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

Woochoo

macrumors 6502
Oct 12, 2014
456
305
New Air or refurb Pro? Hmmmm

If you don't mind about LiDR, get the Air. If you really want the best you can get and ain't in a hurry, wait till march or so that new Pro with A14X will come and it should be a pretty massive bump from the A12Z
 
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Makosuke

macrumors 603
Aug 15, 2001
6,293
524
The Cool Part of CA, USA
I'm VERY interested in this exact question because I've been helping a collaborator shop for an iPad for artistic work in Clip Studio Paint. Until the new Air was released, the Pro was the only good option on account of Pencil 2 support, but now it's a REALLY tough call. Also, so it's not all Geekbench all day long, here are some additional benchmarks the always-great Bare Feats ran on the two computers, most of which are GPU tests:


Things I've been considering that aren't laid out in this article:

1) If you're doing single-core work, the Air is unquestionably much faster, but in multi-core the Pro does generally come out ahead, so for certain workloads it could tip the balance from a significant advantage for the Air to a slight advantage for the Pro.

For my personal case, I'm guessing that Clip Studio is more heavily single core than multi-core, but I'm not certain about that.


2) Based on those more granular Bare Feats benchmarks, the Pro ranges from slightly slower to a full 40% faster than the Air, depending on test. So it will depend on use case, but the Pro may have a non-trivial advantage in GPU performance.

Again, I don't know how much CSP relies on the GPU, but it seems like that probably gives the Pro an edge for this particular use case.

3) Working with large, multi-layered image files, the RAM difference may be more than academic. I don't know how well CSP will handle a 2-page-spread with many, many layers in 4GB--might be fine--but 6GB will unquestionably give it more overhead, especially if OS RAM needs increase in the future.


4) The "sketching is somewhat smoother in the Pro" doesn't fully capture the difference--if Apple's own statements are to be believed, and some real-world tests on YouTube bear this out, there is a significantly lower amount of lag when drawing on the Pro. This might not even be noticeable to some users, but for a pro artist who's sensitive to lag, could be a very significant thing.


5) Specific to my situation: Indonesia, where my collaborator is based, has terrible Apple infrastructure: no first-party stores, high import duties, and it tends to be embarrassingly difficult to get new Apple hardware (there are still stores linked direct from Apple as authorized resellers that only stock the 2nd generation Pro!). So while I have found both for sale, the current price of the Air v4 is substantially inflated, while the 2020 Pro is only somewhat inflated. So the base air is only slightly lower (a few dollars) than a base 11" Pro. I believe the 256GB Air is actually more expensive than a 128GB Pro.

Which is to say that it's not even a matter of saving money--I'm shopping for an Air that's either the same price or more expensive than a Pro.

The bad news is it's a really tough call. The good news is, they're both really nice!
 
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PlayUltimate

macrumors 6502
Jul 29, 2016
424
605
Boulder, CO
Bought a 12.9 iPP back in March. If this was available, I would have gone with this instead (refused to buy the previous Air due to using a gen 1 Pencil. I am happy with the purchase so far.
 
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mikedude86

macrumors member
Sep 2, 2010
50
35
was a bit sad about buying a Pro earlier this year, considering price and the fact that i do like the colors of the Air BUT after reading this I don’t feel that bad. I like my thinner bezels, extra two speakers and I do use the MK most of the time so Face ID seems to beat Touch on that front.
 
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MacBH928

Contributor
May 17, 2008
4,826
1,856
upgrading from 64GB to 256GB costs $150...can I I get the 64GB and then buy a usb-c thumbdrive and store files on it to use on the iPad? The 256GB thumbdrives are only $34 on Amazon.

Any advantage/disadvantage to this? does it drain battery? is it limited with use in iPadOS apps?
 
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iSayuSay

macrumors 68040
Feb 6, 2011
3,347
470
I have an iPad Pro 10.5. Should I upgrade to the new Air? 🤔
All in all, that honestly feels like a downgrade. Pro Motion, true tone flashlight, quad speakers, sleeker design (thinner bezel on the left and right side) and bigger Touch ID (the classic home button).

If you already got Pro, then I suggest upgrade to another Pro, your 10.5” is still a great device, wait for the next Pro is what I’d do.
 
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GuruZac

macrumors 65816
Sep 9, 2015
1,302
2,660
As others have pointed out, the Pro at 128GB, a very usable size for many, is only $50 more than the 256GB Air. The things you get for that $50 are huge in my opinion. ProMotion display, FaceID (game changer on a tablet used as a desktop), quad speakers, 6GB of RAM, and LiDAR. Those are easily worth $50. Will you notice the speed difference opening apps with that single core performance difference? No way. The A12X and A12Z both have better multi-core and GPU performance, so gaming will be better on the Pros as well, especially with ProMotion. I just don’t see how the 256GB Air makes sense at all. I think that’s a deliberate pricing strategy by Apple to force users up to the Pro model. I know I certainly would opt for the Pro for $50 extra if I were in the market. Below is a screen shot of benchmarks done on the 2018 iPad Pro vs 2020 iPad Air. Depending on use case, the iPad Pro A12X is still a more powerful processor in 5 out of the 7 tests. makes me wonder just how fast the A14X will be.
561324C3-2326-4F40-8106-F5A7E713A826.png
 
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iSayuSay

macrumors 68040
Feb 6, 2011
3,347
470
Not for the display and not for the speakers. I would wait for the next Gen iPad Pros or wait for a Black Friday deal on the 2020 iPad Pro.
yep current iPad Air vs Pro is very confusing and annoying. Basically you have to choose one thing over the others. A14 is the latest chip, great performer overall. But 12z has beefier GPU, more RAM, more camera, more features that is nice to have.

I’d rather wait for the next Pro so we don’t have to give up something. For the price I pay I should get definite advantage.
 
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GuruZac

macrumors 65816
Sep 9, 2015
1,302
2,660
With USB C can a thumb drive be used with air to expand the storage?
Yes, one of the benefits of USB-C and iPadOS.

 
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travelsheep

macrumors 6502a
May 30, 2013
697
710
So... in terms of communication... with Covid everyone is using Zoom, Skype, Whatsapp... for business communication and the occasional family and friends video call... but all we got is a mediocre (at best) front facing camera. In this regard 2020 iPhones and iPads hardly feel like great innovation to me... more like 10+ year old tech.... just get the cheapest of the bunch, if you go with Apple, because they all got the same front facing cameras...
 
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scupking

macrumors 6502a
Dec 14, 2010
657
220
The pro is a much better deal if you get the 128gb version. Less bezels, quad speakers, promotion, Face ID, better graphics power and 6gb of ram. That’s a lot of good stuff for just $50 more. If you can get by with 64gb then the air 4 isn’t bad but even then I would only suggest getting one when on sale.
 
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Mw0103

macrumors 6502
Feb 22, 2014
267
515
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.
I disagree that people are touching the power button anyway. The pro wakes on screen touch, so touch and swipe up. It’s seamless. Same with saved passwords—don’t have to reach up and touch anything. Face ID wins for iPads.
 
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trifid

macrumors 68000
May 10, 2011
1,921
4,625
4) The "sketching is somewhat smoother in the Pro" doesn't fully capture the difference--if Apple's own statements are to be believed, and some real-world tests on YouTube bear this out, there is a significantly lower amount of lag when drawing on the Pro. This might not even be noticeable to some users, but for a pro artist who's sensitive to lag, could be a very significant thing.

This seems highly underrated and I'd put this at the top advantages, the ProMotion display gives a significant advantage when using the iPad with a pen, so any heavy use for school or drawing it seems to me the Pro easily wins by this alone.

For reference:

 
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TheIntruder

macrumors 65816
Jul 2, 2008
1,298
827
iPad Air more than 40% higher in single-core score than iPad Pro!? :eek:

Beyond the generational improvements, a +500MHz increase in clock speed with the A14 benefits single-thread tasks most.

As others have pointed out, the Pro at 128GB, a very usable size for many, is only $50 more than the 256GB Air. The things you get for that $50 are huge in my opinion. ProMotion display, FaceID (game changer on a tablet used as a desktop), quad speakers, 6GB of RAM, and LiDAR. Those are easily worth $50. Will you notice the speed difference opening apps with that single core performance difference? No way. The A12X and A12Z both have better multi-core and GPU performance, so gaming will be better on the Pros as well, especially with ProMotion. I just don’t see how the 256GB Air makes sense at all. I think that’s a deliberate pricing strategy by Apple to force users up to the Pro model. I know I certainly would opt for the Pro for $50 extra if I were in the market. Below is a screen shot of benchmarks done on the 2018 iPad Pro vs 2020 iPad Air. Depending on use case, the iPad Pro A12X is still a more powerful processor in 5 out of the 7 tests. makes me wonder just how fast the A14X will be.

With current discounting, from Amazon, Best Buy, and others, the price difference is nil. As well as with the normal pricing from Coscto, and the Apple EDU store.

During the Back-to-School promo, Apple put a $159 spiff on the hood in the form of AirPods. For those who qualified, it was hard to turn that deal down, on top of the other factors you mention.

Apple is adept at making things interesting, but the next Pro will move the goal posts and open up a gap again, for those who can wait.
 
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Makosuke

macrumors 603
Aug 15, 2001
6,293
524
The Cool Part of CA, USA
This seems highly underrated and I'd put this at the top advantages, the ProMotion display gives a significant advantage when using the iPad with a pen, so any heavy use for school or drawing it seems to me the Pro easily wins by this alone.
That's a different test than the one I saw, but the results are similar--the difference seems very noticeable. I'm not 100% sure how much of it can be credited to the 120Hz screen versus the CPU--it's at least possible that the A14 could close the gap at least partly even without the 120Hz display--but it seems likely that this is going to be substantial.

And if so, yeah, that's pretty much the decision right there for a pro artist, especially if the price is nearly identical.
 
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iSayuSay

macrumors 68040
Feb 6, 2011
3,347
470
That's a different test than the one I saw, but the results are similar--the difference seems very noticeable. I'm not 100% sure how much of it can be credited to the 120Hz screen versus the CPU--it's at least possible that the A14 could close the gap at least partly even without the 120Hz display--but it seems likely that this is going to be substantial.

And if so, yeah, that's pretty much the decision right there for a pro artist, especially if the price is nearly identical.
i think I can simplify iPad purchasing decision

  1. If you never had an iPad before, and thinking 64GB is enough, then go with new Air and save money. Anything more than 64GB, pick up the Pro instead.
  2. If you had an older 9.7” iPad (any models) or iPad Mini, and still think 64GB is great, then the new Air is also a great upgrade
  3. If you’re an illustrator/videographer/photographer who needs to create or edit on the go, then current iPad Pro is a better alternative.
  4. If you’ve had an older iPad Pro then HOLD ON with what you have, and WAIT for the next Pro as current options won’t be much of an upgrade than what you already own. Even more so with the whole A12z vs A14 situation.
 
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polyphenol

macrumors 6502
Sep 9, 2020
355
386
Wales
If you had an older 9.7” iPad (any models) or iPad Mini, and still think 64GB is great, then the new Air is also a great upgrade
I had an iPad 1 (of course, it wasn't called that at the time!). Was still working when I sold it last year - battery was good!

Would the Air be much of an upgrade? :D
 
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iSayuSay

macrumors 68040
Feb 6, 2011
3,347
470
I had an iPad 1 (of course, it wasn't called that at the time!). Was still working when I sold it last year - battery was good!

Would the Air be much of an upgrade? :D

If you can live with its drawbacks (60Hz, dual speakers, no flashlight, single wide camera, 64GB base storage) then yes. You need something more, Pro would be a better deal.

With current lineups, it's a hard decision for sure. You need to choose, and give up on something (newer chip or Pro features).
 
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