In March 2022, Apple introduced the fifth-generation iPad Air, featuring the M1 chip, 5G connectivity, and a new front-facing camera system. The updated iPad Air comes almost a year after in Apple introduced its current iPad Pro lineup, which also features the M1 chip and 5G connectivity, but sports a number of high-end features like ProMotion and a Thunderbolt port.
The introduction of the previous, fourth-generation iPad Air in September 2020 brought the device much closer to the iPad Pro in terms of design, and with the latest model, the iPad Air has gained the same M1 chip as the iPad Pro, bringing them even closer together. Despite this, the iPad Air and iPad Pro are still quite different devices intended for different groups of users.
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 large number of key features, such as a squared-off industrial design, a 12MP rear Wide camera, a 12MP front-facing Ultra Wide camera, and a USB-C port:
Apple’s specification breakdown shows that the two iPads share many of their most important features, not least the M1 chip. 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, and rear camera setups.
Read on for a closer look at each of these aspects, and see what exactly both iPads have to offer.
Both the iPad Air and the iPad Pro use Apple’s most recent product design language, also seen on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineup, the iPad mini, and the iMac, featuring industrial squared-off edges.
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 Space Gray, Starlight, Pink, Purple, and Blue, while the iPad Pro is only available in Silver and Space Gray.
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.
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.
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 refined technologies that work well, and most users will likely be happy with whichever they have.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The iPad Air has 8GB of RAM, while the iPad Pro has either 8GB or 16GB, depending on which storage configuration you choose. iPad Pro configurations with either 1TB or 2TB of storage contain 16GB of RAM, while all other storage configurations contain 8GB of RAM.
8GB 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 and it is questionable how far apps can take advantage of extra memory, so it is unlikely that the amount of RAM in your iPad will be important in most cases.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Both the iPad Air and the iPad Pro have a ƒ/2.4 12MP Ultra Wide front-facing camera with 2x optical zoom out. The iPad Pro’s TrueDepth camera also enables Portrait mode, and Portrait Lighting, Animoji, and Memoji.
Both devices offer “Center Stage” for video calls with the front-facing camera. Center Stage uses the iPad’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.
Other than Portrait mode, and Portrait Lighting, Animoji, and Memoji, the two front-facing camera setups are identical and there is no reason to get one over the other.
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.
In terms of wireless connectivity, both iPads feature Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, and 5G on cellular models. The iPad Air only supports a sub-6GHz 5G cellular connection, while the iPad Pro supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G in the United States. mmWave 5G is considerably faster than sub-6GHz where available. If you need a high-speed 5G cellular connection in the United States, this may be a good reason to invest in the iPad Pro.
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.
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.
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.
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 A13 Bionic chip, Center Stage, and is compatible with accessories such as the Apple Smart Keyboard and the first-generation Apple Pencil.
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.
Moreover, if you are looking for the smallest, most portable iPad, you should consider the iPad mini, which features a smaller 8.3-inch display and the A15 chip, for $499.
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 the likes of Face ID, a more versatile rear camera system, four-speaker audio, and a ProMotion display with refresh rates up to 120Hz.
Some iPad Pro features, such as LiDAR, the Ultra Wide rear camera, larger storage options and up to 16GB of memory, and Thunderbolt connectivity, will only be practically useful to a small niche of iPad users. Most users will never use some of these high-end features. Indeed, many features such as the True Tone flash, mmWave 5G connectivity, Audio zoom, and stereo audio recording may not be meaningfully utilized by many users.
Professionals who have a clear use case for needing larger amounts of RAM and storage, Thunderbolt connectivity, and mini-LED for HDR content 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, and LiDAR for AR experiences, even if they are not necessary, and those who want a larger 12.9-inch display for content consumption will similarly 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. This larger iPad Pro is considerably different to the iPad Air, setting itself apart with mini-LED and a much larger display.
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 an all-screen design, the M1 chip, practical features like USB-C and 5G connectivity, and compatibility with the latest Apple accessories.