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2020 iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Hands-On Comparison

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Apple announced the new 2020 fourth-generation iPad Air in September, but the new tablets just started shipping out to customers last Friday. We picked one up and thought we'd do a hands-on comparison with the iPad Pro, which was last updated in March, because both tablets are about as powerful and share many similarities.


Design and Size

When it comes to design, the 11-inch iPad Pro and the 10.9-inch iPad Air look quite similar with flat edges like the iPhone 12, a camera bump at the back, and an edge-to-edge display with no Home button. Note that in the video, we're comparing the iPad Air to a 12.9-inch iPad Pro because we don't have an 11-inch model on hand, but aside from size, it too is identical to the iPad Air.


The iPad Pro models come in silver and space gray, but Apple added fun new colors with the iPad Air. It comes in silver, space gray, rose gold, blue, and green.

Display

The iPad Air is just a bit smaller than the 11-inch iPad Pro, and the bezels around the display are a bit thicker. It's not a huge difference, but with both tablets side by side, it's noticeable. Other than that, display quality is similar, with one notable exception: the iPad Pro supports 120Hz ProMotion refresh rates for smoother scrolling and a better overall experience.


Is it worth shelling out more for an iPad Pro over an iPad Air just for ProMotion? Probably not, but it's a noticeable omission that's one of the bigger iPad Air downsides.


Both the iPad Air and iPad Pro support the Apple Pencil 2, and it's worth noting that writing and sketching is somewhat smoother with the ProMotion display.

Biometric Authentication

The iPad Pro is equipped with a TrueDepth Camera System that works with Face ID to unlock the iPad through facial recognition, while the iPad Air returns to an old favorite: Touch ID.


There's no Touch ID Home button, but there is Touch ID built into the power button at the top of the device. It's fast and effortless, but you do need to reach up to the top of the iPad to unlock it, and it's not as seamless of an experience as Face ID, especially when you're using accessories like the Magic Keyboard. On iPad Pro, you can wake it with the keyboard and then it instantly unlocks after scanning your face, but on iPad Air, this is a two-step process.

Cameras

The iPad Air has a single-lens wide-angle rear camera and no LiDAR Scanner, while the iPad Pro has a dual-lens camera with wide-angle and ultra wide-angle lens options, along with the LiDAR Scanner for enhanced AR capabilities.


If you don't use your iPad for pictures this should be no big deal, and the same goes for those who aren't into augmented reality apps. Both have the same front-facing 7-megapixel camera, but the iPad Pro has TrueDepth camera features too.

Speakers

The iPad Air has four speaker cutouts like the iPad Pro, but there are only two stereo speakers instead of four. There's a definite difference in sound, and the iPad Pro comes out ahead.

A12Z vs. A14

The iPad Air has the same A14 chip that's in the iPhone 12, while the iPad Pro is using the older A12Z chip. In our Geekbench tests, the iPad Air's A14 came out on top, but the A12Z has an extra GPU core that gives it the edge when it comes to GPU performance. We haven't noticed differences in photo or video editing, though, and both are capable devices.


As for RAM, the iPad Air has 4GB and the iPad Pro has 6GB RAM.

Battery Life

Battery life seems to be about the same between the iPad Air and the iPad Pro. Apple advertises 10 hours of surfing the web and video playback for both.

Pricing and Storage

The 10.9-inch iPad Air starts at $599 for 64GB storage, while the 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for 128GB of storage. There is no 128GB iPad Air, and the 256GB model costs $749. The 256GB 11-inch iPad Pro is $899, and upgrading to the larger 12.9-inch screen is also expensive with that model starting at $999.


The iPad Air is much more affordable than the iPad Pro if you can work with 64GB storage, but that may not be enough for some people. $799 for the 128GB iPad Pro vs. $749 for the 256GB iPad Air is a smaller price differential and something to keep in mind if 64GB storage isn't enough.

Bottom Line

For most people, the iPad Air is the iPad to choose. It's more powerful with the A14 chip and offers many of the same features, plus it has Touch ID for those Touch ID fans out there. It lacks when it comes to the display because it doesn't have ProMotion, but it's more affordable, faster, and available in better colors, all of which give it an edge over the iPad Pro at this time.

The iPad Pro still wins out if you want the more advanced LiDAR Scanner and camera features and the ProMotion display, or if you need the larger 12.9-inch form factor which is not available with the iPad Air.

Article Link: 2020 iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: Hands-On Comparison
 

itsmilo

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Sep 15, 2016
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Berlin, Germany
I love mine and maybe I am just not picky enough but I don’t notice the missing ProMotion at all and no complains when it comes to the Apple Pencil either (I had an iPad Pro 10.5 before) but I never really noticed ProMotion in the first place lol. I like the position of the TouchID too. Very convenient.

The only thing I am a little let down by are those „colors“. I initially couldn’t decide between green and blue and turns out both look like a brighter shade of grey in most indoor conditions
 

sub150

macrumors regular
Aug 7, 2018
240
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I thought the iPad Air would be for me, but I think a used 128GB iPad Pro 11" is a better choice. Outside of single core and less storage, it's a better choice. I think 128GB is enough considering it's not my main device of choice for music or podcasts which take up the majority of my iPhone space.
 
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unfunfionn

macrumors regular
Mar 12, 2015
152
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Berlin, Germany
I bought my iPad Pro about 3 weeks ago because the 64GB Air was too little storage and the base Pro was in the pricing/storage/features sweet spot for me. I think the Air is only truly compelling when it's base model vs base model.
 

puggsly

macrumors member
Sep 9, 2003
61
45
San Diego
A number of people pointed out that now may not be the best time to purchase a PRO seeing as performance is nearly a wash or in some cases a plus for the Air and Apple has to know this is an issue so look for an update in early 2021 and I total get and agree with that, but it doesn't change the math in one area if you have to purchase now. So if you have to purchase today you have to ask a simple question is 64gb enough storage? If it is then you are good, get an Air. But for many people 64 on an iPad is not just light it is very light and 128 is very much fine! If that is you the price difference is $50 and you get:

pro
Pro Motion
FaceID
Lidar
Better Speakers
Wide angle Lens
Slightly Bigger screen

con
128GB instead of 256GB

So unless you can live with the lower 64gb of storage or need the higher 256gb of storage the PRO is still probably the better choice.
 

edwrap

macrumors member
Nov 7, 2012
73
138
It's interesting to me that so many reviewers have commented about how FaceID is a lot better when you're using a Magic Keyboard (or other keyboard). I suspect the majority of tech reviewers/pundits/bloggers/etc. use their iPad Pros with the Magic Keyboard, and the switch to TouchID is a noticeable downgrade for that use case. Meanwhile, I suspect the majority of actual iPad users are using them unattached to a keyboard, so are always pressing the power button anyway.
 
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kazmac

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Mar 24, 2010
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Any place but here or there....
I knew the pencil lag and latency would be a lot on the Air due to 60Hz screen, but that's the only quibble I have with the Air. Since I am a hobby artist, and am used to the lag on the cheapest iPad/Apple pencil 1 this is not a deal-breaker for me.

Touch ID, stereo speakers, a RAM bump and a nice display are all good. I like my Air a lot.

I agree with the review that the Air is a fine iPad for many people, if you do not need the iPP. It's nice to have these features and some new technology in the Air.
 

Macaholic868

Contributor
Feb 2, 2017
463
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The iPad Air is only more affordable if you can get away with 64 GB of storage which I can’t. I need at least 128 GB. So why not shell out the extra money for a Pro? I do agree that if you can wait six months you should. Apple is bound to update the Pro line soon. Sure you could still save some money by going with a 256 GB iPad Air but for me 256 GB is overkill and I’d rather have Face ID over Touch ID on a tablet I’m only going to use indoors.

I’d love to see Apple do both on at least some models in the iPad and iPhones. With COVID-19 I’ve gone back down to a 4 digit passcode so I can more easily unlock my phone when I’m out and about wearing a mask. Having a Touch ID option as well would be nice. It would be the one feature that could get me to upgrade from my new iPhone 12 Pro earlier than the 3 to 4 years I’m currently planning on waiting.
 
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EugW

macrumors G3
Jun 18, 2017
9,186
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A friend pointed out to me that the iPad Air 4 does not have the plastic antenna cutouts like the iPad Pro 3rd gen. Note that my iPad Pro 2nd gen doesn’t have the antenna cutouts either.
 
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snipr125

macrumors 6502
Oct 17, 2015
385
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UK
”better colors”? Seems like poor wording.

all in all - iPad Air is less technically advanced device (lack of promotion, lidar, worse speakers, less ram, storage and size options etc), but as a consumer, mid-tier device its wonderful.
Its less technically advanced in the areas that you mentioned no doubt, but the Air 4’s A14 5nm SoC is more advanced than the A12Z. Considerably higher single core score (top of geekbench 5 iOS chart), better Metal GPU score (again top of geek bench 5 chart which surprised me) and better Neural engine performance. The A12z has about 10% better multicore performance (8 cores) but less efficient than the A14’s 6 cores.

But obviously when the A14X iPad Pro is released then this will change.
 

Duncan-UK

macrumors 6502
Sep 17, 2006
309
362
The iPad Air is only more affordable if you can get away with 64 GB of storage which I can’t. I need at least 128 GB. So why not shell out the extra money for a Pro?
Which is of course exactly what Apple want you to do. The Air is overpriced and underspecced in terms of storage.

For the hefty price they are charging there is no excuse not to supply it with 128gb rather than 64gb.
 
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