avatarby Jonathan FeistOctober 30, 20163 comments

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

The largest Apple powered tablet around is still one of the largest on the market, the iPad Pro has proven itself a force to be reckoned with, even if the newer iPad Pro 9.7 stole a bit of its thunder. The iPad Air 2 is now a distant relic, well, maybe it’s not that bad, but does it stand up against the newer, larger iteration?

Join us for our iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2 quick comparison.

Update: After previously revisiting this piece to discuss our change in mentality with the iPad Pro 9.7 in the mix, we are here again to see these tablets in a new light from a software perspective. iOS 10 is not live yet, but is just days out, we’ve been playing with iOS 10 beta and we think it’ll make a difference in this shootout. 

Buy the iPad Air 2 nowBuy the iPad Pro 12.9-inch now


Overview

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

Announcing the iPad Pro last September, and releasing it for sale later in the fall, Apple’s big new device is a 13-inch tablet with all the best that iOS 9 has to offer. The basics are the same, especially when compared to the iPad Air 2, you’ll find the same buttons and sensors, the same general button layout and more. Perhaps the only different of note is the new audio capabilities, but we’ll talk about that later.

Compared to the 10-inch display of the iPad Air 2, the iPad Pro feels like a huge upgrade. There is no doubt that all things are bigger on the iPad Pro, this includes the operating system, performance capabilities and more. While bigger is often considered better, we’ll look at a few aspects where that may not hold true in this comparison.

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

For now, it is important that we point out that the one year newer iPad Pro does come with a few impressive hardware improvements, not least of which is the new A9X processing package. Apple has not been idle in their development leading up to this new large form-factor tablet. It also has an optional detachable keyboard and a smart stylus, telling us that the intent was never to steal market share from the iPad Air 2, but to instead compete with the similarly sized and equipped Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Related reading:
iPad Pro vs Surface Pro 4
iPad Pro 9.7 vs Surface Pro 4

The Specs

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

Unlike several of our other iPad comparison posts in the last year, this time around we get to announce a few actual differences. Not many, mind you, as Apple stuck true to their overall design language and hardware features, and the same OS as all the others, of course.

In terms of the major hardware updates, the iPad Pro comes equipped with the new A9X chipset, a healthy increase to installed RAM and a little more than 3-inch increase in screen size. Aside from these, perhaps the best new feature is the bump to audio quality. In addition to the dual downward facing speakers found on most iPads, the iPad Pro includes two more speakers across the top edge for an immersive sound experience.

From there, the familiar specs that you’ll find in both devices runs down as an 8MP rear camera with complimenting 1.2MP 720P front facing shooter, iOS 9 under the hood, WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2 and optional LTE radios to keep you connected, Lightning port and more. The power and volume buttons live in the same place and configuration, the Home button still has a fingerprint scanner and the same Ambient light, Accelerometer and Gyroscope round out the big sensors.

As always, Apple does not speak of actually battery sizes, but both the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro are rated for up to 10 hours of mixed use on a charge. To that end, it would appear that we are heavy users, as our mixed use on both of these iPads usually clocks in at around 5 hours of screen-on time.

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

With a change in display size, there is an expected difference in the display pixel count. The iPad Air 2 clocks in at 2048 x 1536, for 264 ppi, the iPad Pro also clocks in with 264 ppi, but that comes with a resolution of 2732 x 2048. Aside from that, you’ll find the same protective coatings, including layers to limit glare and finger smudges.

We won’t talk about overall dimensions in detail, but it is good to note that the display of the iPad Air 2 is as tall as the iPad Pro display is wide, just as the pixel count would suggest. Also, Apple has managed to keep the iPad Pro very thin, as the iPad Air 2 measures 6.1mm thick, the Pro is only slightly larger at 6.9mm.

Performance

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

By the book, Apple says the iPad Pro will be 2.5 times faster processing than the iPad Air 2, and 5 times faster at rendering graphics. What does this mean to you? Well, you will notice the difference, and time may change our tune, but for now we’re not sure the extra price is worth it if all you are looking for is a faster iPad. Good thing there is more to it than just speeds.

Overall device performance on both tablets is well within tolerable range. Navigating the OS, opening your favorite apps and playing your favorite games is done with little to no lag or hiccups. It not until you get into the tougher computing tasks, like loading a big game or using one of those fun video editing apps that you’ll notice the improvements in the iPad Pro.

Software

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

This section will be fairly short and sweet. Both the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro rock the latest version of iOS on the market. The big difference, if you want to get technical, is that the iPad Air 2 was the first iPad to take full advantage of the new multi-tasking capabilities in iOS 9, but did not originally run iOS 9 itself. On the flip side, the iPad Pro was built on and for iOS 9.

Both tablets include the newest apps and features from iOS as well, this includes the Apple Music streaming service, Apple News aggregations service and the latest Siri integration. For those unfamiliar, Siri has been inserted into the left most screen on your home screen layout, including insights into your online world, look for links to your most used apps, suggestions for music and playlists, and a tie-in from Apple News to bring you the latest on your world.

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

We feel it is crucial to point out a few things about the iPad Pro and how it handles iOS 9. Where the iPad Air 2 houses four icons across the width of the home screen, the iPad Pro also offers four across. Consistency sounds good, but we feel that instead of scaling up the size of the icons and increasing the distance between them on the iPad Pro, they could have made the icons a little smaller, even a quarter of their new size, and comfortably placed at least eight across.

In contrast, for the exact icon size and spacing on my daily driver phone, the Nexus 6P, or the Nexus 5 pictured below, I could fit about 15 icons across the screen of the iPad Pro. Even compared to the much more closely sized iPad Air 2 or the iPad mini 3 pictured below, 5 or 6 icons could have worked fine. The bottom line here, the elements of the interface feel massive when this device is in hand.

iPad Pro iPad Mini 3 Nexus 5 icons 2

As I finish my rant on the awkwardly large OS elements, it is important that I present the other side of the story. For those that are going to use the iPad Pro as a production device, using the keyboard for navigation and operation, the larger icons are much easier to see from a distance. This size also benefits those that have difficulty with vision or struggle with the precision of smaller displays and elements.

A neat little party trick, for those that might otherwise require reading glasses, the iPad Pro can be used as a massive magnifying glass. There are limits to the camera, but it is an easy thing to read the fine print on something when it is sprawled across the display of your iPad Pro.

More about iOS 9:
iOS 9 review
Apple News hands-on

Update: iOS 10 is almost here! So, here’s the deal, we’ve been using the iOS 10 beta for a while now, our initial impressions are that the new OS actually smooths out more than a few features already on your iPad. Don’t get us wrong, a few performance tweaks will not make up for the difference in overall processing power between the iPad Pro and iPad Air 2, but we believe it will certainly extend the life of the oder tablet.

If you’ve been feeling the need to update from the iPad Air 2 just to get some extra software performance or extra apps, save your cash. We’re expecting the iPad Air 3 sometime soon, and possibly a new Pro tablet even sooner. Exciting times.

Audio

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

Highlighting one of the greatest improvements in the iPad ecosystem ever, the iPad Pro includes a couple new speakers, bringing the total number of speaker grill outputs on your new device up to four. With two speakers on top, complimenting the familiar two on the bottom, turning this iPad on its side offers a stereo sound that is simply unheard of on the iPad Air 2.

Further to this, the stereo effect is greater emphasized by the scale of the tablet. As the iPad Pro measures 12-inches tall, that is, 12-inches wide when enjoying your media in the landscape orientation, sound is simply able to come into your ears from the sides, instead of splitting out from a more central point on the iPad Air 2.

Take a look at the images below, on the left is the iPad Pro, on the right is the iPad Air 2. All you need to look at is the vertical graphs on the left hand side of the recorder, notice that the iPad Pro has balanced and louder audio than the iPad Air 2. I admit this test was not perfect, volume levels are not overly different between these two tablets, but to my tastes, the sound quality is significantly better on the iPad Pro, with deeper bass and, of course, that more balanced listening profile.

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

While the overall effect of the multiple speaker setup creates some of the best sound we’ve ever heard from a tablet, there is no mistaking the fact that the speakers are still not directed toward the user. In the right conditions this is of no concern, but it certainly means flooding the room and disturbing your neighbors if you turn things up, or having to manipulate the tablet or cup around the speakers to re-direct the sound to your ear in loud rooms.

Despite these concerns, the experience and sound quality really is stellar when compared to the iPad Air 2.

Gallery

Conclusion

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

The fact of the matter is, if you are honestly debating between purchasing either the iPad Pro or the iPad Air 2, I highly recommend spending a little bit more time evaluating your needs. These devices are similar in many regards, but they ultimately serve different purposes.

The iPad Air 2 is the legacy size tablet that strikes a decent balance in ease of visibility with the ability to take the device with you through your day. In the iPad Pro you are presented with more of a laptop sized device. This has huge benefits when you are trying to be productive or consume media, but this makes the iPad Pro an unwieldy large device for reading a book on the train, or holding up to take a photograph.

If, however, you are looking to split the difference, Apple has since released the iPad Pro 9.7, all the productivity features and accessories in a device that is the same size as the iPad Air 2. Best of both worlds?

Related: iPad Pro 9.7 review

iPad Pro review

We must include the iPad mini 4 in this conversation, where we feel you have three solid options for the right iPad for your needs. The smaller iPad mini 4 is on the cusp of being a pocket sized tablet, ready to keep you connected on the go, the iPad Air 2 fits in the middle, offering a great living room experience, easy to use and enjoy while also watching TV, just a nice sized lap computer.

Related: Which is the best iPad? or Which iPad should I buy?

Finally, the large iPad Pro benefits most when not used in hand. It can certainly be done, but through the large size elements of the user interface, the sheer size of the device and the power of the new Smart Keyboard, the iPad Pro is never going to fit in your pocket to take on the go. Not to say you can’t use this in-hand, but it is a little larger than ideal for us.

iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2

This leaves just one last question and deciding factor in your purchase, the price. The iPad Air 2 can be had for $499 at Apple or as more in the range of $418 on Amazon. The iPad Pro compares with a larger number, Look to drop $700 on the base model from Apple, with configurations taking you well above $1000. The optional Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil are not included, coming in at $199 and $129 respectively. Look for the iPad Pro for about $765 on Amazon.

Update: With the release of the iPad Pro 9.7, which is an upgrade from the iPad Air 2, the Air 2 has seen a price reduction. The iPad Air 2 is now as appealing as ever at $399 from Apple or less elsewhere, but we do urge you think about your needs, if you really need those pro features, saving a hundred dollars may not be enough.

With an Apple event scheduled for September 7th, we actually recommend holding off altogether. Let’s see if Apple has a new tablet for you to consider, and if they do, you know we’ll have plenty to say about it.

Buy the iPad Air 2 nowBuy the iPad Pro 12.9-inch now

What’s next?
iPad Pro first impressions
iPad Air 2 tips and tricks
iPad Air 2 cases and covers
Best iPad Air 2 accessories
iPad Pro 9.7 review

  • ChrisLaarman

    Just a little personal addition:

    I prefer my iPad Pro to my 11″ MacBook Air on spreadsheets, but my iPad Air 2 is my primary device (of many, including Pixel C and Surface Pro 3).

    • I like it, you have a balanced selection of devices and take the time to use each for their best purposes, for your needs. Good stuff. This big iPad really is great in its own way, but I obviously agree, the iPad Air 2 is way more portable and easy to use, especially in hand.

      Make sure you get some hands-on time with the Surface Pro 4, It’s lazy to say “it’s just better than the SP3,” but I really think it is. To my taste at least. I often grab the SP4 over the Air 2.

  • Arch Angelos

    Wait for the Air 3 is what I say lol