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- The iPad Air is best for most people since it offers some of the Pro’s best features for less.
- The iPad Pro is only worth it if you need a larger screen and a better camera.
- Check out our guide to the best iPad cases.
With iPads available at different sizes and prices, it can be difficult to know which model is right for you. Is it worth splurging on the $800 iPad Pro, or should you go for Apple’s less expensive, but still fairly pricey $600 iPad Air? Both tablets share many similarities, particularly when it comes to their size, design, and compatibility with accessories.
Just like any other shopping decision, figuring out which iPad is right for you comes down to one important question: What do you intend to use it for? The iPad Air and iPad Pro may look alike, especially if you’re eyeballing the 11-inch iPad Pro, but they come with some nuanced differences that are worth considering.
Those differences could become more pronounced in the next week, as Apple is holding an event on April 20th where it is expected to release new iPad Pros. We’ll be sure to update our recommendations as soon as we get our hands on the new product.
Overall, the iPad Air is the better choice for most people. Its new design gives it a more modern look that feels similar to the iPad Pro and Apple’s latest iPhones, it’s powerful enough for gaming, productivity, and basic tasks, and it’s incredibly lightweight. The Pro, on the other hand, comes with a few extra features that could be useful for specific circumstances and workflows, but aren’t necessary for most people.
Here’s a closer look at how the two compare.
Apple iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Which is best?
The iPad Air’s more affordable price and powerful chip that matches the one in Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup make it a great choice for anyone looking for a tablet that serves well for both work and play.
You’re not missing out on much by opting for the Air instead of the Pro. The most important factor in deciding between the two – other than the option for a larger 12.9-inch screen – comes down to the processor and camera. The A12Z Bionic chip in the iPad Pro should be better-suited for graphics performance compared to the Air, which could make it a superior choice for video and photo editors.
The iPad Pro also has a dual-lens camera with an ultra-wide-angle camera unlike the iPad Air, and since it has Face ID it can also capture Portrait Mode selfies unlike the Air. Other iPad Pro features that are missing from the iPad Air include a display that can increase its refresh rate for smoother scrolling, more storage space, and a LiDAR sensor for measuring depth.
But, the iPad Air has a lot of the other benefits that were previously only available on the Pro, such as a nearly borderless screen, USB-C charging, and compatibility with Apple accessories like the Magic Keyboard, Smart Folio Keyboard Case, and second-generation Apple Pencil.
Apple iPad Air vs. iPad Pro Specifications
iPad Air (2020)
|iPad Pro (2020)|
|Display size||10.9 inches||11 inches or 12.9 inches|
|Display resolution||2360 x 1640, 264 pixels per inch||2388 x 1668 , 264 pixels per inch (11-inch) or 2732 x 2048, 264 pixels per inch (12.9-inch)|
|Processor||A14 Bionic||A12Z Bionic|
|Camera (rear)||12-MP wide lens||12-MP wide lens, 10-MP ultra-wide lens|
|Storage||64GB, 256GB||128GB, 256GB, 512GB,1TB|
|Sensors and biometrics||Touch ID||Face ID, LiDAR|
|Audio||Two speakers||Four speakers|
|Battery Life||10 hours on Wi-Fi||10 hours on Wi-Fi|
|Colors||Silver, space gray, rose gold, green, sky blue||Silver or space gray|
Design and display
If it’s been a while since you’ve upgraded your iPad, the look and feel of both the iPad Air and iPad Pro will feel new and fresh.
Both tablets have Apple’s more modern design that features a display that nearly covers the entire front of the tablet and flat aluminum edges, distinguishing them from the standard iPad and iPad Mini. Those tablets, comparatively, have the familiar Touch ID home button, curved edges, and thicker borders located above and below the display.
Both the Air and Pro have a sleek and sharp look that’s not only more aesthetically pleasing, but is also more comfortable to hold. The iPad Air and Pro each have their advantages when it comes to choice. The iPad Pro, for example, is available in two different sizes – 11 inches and 12.9-inches – while the Air only comes in one 10.9-inch option. That bigger 12.9-inch model starts at $1,000.
But, the Air comes in more color options, with choices including silver, space gray, rose gold, green, and blue, while the Pro is only available in silver and space gray. The iPad Air also has Touch ID integrated into the top button, unlike the iPad Pro which instead has Face ID. That could factor into your decision depending on your preference.
When it comes to their displays, both tablets have screens that pack 264 pixels per inch and are capable of offering a crisp and colorful viewing experience. When viewing them side-by-side, both screens look almost identical, displaying bold color and sharp detail. The only somewhat noticeable difference is that the iPad Pro’s screen is slightly brighter at 600 nits compared to the iPad Air’s 500-nit display.
They also both have Apple’s TrueTone feature, which adjusts the display’s color to match surrounding lighting conditions, and support for P3 Wide Color. But, the iPad Pro has ProMotion technology, which can boost the screen’s refresh rate up to 120Hz depending on the content being displayed. This could be useful for artists who plan to do a lot of sketching with the Apple Pencil on their iPad, but I didn’t experience much of a difference when drawing and coloring on both the iPad Air and iPad Pro.
All told, both tablets have slim, lightweight designs and screens that are plenty sharp enough for watching movies, viewing photos, reading, and working. But, the Pro’s screen is more fluid and comes in two different size options, while the Air offers more selection when it comes to color choices.
Apple’s iPad Pro and iPad Air both run on some of the company’s most powerful mobile chips. Driving the iPad Air is Apple’s A14 Bionic, the same processor found inside the iPhone 12 and the first one to be built on Apple’s 5-nanometer (nm) manufacturing process. That means the company was able to cram even more transistors into this chip for improved performance and battery life.
But, the iPad Pro’s A12Z chip has more cores when it comes to its central processing unit (CPU) and graphics processing unit (GPU), which should make it better at multitasking and graphically-intensive tasks like photo and video editing. The A12Z’s has an eight-core CPU and an eight-core GPU, while the iPad Air’s A14 Bionic has a six-core CPU and a four-core GPU.
Still, in most real-world scenarios, the differences in performance aren’t very noticeable. From sketching with the Apple Pencil to launching apps and playing games, the iPad Pro and iPad Air perform pretty much the same.
The Apple Pencil feels buttery smooth when drawing in Adobe Illustrator, and the first-person shooter “Shadowgun: Legends” runs seamlessly when set to the ultra-high graphics setting on either tablet. Editing photos and processing changes made to images in apps like FaceTune 2 and Adobe Lightroom is also a breeze on both the iPad Pro and iPad Air.
However, there are some differences in performance when exporting video clips, although it varies depending on the app being used. When exporting a 4K 25-second video clip to 1080p in Adobe Rush, the iPad Air is surprisingly, noticeably faster than the iPad Pro in every instance during my testing.
The iPad Air exported the clip in between 10 and 11 seconds, while the iPad Pro took between one and two minutes. But, when exporting a 25-second 4K video from iMovie, the iPad Pro beat the iPad Air by about 10 seconds every time.
When it comes to benchmark tests designed to simulate real-world app usage and graphics performance, the iPad Air and iPad Pro each excel in different areas. During Geekbench 5’s test that’s meant to assess the single-core performance of a device’s processor, the iPad Air’s A14 Bionic chip scored higher than the iPad Pro’s A12Z processor.
The iPad Air scored an average of 1,583 on this test while the iPad Pro scored 1,116. Yet the iPad Pro outscored the iPad Air during Geekbench’s test for measuring multi-core performance, which isn’t entirely surprising since the A12Z Bionic processor has more cores than the A14 Bionic. The iPad Pro had an average score of 4,676 during this test, while the iPad Air scored 4,257 on average.
The iPad Pro also scored higher than the Air on 3DMark Wild Life, a benchmark that measures graphics performance by rendering a demanding scene that simulates a video game in real time. Apple’s high-end tablet scored an average of 13,483 and reached 80 frames per second (fps), while the iPad Air scored an average of 8,895 and with a frame rate of 53 fps.
All told, the iPad Air’s performance is more than enough power for gaming, productivity, web browsing, and photo editing. But, the Pro should have a little bit of an edge when it comes to graphically demanding tasks, although it’s unclear why it performs more slowly than the Air in Adobe Rush.
Another characteristic that the iPad Pro and latest iPad Air share: they each work with Apple’s latest accessories. Both tablets are compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil, which launched in 2018 and charges and pairs by magnetically attaching to the iPad.
The previous version required that you plug the stylus into the iPad’s Lightning connector. Not only was that a less convenient design, but it also became obsolete for the iPad Pro and newest Air now that they use USB-C instead.
Apple’s newest iPad Air and iPad Pro tablets also both work with the company’s Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio cases. The Magic Keyboard is Apple’s top-of-the-line keyboard that most closely resembles that of a laptop keyboard. It comes with tactile, comfortable keys and a trackpad, while the $179 Smart Folio Keyboard case is smaller with softer, shallower fabric-laden keys. Both keyboards are expensive, but the Magic Keyboard is especially pricey starting at $300.
Cameras and battery life
There are many similarities between the new iPad Air and iPad Pro, but one of the biggest ways in which they differ is in their cameras. The iPad Pro is the only Apple tablet to come with two cameras: a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens. That means you can take images with a broader field of view on the iPad Pro in addition to standard photos just like you can with the iPhone 12.
The iPad Pro also has a brighter flash than the iPad Air, which only has a single 12-megapixel wide angle camera. And since the iPad Pro supports Face ID, you can take selfies in Portrait Mode using the front-facing camera, another feature that’s missing from the iPad Air.
The iPad Pro was also the first Apple device to come with a LiDAR sensor, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. This sensor enables the iPad to measure the distance between objects by detecting how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back. The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max also have this LiDAR sensor, but on the iPad Pro Apple is pushing this sensor as being ideal for augmented reality applications.
These types of apps also run just fine on the iPad Air, but the iPad Pro is noticeably faster in certain scenarios. For example, when using Apple’s digital tape measure app to determine the length and width of furniture in my living room, the iPad Pro can automatically detect and focus on surfaces much more quickly than the iPad Air.
The LiDAR sensor is a nice perk that will probably make the iPad Pro more useful for those with occupations that call for taking a lot of real-world measurements – perhaps architects, interior designers, and artists – but it shouldn’t be the only reason you’re considering buying the iPad Pro.
Both tablets are also estimated to last for 10 hours when browsing the web and watching video on Wi-Fi, which I found to be generally accurate during my anecdotal testing.
The bottom line
Overall, the iPad Air is a better choice for those interested in a tablet for entertainment, general usage like browsing the web and checking email, and some light productivity. It has the same thin and sleek design as the iPad Pro, a sharp screen, powerful performance, and is compatible with the same accessories as the Pro. Not to mention, it also charges via USB-C instead of Lightning like the iPad Pro, so you can use your non-iPhone chargers with it.
The iPad Pro is only worth it if you intend to use it in a specific way that calls for a larger screen, a dual camera, and a LiDAR sensor, perhaps making it better-suited for artists, graphic designers, and others working in creative fields.
If you do feel like the iPad Pro is a better fit, don’t buy one just yet. Apple is expected to announce two new iPad Pros at an event on April 20 with improved processors similar to the M1 chip in the latest MacBook laptops, according to Bloomberg. That processor brought big gains in performance and battery life to Apple’s laptops, and the 12.9-inch model is also said to come with a better micro-LED screen for enhanced contrast. Even if you don’t need the newest model, you might be able to find the current iPad Pro at a discount once the updated versions debut.