iPad 2017 vs iPad Air 2: Is it finally time to upgrade?

Near the end of March 2017, and with no fanfare at all, Apple announced the launch of its newest iPad. Replacing the iPad Air 2, this latest tablet is simply called iPad, although for the sake of clarity we will refer to it as the iPad 2017 throughout this article.

The big questions are these: what are the differences between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad 2017, and is it worth making the upgrade? In this article we compare Apple's 2014 and 2017 iPads, and help you decide whether the spec bumps, design changes and new features are enough to justify the price. Read next: iPad buying guide 2017

iPad 2017 vs iPad Air 2

Design & build quality

The iPad 2017 has the same chassis design we've grown accustomed to from Apple's tablets over the past four years. It has the same elegantly chamfered edges and gentle curves as the iPad Air 2 (and even the Air 1 before it).

The iPad 2017 has two speakers, like the Air 2 (not the four you get on the iPad Pro 9.7in), and its bottom speaker grills are the same as on the Air 2 as well. It even comes in the same colours as the Air 2 (gold but not pink - see below). It doesn't get the True Tone display, Smart Connector and camera flash introduced with the iPad Pro 9.7in.

Looks-wise there's barely a thing to choose between the iPad 2017 and the Air 2.

iPad 2017 vs iPad Air 2: iPad 2017

iPad 2017...

iPad 2017 vs iPad Air 2: iPad Air 2

...and the iPad Air 2

Except for a couple of rather surprising things. The iPad 2017 is actually thicker and heavier than its three-year-old predecessor. You have to go back to 2013's iPad Air 1, in fact, to find a model with the same dimensions.

  • iPad 2017: 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm; 469g/478g (Wi-Fi/cellular)
  • iPad Air 2: 240mm x 169.5mm x 6.1mm; 437g/444g (Wi-Fi/cellular)

The other main difference between the iPad 2017 and the Air 2 concerns the screen.

Screen

In a bit of a backwards step, the new iPad comes with the unlaminated, 'air-gapped' screen last seen on the iPad Air 1. Here's what we said about that feature in our review several years ago:

"When you tap or press the [iPad Air 1's] screen, it definitely seems to 'flex' more than the screens on the iPad 3 and iPad 4. The result is that the screen feels light and plasticky, rather than the solid glass feeling on the older devices... We were keen, when the Air 2 came out, to see if this issue had been tackled. And sure enough, the more compressed design of the Air 2 - in which the elements of the display have been by necessity squeezed closer together, and air pockets removed - results in a screen that is firmer to the touch."

Well, that step forward made by the Air 2 in 2014, we are sorry to report, has now been reversed. The iPad 2017, for reasons known only to Apple, has an unlaminated screen with an air gap under the display. You'll find that it yields the tiniest fraction when you press down: not much by any means, but enough to notice.

It's still a decent screen - bright, sharp and colourful - but we wish it was laminated.

iPad 2017 vs iPad Air 2

Colour options

Like the iPad Air 2, the iPad 2017 comes in three colours: silver, gold and Space Grey. Neither device has been offered in Rose Gold. Read next: iPad 2017 vs iPad mini 4

New features

Features-wise, the iPad 2017 is barely any different from the Air 2, gaining none of the upgrades brought in with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It has Touch ID and Apple Pay, and 4G internet connectivity; the usual stuff.

The new iPad 2017 is not compatible with either the Apple Pencil or the Smart Keyboard that iPad Pro users get to use - in fact it hasn't got a Smart Connector. It also doesn't get the Retina Flash and True Tone camera features of the iPad Pro, something which will turn up again in the specs section.

Specs

Let's look under the hoods and compare the two device's tech specs.

Processor

  • iPad 2017: A9 chip with 64-bit architecture; Embedded M9 coprocessor
  • iPad Air 2: A8X chip with 64?bit architecture; M8 motion coprocessor

The iPad 2017 comes with an A9 chip. On paper this ought to be only slightly slower than the A9X in the high-end Pro models and significantly faster than the A8X in the Air 2. Let's look at some benchmark scores.

RAM

  • iPad 2017: 2GB RAM
  • iPad Air 2: 2GB RAM

Storage options

The iPad 2017 is available with 32GB or 128GB of storage.

iPad Air 2: 32GB or 128GB

Screen

iPad 2017

  • 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
  • 2048x1536-pixel resolution at 264 ppi
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating

iPad Air 2

  • 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
  • 2048x1536-pixel resolution at 264 ppi
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating

Front-facing camera

iPad 2017

  • 1.2-megapixel photos
  • ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • 720p HD video recording

iPad Air 2

  • 1.2MP photos
  • ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • 720p HD video recording

Rear-facing camera

iPad 2017

  • 8-megapixel camera
  • Autofocus
  • Panorama (up to 43 megapixels)
  • HDR for photos
  • Exposure control
  • Burst mode
  • Tap to focus
  • Timer mode
  • ƒ/2.4 aperture

iPad Air 2

  • 8MP iSight camera
  • Autofocus
  • Panorama (up to 43MP)
  • Auto HDR for photos
  • Exposure control
  • Burst mode
  • Tap to focus
  • Timer mode
  • ƒ/2.4 aperture

Battery

Apple claims the iPad 2017 has a 10-hour battery life when using Wi-Fi and 9 hours when browsing over a cellular connection.

These are standard figures that the company gives for all of its current tablets, but we were hopeful that it might prove a conservative estimate; after all, the device's battery has an impressive (for Apple) capacity of 8,827 mAh. That compares to 7,340 mAh on the Air 2, and may explain the device being (comparatively!) thick and heavy.

Here's how things turned out in practice - or in the GeekBench 3 battery test, at any rate.

Dimensions

  • iPad 2017: 240 mm x 169.5 mm x 7.5 mm. 478g (cellular) or 469g (Wi-Fi)
  • iPad Air 2: 240 mm x 169.5 mm x 6.1 mm. 444g (cellular) or 437g (Wi-Fi)

UK price

Here is how much each model of the iPad 2017 costs in the UK:

  • iPad 2017 (32GB, Wi-Fi only): £339
  • iPad 2017 (128GB, Wi-Fi only): £429
  • iPad 2017 (32GB, Wi-Fi + cellular): £469
  • iPad 2017 (128GB, Wi-Fi + cellular): £559

It's £40 cheaper than the iPad Air 2, which started at £379 for 32GB and Wi-Fi.

You can buy the iPad 2017 here; the iPad Air 2 is still available second-hand, or through education resellers.

OUR VERDICT

The iPad 2017 is an unexpectedly cheap offering, but one that is also generally low-specced and has a design that's mostly lifted from a product that's two and a half years old, and in some cases from one that's three and a half years old. It's all rather odd.

While much of its technology feels out of date, however, one key spec, the processor, does not, and the A9 chip helped the iPad 2017 to produce consistently decent results in our benchmarking tests - not Pro-fast, but considerably faster than the Air 2. And that 8,827 mAh unit gave it impressive scores in our battery tests.

That lovely big battery, of course, is the most likely reason for the iPad's weight gain. And we're less bothered by that than by the unlaminated screen. An iPad lives and dies by its screen, which should look and feel great. This one looks great but feels a bit cheap.

Then again, by iPad standards the new model really is cheap - £339 feels like a bit of a bargain. If you've got an Air 2 and have been putting off an upgrade, this might be the model to convince you: you'll get a better battery and processor, and longer-term iOS updates to look forward to. Just make sure you try out the screen before laying down any cash, because we're not keen on the way it feels, and it's without doubt a step back from the one you'll be used to.

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