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Shootout: Apple's new 9.7" iPad Pro vs. iPad Air 2

The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro is meant to be a successor to the iPad Air 2 as much as a cheaper alternative to its 12.9-inch sibling. But what separates the 9.7-inch Pro from its predecessor, and what's unchanged?




Performance



At its core — literally — the Pro is simply speedier. It features an A9X processor, a leap over the A8X used in the Air 2. Apple claims that the chip's CPU performance is 1.8 times faster, and that graphics should be up to twice as fast.

Practically, this won't make a difference for many users. It can have an impact in gaming and other graphically-intensive tasks, since as Apple is keen to point out, you can theoretically edit 4K video on a Pro.




It should be pointed out however that the A9X in the 9.7-inch Pro is actually slightly slower than the one in the 12.9-inch version. The tablet also has just 2 gigabytes of RAM, which is equal to the Air 2, but half that of the 12.9-inch Pro.

Storage



The Air 2 originally shipped with three capacity options: 16, 64, or 128 gigabytes, in Wi-Fi-only or 4G-capable configurations. With the arrival of the new Pro, the 128-gigabyte tier has disappeared.

The Pro is available in 32-, 128-, or 256-gigabyte versions, again with a choice of Wi-Fi or 4G-ready hardware. It's in fact the first iOS device of any kind to offer 256 gigabytes.

Cameras & Display






Although the products' displays are mostly similar — both having the same size and resolution — the Pro has the clear edge, with a 25 percent wider color gamut, and even less reflectivity. It's also the first Apple product with a "True Tone" display, matching the color temperature of the screen to ambient light.

The rear camera is another major advancement, jumping from 8 megapixels with an f/2.4 lens to 12 megapixels and f/2.2 (the lower the second figure, the more light can be let in). The new sensor shoots 4K video, uses "focus pixels" for faster autofocus, and is paired with a True Tone flash, the first flash ever included on an iPad.

The front camera has also received some modest attention, upgrading from 1.2 megapixels to 5. That might improve some selfies, especially when paired with Retina Flash, a technology missing on the Air 2.

Apple Pencil, the Smart Connector, Sound, and Battery Life






Unlike its predecessor, the Pro supports the Apple Pencil and offers a Smart Connector. The latter is particularly important for the productivity-minded, letting you connect some accessories — mostly keyboards — without consuming a Lightning port.

In the sound department, the Air 2 has two speaker ports, whereas the Pro has four. This not only enables louder sound, but true stereo when viewing the tablet in landscape mode, once again making the Pro better for games and video.

The tablet doesn't have better battery life, however — it's once more rated at 10 hours of non-stop use, regardless of what you're up to.

As an incidental note the Pro has an embedded Apple SIM, letting you switch between supporting carriers on the fly. The Air 2 comes with a removable card, but only in the U.S. and the U.K.

Price



Here's the most controversial change: the base Pro (a 32-gigabyte Wi-Fi model) is $599, $100 more than the cheapest Air 2 model was when it launched. As of this week the price gap is even bigger, since the Air was given a $100 price cut.

A top-of-the-line Pro — with Wi-Fi/4G and 256 gigabytes of storage — is a whopping $1,029, while you can now get a 64-gigabyte Wi-Fi/4G Air 2 for $529. You can probably go even cheaper if you turn to Apple's refurb store or third-party retailers.

Conclusions



On paper, at least, the 9.7-inch Pro is a significant upgrade, setting a new baseline for what iPads are supposed to include. Even a future iPad mini might incorporate flash and a Smart Connector — assuming the product line survives.

In comparing the Air 2 with the Pro, the real question is whether it's worth the cost difference. Stay tuned for AppleInsider's full review to find out.