I’ve been using Apple’s iPad Pro and iPad Air to see which is right for most people, and the more affordable Air is the obvious choice

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ipad pro (2020) vs ipad air (2020) 4x3

  • 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.

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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?

iPad Air Apple Pencil
The 2020 iPad Air and Apple Pencil

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)
Starting price $599 $799
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
Camera (front) 7-MP 7-MP
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
Ports USB-C USB-C
Colors Silver, space gray, rose gold, green, sky blue Silver or space gray

Design and display

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch 128 GB
Apple iPad Pro 12.9 inch 128 GB.

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.

iPad Air Landscape
The 2020 iPad Air

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.

Performance

iPad Air Game
The 2020 iPad AIr

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.

Accessories

iPad Pro Keyboard 3
The iPad Pro being used with Apple’s Magic Keyboard

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

iPad Pro Camera
The iPad Pro’s double camera and LiDAR sensor

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

iPad Air Screen
The iPad Air

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.

iPad Air

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We compared Apple’s basic iPad to the latest iPad Air – and the $329 iPad is still the best buy for most people

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Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

iPad Air (2020) vs iPad (2020) 4x3
  • The $329 iPad‘s affordable price and capable performance make it the best choice for most people.
  • The iPad Air offers a more vibrant screen, more processing power, and other perks.
  • But it’s hard to recommend a tablet that’s nearly twice the price when the standard iPad can hold its own.
  • Visit Insider Reviews for more advice on how to pick the right iPad and find the best iPad deals.

2020 iPad 10.2-inch (8th Gen) (small)iPad Air (4th Gen., 64GB) (small)

Tablets may be the most versatile tech gadgets in existence. They’re designed to offer the qualities of both smartphones and laptops, with some models skewing more toward one than the other.

It’s important to consider which direction you’re leaning towards when shopping for a tablet. Are you looking for a device primarily for reading and web browsing, or do you want a tablet that can serve as a secondary work device?

Apple’s iPad line runs the gamut. Some models are best equipped to take on the duties of your smartphone but on a larger screen, while others like the iPad Pro are more powerful and can perform some functions of a laptop.

Apple’s $329 iPad falls under that first category. With its spacious 10.2-inch Retina display, capable processor, and approachable price, it’s the best choice for anyone that just wants a basic tablet for web browsing, reading, shopping, watching movies, and checking email.

The $599 iPad Air, on the other hand, lands right in the middle. It has some of the iPad Pro’s qualities, like a nearly borderless screen, compatibility with Apple’s newest accessories, and USB-C charging. That makes it ideal for those who want a more powerful tablet with some of the elements of the iPad Pro, but isn’t quite as expensive.

Here’s a closer look at how the two tablets compare and what to consider when deciding which one is right for you.

Apple iPad vs. iPad Air: Which is better

Apple’s 8th-generation $329 iPad is the best Apple tablet for most people. It has the right combination of features for the price, making it a great choice for anyone looking for a general purpose tablet.

It’s missing some of the iPad Air‘s bells and whistles, like a larger and sharper screen, more modern design with extra color options, the same faster processor that powers the latest iPhones, sharper cameras, and support for Apple’s newer Apple Pencil and keyboard case.

But these compromises don’t take that much away from the experience, and most people that simply want an iPad to watch Netflix, browse Facebook, read the news, or send emails will do just fine with Apple’s cheapest iPad.

The iPad Air has a noticeably better screen, sleeker design, a much better and faster performance among other improvements. But the iPad Air’s $599 price can be difficult to digest if you’re not planning to use it for more strenuous tasks than those mentioned above.

It’s probably best to think of the iPad Air as a budget iPad Pro. That’s to say it’s much better-suited for tasks like video and photo editing than the standard iPad given its faster processor, additional storage space, and sharper screen, but without the nearly $1,000 price tag.

Specs

iPad iPad Air
Display 10.2 inch Retina display 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display
Weight 1.08 lbs (Wi-Fi only) 1 lb (Wi-Fi only)
Processor Apple A12 Bionic Apple A14 Bionic
Front Camera 1.2 megapixels 7 megapixels
Rear Camera 8 megapixels 12 megapixels
Ports Lightning, Smart Connector USB-C, Smart Connector
Battery Life Up to 10 hours Up to 10 hours
Biometrics Touch ID (home button) Touch ID (top button)
Storage Options 32GB or 128GB 64GB or 256GB

Design and display

iPad Air Landscape
Apple’s newest iPad Air

Apple gave the iPad Air a major aesthetic upgrade in 2020, and it’s one of the biggest factors that distinguishes it from its cheaper sibling. Apple’s mid-tier tablet has significantly slimmer borders framing its display and flat edges much like the iPad Pro and iPhone 12, while the $329 iPad still has Apple’s classic iPad design. It has the same chunky bezels above and below the display, curved edges, and the Touch ID home button as Apple’s older iPads.

The iPad Air also comes in more color options, with choices including silver, space gray, rose gold, green, and sky blue. The standard iPad, comparatively, only comes in silver, space gray, and rose gold. And of course, as its name implies, the iPad Air is thinner and lighter. The iPad Air is 0.24 inches thin and weighs 1 pound, while the iPad is 0.29 inches thick and weighs 1.08 pounds. Although it doesn’t sound like much of a difference, the iPad Air feels much more comfortable to hold for long periods of time while reading or gaming.

In terms of screen resolution, both iPads pack 264 pixels per inch. But there are some other technical differences to keep in mind that could impact the viewing experience. The iPad’s screen is missing some qualities found on the iPad Air such as full lamination, anti-reflective coating, support for the P3 wide color gamut, and True Tone. Of all these features, True Tone is probably the most noticeable one.

True Tone adjusts the color and intensity of your iPad’s display to match the lighting in your surroundings so that the screen looks more natural. It helps get rid of the blue-ish tint often found on the screens of electronic devices. But the difference is really only noticeable when looking at the two tablets alongside one another.

iPad Yellow 2
Apple’s $329 iPad

The iPad Air‘s P3 support is also important considering it means this tablet’s display can show a wider range of colors compared to the standard iPads. This could be a difference to consider if you’re primarily looking for a tablet for photo or video editing and entertainment, as P3 support is one of the factors that makes a display compatible with HDR content, as B&H explains.

The iPad Air’s screen also includes Apple’s ProMotion technology unlike the regular iPad. This feature increases the iPad Air’s refresh rate up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling, which could be especially useful if you’re planning to use your iPad with the Apple Pencil for drawing and sketching.

Taken together, these enhancements made the iPad Air‘s screen look richer with better contrast when watching video and playing games. However, the standard iPad’s screen is impressively bright and sometimes looks more luminous than the iPad Air’s, despite the fact that Apple says they both have the same 500 nit maximum brightness level. I also find True Tone to make the iPad Air’s display easier on the eyes for reading, but that’s a personal preference that may not apply to everyone.

Performance

iPad Air Game
The 2020 iPad Air

Another major difference between the iPad and iPad Air is in their processors. The iPad runs on Apple’s A12 Bionic processor, which powers the older iPhone XS lineup of smartphones, while the iPad Air runs on the same A14 Bionic chip that powers the current iPhone 12 series.

In everyday practices, the iPad Air feels slightly faster than the standard iPad. For example, it is able to export a 25-second HD video from Adobe Premiere just a hair faster than the regular iPad. (The iPad Air exports the clip in 5.6 seconds, while the iPad did so in 5.8 seconds). Apps also launches a bit faster on the iPad Air, although I wouldn’t say the iPad feels sluggish by any means.

Benchmark tests, however, suggest the iPad Air has much more power to unleash compared to the standard iPad when it comes to both general computing and graphics performance.

In a benchmark test called Geekbench 5 that’s meant to evaluate how a processor performs when handling everyday apps, the iPad Air’s A14 Bionic chip scored 1,588 on the trial that measures how a single core inside the processor performs and 4,234 on the part that monitors how its multiple cores work together. The iPad‘s A12 Bionic chip, comparatively scored 1,114 and 2,677 respectively.

Cores are the units inside a computer’s processor that are responsible for carrying out operations.The single core score can be seen as an indicator of how the processor handles more casual apps that only use a single processing core to function, while the multi-core score evaluates how a processor runs more demanding apps and games that distribute the work among several cores, as Intel explains.

The iPad Air also scored higher in tests that measure graphics performance. In Geekbench 5’s compute test, which evaluates how a GPU performs when executing tasks like image processing, the iPad Air scored an average of 12,542 while the iPad scored 5,324 on average. Similarly, in the 3DMark Wildlife test, which simulates how processors handle games that rely on short bursts of activity, the iPad Air scored 8,925 with an average of 53 frames per second while the iPad scored 6,000 with 35 frames per second.

Accessories and storage

iPad Pro Keyboard 3
Apple’s Magic Keyboard

If you’re planning to use your iPad for work, accessories are an important part of the experience. Both the iPad and iPad Air are compatible with the Apple Pencil and Apple’s keyboard cases, but the specific models will vary.

The iPad Air, for example, works with the second-generation Apple Pencil, the Smart Keyboard Folio case, and the newer Magic Keyboard. The standard iPad is only compatible with the original Apple Pencil and Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

Apple’s latest Pencil comes with a sleeker design and magnetically attaches to the iPad Air or iPad Pro for charging and pairing. The older Pencil must be plugged into the iPad’s Lightning port to charge and pair with the device.

And the Smart Keyboard, unlike the Smart Keyboard Folio, doesn’t offer protection for the back of the device when not in use. The Magic Keyboard is Apple’s top-of-the-line iPad Keyboard that features a trackpad and a floating design that makes it possible to adjust the iPad’s viewing angle.

But these accessories certainly add up. The first-generation Apple Pencil is priced at $99, while the Smart Keyboard costs $159. That means if you want to get more functionality out of the iPad through Apple’s accessories, you have to pay around $258 for both add-ons at minimum. The more advanced the accessory, the more expensive it is. The Magic Keyboard, for example, costs $299 on its own, making it nearly as expensive as the $329 iPad.

Storage is another important factor to consider when deciding between the iPad and iPad Air. The standard iPad is best suited for those who keep most of their files in the cloud since it only comes in 32GB and 128GB options. The iPad Air, meanwhile comes in either a 64GB or 256GB capacity,

Cameras and battery life

iPad Air Camera
The iPad Air’s camera

Most people probably aren’t taking photos on their iPads regularly, so the difference between the iPad’s 8-megapixel camera and iPad Air’s 12-megapixel camera might not matter that much. But it is worth considering that the iPad has a much lower resolution selfie camera than the iPad Air, which could be significant if you frequently make FaceTime or Zoom calls on your iPad.

The standard iPad has a 1.2-megapixel front camera, while the iPad Air has a 7-megapixel selfie camera. As a result, photos taken with the front camera on the standard iPad look much noisier and washed out compared to those shot on the iPad Air, which did a much better job at lighting my face evenly and generally produced an image that was cleaner with more color.

If shooting video on your iPad is a priority, the pricier iPad Air is your best bet. The iPad Air can shoot in 4K at 24, 30, or 60 frames per second. The iPad, meanwhile, can only shoot up to 1080p video at 30 frames per second.

Both tablets offer similar battery life, which impressed me during my testing when writing our full review. I’m able to get about 12 hours of battery life out of each tablet when using them for streaming video, checking email, occasionally playing mobile games, and other similar everyday tasks. That surpasses Apple’s claims of 10-hour battery life for each tablet. But as always, it’s important to remember that battery life varies depending on how you use your iPad.

It’s also worth noting that the standard iPad uses a Lightning connector to charge while the iPad Air uses USB-C like the iPad Pro. Which port is more convenient will depend on your preference. If you’re a loyal iPhone user and have plenty of extra Lightning cables lying around, you’ll probably appreciate that you can use any of these cables to charge your iPad too. But if you have a lot of other USB-C-powered devices, you might enjoy the flexibility that comes with the iPad Air’s more universal charging cable.

The bottom line

iPad wooden background
Apple’s latest basic iPad

Overall, the $329 iPad is the right choice for most people. It’s powerful enough to handle most casual computing tasks and can last impressively long on a single charge. But if you’re willing to spend the extra money and know that you want features like a better display, sleeker design, and a sharper FaceTime camera for video chatting, consider the iPad Air.

All told, unless you really need more powerful performance, the iPad Air‘s improved screen and lighter build are its biggest advantages over the standard iPad.

To put it simply: the iPad can do just about everything the iPad Air can do, so you won’t be making any major compromises. The iPad Air just does all of these things a little bit better, but for nearly twice the cost.

2020 iPad 10.2-inch (8th Gen) (small)iPad Air (4th Gen., 64GB) (small)

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