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- The iPad Pro and iPad Air have a similar design and work with the same Apple accessories.
- But the iPad Pro runs on a desktop-class processor while the Air has the same chip as the iPhone 12.
- There are also important differences in their cameras and sensors.
You’d be forgiven if you couldn’t distinguish the latest iPad Pro from the 2020 iPad Air just by looking at them. After all, they both have a similar design with a nearly borderless screen and flat aluminum edges.
However, there are plenty of important discrepancies that justify the Pro’s significantly higher price tag. The biggest difference comes down to the processor in each tablet. The iPad Pro runs on the same powerful Apple M1 chipset found in the company’s latest Mac computers. The iPad Air, by comparison, runs on the same A14 Bionic processor as the iPhone 12.
But there are a slew of other seemingly small changes that come together to make the iPad Pro a more capable device for creatives and multimedia editors. However, if that doesn’t describe you, skip the iPad Pro and opt for Apple’s less expensive (but still fairly costly) iPad Air instead.
Apple iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Which is best?
Although the iPad Pro has more power when it comes to performance and camera quality, the iPad Air is the best choice for most people. It’s the right model for those who want an iPad that looks and feels premium and has a sleeker design with a larger screen and more power and storage than the $329 iPad.
If you’re planning to use your iPad for tasks like watching movies, taking notes, checking Facebook and Twitter, managing email, playing games, and shopping, there’s no reason to spend nearly $1,000 or more on the iPad Pro. Creatives like musicians and photographers that want a lightweight device for working on-the-go would benefit more from the iPad Pro’s larger screen and extra features.
Apple iPad Air vs. iPad Pro Specifications
Apple iPad Pro (2021)
|Apple iPad Air|
|Processor||Apple M1||Apple A14 Bionic|
11 inches, 2,388 x 1,668 resolution, 120Hz refresh rate
12.9-inch mini-LED, 2,732 x 2,048 resolution, 120Hz refresh rate
|10.9 inches, 2360 x 1640 resolution at 264 pixels per inch|
|Main camera||12-megapixel wide, 10-megapixel ultra-wide||12-megapixel wide|
|Front camera||12 megapixels with Center Stage||7 megapixels|
|Sensors||LiDAR, Face ID||Touch ID|
|Battery Life||Estimated up to 10 hours||Estimated up to 10 hours|
|Storage||128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB||64GB or 256GB|
|Ports||USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, Apple Smart Connector||USB-C, Apple Smart Connector|
|Audio||4 speakers||2 speakers|
Design and display
The iPad Pro and iPad Air both have Apple’s more modern design that consists of an expansive screen with thin bezels and no home button. The edges are also flat on both of these models unlike the iPad and iPad Mini, which both have rounded corners.
The biggest difference in design between the two tablets is that the iPad Pro comes with a larger screen. The smaller-sized model has a slightly bigger 11-inch display compared to the iPad Air’s 10.9-inch screen, while the high-end iPad Pro features a massive 12.9-inch screen. That makes the larger Pro a better choice for those who want a laptop-sized device.
The other major distinction is that there’s much more choice when it comes to color options for the iPad Air. Apple’s mid range tablet comes in silver, space gray, blue, pink, and green, while the iPad Pro is only available in silver and space gray.
The iPad Pro and iPad Air both have displays that pack 264 pixels-per-inch. But unlike the Air, both iPad Pros come with Apple’s ProMotion technology, which cranks the screen’s refresh rate up to 120Hz for smoother performance. It’s a nice perk, but sketching and coloring with the second-generation Apple Pencil feels just as pleasant and smooth on both tablets.
The larger iPad Pro, however, has gotten a major display upgrade over the iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro. The 12.9-inch tablet is Apple’s first to come with a mini-LED display, which gives it a big boost in brightness and contrast. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro can reach brightness levels of up to 1,000 to 1,600 nits, while the 11-inch iPad Pro has a max brightness of 600 nits and the iPad Air’s highest brightness is 500 nits.
Of course, what really makes the new iPad Pro stand out from Apple’s other tablets is its M1 chip. It’s the first iPad to share the same processor as Apple’s latest MacBooks, further signalling that the iPad Pro is intended for serious computing.
The iPad Air runs on the same A14 Bionic processor found in the iPhone 12, which is still pretty powerful but doesn’t have as many computing cores as the M1. The more cores a processor has, the better it generally is at juggling multiple tasks.
Both iPads offer fast performance, but the iPad Pro brings slightly speedier performance when it comes to processing photo and video edits. It also earned higher scores on benchmarking tests like the Geekbench 5 CPU test, which measures overall performance for everyday tasks. This was also true for graphics benchmarks such as the Geekbench 5 Compute test and 3DMark Wild Life, which measures how a device provides high levels of performance for short bursts of time in mobile games.
|Geekbench 5 (CPU)||Geekbench 5 (Compute)||3DMark||Video export||Photo export|
|1,578 (single); 3,568 (multi)||12,414||8,618; 51 FPS||3 minutes, 45 seconds||2 seconds|
|iPad Pro (11-inch)||1,723 (single); 7,319 (multi)||20,455||17,227; 103 FPS||3 minutes, 25 seconds||1.4 seconds|
However, what’s more interesting than the raw computing power is how developers put this power to good use in their apps. The songwriting app StaffPad, for example, is updating its app to add a new feature for M1 devices that automatically recognizes notes as you’re playing an instrument.
Cameras and sensors
Performance aside, the camera system is the other major area in which the iPad Pro has gotten a major upgrade compared to the iPad Air. Both new iPad Pro models come with a new feature for the selfie camera powered by Apple’s M1 chip called Center Stage, which keeps the focus centered on the subject during video calls.
The iPad Pro accurately zoomed in to better frame my face as I shifted from the left to the right of my couch when reviewing the tablet back in May. This feature alone shouldn’t influence your buying decision, but it’s a useful addition for those who make a lot of video calls from their iPad and are already leaning toward the Pro. The iPad Pro also has a higher resolution 12-megapixel front camera compared to the iPad Air’s 7-megapixel selfie camera.
All three tablets feature a 12-megapixel main camera, but only the iPad Pros also have a 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera. That means you can capture photos with a noticeably wider field of view on the iPad Pro compared to the iPad Air.
The iPad Pros also both have a few extras that photographers and videographers might find useful, like the ability to zoom out by 2x, a brighter flash, stereo recording, and more frame rate options for 1080p video recording. Most people probably aren’t buying an iPad specifically for photography. Still, these features could be important for multimedia editors that want to shoot and edit content on one single device.
The iPad Pro comes with another extra sensor the iPad Air lacks: a depth-sensing LiDAR scanner for enabling better performance in augmented reality (AR) apps. I’ve noticed that Apple devices with LiDAR are slightly faster at detecting surfaces when using AR apps than those without the technology.That’s not likely to be a deal breaker unless you frequently use your iPad for working on projects related to architecture or interior design.
It’s also important to remember that the iPad Air lacks Face ID and instead has a Touch ID sensor built into its top button. Both iPad Pros have Face ID instead of Touch ID.
Storage, speakers, and battery life
The iPad Pro has a four speaker audio system compared to the iPad Air‘s two speakers. In my experience, even the smaller-sized 11-inch iPad Pro can pump out tunes at a noticeably louder volume than the iPad Air.
Since the iPad Pro is optimized for productivity, it also comes in higher storage capacities than the iPad Air – although this can drive up the price considerably. The iPad Air comes in 64GB and 256GB capacities, while both iPad Pros are available in 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB options.
Battery life is fairly similar across the iPad Air and iPad Pro, despite the fact that the Pro runs on Apple’s M1 chip. Apple estimates that the iPad Air, 11-inch iPad Pro, and 12.9-inch iPad Pro should all last for 10 hours when browsing the web or watching video via Wi-Fi. See below for the results of our video streaming battery test.
|Apple iPad Pro (11-inch, 2021)||Apple iPad Air (2020)||Apple iPad Pro (12.9-inch 2020)|
|Battery Life||5 hours, 54 minutes||5 hours, 17 minutes||5 hours|
The bottom line
Overall, the iPad Air is the better choice for most people. It has a sleek design that feels more modern than Apple’s $329 iPad, a large and vibrant screen, plenty of power for gaming and productivity, and compatibility with newer Apple accessories like the Magic Keyboard and second-generation Apple Pencil. Creative professionals will benefit more from the extra features that make the iPad Pro more expensive, like its extra-powerful processor and LiDAR sensor.