The Apple iPad lineup is better than ever. The 9th generation iPad is a powerful, all-in-one tablet for most people, while the newly revamped iPad Mini offers a blend of portability with power. Then there’s the iPad Air and iPad Pro, which look almost the same, especially when you put your 11-inch iPad Pro up against the air.
If you’re in the market for an iPad that has more than the base model offers, don’t think too much about the decision. The iPad Air and iPad Pro are both excellent tablets, but they have some key differences that set them apart. Below we’ll walk you through these differences in an effort to help you make an informed buying decision.
Best for those who want to balance work and play
iPad Air brings solid performance to the table, combining it with a more affordable price and a smaller footprint.
Best for power users
The iPad Pro is Apple’s best tablet, on paper at least, and it’s certainly powerful enough to replace a laptop.
Get an iPad Air if…
Are you looking to save some cash
The iPad Air is right in the middle of the Apple tablet lineup when it comes to features and price. Air starts at $599 for the Wi-Fi-only model, or $729 for Wi-Fi and cellular. So, you get a 10.9-inch tablet with slim bezels, 64GB of storage, Touch ID sensor in the sleep/wake button, and an A14 processor inside.
Apple’s iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 11-inch model, or $1,099 for the 12.9-inch model. Both of these prices are for the base models that include 128GB of storage but lack any kind of cellular connectivity.
Consider the fact that a lot of iPad owners add an Apple iPad keyboard accessory and the Apple Pencil, and saving some cash up front will definitely help.
Power and performance are not a must
The iPad Air is no slouch when it comes to performance and power, but the A14 processor it runs on can’t keep up with the M1 processor used in the iPad Pro. Heck, even Intel processors can’t keep up with Apple’s first Apple Silicon processor.
If you don’t really care about how long it takes your iPad Air to render and export a video, or apply photo edits in Adobe Lightroom, the iPad Air will have more than enough power and performance for your use.
We haven’t had any issues with how quickly the iPad Air opens apps or how it handles split-screen apps with a third app open at the top while streaming Twitch videos in Picture in Picture mode. Yes, the iPad can do all that. And the air handles all of that really well.
You don’t need the newest and the best
When Apple released the iPad Air, it indicated that Apple’s design approach to tablets was also changing. The iconic home button and thicker bezels are gone. Instead, the borders around the screen have been reduced, and the sleep/wake button has begun to do double duty, thanks to the addition of a Touch ID sensor that reads your fingerprint and unlocks the tablet while you press the button to wake the device.
It also heralded Apple’s new approach to using vivid color options instead of the standard black, silver, and gold options that iPads have used over the past few years.
But now the design of the iPad Air turns into the iPad Mini. In addition to the design no longer a feature of the iPad Air, the iPad Pro, iPad Mini, and iPad Pro all have Center Stage, the front-facing camera feature that keeps you in the picture at all times, even if more people join the call.
The only tablet in Apple’s lineup that doesn’t have this feature? iPad Air.
Get an iPad Pro if…
You must have the best
The 2021 iPad Pro is the best iPad Apple has ever made, both on paper and in everyday use. From using the same M1 processor as the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, to two different display sizes, to full support for Thunderbolt 4 and faster data transfer speeds, the iPad Pro feels more like a real computer than a tablet. However, it still runs iPadOS, just like the iPad Air, and has its share of software limitations.
The iPad Pro maxes out 16GB of memory and 2TB of storage for $2,199, which doesn’t include an extra $200 if you want to add 5G connectivity to it.
It will replace your laptop
The argument is as old as the iPad – can an Apple tablet replace your laptop? Fact: For many, it can. And if you’re going to replace your laptop with a tablet, which tablet is better than the iPad Pro? You’ll get a fast processor and a choice of the two largest screens Apple offers in the iPad lineup.
You’ll want to choose a keyboard (our favorite is Apple’s Magic Keyboard) and an Apple Pencil to complete the experience.
Between the desktop browser experience in Safari on the iPad and the availability of apps like Word and Excel, there’s not much you can’t do on the iPad. But it does mean that you may have to spend some time researching and reconfiguring your workflow.
You need a bigger screen
iPad Pro is available in two different sizes. There is an 11 inch model and a 12.9 inch model. The only difference between the two designs is the display size, which means you get the same interior specs and have the same accessories available for it.
Of course, you won’t be able to use the Magic Keyboard designed for the 11-inch iPad Pro on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but outside of that small (but understandable) difference in accessories, the two devices offer the same experience, only with larger screens than you’ll find on the iPad Air.
We’re big fans of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The extra screen space gives us more room to take advantage of split screen apps, and the extensive multitasking included in iPadOS 15.
No matter which model you end up buying, you are sure to be happy with your decision. iPad Air brings solid performance to the table, combining it with a more affordable price and a smaller footprint. The iPad Pro is Apple’s best tablet, on paper at least, and it’s certainly powerful enough to replace a laptop. But this performance comes with a price. A high price you should be willing to pay for it.