What Is the Difference Between the iPad Pro and the Air?

Choosing a high-end iPad? Know what you are getting

So you're interested in buying a high-end iPad, maybe one of the iPad Pros or an iPad Air. Are you confused about the differences between the 10.5-inch iPad Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro? Join the crowd.

Apple upgrades its tablets frequently, but it threw customers a curveball when it followed up its initial 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a 9.7-inch Pro model in 2016. Before the smaller iPad Pro, the iPad lineup was divided into categories based on the physical size of the iPad, with the 7.9-inch iPad designated as iPad Mini, the 9.7-inch rebranded as iPad Air after the introduction of the Mini, and the 12.9-inch receiving the Pro nomenclature. Three sizes, three names, not too hard to understand. 

Jump ahead to 2020, where Apple sells four models of iPads:

  • iPad Pro, 4th generation, 12.9 inch and 11 inch
  • iPad Air, 3rd generation, 10.5 inch
  • iPad, 7th generation, 10.2 inch
  • iPad Mini, 5th generation, 7.9 inch

Although the sizes decrease as you go down the line, the differences between the Pro and the Air models are more about power and price than size.

Information in this article applies to the 4th-generation iPad Pros released in 2020 and the 3rd-generation iPad Air released in 2019.

Customer asking salesperson about iPad Pro and iPad Air
Emily Mendoza / Lifewire 

The iPad Pro Isn't Just About Size: It's Blazing Fast

The 4th generation iPad Pro is fast. PC fast. It's built from the ground up to multitask, which is an ideal way to use the extra screen space on the 12.9-inch version. It and the 11-inch model run on an A12Z Bionic chip and have an embedded M12 coprocessor.

The iPad Air is no slouch in the speed category. Its A12 Bionic chip is second in speed only to the iPad Pro, and the Air comes equipped with the same embedded M12 coprocessor.

Support for Apple Peripherals

12.9-inch iPad Pro debuted with the Smart Keyboard, which communicates with the Pro through a connector that provides power to the keyboard, so you don't run out of batteries. The Apple Pencil also debuted with the Pro. The Pencil is a stylus that interacts with the screen to provide precision.

Other iPad models didn't initially support the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, but that soon changed. Both iPad Pro sizes and the 10.2-inch iPad Air support the these accessories.

These iPads are meant for business as much as play. They are iPads that you set on your desk, type into with a real keyboard, manipulate the text with a virtual touchpad, and draw on with an Apple Pencil.

Audiophiles, Take Note

At the end of the day, you head for the couch and enjoy the sound of a movie coming through the four speakers on the iPad Pro or two speakers on the iPad Air. The four speakers of the iPad Pro are a significant improvement over the Air. The iPad Pro adjusts the sound based on how you hold it to avoid accident muffling, and the sound is much fuller than the tinny sound coming from the iPad Air.

Other Differences Between the Pro and the Air

The differences between the two iPad Pros are size and price. Otherwise, they share the same specs and the same improvements over the iPad Air.

The iPad Pros have a rear-facing wide 12-megapixel and ultrawide 10-megapixel camera with 2x optical zoom and up to 5x digital zoom. The iPad Air rear-facing camera is an 8-megapixel camera. Both Pro and Air models have 7-megapixel front-facing cameras.

The iPad Pro records 4K video. The iPad Air records 1080p HD video.

The iPad Pro has five studio-quality microphones. The iPad Air has two microphones.

Which iPad Is Right for You?

Both models of the iPad Pro surpass the capabilities of the iPad Air in many areas, which isn't a big surprise when you consider the iPad Air was released a year before the iPad Pros it is compared with. However, the Air holds its own in many categories and is an impressive tablet.

The decision about which iPad to buy may come down to price more than any other factor.

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro, priced from $999
  • 11-inch iPad Pro, priced from $799
  • 10.5-inch iPad Air, priced from $499

The 3rd-generation iPad Air is priced $300 cheaper than the entry-level iPad Pro. What do you get for that extra $300? Everything. Almost every feature on the 11-inch iPad Pro is improved over the iPad Air. This includes storage space, which is 128 GB in the entry-level iPad Pros, compared with the 64 GB entry level of the Airs.

The iPad Pro is an outstanding tablet, but do you need that much horsepower? The extra processing speed is handy for multitasking but won't make streaming a movie on Netflix any smoother. However, the extra speakers will make that movie sound better. 

If you want to buy a solid iPad without spending too much money, the iPad Air is an excellent choice. Apple will support it for years to come. While it doesn't have some of the bells and whistles of the Pro, you won't be disappointed.

However, if the idea of spending an additional $300 or $500 or more doesn't scare you off, the iPad Pro lineup is the way to go. While the 11-inch iPad Pro is an impressive and powerful tablet, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the ultimate iPad. Once you get used to the bigger screen, anything else seems diminutive by comparison. The iPad Pro may take the lead for those who do a lot of travel. A bigger screen is great sitting on your desk or being your companion on the couch, and it is definitely for using on a plane.

Don't overlook the rest of the iPad lineup. The less expensive 7th-generation iPad and smaller 5th-generation iPad Mini provide plenty of bang for the buck, and one of these models may suit your needs.

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