting maximum screen space, or are you willing to compromise on that front in order to get a lower price tag and improved portability?
If you’re looking at some serious work tasks, however, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro might be the tablet for you.
Your choice of iPad depends to a huge extent on personal feeling, and it’s worth trying to get your hands on the various models, whether in an Apple Store or at a friend’s house, to get an idea of what you’re looking for. If it’s impossible to do this, try the trick we’ve used occasionally in videos when trying to give viewers an idea of the dimensions of an unreleased product: check the height, width and so on (they’re listed below) and use them to knock up a cardboard cutout to play around with.
Which size of iPad should you get? Part 2: Portability
One of the payoffs for settling for a smaller screen comes in the form of portability. For one thing, the iPad mini models are a lot lighter – there’s a big weight gap between the mid-size iPads and even the heavier of the two mini models: 437g to 299g, looking at Wi-Fi-only models.
The iPad mini units are more portable, then, as you’d expect. As well as their markedly lower weights they also have smaller bodies, which slip easily into a rucksack pocket or even a jacket pocket (we found that the iPad mini 2, for example, can slip into even a trouser pocket, although it was stretching the material rather ridiculously). If you plan to mainly use your iPad out and about, on holiday or commuting, the iPad minis are your best bet.
The iPad Air 2 and 9.7-inch Pro (they’re physically virtually identical) are pleasingly portable, but they still can’t match the mini models for pocketability.
The 12.9-inch Pro, as you’d expect, is considerably less portable than its smaller cousins, but we think Apple has done well to keep it down to 713g. It’s only 0.8mm thicker than the iPad Air 2, and actually thinner than the recently discontinued iPad Air 1, which is only two years older and equipped with a much smaller screen. It certainly won’t go in a pocket (unless you’re a clown), but the 12.9-inch Pro remains a slender, relatively lightweight and portable alternative to a laptop.
Which size of iPad should you get? Part 3: Speed
The newer the iPad you’re looking at, the faster it’s likely to be in terms of both general processing and graphics. That much is obvious. But you’ll also find that the larger iPads tend to be faster than their smaller equivalents.
Here are some benchmarking scores, to give you some idea of the comparative speeds:
GeekBench 3 speed benchmark scores;
Very broadly speaking, the bigger the iPad, the faster it goes. The latest 12.9-inch iPad is faster than the latest 9.7-inch iPad, which in turn is faster than the latest 7.9-inch iPad. In fact, the mid-size iPad Air 2 is faster than the mini 4, even though it’s a year older.
In other words, if you want to use highly demanding apps such as video and image editors, or if you’re into graphically advanced games, you should be edging towards the larger models. (Other considerations may override this and dictate that the mini 4 is still the best option, however.)
If you’re going to be using your iPad for the odd bit of email and web surfing, you should be leaning towards the minis (and the mini 2 at that), because the power of the 12.9-inch Pro, for example, will be wasted on such gentle workloads.
Which size of iPad should you get? Part 4: Battery life
While we’re talking benchmarks, let’s reiterate the probably well-known fact that bigger iPads have bigger batteries, and last longer away from a power supply.
For all five currently available iPads, however, Apple makes precisely the same claim concerning battery life: that they will last “up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music” or “up to 9 hours of surfing the web using a mobile data network”.
Yet – despite the fact that Apple doesn’t release this information officially – we know that the iPads have different battery capacities:
- iPad mini 2: 6,471 mAh
- iPad mini 4: 5,124 mAh
- iPad Air 2: 7,340 mAh
- 9.7-inch iPad Pro: 7,306 mAh
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro: 10,307 mAh
And different models have different generations of battery technology, and different demands are placed on their power consumption, resulting in drastically different battery life performance in our experience. Here are the results of our battery tests.
In any case, don’t necessarily expect your device to last exactly that long under normal use conditions, but this gives us a fair idea of their comparative capabilities.
Which size of iPad should you get? Part 5: Price
Perhaps the biggest mark in favour of buying from the iPad mini range is the price. Starting at £219, the (16GB, Wi-Fi-only) second-gen iPad mini is the cheapest iPad by a clear £100. Even the near-new iPad mini 4 (at its most basic spec, at least) is £30 cheaper than the iPad Air 2, which is a year older.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at £679 for the 32GB (Wi-Fi-only) model, and moves up to a dizzying £919 and £1,019 for the Wi-Fi and cellular versions of the 256GB model. We’re getting into MacBook Air territory, then (for comparison, the 11-inch MacBook Air starts at £749, while the 13-inch Air starts at £849) and clearly not for casual or budget buyers. As we mentioned in the portability section, it’s more something to consider as an alternative to a laptop. For these reasons it calls for more pre-purchase research, trying a sample out in an Apple Store and so on.
Hopefully by now it’s become clear whether a mini, mid-size or large iPad is right for you, which means you can proceed to…
Best iPad buying guide 2016: Which iPad mini should you buy?
Okay, so you’ve settled on either an iPad mini, a mid-sized iPad Air or Pro, or the big-screen 12.9-inch iPad Pro. We’ll look at the iPad minis first to narrow things down further. (If you’d prefer one of the larger models instead, skip ahead to the mid-size iPad section or the iPad Pro section. Or jump to the top of the page.)
Which iPad mini model is best for you: the iPad mini 2, or the iPad mini 4?
(The mini 3 has been discontinued, although it is still available second-hand or through Apple’s refurbished store. If you’re interested, take a look at our iPad mini 3 vs iPad mini 4 comparison review.)
What are the differences between the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 4?
First of all, let’s list the differences between the two iPad mini models – and there are plenty.
Mini 4 is faster. The iPad mini 2 runs the A7 processor chip (and the M7 motion co-processor). The A7 is around four times as fast for general processing as the A6 that was found in the original iPad mini, and about eight times as fast for graphical processing. But the A8 chip (plus M8) in the iPad mini 4 is faster still: Apple boasts that it is 1.3 times faster than the A7 at general processing, and 1.6 times faster at graphical tasks. This is backed up by our speed-test lab results, as we’ll see in the next section:
The iPad mini 4 also has 2GB of RAM; the mini 2 has just 1GB.
Mini 4 is slimmer and lighter. It’s 6.1mm thick to the mini 2’s 7.5mm (a reduction of 19 percent) and 299g (for the Wi-Fi version) to the mini 2’s 331g (a reduction of 10 percent).
Mini 4 has a slightly better screen. The mini 2 and mini 4 both get Retina screens. Apple no longer sells an iPad with a non-Retina screen. But the mini 4’s Retina screen has an anti-reflective coating, which helps reduce distracting reflections when viewing the tablet under bright lighting.
Mini 4 has better cameras. The iPad mini 4 has a better camera setup than the iPad mini 2: the rear-facing camera is 8Mp ot the mini 2’s 5Mp, and both the rear- and front-facing cameras on the mini 4 get Burst mode. And the mini 4 gets slow-motion video.
Mini 4 has better wireless. It gets 802.11ac Wi-Fi (on top of the a/b/g/n flavours available with the mini 2) and a slightly later Bluetooth standard: 4.2 instead of 4.0.
Mini 4 gets a barometer. Mini 2 doesn’t.
Finally, the iPad mini 4 has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor – no such luck for the mini 2.
Oh, and one more thing: you can get the iPad mini 4 in gold. The mini 2 is available in silver and Space Grey only.
Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 1: Speed
The first and perhaps most important difference between the iPad mini models is processing speed.
The difference in speed is the result of different components inside the two devices. As well as having more RAM (2GB to the mini 2’s 1GB), the iPad mini 2 has an A7 processor chip, complete with its M7 graphics coprocessor, whereas the mini 4 gets the newer A8/M8 chip. Apple reckons the A8 is about 1.3 times as quick as the A7 at general processing, and 1.6 times as quick at graphical tasks.
Let’s look again at those benchmark scores, focusing this time on the mini models.
GeekBench 3 processing-speed benchmark scores (higher is better)
iPad mini 2: 1195 (single core), 2251 (multicore)
iPad mini 4: 1728 (single core), 3107 (multicore)
GFXBench OpenGL graphical-processing speed scores (version 3.0.40) (frames per second; higher is better)
iPad mini 2: 8.9 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 22.0 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad mini 4: 15.4 fps (Manhattan onscreen test), 37.3 fps (T-Rex onscreen test)
iPad mini 2: 54.361
iPad mini 4: 76.489
The mini 4 demonstrates a clear speed advantage over the mini 2 across a range of metrics. You’ll start noticing this in real-world performance, but not on all functions: the A7 remains a perfectly serviceable chip for current apps.
You’ll observe a difference in performance between the two models on the most demanding apps and games. Where the A8 chip really comes into its own is when you up the ante and start playing newer or more graphically demanding games, or use powerful video- and photo-editing packages. The more demanding apps will certainly benefit from the A8’s muscle.
Getting the A8 is also a useful future-proofing exercise, because more and more apps are going to be released in the coming months that have the latest hardware in mind, and on such software the iPad mini 2 may start to feel a bit sluggish. For the time being, however, it should be fine for general use, mid-level gaming and most other tasks.
Infinity Blade 3 is one of the processor-intensive games that will push an older iPad to the limit
Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 2: Physical dimensions
The minis are both wonderfully portable, but if you’re looking for the slimmest and lightest iPad of all, the mini 4 is the model for you. It’s nearly 20 percent thinner than the mini 2 and about 10 percent lighter.
iPad mini 2: 200mm x 137mm x 7.5mm, 331g (Wi-Fi), 341g (Wi?Fi and cellular)
iPad mini 4: 203.2mm x 134.8mm x 6.1mm, 298.8g (Wi-Fi), 304g (Wi-Fi and cellular)
Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 3: Cameras
If photography is a major component of your iPad usage, again, strongly consider getting the 4. A bump from 5Mp to 8Mp (on the rear-facing camera) is significant, and likely to result in noticeable sharper shots, particularly in more challenging conditions.
Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 4: Touch ID fingerprint scanner
The mini 4 gains a fingerprint scanner. Since Touch ID was opened up in iOS 8, this works with third-party apps as well as with Apple’s own offerings, and is therefore only going to get more useful as more and more developers incorporate fingerprint scanning into their apps.
As we argued in the iPad Air section, Touch ID is convenient – you can unlock your iPad, or an individual app, with a single touch of a finger rather than with a passcode or password. And it also means you’ll be able to use one part of Apple Pay. But Touch ID isn’t a dealbreaker for most people.
Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 5: Price
We’re nearly there – all that’s left before we pick our iPad is to think about price tags. There’s a £100 gap from the iPad mini 2 to the iPad mini 4 (although it’s also a bit more complicated than that suggests, because the mini 4 has different – and slightly more – storage options).
Here’s the full set of iPad mini prices:
iPad mini 2: Wi-Fi: £219 (16GB), £259 (32GB). Cellular/3G: £319 (16GB), £359 (32GB).
iPad mini 4: Wi-Fi: £319 (16GB), £399 (64GB), £479 (128GB). Cellular/3G: £419 (16GB), £499 (64GB), £579 (128GB).
Which iPad mini should you buy? Part 6: Future releases
Only Tim Cook and a few of his henchmen know for sure when the iPad mini 5 will be announced, but you can bet on it being some way off. The iPad mini 4 came out in September 2015, and past behaviour would suggest that the mini 5 will appear in autumn 2016. (If the 18-month gap between the launches of the iPad Air 2 and 9.7-inch iPad Pro has anything to teach us, it’s possible that Apple will update its tablets less frequently from now on, so it’s conceivable that the mini 5 is even further away than that.)
For the time being, then, don’t worry about the iPad mini 5 coming out and making your brand-new device obsolete. If you need an iPad mini now, go for it. If we were making this decision in late August 2016, we might suggest you hold off for a bit.
Which iPad mini should you buy? Conclusion
In 2014 we said that £80 extra for the iPad mini 3 (compared to the equivalent mini 2) was a tough sell, because all you got for that money was Touch ID. Apple’s 2015 mini update, happily, is a far more tempting one: the mini 4 is a strong update, with lots of enhancements on its predecessor and plenty to convince the Apple fan that it’s worth an extra £100.
What does that £100 buy you? A slimmer and lighter iPad – the slimmest and lightest iPad Apple has yet designed; a faster (and more future-proofed) iPad with a quicker chip and more RAM; an upgraded rear-facing camera and additional Burst and slow-mo modes; faster wireless, better Bluetooth, an anti-reflective screen and a barometer. And the option to get a gold model.
If you just want a cheap, portable iPad for reading emails, browsing the web and playing a few simple games, the mini 2 will do you proud and you might as well save the £100: an iPad for £219 is a real bargain. But for those with ambitions to run more demanding apps, gamers, iPad photographers, even keen ebook readers (who will appreciate the lighter chassis when reading one-handed in bed), we think plumping for the mini 4 is a wise investment.
Best iPad buying guide spring 2016: Which mid-size iPad should you buy – iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro 9.7in?
Okay, you’ve settled on a mid-size iPad Air 2 or 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Which is the better choice for you?
(If you’ve got lost and would prefer a smaller or larger tablet, jump back to the iPad mini section or ahead to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro section. Alternatively, jump to the top of the page.)
What are the differences between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro 9.7in?
First, let’s sum up the main differences between the iPad Air 2 and 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Take a deep breath, because there are lots.
Physically there’s almost nothing in it: they’re matched to the nearest gram and tenth of a millimetre, although the Pro 9.7 loses some marks for its camera lens sticking out annoyingly at the back. But that speaks to a more significant difference, which is that the Pro has a far better camera setup.
Apple has added a flash to the rear-facing camera (the Pro 9.7 remains the only iPad ever made to feature a flash), while the front one gets the Retina flash feature, which lights up the screen as a reasonable-quality improvised flash substitute. The Pro’s cameras themselves are rated at 12 megapixels and 5Mp respectively, compared with the Air 2’s 8Mp and 1.2Mp.
(On megapixel rating alone, the Pro 9.7’s front camera is as good as the rear camera on the mini 2.)
The Pro 9.7 also gets, unlike the Air 2, the Live Photos feature, where short snatches of video are captured before and after still photos so they can be animated, that we’ve previously seen on iPhones only; 4K video recording (up from 1080p); a sort of ‘super slow-mo’ option (240fps, up from 120fps) as well as the option to shoot 120fps slow-mo at 1080p, up from 720p; a True Tone flash; larger panoramas (63Mp, up from 43Mp); auto HDR; and a focusing feature that Apple calls Focus Pixels.
The Pro 9.7 has a processor that’s one generation more advanced than the Air 2: the A9X to its A8X. And this resulted in clear speed advantages in our lab tests, even though you won’t see much real real-world difference until app developers release software that’s designed to harness the latest Apple hardware.
The Pro 9.7, like the larger Pro model, is compatible with the Apple Pencil, and it has a discreet connector on its lefthand edge that allows you to attach and power theSmart Keyboard or a third-party equivalent. These two options, while they can be expensive (the Apple Pencil and 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard cost an extra £79 and £129 respectively) make the Pro 9.7 a far more appealing option for business and creative users.
And, while for many buyers this won’t be a huge priority, audio is a huge difference. The Pro 9.7 has four speakers, compared to the Air 2’s two, and can fill a small room with warm, immersive sound that makes watching films or listening to music a pleasure. The Air 2’s audio output is thin in comparison – we would always previously have recommended buying separate wireless speakers if you want to use your iPad as a sound-based device, but the Pro 9.7’s enhancements make this unnecessary.
And the iPad Pro 9.7 is available in pink, as well as the three colours (silver, gold, Space Grey) that the Air 2 comes in.
But what do these differences mean in terms of your day-to-day experience?
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 1: Display
The screens of the iPad Air 2 and Pro 9.7 are the same in most respects. They are both Retina displays (to understand what that means, see What is a Retina display, and are they worth the money?) and both have a resolution of 2048×1536 and pixel density of 264 pixels per inch. In sharpness they should be identical.
There’s one enhancement to the iPad Pro 9.7’s screen: a new (optional) feature called True Tone. This is designed to adjust the screen’s colour output to account for environmental light conditions. True Tone is very subtle in effect, but sitting at a desk under electric light in late afternoon with the iPad Pro 9.7 and the iPad Air 2 side by side, it was fairly clear that True Tone was gently warming things up and increasing the amount of yellow in the screen – a kind of watered-down version of Night Shift. The nice thing is that you don’t need to worry about this feature, just getting a slightly better and more context-appropriate screen performance.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 2: Processor power
With its A9X processor chip, the iPad Pro 9.7 is significantly quicker at general processing and handling graphical tasks than the iPad Air 2 (which has an A8X chip). Let’s look again at those benchmark scores, focusing this time on the Air models.
GeekBench 3 speed benchmark scores (version 3.4.1, running on iOS 9.3.1, higher is better):
iPad Air 2: 1841 (single core), 4604 (multicore)
iPad Pro (9.7in): 3076 (single core), 5257 (multicore)
GFXBench OpenGL (version 4.0.10, iOS 9.3.1, average of three tests per device, higher is better):
iPad Air 2:
Manhattan onscreen: 1709 frames, 27.6fps
Manhattan offscreen: 2226 frames, 36fps
T-Rex onscreen: 2684 frames, 47.9fps
T-Rex offscreen: 3440 frames, 61.4fps
iPad Pro (9.7in):
Manhattan onscreen: 2099 frames, 33.8fps
Manhattan offscreen: 2895 frames, 46.7fps
T-Rex onscreen: 3342 frames, 59.7fps
T-Rex offscreen: 5870 frames, 104.8fps
iPad Air 2: 83.757
iPad Pro (12.9in): 144.37
What do these numbers tell us? That the Pro 9.7 is faster than the Air 2 by a clear distance across a range of metrics… in theoretical testing. But this doesn’t mean you’ll notice a significant difference in real-world performance – not for a while at least.
The most demanding tasks – extremely graphically ambitious 3D games, video and photo editing, and other processor-intensive apps – will start taxing the iPad Air 2 as more and more apps are released with the A9X chip in mind, but for the time being the Air 2 is quite capable of running any app on the App Store.
Think of the Pro 9.7, instead, as future-proofing. As a device that’s been around for 18 months less, it should expect to be able to run the most demanding apps, and install iOS updates, without any slowdown for about 18 months more than the iPad Air 2.
If you need your iPad to be able to run the most demanding apps for years to come, the iPad Pro 9.7 is a better choice. If you’re willing to upgrade again next year, or if your iPad time is limited to light use – browsing the web, reading emails, playing graphically simple games – then that A9X chip is probably overkill, and you can afford to compromise with the iPro Air 2.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 3: Cameras
The Pro 9.7 has a much better photographic setup than the Air 2, and indeed than any other iPad, with superior specs on the front and back cameras and a range of additional features. Mind you, the Air 2 already had a pretty decent camera.
The Pro 9.7’s back and front cameras are rated at 12 megapixels and 5Mp respectively, compared with the Air 2’s 8Mp and 1.2Mp, and the newer iPad gets a flash (on the back camera) and the Retina flash feature (on the front). We’ll test out Retina flash in a moment.
The Pro 9.7 also gets Live Photos, 4K video recording (up from 1080p); slow-mo at 240fps (up from 120fps) and the option to shoot 120fps slow-mo at 1080p (up from 720p); and 63Mp panoramas (up from 43Mp).
In some of our test shots – the ones in the most favourable conditions – there wasn’t a noticeable difference between the two iPads’ camera performance. But when the conditions became slightly more overcast, the Pro began to demonstrate clearer, sharper detail and better contrast (in zoomed-in sections of the pictures):
The front-facing camera is much sharper on the newer model. And having a flash, or a feature that approximate a flash, is a huge convenience. Here’s an idea of what you can expect from Retina flash, compared with the Air 2’s unflashed effort:
Of course, we always feel like undercutting any praise of an iPad camera by speculating on exactly how many people really rely on an iPad for camera work (isn’t it rather inconvenient, size-wise?). But if you do – well, then the iPad Pro 9.7 is right up your street.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 4: Weight and dimensions
Physically the iPad Air 2 and Pro 9.7 are virtually identical. They weigh exactly the same, their dimensions are exactly the same. Both devices are magnificantly slender and convenient to tote around. They can be easily held in one hand, although you’ll need two to use them.
There was a time when were very slightly concerned about the robustness of this super-thin design, but after getting used to that 6.1mm chassis we can confirm that the iPad Air 2 is no delicate flower. It hasn’t bent at all during – and barely been scuffed by – 18 months of almost non-stop use. We’re confident that the Pro 9.7 will prove similarly tough.
One negative point: the Pro 9.7’s high-powered camera lens sticks out a bit at the back. (This isn’t an issue with the Air 2.) If you lay the Pro flat on its back, particularly on a hard surface, then one corner is raised up awkwardly, and the camera lens scratches against the desk if you push it around. If you equip your iPad with a case or cover, however, this will be far less of a problem.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 6: Accessories
In a move that will be highly signficant to some potential buyers (particularly creative and business users respectively) but trivial to others, Apple has made the iPad Pro 9.7in compatible with the Apple Pencil stylus and Smart Keyboard (in a smaller size).
The former is an unalloyed joy: the Apple Pencil, while extremely expensive as styluses go, is about the best stylus any iPad owner could want. It’s nicely balanced, lag-free and nice to look at.
The Smart Keyboard, on the other hand, is less of a home run. In the 9.7in size it’s quite hard to type on accurately, and we distinctly prefer the experience with the 12.9in model. Still, it’s better than the onscreen keyboard – and indeed than other iPad keyboards we’ve tried in this size – and therefore a solid option to have.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 7: iOS 9 (and beyond)
Finally, both iPad Air 2 and Pro 9.7 will come with iOS 9 preinstalled if you buy them now, and both receive a full complement of its features – with a couple of exceptions.
The only slight point of interest here is that the iPad Air 1 is one generation older than the iPad Air 2, and consequently one rung further down the iOS ladder.
For iOS 8, the iPad 1 couldn’t run it at all, the iPad 2 and 3 got most of the features, and the iPad 4 and later got the lot; for iOS 9 in 2015, the iPad 2 and later were again able to join in the fun. But for iOS 10, expected to be unveiled at WWDC in summer 2016, it’s possible that some of the older tablets won’t be able to get the update at all, and more iPads will miss out on features. Each year, owners of older iPads nervously wonder if they’re about to stop getting iOS update support. (This isn’t the end of the world, of course, and whichever version of iOS you end up ‘stuck on’ will still work and be supplied with security updates. You just stop getting cool new features.)
You should certainly expect a shorter period of full iOS update support if you buy an iPad Air 2 than if you buy the iPad Pro 9.7. The newer model is more future-proofed, for iOS updates as well as for third-party apps, than the Air 2, although both should have a good few years in them.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 8: Price
The iPad Pro 9.7 is a lot more expensive than its older sibling, although its much higher range of storage allocation options exaggerates this difference somewhat. It costs:
Wi-Fi: £499 (32GB), £619 (128GB) and £739 (256GB). Cellular/3G: £599 (32GB), £719 (128GB) and £839 (256GB).
The iPad Air 2 costs:
Wi-Fi: £349 (16GB), £429 (64GB). Cellular/3G: £449 (16GB), £529 (64GB).
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Part 9: Future releases
One last thing to bear in mind before we reach a conclusion: when will the next mid-size iPad come out?
The simple fact is that we don’t know. Usually we do: for the past several years Apple has updated its iPad line in autumn, as regular as clockwork. But the 18-month gap between the launches of the iPad Air 2 (autumn 2014 and iPad Pro 9.7 (spring 2016) make it harder to predict the next unveiling.
There are two main possibilities: either Apple has moved on from the Air line, and future iPads will either be iPad minis, or 9.7-inch iPad Pros, or 12.9-inch iPad Pros (all, very likely, updated once a year); or Apple will continue to maintain the Air and 9.7-inch Pro lines side by side (Airs updated in autumn, Pros updated in spring). Both approaches involve potential problems.
Either way, don’t expect any more mid-size iPad launches until the autumn of 2016. In any case…
Worrying about future releases is no way to plan a tech purchase. The thing is, every tech product quickly becomes obsolete. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and take the plunge, knowing that there is a chance that your supplier of choice will stich you up by replacing the device you just bought at full price with something that’s thinner, faster and cheaper. That’s just one of the risks we take.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro 9.7in – Conclusion
The iPad Pro 9.7 is a lot more expensive than the Air 2 (direct comparisons aren’t possible any more, because there are no overlaps between the two devices’ storage offerings, but the Pro is £60 dearer at each point than the Air 2 was at launch), yet there are so many signicant improvements that we reckon it’s worth it. As usual, however, this depends on personal needs.
If you’re into iPad photography, the greatly superior camera specs and range of photographic features makes the Pro 9.7 a better choice. Detail is better in overcast conditions, and the rear-facing flash lets you shoot in low light; there’s 4K video; selfies are far sharper, and can be lit using the Retina flash feature; you can create animated wallpapers with Live Photos.
If you’re a designer or other creative type, having access to the excellent (if costly) Apple Pencil stylus will be a major plus, and the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard, while harder to type on quickly and accurately than its 12.9-inch sibling, is a nice option for business users. (We suspect that Logitech will release a more usable keyboard for the Pro 9.7 in the near future, so it might be worth hanging fire for the time being.)
And the processor is quicker, which doesn’t mean much right now but will allow you to run processor-intensive apps and graphically demanding games for years to come, while the Air 2 is likely to start slowing down.
Those who have light use in mind (email, browsing the web, simple games etc) should be absolutely fine with an iPad Air 2, and would do well to save the extra cash. Although such customers might want to consider a cheaper option still: the iPad mini 2 or mini 4.
We’ll run through the pros and cons of each model, and discuss final decisions (such as storage allocation, 3G and colour choice) in the section called Decision Time. Here are some other sections you might want to read next:
Best iPad buying guide 2106: Which model of 12.9-inch iPad Pro should you choose?
This one won’t take long, because the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is still on its first generation: we don’t have to worry about choosing between new and old models. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is available in five versions:
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi-only, 32GB): £679
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi-only, 128GB): £799
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi, 256GB): £919
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (cellular, 128GB): £899
- 12.9-inch iPad Pro (cellular, 256GB): £1,019
The iPad Pro offers the biggest screen ever on an Apple tablet (12.9 inches), a super-fast processor (the A9X), a solid 8Mp rear-facing camera (if you can imagine using a device as big as that for photography) and a user experience that looks more than capable of replacing a laptop. But on the down side, it’s far less portable than even the mid-size iPads (even though it remains admirably slim, the sheer screen area makes it a handful) and ruinously expensive.
How much storage does your 12.9-inch iPad Pro need?
As has become an annoying tradition with iOS devices lately, the storage options for the iPad Pro have a big hole in the middle. There’s no 64GB option: it’s either go budget, with 32GB (probably a little on the low side for a work, creative or semi-hardcore gaming device) or go big: either 128GB, which we can confirm can be filled up but only if spend a year reviewing games and make a real effort not to delete anything, or the new and frankly alarming 256GB, which is for serious film editors and creative design users only.
This is a personal decision, of course, but we can offer a little guidance. The things that tend to take up all the space are (in order of size, starting with the biggest): movies; TV shows; games; music; photos and other images; documents. If you plan to use your tablet for lots of things near the start of that list, 32GB may not be enough. Keen gamers, those who like to watch films on the go or keep large music libraries, will find themselves juggling space. Mobile workers may be fine, especially if they store documents in the cloud. (Other cloud-based strategies, such as iTunes Match, can help you cope with a smaller storage allocation.)
But bear in mind that plenty of people cope with just 16GB on their entry-level iPhones, iPad minis and iPad Airs, and it can be done. 32GB is more of a mid-level storage option than a bargain-basement bare minimum.
We look at the question of storage in slightly more detail in a later section of this article: How much storage does my iPad need?
Decision Time! Choosing the best iPad (and final options)
Phew! Are we close to a decision? Here are the pros and cons of each iPad model, and the people for whom it would be the ideal choice:
iPad mini 2: Pros, cons, and who is it for?
Pros: Cheap. Very portable. Retina screen. Solid all-rounder for light use.
Cons: That small screen does a good job, but you simply won’t get the same level of immersion in a film or a game as you would on the real estate of a 9.7-inch or (better still) 12.9-inch screen. Doesn’t get Touch ID fingerprint scanner, if that’s something you’re desperate for. Increasingly elderly-seeming processor doesn’t offer same longevity as the iPad mini 4’s A8, although it remains a usable chip.
Ideal for: Those who are willing to compromise on screen size and Touch ID to get a great deal and a highly portable device.