I love my iPad Pro, with its edge-to-edge design, sleek and angular build, and compatibility with Apple’s very high-end (albeit very expensive) accessories. But those features are no longer exclusive to the iPad Pro range. They’re now all things you can get from the 2020 iPad Air, which is $200 less than the entry-level iPad Pro.
Now, there’s still one case to be made for the iPad Pro — and that’s the huge 12.9-inch model. If you want an iPad that’s incredibly big, you’re still limited to buying the best of the best. But most people want a compromise between power and portability, rather than a tablet the size of a laptop — and as a result, the 11-inch iPad Pro seems to be a little more common. If you’re in that camp though, you should forget about the iPad Pro — it’s just not worth paying the extra cash for a device that’s barely any better than the new iPad Air.
Both the iPad Air and iPad Pro offer a sleek and modern design with a near edge-to edge display and bezels that look razor-thin — despite the fact that they’re far thicker than what you would get on a modern phone. At first glance, the iPad Air and 11-inch Pro actually look identical from the front, but in reality, the iPad Air has slightly thicker bezels considering its 10.9-inch display, compared to the iPad Pro’s 11-inch display. The difference is inconsequential — and it’s only noticeable if you literally place the tablets side by side.
Despite the smaller bezels, the iPad Pro has Face ID, something that the iPad Air misses out on. In day-to-day use, this is one of the main differences between the two devices. But fear not — the iPad Air has Touch ID instead. I really like Face ID, but if I couldn’t have Face ID, I wouldn’t mind having the iPad Air’s implementation of Touch ID instead. Touch ID is in the power button, and it’s super-quick and responsive. Apple even prompts you to set up a fingerprint on each hand during the iPad setup process, so that you can easily get into your device in horizontal or portrait orientations. Smart.
In some ways, the iPad Air’s design is even better than the Pro’s. If you’re boring like me, you’ll probably go for the Space Gray no matter which device you get — but the Air is also available in fun new green, blue, and pink colors. They look great, and allow you to add a little personal flair to your iPad.
And the iPad Air even works with Apple’s awesome accessories. Previously, the second-generation Apple Pencil and the Magic Keyboard were reserved solely for the Pro. Considering the Air has the Pro’s flat edge, it can magnetically connect to the Pencil like the Pro. And since it’s the same size as the Pro, it can work with the Magic Keyboard. That’s great news, because most people consider both of them to be a core part of the “Pro” experience.
A tablet is basically a big ol’ display, so display quality is important. Luckily, both of these devices look incredible. Neither has an OLED display, like the iPhone 12, but they still offer nice, deep black levels, with vivid colors and enough brightness to be usable outside.
There are a few differences between the displays to note. First up, the iPad Pro can get a little brighter, topping out at 600 nits instead of 500 nits. It’s barely noticeable — particularly if you’re using it indoors.
Much more important is the fact that the iPad Pro has a 120Hz display, which makes animations and scrolling look and feel much smoother. That is a noticeable difference, and if you’re used to that high refresh rate, it may take some adjusting to move back to a 60Hz display.
But while I love 120Hz, I don’t think it’s worth $200. For most people, this will be the biggest difference between the two products — but it’s not a difference that should cost that much.
Do you take photos and videos with the rear-facing camera on your iPad? No? Well then skip to the next section.
If you do, however, the other major difference for you will be the camera system. Let’s get this out of the way right away — if all you care about is being able to take decent photos of your kids when you’re at home, both of these are more than good enough. In fact, while the main cameras offer the same hardware, the iPad Air may take better photos given the A14 Bionic chip’s image processing.
The iPad Pro, however, has an ultrawide camera and a lidar sensor, both of which will only really come in handy in specific situations. The lidar sensor on the iPad Pro isn’t that helpful right now, butr given the fact that it now also features on the iPhone 12 Pro, more apps may start taking advantage of it for augmented reality. We’ll have to wait and see, and you probably shouldn’t buy the iPad Pro for its lidar sensor at this point.
They also both have 7-megapixel front-facing cameras, and those cameras are both fully capable and look great. That’s perhaps more important than the rear-facing camera for most, considering it comes into play for video chatting.
Want a tablet that can take solid photos? Both of these are fine. Want the most versatile camera on a tablet? The iPad Pro is the way to go.
I haven’t really talked about performance, because they’re pretty much on par with each other — and both are far ahead of what you can do on an iPad today. Technically, the iPad Air performs better in single-core performance, considering the 5nm process that it’s built on. In multi-core performance, the iPad Pro wins since it has eight cores instead of six cores. For now, and for the next four or five years, you probably won’t really need to think about performance on either one.
Still figuring out which iPad to buy? Get the iPad Air. While 120Hz is cool, if you don’t know right from the start that you need it, then you don’t need it. The camera is cool, but you definitely don’t need it on a tablet. They both perform well, they both support Apple’s expensive but awesome accessories, and they both offer a near identical experience.
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