The long-rumored iPad 10.2 was recently unveiled alongside the flashy-new iPhones but there isn’t a whole lot to talk about it. That’s because Apple chose to announce the 2019 iteration of the revered iPad 2018 by making exactly two changes. It still manages to raise the questions whether buying the 6th-gen iPad for $249 is wiser over the newer 7th-gen model at $329. Or, would you be considered whip-smart for picking up the 2019 iPad Air during the oncoming festive season when the prices are usually at their lowest?
This MyNextTablet comparison puts the latest iPad 10.2, iPad 9.7 (2018), and the iPad Air 2019 side-by-side to bring out their finer differentiating points and likenesses. Using these details, you should be able to make a sound decision and go for the one that meets your needs and fits in your budget. Having said that, it’s time to get started with our iPad 10.2 vs. iPad 9.7 vs. iPad Air 2019 comparison.
Design & Build Quality
On a single glance, it is hard to make out the exact model of these iPads, but things do get clearer on a closer look. The iPad 10.2 and the iPad Air have nearly the same footprint, barring their thickness, which is a deliberate step to ensure they share the same keyboard accessory. On the other hand, the 9.7-inch iPad from 2018 is a tad smaller and lacks the Smart Connector that is required for the keyboard attachment.
All the iPad models are aluminum-clad for giving that cold metal feel and avoiding any flex. Of the three, the iPad Air has the thinnest bezel while the 6th and 7th-gen iPads have similar side bezels. None of them have been blessed with the new iPad Pro-esque design with flat edges and Face ID. Instead, all the non-Pro iPad models use the good-old Touch ID for biometric authentications. All these tablets also didn’t graduate to USB Type-C ports while still lingering with Lightning ports.
Even though the actual display size differs on these three iPads, they bear a matching pixel density of 264 PPI. This number is the minimum requirement for an iPad display to be slapped with the Retina branding. The iPad Air 2019 has the biggest display of the three at 10.5 inches, while the newest iPad sits in the middle with a 10.2-inch panel. Finally, the 2018 iPad has a 9.7-inch display. These display sizes and resolutions have little to do with the actual screen quality.
Being a more premium offering, the iPad Air gets the best display among the three with its far superior features. Its 10.5-inch display is fully laminated with a negligible gap between the screen and the top glass. Plus, it also has an anti-reflective coating in place along with the support for P3 color gamut and True Tone. The other two cheaper tablets naturally lack all these features. Our Apple iPad 2018 review talks more about how the absence of these features affects the user experience.
Hardware & Performance
What’s inside these Apple slates makes for their key differentiating factor. The higher-end iPad Air model comes running the A12 Bionic chipset that also powered last year’s iPhones. It is paired with 3GB of RAM along with an internal storage of 64GB and 256GB. The other two basic iPads share a similar specs sheet with the iPhone 7-era A10 Fusion chipset running on the inside. They get a slimmer 2GB of RAM and storage options of 32GB and 128GB.
In our review of the iPad Air 3, nearly no difference between its day-to-day performance and that of the much pricier iPad Pro 11 running the A12X Bionic processor was noted. The tablet maintained its excellent performance across varied demanding tests. Despite deploying a rather old chip, the iPad 9.7 performed better than most of its Android rivals. We could even edit a 4K video on the tablet and our gaming experience was near flawless. Using the exact same hardware, the iPad 10.2 shouldn’t function any different.
Let’s first get the numbers out of our way. So, the 2018 iPad shipped with iOS 11 preinstalled while the iPad Air from 2019 came running iOS 12. The newest tablet of them all will ship with iPadOS which is a version of iOS 13 enhanced to suit the needs of tablet users. If Apple’s software support for its devices so far is anything to go by, the other two devices will get updated to iPadOS before this month ends.
The upcoming iPadOS takes advantage of all the extra screen estate of an iPad to allow some serious multitasking. Plus, it can now even read your external drives attached to the Lightning port using its full-fledged file manager. Safari has also been updated to open desktop pages by default. Once it’s rolled out to all supported iPad models, the user experience will pretty much be the same across the lineup, be it an iPad Pro or an entry-level iPad.
Speakers & Cameras
All these iPad models feature a pair of speakers but none of them can produce a stereo effect. The two speaker grills are placed only on one side of the tablet flanking the Lightning port, so all you get is a mono output. The audio performance of the iPad Air is audibly superior and richer than the iPad 9.7. However, the 6th-gen iPad isn’t bad either and worked well in our testing. All of them, thankfully, still have the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Just like almost every other thing, Apple didn’t update the speaker system on the 7th-gen iPad either to keep it the way last year’s model did. Coming to the camera, the three Apple tablets have indistinguishable rear imaging sensors. It is an 8MP camera that can also record 4K videos. The iPad Air sports a higher-res 7MP camera on the front as compared to the lowly 1.2MP sensor found on the 329-dollar iPad models.
Without sharing any of the battery specifics, Apple claims 10 hours of running time for all its iPad models with mixed usage. Device teardowns by several online journals eventually reveal the actual battery capacities. In this case, the 2018 iPad was found holding the biggest battery at 8827mAh, which should also be housed inside the 10.2-inch model, while the iPad Air 2019 packs an 8134mAh unit.
However, things turned out to be contrasting in our standard battery test. The iPad Air 3 hit a runtime of 12 hours and 30 minutes with the 9.7-inch model settling for an hour less of awake time. We do not expect the results for the iPad 10.2 to vary too much from those of the 6th-gen iPad. A thorough review of the newest budget iPad is due and should help clear the air with its own battery test.
Accessories & Pricing
Since earlier this year, the entire Apple iPad lineup has supported the Apple Pencil, including the tablet models we’re comparing here. As with their outdated design, Apple stubbornly continues to ship the 1st-gen Apple Pencil with its cumbersome charging mechanism as the only stylus compatible with these tablets. The slicker 2nd-gen Pencil maintains its camaraderie only with the Pro models.
Of these three, only the iPad Air and the 7th-gen iPad have Smart Connectors to use the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio that doesn’t require pairing or charging. Of course, you could use a Bluetooth keyboard with all of them, but it wouldn’t be as elegant of a solution. The official keyboard itself costs $159 in the US which is almost half of the new iPad’s retail price.
Speaking of the pricing, the iPad 10.2 has been priced at $329 for its 32GB variant, which matches the launch price of last year’s budget tablet. The iPad Air, on the other hand, officially starts at $499 for the base 64GB storage option, although it is usually found retailing for much lower. Apple has officially discontinued the 6th-gen iPad with 9.7-inch display, but you can find it selling for as low as $249.
Specifications: A Comparison
|Apple iPad 10.2||Apple iPad 9.7 (2018)||Apple iPad Air 2019|
|iPadOS||iOS 12 (upgradable to iPadOS)||iOS 12 (upgradable to iPadOS)|
|10.2-inch IPS LCD (2160 x 1620)||9.7-inch IPS LCD (2048 x 1536)||10.5-inch IPS LCD (2224 x 1668)|
|Quad-core Apple A10 Fusion||Quad-core Apple A10 Fusion||Hexa-core Apple A12 Bionic|
|No microSD slot||No microSD slot||No microSD slot|
|8 Megapixels||8 Megapixels||8 Megapixels|
|1.2 Megapixels||1.2 Megapixels||7 Megapixels|
|Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.2, optional LTE||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.2, optional LTE||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 5.0, optional LTE|
|Lightning port, 3.5mm audio jack||Lightning port, 3.5mm audio jack||Lightning port, 3.5mm audio jack|
|Up to 10 hours||8827mAh (up to 10 hours)||8134mAh (up to 10 hours)|
|Touch ID||Touch ID||Touch ID|
|250.6 x 174.1 x 7.5 mm||240 x 169.5 x 7.5 mm||250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1 mm|
Before deciding on getting one of the Apple tablets, there is a need to evaluate your specific needs. If all you need is an iPad for some casual gaming, watching a video before hitting the bed, or catching up with the day’s news then you’re better off with the 2018 iPad. As previously said, the budget tablet can be easily grabbed at a much lower price than its original price tag.
If your list of use cases needs adding extended writing sessions in addition to the aforesaid ones, then you can look at the iPad 10.2. With the Apple keyboard accessory, you can get some work done rather quickly using a host of keyboard shortcuts, although the accessory will alone set you back $159. Frankly, that half-an-inch of increased display area wouldn’t make that much of a difference especially since everything else about the tablet remains unchanged.
These 159 US dollars will be better spent if you upgrade to the iPad Air 2019 that offers a lot more for its slightly higher asking price. From its display quality to performance, the improvements will be apparent the moment you pick the device up. But make sure to factor in the additional cost of the Apple Pencil for all these iPads.
Go for the Air only if any of your specific apps can benefit from that headroom in performance while everybody else can pick up the good-old iPad 2018 (while it’s still available from third-party retailers). Finally, if you don’t particularly want the new iPad 10.2 for any reason mentioned previously, it’s recommended to avoid the awkward middle child at least until 9.7-inch iPad units are in stock.
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