With the iPad Air 3 2019, Apple released a very interesting tablet that is very similar to the 11-inch iPad Pro. However, there are some important differences. Do those justify a price difference of 350 US Dollars? One costs 449 and the other one 799 US Dollars. That’s what we’ll discuss in my comparison of the iPad Air and iPad Pro.
Design: New Against Old
Let’s start with the design of both tablets and there are major differences here. Especially when looking from the front, the iPad Pro looks more modern. The bezels around the screen are thinner and even. With the iPad Air, Apple continues to use its classical iPad design that we’re familiar with since the first iPad. The bezels are pretty thick on the top and bottom.
Both feature a full metal body and both feel high-end. There are some small differences. While the corners are round on both, the Pro has hard edges. The ones of the air are rounded. And, to be precise, the Pro is 0.2mm thinner. You won’t really notice that though.
What you certainly will notice is the old Lightning connector of the iPad Air. The iPad Pro has a USB C Port which supports most USB C accessories. I should also note that the Air has a standard headphone jack which is missing from the Pro. I was sitting with the Pro on a long-haul flight recently and the battery of my Bluetooth headphones was empty. That’s annoying and shouldn’t be an issue with a tablet.
If you want to enjoy movies without headphones, the four speakers of the iPad Pro are better suited for that. The sound quality is fantastic, and you can hear real stereo separation. While the iPad Air has stereo speakers too, they are located on the same side. So… the sound is coming from one side only. The sound quality of the Air is very good, but overall, you’ll have a better experience with the Pro.
You’ve seen it already: You can continue to unlock the iPad Air using the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. With the Pro, you don’t get a home button like this. Instead, you can unlock it using Face ID facial recognition. In the beginning, I preferred fingerprint sensors. However, I’ve come to like Face ID, and by now, I like both.
Apple is using different cameras too. The iPad Air has an 8-megapixel camera with an aperture of 2.4 on the back and the iPad Pro has a 12-megapixel f/1.8 camera. Obviously, the quality of the Pro is much better. With that one, you can record 4K videos as well. On the other hand, the 7-megapixel front-facing cameras are identical. Because of the depth sensor, you can use Animoji with the Pro only though.
Display: 10.5 vs. 11-inch
The displays are very similar. Yes, the iPad Pro is a bit bigger with its 11-inch screen than the 10.5-inch of the iPad Air. And the Pro has rounded edges. While that one offers a resolution of 2388 x 1668 pixels, the Air features 2224 x 1668 pixels. Because the pixel density is identical with 264ppi, both look very sharp.
We’re getting IPS screens with wide viewing angles here, as well as antireflective coatings and laminated screens. Color reproduction and contrast are excellent. According to the spec sheet, the iPad Pro is a bit brighter with 600 Nits compared to 500 Nits of the iPad Air. However, it’s really hard to see a difference in real life. Both support Apple’s True Tone technology. That means the white balance is adjusted based on its surroundings.
There is one important difference. Apple’s ProMotion technology is supported by iPad Pro only. That means that one has a refresh rate of 120Hz, while the iPad Air supports 60Hz. But, to be honest, it’s hard to see a difference in real life. Maybe a little bit with the stylus. You can see a clear difference when watching it in slow motion.
Hardware & Performance
Let’s get to the internal hardware and performance. Inside the iPad Air runs an Apple A12 Bionic chipset and the iPad Pro features an A12X processor. With the Air, you can choose between 64GB or 256GB of storage, while the Pro can offer 64GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB. The Air has 3GB and the Pro 4GB of RAM. If you get the 1TB versions, you’re getting 6GB of RAM. Both can be bought with built-in 4G LTE.
As you can see in my Geekbench comparison, the multi-core performance of the A12X is much better than the A12. Its graphics performance is much more powerful too.
So, there is a big difference when looking at benchmarks. With that being said, they are very similar in real life. We’re familiar with the A12 from the iPhone XS already. Obviously, iOS runs great on both. Apps like Safari, YouTube, Word, Lightroom, or Affinity Photo run smoothly on both and I can’t notice one being slower than the other.
If you look very closely, they are not identical with all tasks though. I rendered a 9.5-minute 4K video with both tablets and the iPad Air needed 9 minutes and 10 seconds to finish. But in fact, the iPad Pro was 1 minute and 15 seconds faster. That seems small, but the difference gets bigger the longer and more complex the video is.
During my gaming test, I did not see any difference at all. Games like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile run great and with identical graphics settings. That’s what I expected. No developer will release a game that’s too demanding for iPhone XS hardware right now.
I think you’ll notice bigger differences in the future once apps need more resources. In the future, games will run longer on the iPad Pro than on the iPad Air.
Apple Pencil & Keyboards
Alright, let’s look at some accessories. For both, you can get an active pen and a keyboard cover. However, they are not compatible with each other. That is very disappointing because the Microsoft Surface Pen is compatible with smaller and older versions. Microsoft is a good example here.
Well, the iPad Air works with the original Apple Pencil and you must use the Apple Pencil 2 with the Pro. Both are pressure sensitive and recognize if you’re holding them at an angle. That way you can draw shading.
At first glance, they look almost identical, but they are not. While both are made of plastic, the original has a glossy surface. The Pencil 2 has a matt finish and a flat side which makes it more comfortable to hold.
The flat side of the Pencil 2 supports a gesture. By double tapping it, you can change tools in the notes app, for example. The original does not support that.
You’re charging the original one using the Lightning connector. The second generation uses inductive charging on one side of the iPad Pro.
Overall, Apple Pencil 2 is a bit better and looks more modern. But still, the prices are a bit much. You have to pay 99 Dollars for the original and 129 Dollars for the second one.
The keyboards are crazy expensive as well. While the Smart Keyboard Folio for the 11-inch Pro costs 179 US Dollars, you have to pay 159 Dollars for the iPad Air keyboard.
I like that both use a magnetic PIN connector to connect the keyboards. So, you don’t need Bluetooth and you don’t have to charge them separately.
Apple is using pretty much the same keyboards here. Both have the same size and are a bit smaller than traditional ones due to the smaller screens. As is common for Apple, they don’t have a huge travel. It also seems like the iPad Air keyboard is a bit louder when typing with it. I’m not sure because my Pro keyboard is older, and I used it more. By the way, they look different here because one of mine is a German keyboard and the other one has an English layout.
With a bit of practice, I’ve been able to type fast and precise with both. Just keep in mind that while they are very portable, they’re not as comfortable as full-size desktop keyboards.
Alright, so the keyboards are kind of the same. However, that is not the case for the cover. While the screen is protected with the iPad Air keyboard only, the one for the Pro protects the back too. Sadly, the frame is not covered on either. You can use two angles with the Pro but only one with the Air.
The battery life is not the same. In the same test, the iPad Air got a runtime of 12.5 hours while the iPad Pro lasted 18 hours. I’m always looping an HD video at medium brightness for this.
So, the battery life of the iPad Pro is much better. You must keep in mind though, that when playing Fortnite or rendering videos, the battery of both can be empty in just a couple of hours. It always depends on what you’re doing.
IPad Air vs. iPad Pro Comparison: Final Verdict
Alright, that’s my comparison of the iPad Pro with the iPad Air. Which one is the better tablet? You’ve seen it. The iPad Pro is faster, thinner, offers a bit brighter screen, four speakers, and USB C. Overall, the Pro obviously is the better tablet. But it also costs 350 Dollars more and the accessories are pricier too.
Yes, you’ve seen that the Pro is better, but you’ve also seen that often the differences are minor only. If you think about it very rationally, it’s probably not worth it for most to get the pricier Pro. I mean, sure, you can justify the price of the Pro somehow. For example, because you need it for work, need 1TB storage, or want a nice photo editing tablet. Somehow you can always justify it – and, that’s what I did. But let’s be honest and rational: The iPad Air is the better deal for most.
- Great screen
- Very powerful
- Metal body
- Touch ID
- Good speakers
- Long battery life
- Apple Pencil support
- Optional keyboard cover
- Old front-design
- No stereo feeling
- Keyboard cover does not protect the back
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