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In April 2021, Apple updated its popular iPad Pro lineup, introducing a faster M1 chip, a Liquid Retina XDR display, a Thunderbolt port, and more. Since the iPad Air saw a major update in September last year, both the iPad Air and the iPad Pro now share similar designs and an increasingly close feature set. Despite their appearances, the iPad Air and iPad Pro are still very different devices intended for different user bases.

iPad-Pro-vs-Air-Feature-Yellow.jpg

Should you consider purchasing the iPad Air to save money, or do you need the high-end features of the iPad Pro? Our guide answers the question of how to decide which of these two iPads is best for you.

Comparing the iPad Air and iPad Pro

The iPad Air and iPad Pro share a number of key features, such as design, rear Wide camera, and a USB-C port:

Similarities

  • Industrial design with flat edges.
  • Liquid Retina display with 264 ppi, full lamination, oleophobic and anti-reflective coating, P3 Wide Color, and True Tone.
  • ƒ/1.8 12MP Wide rear camera, with digital zoom up to 5x and Smart HDR 3 for photos.
  • 4K video recording at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps, or 60 fps, 1080p HD video recording at 60 fps, 3x video zoom, slo-mo video support for 1080p at 120 fps or 240 fps, time-lapse video with stabilization.
  • "All-day" 10 hour battery life.
  • Wi‑Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity.
  • USB‑C connector.
  • Compatible with Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio, and Apple Pencil (2nd generation).
  • Available in Silver and Space Gray.

Apple's specification breakdown shows that the two iPads share a number of important features. Even so, there are an even larger number of meaningful differences between the iPad Air and iPad Pro that are worth highlighting, including their displays, authentication technologies, processors, and camera setups.

Differences


iPad Air
  • Touch ID built into the top button.
  • 10.9-inch display.
  • Liquid Retina LED display.
  • 500 nits max brightness (typical).
  • A14 Bionic chip with Neural Engine.
  • 4GB RAM.
  • ƒ/1.8 12MP Wide camera.
  • Digital zoom up to 5x.
  • 3x video zoom.
  • ƒ/2.2 7MP FaceTime HD camera.
  • 1080p HD video recording.
  • Two speaker audio landscape mode.
  • 4G LTE cellular.
  • USB‑C connector.
  • Up to 256GB storage.
  • Available in Silver, Space Gray, Rose Gold, Green, and Sky Blue.
  • Price starting at $599.

iPad Pro
  • Face ID enabled by TrueDepth camera.
  • 11-inch or 12.9-inch display, with 120Hz ProMotion technology.
  • Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display on 12.9-inch model with 1,000 nits max full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits peak brightness (HDR).
  • 600 nits max brightness (typical).
  • M1 chip with next-generation Neural Engine.
  • 8GB or 16GB RAM.
  • ƒ/1.8 12MP Wide and ƒ/2.4 10MP Ultra Wide cameras with LiDAR scanner.
  • True Tone flash.
  • Digital zoom up to 5x and 2x optical zoom out.
  • Video zoom up to 3x and 2x optical zoom out.
  • Extended dynamic range for video up to 30 fps.
  • Audio zoom.
  • ƒ/2.4 12MP TrueDepth camera with Ultra Wide camera with 2x optical zoom out, Portrait Mode, and Portrait Lighting.
  • 1080p HD video recording at 25 fps, 30 fps, or 60 fps.
  • Center Stage video calls.
  • Animoji and Memoji.
  • Stereo recording.
  • Four speaker audio.
  • 5G cellular connectivity.
  • USB‑C connector with support for Thunderbolt / USB 4.
  • Up to 2TB storage.
  • Available in Silver and Space Gray.
  • Price starting at $799.


Read on for a closer look at each of these aspects, and see what exactly both iPads have to offer.

Design

Both the iPad Air and the iPad Pro use Apple's most recent product design language, also seen on the iPhone 12 and the iMac, featuring industrial squared-off edges.

m1-ipad-pro.jpg

The 10.9-inch iPad Air is almost exactly the same size as the 11-inch iPad Pro, despite having a smaller display, resulting in it having slightly thicker bezels.

Although the design of the two iPad models is similar, the iPad Air is available in a wider range of colors. The iPad Air is available in Silver, Space Gray, Rose Gold, Green, and Sky Blue, while the iPad Pro is only available in Silver and Space Gray.

ipadaircolors-2.jpg


Authentication

A key area of difference between the iPad Air and iPad Pro is authentication. The iPad Air features Touch ID, while the iPad Pro features Face ID.

ipad_air_touch_id.jpg

The iPad Air has a Touch ID fingerprint scanner embedded in the iPad's top button. The iPad Pro's Face ID is facilitated by the TrueDepth camera array in the top bezel.

new-ipad-pro-11-inch.jpg

Unlocking is something that may be used dozens of times every day, so it is important to choose your preferred method of authentication if you feel particularly strongly about it. That being said, both Touch ID and Face ID are now extremely polished technologies that work well, and most users will likely be happy with whichever they have.

Displays

Display Sizes
The iPad Air features a 10.9-inch display, while the iPad Pro has the option of either an 11-inch display or a 12.9-inch display.

ipad-air-ipad-pro-display-sizes.jpg

The difference in screen size between the 10.9-inch iPad Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro is virtually negligible. These models are around half a pound lighter than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and will be best for users focused on portability and easy handheld use.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro, on the other hand, is best for users who are intending to use their iPad more like a laptop, likely on a table or with a keyboard accessory such as the Magic Keyboard. In particular, multitasking is a much better experience on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro's large display.

m1-ipad-pro-table.jpg


Display Technologies
Both the iPad Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro feature Liquid Retina LED displays with 264 ppi, full lamination, an oleophobic and anti-reflective coating, P3 Wide Color, and True Tone.

The 11-inch iPad Pro can get 100 nits brighter than the iPad Air and features ProMotion technology for up to 120Hz refresh rates.

m1-ipad-pro-display.jpg

The biggest advancement in display technology comes to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. This model has all of the display features included with its smaller sibling, including 120Hz ProMotion, but uses a fundamentally different underlying display technology: mini-LED.

Apple calls the 12.9-inch iPad Pro's mini-LED screen a "Liquid Retina XDR display." Mini-LED allows the 12.9-inch iPad Pro to reach up to 1,000 nits full-screen brightness, 1,600 nits peak brightness, and a 1 million-to-1 contrast ratio. The display can reflect what can be seen in the real world by capturing the brightest highlights and subtle details in even the darkest images, allowing users to view and edit true-to-life HDR and Dolby Vision content, which is especially important to creative professionals, including photographers, videographers, and filmmakers.

The iPad Air's Liquid Retina display will be sufficient for the vast majority of users, but some may prefer the responsiveness of ProMotion of the iPad Pro for tasks such as gaming. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro's high-end Liquid Retina XDR display, on the other hand, is best for users who consume a lot of HDR content, those who are creative professionals, or those who want the best possible display.

A14 Bionic vs. M1 Chip

The iPad Air features the A14 Bionic chip used in the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPad Pro contains the same M1 chip used in the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and 24-inch iMac.

a14-bionic-feature.jpg

The A14 Bionic features six cores and the M1 chip has eight cores. The A14 has two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores, while the M1 has two additional high-performance cores. The M1 also has eight GPU cores, which is double that of the A14. The M1 has a maximum clock speed of 3.20GHz and the A14 has a maximum clock speed of 3.10GHz.

new-m1-chip.jpg

The A14 has 11.8 billion transistors, while the M1 has 16 billion transistors. Both chips are fabricated using a 5nm process and contain Apple's most advanced 16-core Neural Engine for machine learning.

Benchmarks for the M1 in the iPad Pro are not yet available, but they will likely be similar to the MacBook Air, which is also a passively cooled mobile device with the M1 chip. The M1 in the MacBook Air achieves a Geekbench single-core score of 1700, while the iPad Air with the A14 achieves 1585. In multi-core, the MacBook Air has a score of 7374, while the A14 in the iPad Air has a score of 4213.

m1-ipad-pro-video-editing.jpg

Even though the M1 outperforms the A14, particularly where it can take advantage of its extra cores, both chips are among Apple's latest custom silicon chips. The A14 is more of a mobile processor, as shown by its presence in the iPhone 12, while the M1 is a laptop to desktop-class processor, as shown by its presence in Apple's latest Mac computers.

Only users with an intensely demanding workflow will need the extra power the M1 in the iPad Pro offers over the A14 in the iPad Air. For example, photographers working with large images, graphic designers, and video editors may be able to take advantage of the M1's extra power. For the vast majority of users, the A14 Bionic will be more than sufficient and is a very capable chip in its own right.

Storage

The iPad Air offers the option of either 64GB or 256GB storage, while the iPad Pro offers 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB. The maximum 256GB of storage in the iPad Air will be enough for many users, but for those power users who intend to store a large amount of data on their iPad, the option is available with the iPad Pro.

Memory

The iPad Air has 4GB of RAM, while the iPad Pro has either 8GB or 16GB, just like Macs with the M1 chip. iPad Pro configurations with either 1TB or 2TB of storage contain 16GB of RAM, while all other storage configurations contain 8GB of RAM.

4GB in the iPad Air will be adequate for casual users, but 8GB will be defter at handling multiple windows of the same application and a range of intense background tasks.

Ultimately, iPadOS is excellent at memory management, so it is unlikely that the amount of RAM in your iPad will be important in most cases.

Cameras

Rear Cameras
A major area of difference between the two iPad models is their camera setups. The iPad Air features a single ƒ/1.8 12MP Wide camera. The iPad Pro has the same ƒ/1.8 12MP Wide camera as the iPad Air, but also adds a ƒ/2.4 10MP Ultra Wide camera and a LiDAR scanner.

ipadaircamera.jpg


As well as being able to zoom in digitally five times, the iPad Pro can also optically zoom out up to two times, thanks to its Ultra Wide lens. The iPad Pro has extended dynamic range when recording video up to 30 fps, and also features a True Tone flash.

ipadprocameras.jpg


LiDAR allows the iPad Pro to measure the distance to surrounding objects up to five meters away, operating at the photon level at nano-second speed. This makes the iPad Pro capable of a "new class" of improved AR experiences with better motion capture, understanding of the environment, and people occlusion.
m1-ipad-pro-ar.jpg


Users who like to use their iPad as a large viewfinder for photography or heavy users of AR will appreciate the iPad Pro's more advanced camera setup, but for the majority of users who do not use the iPad's rear camera very often, the iPad Air's single Wide camera is more than good enough.

Front Cameras
The iPad Air has a front-facing ƒ/2.2 7MP FaceTime HD camera, while the iPad Pro has a considerably better ƒ/2.4 12MP TrueDepth camera. In addition, the iPad Pro has a front-facing Ultra Wide camera with 2x optical zoom out, Portrait Mode, and Portrait Lighting, as well as Animoji and Memoji. The iPad Pro can also record video with the front-facing camera at 25 fps, 30 fps, or 60 fps.

The iPad Pro has a new feature called "Center Stage" for video calls with the front-facing camera. Center Stage uses the iPad Pro's larger field of view on the machine learning capabilities of M1 to recognize and keep users centered in the frame. As users move around, Center Stage automatically pans to keep them in the shot. When others join in, the camera detects them too, and smoothly zooms out to fit everyone into the view.

If your iPad will be your main device for video calls, there are clear advantages to getting the iPad Pro. While the iPad Air's front-facing camera is sufficient for FaceTime calls, the better specifications of the iPad Pro's front-facing camera and useful software additions like Center Stage make for a much better device for video calls. Nevertheless, the $200 added cost of buying the iPad Pro is probably not worth improved video calls alone.

Speakers and Microphones

The iPad Air has two-speaker audio in landscape mode, while the iPad Pro has wider four-speaker audio. If you use your iPad for consuming lots of music and videos with the built-in speakers, the iPad Pro will deliver a slightly better experience.

The iPad Pro can record audio in stereo and features "studio-quality" mics, which may be important for some users who record music or lectures using their iPad. Even so, the iPad Air has a proficient speaker and microphone setup that will be sufficient for most users.

Wireless Connectivity

In terms of wireless connectivity, both iPads feature Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 The iPad Air supports a 4G LTE cellular connection, while the iPad Pro supports 5G, which is considerably faster. If you need an iPad with a cellular connection, this may be a good reason to invest in the iPad Pro.

Ports

The iPad Air features a standard USB-C port, while the iPad Pro features a Thunderbolt port. USB-C on the iPad Air can transfer at a speed of 10Gb/s, while Thunderbolt supports speeds of up to 40Gb/s. As well as being considerably faster, Thunderbolt opens up the potential for compatibility with a much broader range of Thunderbolt-only accessories such as external hard drives and monitors. Thunderbolt also is backward-compatible with USB-C, so the two ports look identical.

iPad-Pro-USB-C-Feature-Purple-Cyan.jpg


Even though Thunderbolt is much faster than the iPad Air's standard USB-C port, most users likely do not have Thunderbolt accessories that can take advantage of these speeds. For this reason, the iPad Air is again the best option for most people in terms of port options.

Accessories

Both the iPad Air and iPad Pro support accessories such as the Apple Pencil 2, as well as Apple's Smart Keyboard Folio and Magic Keyboard. Since they both support the same accessories, there is no reason to buy one model over the other when it comes to the likes of keyboards or trackpads.

ipad-pro.jpg

Nevertheless, it should be considered that accessories such as the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard have to be purchased separately from the iPad, so will push up the overall price. Therefore, if the iPad Pro, which starts at $799 for the 64GB 11-inch model, is already moving out of your price range and you want an accessory such as the $299 Magic Keyboard, you may need to opt for the iPad Air, which starts at $599, to bring down the overall cost.

Other iPad Options

If the iPad Air is too expensive at $599, you may want to consider the eighth-generation iPad, which has a much lower price tag of $329. This iPad has a 10.2-inch display, the A12 chip, and is compatible with accessories such as the Apple Smart Keyboard and the first-generation Apple Pencil.

f1600191751.jpg

While it lacks the all-screen design of the iPad Air, USB-C, and 4K video recording, the eighth-generation iPad is an excellent low-cost alternative to the mid to high-end iPads.

ipad-mini-5-apple-pencil.jpg

Moreover, if you are looking for the smallest, most portable iPad, you should consider the iPad mini, which features a smaller 7.9-inch display and the A12 chip, for $399.

Final thoughts

Overall, the iPad Air is the better option for the majority of users, simply on the basis of value for money. For most people, the additional $200+ needed to buy the iPad Pro will not be justified to get a better camera system, more memory, and a 120Hz display.

Some iPad Pro features, such as LiDAR, the Ultra-Wide camera, large storage configurations, and Thunderbolt, will only be practically useful to a small niche of iPad users. Most users will never use some of these high-end features.

ipad-air-4-colors.jpg

Professionals who have a clear use case for needing larger amounts of RAM and storage, Thunderbolt, mini-LED for HDR content, and the added performance of the M1 chip will benefit from buying the iPad Pro.

Prosumers will also enjoy features such as 120Hz ProMotion for smoother scrolling and gaming, deeper blacks and more vivid colors with the mini-LED display, Center Stage, and LiDAR for AR experiences, even if they are not necessary, and those who want a larger 12.9-inch display will need to go with the higher-end iPad Pro model.

Prosumers and professionals who want the iPad to replace their laptop or computer should likely choose the 12.9-inch iPad Pro if they are pairing it with the Magic Keyboard due to the added screen space for multiple applications. In addition, cellular iPad users have good reason to buy the iPad Pro for to its 5G connectivity.

Beyond these individual circumstances, the iPad Air is the best option and will be more than ample for most users' needs. With the iPad Air, users can get the latest all-screen design, a fast, capable processor, practical features like USB-C, and compatibility with the latest Apple accessories.

Article Link: iPad Air 2020 vs. iPad Pro 2021 Buyer's Guide
 
Last edited:

Sodium Chloride

macrumors regular
Jul 11, 2017
220
110
For extensive note taking, any model of iPad Pro 2017 or later is a much better choice. This is because the iPad Pro has 120 Hz refresh rate. Makes a big difference when writing with the the apple Pencil (No noticeable lags). Not to mention that the Pro model offers 12.9” screen, a minimum needed to read pdf documents comfortably without having to constantly panning and zooming.
 
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fernelius

macrumors member
Mar 24, 2007
66
68
New York, NY
Brighter screen, faster theoretical transfer speeds, a little faster, and more ram. That’s all I got really.
And in comparison to the 2018 model, improved cameras (addition of one), 5G cellular, faster WiFi (if router and connection supports), LIDAR, CenterStage, and Thunderbolt (covered by transfer speeds above).
 
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chinito77

macrumors regular
Nov 2, 2015
194
260
Japan
Not enough new things in the 11" to warranty a buy on this 2021 model. However, I am watching craigslist and FB market in anticipation of folks selling the 2020 version.
 
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dannyyankou

macrumors G4
Mar 2, 2012
10,268
19,980
Westchester, NY
And in comparison to the 2018 model, improved cameras (addition of one), 5G cellular, faster WiFi (if router and connection supports), LIDAR, CenterStage, and Thunderbolt (covered by transfer speeds above).
Eh 5G doesn’t really matter yet, I actually get faster LTE than 5G in most places on Verizon. Maybe if you pay extra for a plan that has UW and live in a city that supports it it might make sense, but for most people no.
 
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g75d3

macrumors member
Dec 10, 2014
49
43
The only thing that stops me from preordering new iPad Pro is Face ID. If it had both Touch ID in the power button and Face ID I wouldn’t have any questions. I still have iPhone 6s, so haven’t used Face ID. Those with older iPads with Face ID, do you find unlocking your iPad easy if you sometimes wear glasses, sometimes don’t and when lying in bed?)
 
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GuruZac

macrumors 68000
Sep 9, 2015
1,570
3,313
Brighter screen, faster theoretical transfer speeds, a little faster, and more ram. That’s all I got really.
Same. I’ve never had a complaint about my display brightness or color vibrancy, never complained about speed, never transfer anything other than via AirDrop, but would like a little more RAM. It’s the only small complaint…but is it worth the cost of upgrading? I don’t think so. Maybe next generation.
 
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Freeangel1

macrumors 6502a
Jan 13, 2020
513
451
Why did they not put 5G modems in all the M1 Mac products?
Thats what I wanna know?
All the ARM Macs and iPads should have 5G modems by now.
You don't have to use 5G on the Mac but the internals should still be there
 
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FloatingBones

macrumors 65816
Jul 19, 2006
1,339
439
Will the iPad Air recognize the Touch ID on the new Magic Keyboard (announced with the new 24" M1 iMac)?
 
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Shootapic

macrumors newbie
Apr 29, 2021
3
0
Why make a case? Many 3rd party options I'm sure.
I’m like you…as ad avert user my iPad Pro 2018 is my only form apart from iPhone to edit pics…..the mini led looks great though…..tempted🧐
 
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Shootapic

macrumors newbie
Apr 29, 2021
3
0
I think the next iPad Air will have whatever chip the iPhone 13 has. It’ll be interesting to see what they use for that. There have been rumors that A15 is in development.
When will the m2 make its debut on the iPad Pro …2022
 
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Currry

macrumors newbie
Apr 2, 2020
14
20
I find it strange the 11” didn’t get the mini LED screen. Perhaps its due to its smaller form factor.

My personal theory is the 6th iPP will discontinue the 11, and they will introduce a +15” variant with 240hertz screen. I get that people like the 11” iPP but that current iP Air just puts it in an odd spot. I could be wrong. But those are my suspicions.
 
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kazmac

macrumors G3
Mar 24, 2010
9,716
8,052
Any place but here or there....
As mom and my 7th gen iPads went bye bye, mom will inherit this 2020 iPad Air (Congrats to whomever won the MR 11” iPP contest today) and I’ll get a 256gb 8GB 11” iPad Pro for the extra RAM/GPU cores and speakers.

The M1 should be fine for Procreate etc.
 
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Rainshadow

macrumors 6502
Feb 16, 2017
313
712
The only thing that stops me from preordering new iPad Pro is Face ID. If it had both Touch ID in the power button and Face ID I wouldn’t have any questions. I still have iPhone 6s, so haven’t used Face ID. Those with older iPads with Face ID, do you find unlocking your iPad easy if you sometimes wear glasses, sometimes don’t and when lying in bed?)
So you’re holding out because of tech you haven’t had experience with?

I know there are people in both camps, and while I like Touch ID, faceID is at LEAST equivalent. Issues during the pandemic aside, I would never buy a phone that only operated on Touch ID again.

my current iPad had Touch ID and fails about 25-30% of the time. I’m looking forward to this new form factor and FaceID in my iPad.

this all said, I wouldn’t mind both options in one device.
 
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Rafagon

macrumors 6502
Jun 19, 2011
362
298
Miami, FL
It would have been nice if they had given the M1 iPad Pro the ability to film slow-motion video at 480 or even 960 FPS. I'm sure the M1 chip could handle it.
 
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iStorm

macrumors regular
Sep 18, 2012
223
251
I see a lot of comparisons stating the iPad Pro is $200+ more. While it is true, I don’t think it’s a fair argument by itself. One of the main things to consider is how much storage you need. The base iPad Air model has 64GB of storage for $599, which is hardly enough storage these days. So the next option is 256GB for $749. However, we’re now already creeping into iPad Pro prices. The iPad Pro starts at $799 for 128GB, which is a comfortable size as well. It basically ends up boiling down to whether I want Touch ID or Face ID. I prefer the latter, plus I’ll get all the other upgrades as a nice bonus for only $50 more, not $200.
 
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