Apple recently updated its iPad family with an iPad mini 5, alongside a new 10.5-inch iPad that will sit above the iPad 9.7 and below the iPad Pro line.

The new iPad 10.5 resurrects the iPad Air name to simplify things, but how does it compare to the iPad 9.7 and which should you buy?

iPad Air vs iPad 9.7: Price

The iPad Air starts at $499 and £479 in the UK for the 64GB model, with the 128GB model starting at £629.

The iPad 9.7 meanwhile, starts at $329 or £319 in the UK for the 32GB model and £409 for the 128GB model, making it quite a bit cheaper than the iPad Air.

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Design

  • iPad Air: 250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1mm, 456g
  • iPad 9.7: 240 x 169.5 x 7.5mm, 469g

The Apple iPad Air (2019) and the iPad 9.7 (2018) both feature aluminium builds and they are both available in Silver, Space Grey and Gold colour options.

Unlike the iPad Pro line, the iPad Air and iPad 9.7 have large bezels at the top and bottom of their displays, with the company's Touch ID fingerprint sensor featuring within the bottom bezel on both. The iPad Air does slim down the bezels however, allowing for the larger display in a similar footprint to the iPad 9.7.

The iPad Air is 10mm larger than the iPad 9.7 and 5mm wider. It is slimmer though, at 6.1mm compared to 7.5mm, and it is lighter too, starting at 456g compared to 469g.

Display

  • iPad Air: 10.5-inch, 2224 x 1668, 264ppi
  • iPad 9.7: 9.7-inch, 2048 x 1536, 264ppi

The Apple iPad Air (2019) has a 10.5-inch display, while the iPad 9.7 has a 9.7-inch display. Both are Retina displays and they both have a pixel density of 264ppi, with the iPad Air offering a 2224 x 1668 resolution and the iPad 9.7 offering a 2048 x 1536 resolution.

The iPad Air has a fully laminated display though, along with an anti-reflective coating, a P3 wide colour display and Apple's True Tone technology, all of which the iPad 9.7 misses off its spec list.

Both devices offer compatibility with the first generation of Apple Pencil though.

Hardware and software

  • iPad Air: A12 Bionic chip, 10 hours battery, Touch ID
  • iPad 9.7: A10 Fusion, 10 hours battery, Touch ID
  • Both: iOS 12

The Apple iPad Air features the A12 Bionic chip under its hood, with a Neural Engine and an embedded M12 coprocessor, which is claimed to deliver a 70 per cent performance boost over the iPad 9.7. For reference, the Apple iPad 9.7 has the A10 Fusion processor with embedded M10 coprocessor.  

Battery life is the same between the two models however, with both the iPad Air and the iPad 9.7 offering up to 10 hours of web browsing, watching video or listening to music. They are also both charged via the Lightning port, with USB Type-C reserved for the iPad Pro line.

As we mentioned, both the iPad Air and the iPad are compatible with the first generation of Apple Pencil, but the iPad Air is also compatible with Apple's Smart Keyboard

Two-speaker audio is present on both and both the iPad Air and the iPad 9.7 have the Touch ID fingerprint sensor rather than Face ID. They also both run on iOS 12, delivering the same software and user experience.

Cameras

  • iPad Air & iPad 9.7: 7MP front, 8MP rear
  • iPad Air & iPad 9.7: 1080p video

The Apple iPad Air and the iPad 9.7 feature the same camera capabilities. Both devices come with an 8-megapixel rear camera offering an aperture of f/2.4 with autofocus, HDR for photos and tap to focus.

A 7-megapixel front-facing FaceTime HD camera is on board both devices too, capable of Live Photos, Auto HDR for photos and videos and Burst Mode. There is also a Retina Flash on board both models.

In terms of video recording, the iPad Air and the iPad 9.7 both offer 1080p from their front and rear cameras. Their rear cameras are also capable of 3x video zoom and slo-mo video for 720p at 120fps.

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Conclusion

The iPad Air offers a performance upgrade over the iPad 9.7, along with display improvements including an anti-reflective coating, True Tone technology and a wider colour gamut. The new model also offers a larger display in a slimmer and lighter build, as well as Smart Keyboard compatibility.

The iPad 9.7 is quite a bit cheaper than the iPad Air though and you still get Apple Pencil compatibility, the same camera hardware and features, as well as the same quoted battery life.

With a £160 starting price difference, the decision of which iPad you should buy between the iPad Air and the iPad 9.7 comes down to whether you need the latest hardware and the larger screen, or whether you can survive with a 9.7-inch screen, slightly older processor and many of the same features.