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iPad vs iPad Air – Which is Best?

April 4, 2019

10:43 am

You won’t be too shocked to hear that the iPad and iPad Air are both excellent tablets. Apple has been selling its iconic iPad for almost a decade now, and we’ve bought over 360 million of them. There’s a reason for that – coupling sleek design and speedy processors with an intuitive user interface, the iPad appeals to Apple experts and newcomers alike.

The question, then, is which model do you go for? Apple has four distinct ranges in its iPad stable, but we’re going to focus on the iPad 9.7 and the 2019 iPad Air in this guide, and let you know which is the better fit for you.

Whether you’re an avid social media user, Netflix streamer, or hardworking designer, we’ll suggest the right iPad to opt for.

Struggling to decide between the iPad 9.7 and the iPad Air? We’ll get into the details later in the guide, but take a look at this comparison to see what each offers, plus pit them against the rest of Apple’s iPad range:

Scroll horizontally to view full table on mobile devices

9.7-inch iPadiPad Mini 2019iPad Pro 2018iPad Air 2019iPad Pro 2017
iPad Mini 5iPad Air
VerdictThe best choice iPad for most peopleNew and portable, great for on the goThe most modern iPad, but expensive

New and lightweight, great for on the go 

Still a great iPad for business users.
Price from$329$399$783$499$636
Screen size9.7-inch7.9-inch11-inch & 12.9-inch10.5-inch10.5-inch & 12.9 inch
Storage size32GB – 128 GB64GB – 256 GB64GB – 1TB64GB – 256 GB64GB-512GB
ProcessorA10A12A12xA12A10x
Face IDNoNoYesNoNo
Rear camera8Mp8Mp12Mp8Mp12Mp
Front camera1.2Mp7Mp7Mp7Mp7Mp
Buy

In this guide:

iPad 9.7 or iPad Air – Which Should You Buy?

The iPad and iPad Air are both excellent tablets that blow most of their competition out of the water. However, there are some distinct differences between the two:

  • The iPad is the cheapest model in Apple’s line up
  • The iPad Air features a powerful A12 processor
  • The iPad Air is compatible with the Smart Keyboard
  • The iPad Air has a 10.5-inch screen

On paper, the Air is the better device. It offers more impressive specifications, including a larger screen and faster processor, as well as being compatible with Apple’s excellent Smart Keyboard.

On the other hand, the standard iPad is cheaper – by quite a margin – and still delivers an excellent experience. What you opt for depends on what you’ll be doing, but we don’t think you should overlook the iPad in favor of the iPad Air.

Verdict: Any casual user who just wants to browse, stream and email should go for the 9.7-inch iPad rather than the nice, but pricey Air.

If you want a smaller iPad, or the premium iPad, consider the Mini or the Pro. Read our full iPad buyers guide for the whole range.

The classic Apple iPad 9.7iPad 9.7 Overview

  • Has a 9.7-inch screen
  • Uses the A10 processor
  • Now compatible with the Apple Pencil
  • Excellent battery life

Now recognised as the ‘classic’ iPad, the 9.7-inch model of Apple’s tablet is arguably the most recognisable model, and it’s received plenty of updates in it’s almost decade long life. The latest model has been gifted a crystal clear retina display, and is now compatible with the Apple Pencil.

Apple would call this the ‘entry-level’ iPad, but we think that’s doing it something of a disservice. It may not have the raw power of the Air, the styling of the Pro, or the diminutive stature of the Mini, but it’s still an excellent tablet, and one that most of us would be happy to have around the house. It delivers that intuitive Apple experience without struggling, looks great, and has a cracking battery life.

Pros:

Apple’s cheapest tablet

Now compatible with Apple Pencil

Excellent battery life

Cons:

Not suited for demanding users

The powerful Apple iPad AiriPad Air (2019) Overview

  • Features a 10.5-inch display
  • Powerful A12 processor
  • Compatible with Apple’s Smart Keyboard
  • Slimmer and lighter than the iPad

The iPad Air was recently given a makeover by Apple, which included a boost in its engine room. The A12 processor is now running the show, which puts it on a par with Apple’s latest iPhone.

The display is slightly larger than the iPad, with a 10.5-inch screen occupying a slightly smaller frame than the standard model. Needless to say, the image is fantastic, utilizing Apple’s retina display technology to reproduce stunning images.

The iPad Air is pitched somewhere between the iPad and the iPad Pro – it’s aimed at those who want a more powerful tablet, but don’t have the budget for Apple’s premium offerings. This is a space that the Air has carved out for itself, and there’s certainly a lot of reasons as to why you’d want to pick one up if your needs have exceeded the iPad.

Pros:

A12 Processor, more powerful than the iPad

7MP front camera

10.5-inch display

Compatible with Smart Keyboard

Cons:

Steep price increase from standard iPad

Can’t compete with Pro on specs

The iPad 9.7 is Much Better Value

Take a look at the iPad and the iPad Air side by side, and you’ll soon spot the most glaring difference: The price. The iPad starts at $329, while the Air will set you back $499 for its cheapest model.

There’s a reason for this of course – the Air has a lot more muscle than the iPad, thanks to that A12 processor, compared to the iPad’s A10. That’s not to say that the standard iPad is a sluggish weakling – far from it – but if you want the extra power, you’ll have to pay out for the Air.

The Air also has a slightly larger screen, at 10.5 inches, while the iPad retains its classic 9.7-inch display. Curiously, there’s no difference in the size of the models – Apple has simply shrunk the bezels on the Air to accommodate the larger screen.

Whether or not these differences are enough for you to justify spending an extra $170 depends on your own needs, but we can’t argue that the standard iPad represents excellent value.

The iPad Air Has Better Accessories

You might think that if there’s one thing that the iPad range isn’t famous for, it’s connections. Well, you’d be mostly right. Generally, on most models, you get a lightning port (although the iPad Pro range has upgraded this to a more versatile USB-C port). Both models have also retained the headphone jack.

However, the Air has a trick up its sleeve here, and just trumps the standard iPad. While both are now compatible with the first generation Apple Pencil, the Air takes its accessory friendliness one step further. You can also use the official Smart Keyboard with the Air, which has numerous benefits, including being able to pair instantly with the iPad and not needing its own battery. Yes, there are third party alternatives, but the Smart Keyboard really is the cream of the crop.

The iPad Air is More Powerful

The iPad Air, alongside the Mini, is the latest iPad in Apple’s line up to receive a refresh They’ve certainly been kind, kitting it out with an impressively snappy A12 processor – the same chip that powers the latest iPhone.

In real terms, this means that it’s able to load your apps faster, as well as handle multi-tasking, with more ease than the standard iPad. The Air serves up a buttery smooth experience, and exhibits few signs of faltering when you start to work it.

That said, whether or not you need this much horsepower in your tablet is another question. While the Air is the halfway house between the entry-level iPad and the super-powered Pro, it’s much closer to the latter than the former.

The iPad 9.7 is Better for Casual Users

The iPad is the best choice for casual users. This means that if you mainly use your iPad for social media, browsing the web, and streaming movies, then the standard iPad offers the whole package for $329.

Is it as fast as the Air? No – but frankly, you’re unlikely to notice unless you have the two in a side-by-side comparison. On a daily basis, it will be hard to beat the iPad for performance and value, especially if you’re not challenging it with demanding software or juggling several things at once.

Verdict: Which iPad Should You Buy?

Choosing between the iPad and Air is a matter of need. As we’ve stated above, if you’re a consumer more than a creator, then the standard iPad is a great choice for the money. It’ll serve up non-stop entertainment, and handle your daily desires with aplomb, whether it’s checking in on social media or browsing online.
However, if you’re more interested in editing images and video – or substituting your trusted laptop for the iPad on occasion – the Air is better proposition, thanks to its extra firepower, larger screen and Smart Keyboard compatibility.

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Jack is the Content Manager for Tech.co. He has been writing about a broad variety of technology subjects for over a decade, both in print and online, including laptops and tablets, gaming, and tech scams. As well as years of experience reviewing the latest tech devices, Jack has also conducted investigative research into a number of tech-related issues, including privacy and fraud.