Apple’s latest tablet announcement was used to show off both a new entry-level iPad and a new iPad Air, and the latter series is becoming more Pro-like with every generation.
The newest iPad Air series for 2020 takes in a lot of inspiration from the iPad Pro series, and not just in terms of design, but in overall features and performance too. So, exactly what is the difference between the iPad Pro 2020 and the iPad Air 2020? Dive in below to find out.
- iPad Air: 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1 mm
- iPad Pro 11-inch: 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9 mm
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch: 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9 mm
- iPad Air: Stereo speakers and TouchID in the power button
- iPad Pro: Quad speaker system, FaceID in the bezel
- All models: 2nd gen Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard support
- iPad Air: silver, space grey, rose gold, green and sky blue
- iPad Pro: silver and space grey
It’s clear the iPad Air borrowed heavily from the look of the iPad Pro. It has the same narrow bezel and flat edges and flat back. It looks like an iPad Pro ‘lite’, it just doesn’t share the Pro name. Even the dimensions are similar, with the Air featuring identical width and height to the 11-inch Pro. It’s only slightly thicker. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is much larger.
One thing that’s immediately obvious about the Air range is its array of colour options. It has rose gold (pink), green and sky blue alongside the silver and space grey options. The Pro series only features silver and space grey. Because it’s serious, for serious people.
iPad Pro uses FaceID for authentication, where the Air uses a TouchID fingerprint sensor in the power button at the top, which might actually be more convenient for some. Especially if you’re wearing a mask. The Pro does feature better audio though, with a quad-speaker system instead of the iPad Air’s stereo two-speaker system. Still, all models will sound great in general use.
All models support Apple’s most recent Pencil and can clip it magnetically to the side while wireless charging the accessory. What’s more, the iPad Air even supports the latest, expensive Magic Keyboard cover with the floating arm.
- iPad Air: 10.9-inch IPS display
- iPad Pro: 11-inch and 12.9 inch IPS display
- iPad Air: 2360 x 1640 resolution
- iPad Pro 11-inch: 2388 x 1668 resolution
- iPad Peo 12.9-inch: 2732 x 2048 resolution
- iPad Air: 500 nits brightness
- iPad Pro: 600 nits brightness
- All models support True Tone
- iPad Pro features 120Hz refresh
Both the iPad Air and iPad Pro use Apple’s so-called ‘Liquid Retina’ display branding, and the specs aren’t fair off being the same either. But there are obviously some differences.
Look at the exact resolutions and you’ll notice they’re all different and none of them is what we’d consider ‘standard’ resolutions. What it means, however, is that all of them share the exact same pixel density of 264 pixels-per-inch. Those extra pixels on the 11 and 12.9-inch screens versus the Air’s 10.9-inch just ensure there’s the same level of detail to the user’s eye.
With 600 nits of peak brightness, the Pro series displays are brighter than the iPad Air’s 500 nits, plus the iPad Pro series features an adaptive frame rate technology that goes as high as 120Hz/120 frames-per-second. That means smoother graphics and a more responsive feel for those times you’re using the Pencil.
All tablets have the anti-reflective screen and boast the same wide colour gamut support.
Hardware and performance
- iPad Air: A14 processor – new 5nm process
- iPad Pro: A12z Bionic processor and embedded M12 coprocessor
- Both: USB Type-C support
- Battery: Up to 10 hours from all models
- iPad Air: ships with 20W power adapter
- iPad Pro: ships with 18W power adapter
- iPad Air: 64GB and 256GB storage options
- iPad Pro: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB storage options
With the iPad Air, Apple introduced a brand new processor called the A14 Bionic. It’s based on a new 5nm process, meaning there’s a lot of tiny transistors all over it and it features both a 6-core CPU and a 4-core GPU.
As for the iPad Pro, Apple equipped the tablet with an A12z Bionic chip, and that features an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, that means the GPU has double the cores of the iPad Air, which makes sense since the display its driving has a faster refresh rate, and so it needs to deliver faster graphics. Apple doesn’t typically publish clock speeds and so it’s not easy to compare the specifications in that regard.
When it comes to storage, iPad Pro has the upper hand here and offers twice as many options. The lowest capacity is 128GB, but you can also go as high as 512GB and 1TB with the iPad Pro. iPad Air has two options: 64GB and 256GB.
Both iPad Air and iPad Pro feature USB Type-C ports that can be hooked up to external drives, dongles and external monitors up to 4K resolution.
As with virtually every iPad since the dawn of the tablet in 2010, Apple is promising 10 hours of usage from a full charge from the iPad Air and iPad Pro series. Both the iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro feature a 28.6-watt-hour battery, while the 12.9-inch Pro features a larger 36.71-watt-hour.
However, the 20W power adapter that comes with the Air is more powerful than the 18W adapter that comes with the Pro models and means the Air will charge a tiny bit faster with the adapter that ships in the box.
As for wireless performance, the two series of iPads have cellular versions as well as just Wi-Fi models, and that means you can use a 4G network for data while you’re on the move if you choose the cellular model.
- iPad Air: single 12MP rear, 7MP FaceTime HD front
- iPad Pro: triple camera rear, 7MP TrueDepth front
- 12MP main camera
- 10MP ultra-wide
- 2x Telephoto zoom
When it comes to camera versatility, there’s only really one winner here, and that’s the iPad Pro. It has a triple camera system on the back made up of a main 12-megapixel camera and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide and 2x telephoto zoom lens. Plus it has that LiDAR system for depth perception and AR shenanigans.
iPad Air has the same 12-megapixel main camera, but that’s the only camera it has. Like the Pro, however, it can shoot in 4K resolution and – arguably – with cameras not being of huge importance on tablets, you might just decide all those extra lenses and sensors don’t make any difference to the way you use the tablet.
- iPad Air: starts at $599/£579
- iPad Pro 11-inch: starts at $799/£769
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch: starts at $999/£969
It’s when you compare prices that it’s likely you’ll make your final purchase decision. Looking at all the similarities and differences, the lower £579/$599 price of the Air could just be that deciding factor. Of course, pricing increases as you increase the storage and decide if you want a cellular version.
As for the iPad Pro, the smaller model is $799/£769 for the cheapest, lowest storage model without cellular. But if you opt for the larger 12.9-inch model, the price soon pushes near the $1000/£1000 mark, and that’s when it becomes more a decision of whether or not this is just a tablet as an entertainment device or one that you use as a laptop replacement.
In all the ways that matter, the iPad Air will offer most people everything they would hope to get from a ‘Pro’ tablet. It offers so many of the features we’ve seen adopted by the iPad Pro range, and the processor inside is powerful. That means for those whose only concerns are whether it does the same things as the iPad Pro, it will be more than adequate.
Of course, the iPad Pro does have a few benefits. Like the fact it comes in the larger 12.9-inch size for those who want a bigger screen. It also has a brighter screen with a faster refresh rate. That means for those who love the ultra-smooth animations and almost completely lag-free Pencil responses, it’ll still be the Pro that draws the eye. There’s also FaceID and more cameras.
We suspect for most people the iPad Air is the better choice here, mostly because you’re virtually getting an iPad Pro, but for less money.