The 2020 iPad Air is a compelling tablet and will be the top pick for a lot of users. However, while it matches and even surpasses the 2020 11-inch iPad Pro in a variety of aspects, the latter still holds the upper hand when it comes to certain use cases. Let’s look at some important factors to help you decide if you should buy iPad Air or the 11-inch iPad Pro.
Update: Something important to keep in mind, a 2021 iPad Pro and iPad mini refresh may arrive as soon this spring.
Rumors are suggesting a new iPad Pro and mini launching in spring 2021. However, to make things a bit trickier in deciding whether to go for a currently available 2020 iPad Air or iPad Pro, the 2021 iPad Pro is expected to be the 12.9-inch model with the 11-inch possibly coming later.
Read more thoughts in the conclusion below on whether to wait it out or pick up a new iPad now.
The latest iPad Air will be the go-to option for many looking to pick up a new tablet. That’s because the 2020 iPad Air (4th gen) has received most of the iPad Pro’s premium features at an appealing starting price that is $200 below the $799 11-inch iPad Pro. However, that doesn’t mean the iPad Pro won’t be the better fit for those that need the best overall performance. Let’s dive into what to consider when thinking about what iPad you should buy.
Should you buy iPad Air or iPad Pro?
Where iPad Air matches or outshines the 11-inch iPad Pro
Very notably, the 2020 iPad Air has the newest processor in Apple’s tablet lineup with the A14 while the 2020 iPad Pro uses the A12Z. However, that’s not to say the A14 will blow the A12Z away or even beat it in all scenarios. Apple’s senior director of Mac and iPad product marketing, Tom Boger tempered expectations in an interview recently:
Because the A14 has our latest-generation CPU cores, you may see a few things here and there that the A14 could potentially outperform the A12Z in.
As we’ll discuss below, the 2020 iPad Pro still has the edge for intense workflows because of a higher CPU and GPU core count and more RAM. However, with the A14 being the newest chip, iPad Air users are guaranteed to get iPadOS for years to come.
Display, Apple Pencil, I/O
It’s great to see support for the second generation Apple Pencil with the iPad Air. This marks the first time the most capable writing and illustration tool works beyond the iPad Pro line. The latest Apple Pencil has a more ergonomic design, uses wireless charging when attached to your iPad, comes with tap gestures to do things like quickly change writing instruments, and provides an all-around improved experience.
With the iPad Air’s screen, you’re getting a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone and P3 wide color that features the same 264 ppi (2224 x 1668 res on the Air) as the 11-inch iPad Pro. Both displays are fully laminated and have Apple’s anti-reflective coating.
As it has ditched the home button for the great new display, Touch ID has been implemented into the top button of the iPad Air. This one will vary with personal preference whether it’s a pro or con compared to Face ID that comes with the iPad Pro.
Splash of color
If the color of your next iPad is an important factor, it’s good to keep in mind you’ve got more choices with the 2020 iPad Air with space gray, silver, rose gold, green, and sky blue. The iPad Pro only comes in space gray and silver.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the price differences (MSRP) between the iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro. It’s not exactly apples to apples since the two iPads have different storage options, but you can save some significant cash with the iPad Air.
The 2020 iPad Air has the battery life as the 11-inch iPad Pro at 10 hours of web on Wi-Fi or video use. And both are rated for 9 hours of use on cellular.
Where iPad Pro outperforms iPad Air
CPU/GPU cores and RAM
While even Apple has confirmed the iPad Air will outperform the iPad Pro in some use cases with the A14 chip, the iPad Pro still includes a more powerful GPU and more RAM (and actually has more CPU and GPU cores).
The iPad Pro with A12Z has 8 CPU and GPU cores compared to 6 CPU and 4 GPU cores with the A14. That means it will offer the best performance for things like graphic intense work and apps/processes that use multiple cores. Another edge for the iPad Pro is 6GB of RAM while the iPad Air has 4GB.
As discussed above, the iPad Air’s new Liquid Retina display features almost all of the features found on the iPad Pro’s screen. But there is one notable difference, the iPad Pro features Apple’s 120Hz ProMotion display tech. This may not be a deal-breaker for many (especially if you haven’t had a 120Hz display before), but is important to note. As described by Apple, ProMotion offers “fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness and smoother motion content.”
Like a minor difference, but one more is that the iPad Pro display maxes out at 600 nits brightness, while the iPad Air is 500 nits.
If taking photos with your iPad is an important factor, it’s worth thinking about the camera system differences between the iPad Air and Pro.
You get a solid single-camera setup with the iPad Air that includes the same 12 MP wide lens that is found on the iPad Pro. It shoots 4K video as the same fps as the pro too.
However, with the iPad Pro you’ve got a 10MP ultra wide lens plus the LiDAR Scanner, and the True Tone flash.
Along with the higher prices of the iPad Pro, you get greater storage options that go up to 1TB. The base is also 128GB. Meanwhile, the iPad Air base model offers 64GB and maxes out at 256GB.
One thing to keep in mind here is that with USB-C on both models it’s easier than ever to use external storage.
Why lean iPad Air?
Why lean iPad Pro?
However, if you know you’ll be pushing your tablet to the limit regularly, the iPad Pro still delivers the top-performing package with 8 CPU and GPU cores and 6GB RAM.
And of course if other factors like Face ID, 120Hz ProMotion display, more capable camera system, and the bigger storage options are important, the iPad Pro also becomes the best fit.
Wait it out?
But if you’re eyeing the iPad Pro, there’s another conundrum: get the early 2020 model available now (released last March) or wait for the next-gen iPad Pro that’s expected to arrive with the A14X (or Z) chip in early 2021.
The 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is expected to feature a design almost identical to the 2021 version, but come with the upgrade of mini LED backlighting and the new, more capable A-series processor.
The 11-inch 2021 iPad Pro may not arrive at the same time but if you don’t absolutely need a new iPad right now, it will likely be worth waiting to see the next-gen unveiled. Even if you think the 2020 iPad Pro is plenty powerful, it might be good to wait as prices for the previous-gen version will likely drop when the 2021 models are unveiled.
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