If you want an iPad, you have three basic choices: the basic 10.2-inch iPad, the more expensive iPad Air, or the even more expensive iPad Pro. But if you have a few dollars to spend, the choice is even simpler. The standard 10.2-inch iPad is a cheap option, with an outdated design (large bezels, home button, Lightning port) and an older processor. And the all-new 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at a whopping $ 1,099 and is aimed only at the most demanding users.
So if you want the most hassle-free tablet on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro worth $ 1,099, you only have two options: an iPad Air for $ 599 and an 1199-inch iPad Pro for $ 799. We used to unequivocally recommend the iPad Air because it brings out the best of the iPad Pro at a much more affordable price. But Apple has just upgraded the iPad Pro, and improvements to the 11-inch model make it a serious candidate for the best mid-range iPad. We already know that the iPad Pro has top features and specifications, but do these things make it better enough to justify the $ 200 price difference?
iPad Air versus 11-inch iPad Pro specifications
Before we start the duel, let’s do the weighing and we’ll see how they match on paper.
iPad Air (2020)
11-inch iPad Pro (5th generation)
Yesze (H x W x D)
9.74 ″ x 7 4 0.24 ″
9.74 ″ x 7.02 ″ x 0.23 ″
Silver, space gray, rose gold, green, sky blue
Silver, space gray
Current retina, True Tone
Current retina, Promotion, True Tone
64 / 256GB
128/256 / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
12MP f / 1.8 wide
12MP f / 1.8 wide 10MP f / 2.4 ultra wide
7MP f / 2.2 Wide
12MP f / 2.4 ultra wide
4G LTE, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Design and colors
The iPad Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro are almost exactly the same size and weight (although the Air is a little lighter). In fact, the dimensions are so similar that both can use most of the same cases, masks, magic keyboards, etc. Only cases that have specific cutouts for a single iPad Air camera won’t fit on the iPad Pro, which has a multi-camera surface, but the iPad Pro cases will fit well in the Air (although they look a bit strange).
With almost identical shapes, they also have almost identical designs, with one major exception: color. The iPad Pro comes in standard silver and space gray, while the iPad Air has a more whimsical choice of colors: rose gold, green, sky blue, along with silver and space gray. You also get a little smaller frames on the iPad Pro, but that’s not something you’ll notice.
Our selection: In terms of size and weight, this is a complete tie. The designs are basically identical. So it all comes down to color. If you want blue, green, or pink, you’ll need to get an Air (or Pro case).
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Display
The 11-inch iPad Pro has a little bigger screen than iPad Air. We really split hairs here – that’s one-tenth of an inch. The resolution is the same – 264 pixels per inch – but the iPad Pro has only a slightly thinner frame around the screen, which gives it room for a few more pixels. Both screens also have True Tone and a wide range of P3 colors and follow Apple’s “liquid” retina design, which means that the corners of the screen are rounded to match the device itself.
The screen of the iPad Pro is definitely superior. It’s brighter, with a maximum brightness of 600 nits compared to Air’s 500 nits. But a big advantage is ProMotion, which allows the display of screens up to 120 Hz for smoother movement and lower latency, especially when using the Apple Pencil. The difference is noticeable when switching between devices, and once you try the Pro, it’s very hard to go back.
Our selection: The extra brightness isn’t a big deal, but ProMotion is really nice and helps justify the higher price of the iPad Pro.
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Performance and specifications
Apple has never skimped on the energy of its more advanced tablets, so the iPad Air has the same A14 chip you’ll find on the iPhone 12. It’s great and will be great for years to come. The iPad Pro has a much more powerful M1, which is basically like the A14 with a high-performance dual-core CPU core, dual graphics core, and dual memory bandwidth. It’s the same processor you’ll find in the MacBook Pro and iMac and is easily the fastest mobile system on the chip ever made.
Memory performance is faster with the Pro as well. The iPad Pro has 8GB of RAM compared to the 4 in the iPad Air, and if you get a storage option of 1TB or 2TB, it jumps to 16GB. It’s a way of more memory than Apple has ever put in a tablet, and that should make a significant difference in multitasking and switching applications.
Our selection: The A14 is more than enough power for a tablet, but the M1 and higher RAM obviously make the Pro a a lot more powerful and worth paying more if you have a need for speed.
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Battery life
The battery capacity is approximately the same in both iPads, about 29 watt-hours. Apple cites similar specifications on battery life: up to 10 hours of web surfing via Wi-Fi or watching videos, 9 hours when on a mobile network, basically the same for every iPad ever made. We haven’t tested the battery life of the 11-inch iPad Pro yet, but we do know that the M1 chip can be hungrier than the A14 when under stress, and the ProMotion consumes battery when your screen runs at 120Hz.
Our selection: Any tablet will last you through hours and use. We generally expect the battery life to be similar in basic tasks, but when it moves to the limit, the iPad Air is likely to last slightly longer than the 11-inch iPad Pro.
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Storage
The iPad Pro gives you dual initial storage: 128 GB instead of 64 GB in iPad Air. Both offer a 256GB upgrade configuration ($ 100 more on the iPad Pro and $ 150 more on the iPad Air), but while the iPad Air stops there, the iPad Pro offers 512GB, 1TB and 2TB options.
Our selection: With iCloud Photos, iCloud Drive, Apple Music, and Dropbox, most users don’t need more than 256GB of storage on the iPad, but if you’re working a lot with 4K videos or high-resolution photos, the option for larger storage is nice. More importantly, the initial memory is twice as large on the iPad Pro, and 64 GB can be a little small for all the apps and games you download.
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Authentication
Like the iPhone, the iPad Pro uses Face ID, which uses the True Depth’s front camera to unlock tablets and authenticate purchases and passwords. The iPad Air is the only Apple device that has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor built into the side button. Both are easy to set up and use in their own way, but Apple says the chances of misrepresenting a Face ID are approximately 1 in 1,000,000 compared to 1 in 50,000 for a Touch ID.
Our selection: Touch ID is good, but there’s no doubt that Face ID is usually a faster and easier way to authenticate, enter passwords, and unlock devices.
Jason Cross / IDG
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Cameras
On the back of the iPad Air, you’ll find a standard 12MP wide-angle camera. On the iPad Pro you will find the same camera, plus a 10MP ultra wide camera and a LiDAR sensor for better AR positioning. The image processing between M1 and A14 is basically identical. We don’t think you’ll be taking too many photos with any of these somewhat awkward cameras, but if you want, the iPad Pro has an obviously superior palette.
The difference with the front camera is more practical. On the iPad Air, you get a capable 7MP camera that makes 1080p FaceTime calls, but the iPad Pro has a new 12MP camera with an ultra-wide lens, providing a far wider view. It supports a new feature called Center Stage, which moves and zooms to keep your subject (s) in the frame. And because it uses a TrueDepth sensor for Face ID, it also supports portrait mode and Apple’s Animo / Memoja.
Our selection: Both the rear and front cameras are better on the iPad Pro, but the big winner is the selfie camera.
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Audio and Microphones
The iPad Pro has decent sound from a stereo setting with two speakers and a dual array of microphones. It works well, but it’s nothing special. On the other hand, the 11-inch iPad Pro has four speakers and five microphones, which Apple calls “studio quality”. We don’t know if we believe that nickname, but it’s almost certain that the iPad Pro will produce better recordings and better sound reproduction.
Our selection: We’ll have to do the testing, but the Pro should bring top-notch sound and recording.
iPad Air vs iPad Pro: Connectivity and accessories
While the iPad Air has dropped the Lightning port in favor of USB-C, which we love, the 11-inch iPad Pro goes a step further. Its USB-C port supports USB4 and Thunderbolt, which means you can connect to all types of equipment, including high-end monitors, including 4K screens. The port is the same, but if you want to use high-end peripherals, you need to make sure you have the right cable. Both models support the new magic keyboard – although the camera’s cutouts are a bit nicer on the 11-inch Pro, as well as the second-generation Apple Pencil.
Our selection: Thunderbolt may not be something you need right now, but it’s worth the investment. Over the years, there’s a much greater chance that the devices you buy will work at full potential (or at all) with the iPad Pro’s Thunderbolt port via the iPad Air’s standard USB-C charging port.
Jason Cross / IDG
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: W-Fi and Mobile
Both iPads have Wi-Fi 6 with MIMO, simultaneous two-band bandwidth and speeds of up to 1.6 Gbps, so it will work great at home. You also get Bluetooth 5 for AirPods and other wireless devices. But if you opt for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model, the iPad Pro supports 5G, while the iPad Air supports 4G LTE. As we learned with the iPhone, 5G is much faster, but the networks aren’t nearly as robust as LTE, and it comes at a price, $ 200 versus $ 130 on the iPad Air.
Our selection: You should carefully consider whether you really need mobile access on the iPad – using the iPhone as a wireless focal point works extremely well. But if you want the convenience of a wireless connection wherever you go, the iPad Pro’s 5G modem is a good investment, even at a higher price.
iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Conclusion
If you asked us before April 20 if the iPad Pro was worth the price above the 11-inch iPad Air, we would answer unequivocally no. Not anymore! The 11-inch iPad Pro has a starting price that is $ 200 higher than the iPad Air, but just look at how much more you get:
Much faster M1 processor
A series of five microphones and four speakers
Ultra wide 12MP front camera
Ultra wide 10MP rear camera with LiDAR
Double the storage
Our selection: Upgrades may not all be relevant to your everyday use, but all together they give the image of an obviously superior product, which easily justifies the price of $ 200 more. If you just don’t think you need any of them, there’s no reason not to save a little money and opt for the iPad Air, but the 11-inch iPad Pro cost is now more than justified, if not now, then certainly in years or so somehow. In one fell swoop, Apple has returned the 11-inch iPad Pro to its true position at the top of the pile pile, a position it is unlikely to give up for many years to come.
I have written professionally about technology for my entire professional adult life – over 20 years. I like to understand how complicated technology works and explain it in a way that anyone can understand.