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The iPad Pro still has a place in a world with iPad Air 5

The arrival of 5th-generation iPad Air raises a question: Does it undercut the 11-inch iPad Pro since it has the same processor and is almost the same size? Both tablets are thin and light, work with the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2, and have the same processing prowess. But the iPad Air 5 starts at $599, which is $200 less than the starting price of the iPad Pro at $799.

As I wrote earlier, the base iPad Air 5 should not be an option for you if you are looking at it as a cheaper iPad Pro alternative. Instead, you should be looking at the $749 iPad Air 5 with 256 gigs of storage. That leaves a gap of $50 between the high-end iPad Air 5 and the base iPad Air Pro. At first glance, it might look like Apple is cannibalizing the iPad Pro by giving that much power to the latest iPad Air via an M1 chip. But the truth is that the 11-inch iPad Pro still has a place in a world with iPad Air 5.

What extra features does the iPad Pro offer?

The iPad Pro in silver sits on a table near two plants.
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I will not be comparing the base 11-inch iPad Pro (128GB) with the base iPad Air 5 (64GB). If you are a creator/professional, you will very likely need at least 128 gigs of storage, which the iPad Pro offers for $799; the $749 iPad Air 5 comes with 256GB of storage. Despite lagging in storage, there are still plenty of features on the Pro device that make it worth the extra bucks.

With the 11-inch iPad Pro, you get:

120Hz ProMotion display

One of the major differences between the iPad Air 5 and the 11-inch iPad Pro is the presence of a 120Hz refresh rate on the latter. For $50 more, you will get a smoother and more easy-on-the-eyes display. With more apps and games getting optimized to take advantage of the higher refresh rate, spending $50 more on the base iPad Pro is worth it.

Touch ID vs. Face ID

While it is a personal preference, Face ID gives you a depth sensor on the front camera, which means you get Portrait mode, Depth Control, and six Portrait lighting effects — like the iPhone. But does it warrant a $50 price hike? You decide.

Better audio

If you are considering buying the iPad Pro, you are likely going to use it for consuming video content, whether or not that’s your primary usage. The iPad Pro offers a quad-speaker setup instead of the two speakers found on the iPad Air 5. It will be a game-changer if you like to watch a lot of content on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or even YouTube.

Thunderbolt / USB 4 port

This feature is absent on the iPad Air 5. A Thunderbolt port not only gives you better data-transfer speeds, but it supports up to two 4K displays on the iPad Pro. If you are a professional creator, you might want to connect your iPad with an external monitor. You can’t do that with the iPad Air 5, making the extra $50 worth it.

Lidar sensor

This is a feature that has limited use cases, and only a small set of people are going to use it. The niche lidar sensor is specifically designed to be used by designers. If that’s your profession, the iPad Air 5 is not an option and you should go with the 11-inch iPad Pro.

More storage options

Again, the set of people that the iPad Pro is geared toward might like to get more than 256GB of storage on their machine, which is an option only available on the iPad Pro.

Other features

With the iPad Pro, you get an extra 10MP wide-angle rear camera, which you are likely going to use with the lidar sensor for design apps. Other features worth mentioning are audio zoom and stereo recording. You’re not likely going to use these features, but if you are, you already know which iPad to buy.

The iPad Air 5 doesn’t cut into the 11-inch iPad Pro

The iPad Pro 2021 rests on a table, with the home screen showing.
Digital Trends

The ProMotion display, Thunderbolt port, and lidar sensor could be the most important reasons why a professional would consider buying the 11-inch iPad Pro over the iPad Air 5.

Bottom line, if you are a professional creator who is going to make the most of that M1 chip, you get a lot more features with the iPad Pro, which should be a good enough reason to spend an extra $50.

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Prakhar Khanna
Prakhar writes news, reviews and features for Digital Trends. He is an independent tech journalist who has been a part of the…
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