After a gap of little over a year, Apple has announced its latest iPad Pro models, which underwent a significant redesign back in 2018. The previous model introduced a brand-new design philosophy that included thinner bezels, flatter back and sides, and swapped Touch ID for Face ID, taking cues from the iPhones. Since just the last model got these heavyweight changes, the 2020 iteration is more of a soft refresh that preserves most of the design elements but adds a few features to justify its succession.
While the Pro is for, well, pros, it still raises the question if you should invest in a more modern tablet that has an entirely different accessory ecosystem built around it or save your hard-earned money by going for the more cost-effective iPad Air. We’ve compiled this detailed comparison to help you make the right call based on what exactly you want from your next tablet, what your needs are, and the things you can settle for. Let’s get started!
Design and Build Quality
There is precisely zero change between the two iPad Pros, if you look at them from the front, and the new one has also maintained most of the dimensions. But from the back, the 2020 Pro certainly looks different with a bigger camera housing that now has two cameras and a brand-new spatial sensor. Barring that, there is absolutely no way to tell which iPad Pro model you’re holding.
The iPad Air from last year, on the other hand, still follows the design language from older models that had thicker bezels and used the Touch ID sensor. It has a single camera on the back, which doesn’t stick out, unlike both the Pros. But as for the build quality, you aren’t likely to find a shortcoming on the Air; in fact, it matches the Pros in material quality and overall finish. The Air, however, still uses the Lightning Port, while the iPad Pros have moved onto USB-C.
Yet again, there is no difference between the screens on the iPad Pro models from 2020 and 2018. Apple has kept the same 11 and 12.9-inch Liquid Retina panels that were among the first from the company to offer a refresh rate of 120Hz. For an LCD panel, the screens are nothing short of supreme, as we found in our review of the iPad Pro 2018.
But the one on the iPad Air is no slouch either and matches the iPad Pro’s in many aspects. For one, the Air’s screen can go up to 500 nits of brightness versus 600 of the Pros. Its 10.5-inch display has the same pixel density of 264 PPI and is surrounded by thicker bezels, as pointed out previously. While the display quality is excellent, it has the usual 60Hz refresh rate, which is no match for ProMotion on the Pro.
Hardware and Performance
By now, you must’ve noticed that the two iPad Pros have a lot in common, and that continues in the hardware section as well. The 2020 model packs a slightly improved A12Z Bionic chip, which performs as well as the A12X Bionic does on the last-gen Pro. You will have to dive deep to figure out the difference between the two, but on the surface, not much seems to have changed. Either processor would be a top-notch option that we’ve seen outpace even many Windows laptops rocking Intel Core chips. One major thing that has changed is the base storage: It is now 128GB, up from a measly 64GB on the 2018 Pro.
While we aren’t sure just yet, Apple may have also upped the RAM capacity to 6GB across the board, unlike the iPad Pro 2018 that had this RAM size only on the 1TB storage option. The iPad Air, on the other hand, comes with half the RAM and has 64GB and 256GB as storage configurations. It uses a more modest A12 Bionic processor, which also powered the 2018 iPhone models. In comparison to the A12X or A12Z, the standard chip doesn’t do wonders, but you can get respectable performance out of it.
In our review of the iPad Air, we were frankly unable to find any difference between its and iPad Pro 11-inch’s performance merely based on day-to-day tasks. It was able to handle all famous and demanding games without a hiccup, even in the highest graphics settings. The iPad Pro, while able to all that, leverages its more powerful processor for more taxing tasks like video editing. A regular user may not be able to stress it as much as a professional user with such apps can.
Apple is often praised for its uniform software implementation that covers even the models that were released several years back. The iPad Pro 2020 comes running the iPadOS 13.4 out of the box, and the company has already rolled out the update to its entire tablet lineup. Both the iPad Pro 2018 and the iPad Air 3 now run the same OS version as the newest model.
One thing that the iPad Air misses out on is the gesture-based navigation that the two Pros are built around. These gestures are supposed to remain exclusive to the high-end models until Apple decides to bring the new iPad design to the mid and entry-level iPads. The most significant change that the iPadOS 13.4 comes with is the full support for mice and touchpads, bringing the Apple tablet a tad closer to its aim of replacing computers.
Speakers & Cameras
Despite borrowing its overall design from the iPad Pro 10.5, the 2019 iPad Air has its speakers only on the bottom edge. While the audio quality of the tablet won’t disappoint you, both the iPad Pros easily trump it with a more robust and filling quad-speaker setup that has stereo separation. However, if you’re still holding onto your wired headphones, the iPad Air is the only option for you as it has retained the headphone jack, while the Pro ditched it in 2018.
As noted in the design section, the 2020 iPad Pro model is mainly a minor refresh with a big camera bump — both literally and figuratively. Instead of a single rear camera, the new model now houses a pair, including the primary 12MP sensor along with a wide-angle 10MP unit. While this setup may look akin to what we saw on the iPhone 11, the image quality won’t necessarily match that from the Apple handset. Besides, there is a LiDAR sensor that uses infrared to gather depth data and accurately map your surroundings for faster AR implementations.
For a tablet, the iPad Pro from 2018 housed an excellent camera, which was accompanied by an LED flash. We understand that a device as large as these iPads wouldn’t be your primary camera, but the one on the previous Pro is good enough for some casual shots and scanning documents. Plus, the flash helps when you’re in the dark. The one on the iPad Air carries a similar set of attributes, but with a lower-res 8MP sensor, which is identical to what we saw on older iPhones.
Over at the front, all three tablets have a 7MP sensor for video calling and taking selfies, but the Pros take the lead in this department as well. While the iPad Air relies on Touch ID for user authentication, the two Pros use Face ID, which was introduced with the iPhone X, and pack a full array of sensors on the front bezel to enable it.
Apple typically doesn’t share battery specs to compare its devices on a similar metric, but our standard battery test helps give a number. The iPad Air 3 turned out to be an excellent performer in our review and lasted for about 12.5 hours when we looped an HD video on medium brightness. Under similar, extended stress, the iPad Pro 11 (2018) scored a runtime of 18 hours, which is the best we’ve seen on any tablet so far.
While this doesn’t directly translate to the real-world usage, which may vary drastically based on your individual use, it does give an idea of what you can expect. The Pro 2020 is said to have similar battery performance, as per Apple’s numbers. We will be able to say about its battery performance with a little more conviction when we review the tablet in the coming days. We’re keeping our fingers crossed, in the meantime.
All three tablets support Apple Pencils, but only the higher-end Pros support the newer stylus, which charges wirelessly and sticks to the tablet’s side. The company didn’t introduce another Pencil with the 2020 tablet, and it holds to the second-generation Pencil. If you get the iPad Air 3, you’ll have to use the older Apple Pencil, which awkwardly sticks out of the Lightning Port when charging and also has higher chances of being misplaced since it stays lose for the most part.
Apple’s keyboard accessory saw its biggest revamp in recent times when the company refreshed its iPad Pro for 2020. The Magic Keyboard for the new Pro not only comes with a trackpad, but the keys have also been redesigned from the ground up to match those on the MacBook Pro 16. It has a new mechanism to hold the iPad in the floating position and has a USB-C port with passthrough charging.
It will be compatible with the 2018 Pro, but the Air will have to use the older accessory that lacks all the features recounted here. But the one the Air is compatible with still uses the smart connectors to both draw power and pair with the device, making the usage far more straightforward than a Bluetooth keyboard.
This is where things get interesting as Apple hasn’t raised the price of its 2020 iPad Pro from the last model — they both officially start at $799 for the base model. However, the 2018 iPad Pro often goes on sale and can be picked up with a handsome discount, though its base model gets only 64GB of storage, while the new Pro starts at more spacious 128GB. The mid-tier iPad Air also comes with 64GB of base storage but costs a more modest $499. The Air, too, often goes on sales, where its prices drop quite significantly.
As for their accessories, the new Magic Keyboard is a premium add-on that starts at $299 and won’t be available until May. The standard Smart Keyboard Folio for the 2018 Pro isn’t cheap either and costs $179 for the size option for the 11-inch tablet. The Smart Keyboard for the iPad Air 3 costs $159. Meanwhile, the first and second-gen Apple Pencils cost $99 and $129, respectively.
Specifications: A Comparison
|Apple iPad Pro (2020)||Apple iPad Pro (2018)||Apple iPad Air (2019)|
|iPadOS 13||iPadOS 13||iPadOS 13|
|11-inch (2388 x 1668)/12.9-inch (2732 x 2048) IPS LCD, 120Hz, 600 nits||11-inch (2388 x 1668)/12.9-inch (2732 x 2048) IPS LCD, 120Hz, 600 nits||10.5-inch (2224 x 1668) IPS LCD, 60Hz, 500 nits|
|Octa-core Apple A12Z Bionic||Octa-core Apple A12X Bionic||Hexa-core Apple A12 Bionic|
|No microSD slot||No microSD slot||No microSD slot|
|12MP wide + 10MP ultra-wide||12MP wide||8MP|
|7MP TrueDepth||7MP TrueDepth||7MP|
|Wi-Fi ax, Bluetooth 5.0, optional gigabit-class LTE||Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, optional LTE||Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, optional LTE|
|USB Type-C||USB Type-C||Lightning port, 3.5mm audio jack|
|28.65/36.71Wh (up to 10 hours)||29.37/36.71Wh (up to 10 hours)||30.2Wh (up to 10 hours)|
|Face ID||Face ID||Touch ID|
|247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm (11-inch), 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm (12.9-inch)||247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm (11-inch), 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm (12.9-inch)||250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1mm|
As we have always said, the best iPad (among these) for everyone is the Air, which offers a decent set of features and specifications — including that rare headphone jack. Plus, Apple makes sure that all its tablets stay up to dare with the latest features for several years to come. So, you can expect the Air to receive iPadOS updates for at least a couple of years, if not more. While it was initially priced at $499, you can often find it retailing for much less, making it an even better deal overall. However, you’ll have to make peace with those bezels and the mono speaker system, along with things like support for the older Apple Pencil and keyboard case.
If those things bothered you, then you might be better off with the 2018 iPad Pro, which continues being an excellent option with its blazing-fast performance, top-notch features, and accessory support. More importantly, the last-gen Pro has already received the latest iPadOS update to enable the mouse support, and the new Magic Keyboard will also be compatible with it. All these factors position it as a better option over the 2020 model, which differentiates itself only with the new camera system.
Those who absolutely want the new LiDAR sensor and could put it to good use with an application they use have no option but to go for the iPad Pro 2020. From what we know so far, that new sensor makes a great deal of a difference with AR applications and speeds up the entire mapping process. But you’ll have to shell out at least $799 for that model, while if you look around for a deal, you can get the 2018 Pro at a discount.
- Super-fast A12Z SoC
- Very pretty screen
- Great cameras
- Modern design
- Face ID
- Good speakers
- Up-to-date iPadOS
- Fantastic accessories
- Very pricey
- Few changes compared to predecessor
- Apple Magic Keyboard: A Crazy Expensive iPad Pro Keyboard
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