When the original iPad launched almost a decade ago, buying one was as simple as selecting the one model available and being on your way. In 2021, though, there are four to choose from – the iPad 10.2, iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Pro.
So, should you get the iPad Air or the iPad Pro? We’re going to cheat in our answer a bit here and say – probably neither of them. For almost all users, you can’t go wrong with the cheaper iPad 10.2. Often just called “the iPad,” it’s affordable, stylish, portable, and definitely powerful enough for your everyday user.
But, if you don’t want the entry-level iPad, then let’s return to the Air vs the Pro. They’re both great tablets, of course, but the Air is for showing off the slimmest model, while the Pro is for getting some serious work done. If you’re looking for a little more kick and have the budget to stretch, the iPad Air is a respectable option, while the iPad Pro is reserved for demanding creators that need the extra power.
In this guide, we’ll be focusing on two premium models – the iPad Air and the iPad Pro. We’ll explain the differences between them, and show you just where your money goes.
iPad Air vs iPad Pro – Head to Head
The iPad Pro and the Air are both pitched by Apple as its high-end tablets, and while they may seem similar, there are distinct differences between the two. From the connections to processors and cameras, there’s a lot that separates them.
Here’s a breakdown of the specifications of each iPad in the range:
The best choice iPad for virtually everyone. The screen and super processor are perfect for day-to-day browsing and apps, and it’s excellent value
An excellent portable tablet, but it feels less essential in this age of extra-large smartphones – especially as it’s pricier than the iPad 10.2
The absolute best iPad that money can buy, with a price tag to match. Pair it with the Magic Keyboard and it truly is a laptop alternative.
An exceptional tablet, and cheaper than the top-of-the-range 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The screen is glorious and there’s plenty of processing power
A slim tablet with an unbeatable processor and great rear camera, but priced far above the excellent iPad 8th Gen.
iPad Air or iPad Pro – Which is Best?
There’s no question that the Air and Pro are both fantastic iPads, let alone tablets, and that whichever you pick up, you won’t be disappointed. However, to get the best experience for your own needs, take the time to check out their main features:
As you can see from the points above, in a pure battle of specifications, the Pro beats the Air hands down. However, there’s also the small issue of price.
Yes, the Pro is the better machine on paper, but it’ll also cost you plenty of paper. Starting at $799, the Pro is a serious tablet for serious people, as opposed to the Air, which is a slightly more palatable at $599.
iPad Air – A High Powered All-Rounder
The iPad Air occupies the space between the standard iPad 10.2 and the iPad Pro, bridging the gap between design and power. The Air features an A14 processor, which beats the standard iPad’s A12, but can’t match the Pro’s M1 processor.
Like the Pro, it can record 4K video, and features a 7MP front camera, which is a nice step up from the 1.2MP version found on the standard iPad – you’ll look better than ever on those Zoom calls. It’s also compatible with the Apple Pencil, although only the first iteration – Pencil 2 support is reserved for the Pros.
iPad Air Storage
Storage-wise, it’s available in 64GB or 256GB variants, which should be more than enough for the average user. Creators might be interested in getting that 1TB, in which case the iPad Pro is going to be your best option.
iPad Pro – Designed with Demanding Creators in Mind
The Daddy of the iPad series, the Pro is pitched at those with lofty ambitions and deep pockets. It’s slim, sleek, and features the Apple M1 processor, making it the most powerful iPad available.
It’s also the only iPad in the range that has borrowed the iPhone’s Face ID concept, getting rid of Touch ID in favor of opening your iPad with your face instead. The subsequent removal of the touch button has made the design even more appealing.
Don’t let the size fool you though. Yes, it boasts the biggest screen size to date for an Apple model, but thanks to some excellent Apple design, the bezels have been trimmed down and the 11-inch Pro is actually lighter than a standard iPad.
iPad Pro USB-C Port
The iPad Pro also has a few neat tricks up its sleeve, such as ditching Apple’s Lightning port for a far more versatile USB-C, making it easier to connect to your other equipment without the need for a separate dongle. Not only that, but the 2021 models have Thunderbolt connectivity too, making for faster data transfers than ever. Only the Pro and Air models have a USB-C port.
If you need power, a MacBook could be a better investment. See our dedicated MacBook guide.
iPad 10.2 – The Everyday iPad for the Everyday User
The iPad 10.2 is the ‘standard’ iPad, and while it may not turn heads, it’s a tireless workhorse that will suit most users. Starting at $329, it’s a seriously good deal, and the cheapest iPad in Apple’s range. For the money, you get an 10.2-inch Retina display, an A12 processor, and it’s also now compatible with the Apple Pencil. Granted, it will cost you a bit more (around $99), but considering that compatibility used to be reserved for the much more expensive Pro models, it’s a nice addition.
iPad 10.2 Battery Life
Battery life is on par with the more expensive iPads, coming in at around ten hours, meaning you can be confident it will last you during long trips away from the power outlet. This is where the iPad 10.2 becomes the obvious choice, because it’s much more affordable and features the same standards as the expensive models, like battery life.
The iPad Air is Better for…
…now that’s a tricky one. The iPad Air, in isolation, is an exceptional tablet. Its problem is that when you start to look at the rest of the range, you’ll notice it’s more powerful than the standard iPad, but more expensive; it’s cheaper than the Pro, but not as powerful.
This begs the question: “Who is the Air for?” The answer is basically anyone who wants to upgrade their iPad experience, but doesn’t need the high specs or price tag of the Pro series.
The Air gives you a notable power edge over the standard iPad, as well as a slightly larger screen (10.5-inch compared to 10.2-inch). Despite its larger display, the Air manages to share the same form factor of the iPad, thanks to its smaller bezels.
The Air starts at $599, compared to the iPad’s $329, thanks in part to its more powerful processor A14 that Apple has generously kitted it out with. The Pro, on the other hand, starts at $799 – a considerable increase in investment.
Want to compare the whole range? Check out our Which iPad Should I Buy guide
The iPad Pro (12-inch) is Better for Designers
The large iPad Pro, with its gorgeous 12.9-inch display, is a great choice for designers. For starters, there’s that screen real estate, which is the largest in the iPad line-up. This means it’s best for applying intricate detail to a concept, or even zooming out your current project and viewing it on a large screen. And then there’s the ability to connect it to a larger display through that handy USB-C port.
Of course, the Pro also happens to have the most powerful processor in the range, and that Apple M1 chip will give you the extra muscle to juggle several projects at once. You’ll also be able to run complex design software smoothly, with apps like AutoCAD not causing the Pro any issues.
Lastly, there’s the Apple Pencil 2. With all iPads now Pencil compatible, it might seem like the Pro has lost one of its core exclusive features. Well, not quite.
The Pro models are the only ones compatible with the second iteration of the Pencil, which introduces some new features that designers are sure to appreciate. First up, it’s now magnetic, and charges while attached to the side of the iPad. Compare this to the first generation model, which needs to be charged by plugging into the lightning port and sticking out like an ugly appendage.
The Pencil 2 also adds some new practical applications, such as gesture support. Double tap now, and you can switch between functions – a handy feature that means users don’t have to constantly move to the menu to select a new function.
The iPad 10.2 is Still Best for Most Users
For all the talk of the iPad Pro and Air in this guide, it would be remiss of us to overlook the iPad 10.2 model. Technically, it’s the ‘standard’ iPad in the lineup, but Apple has given it so many revisions over the years – and added features that have trickled down from the more premium models – that it’s still a real contender. It’s the iPad that has the most universal appeal, and as luck would have it, it’s also the cheapest.
The iPad 10.2 has an A10 processor, making it the least powerful in the line-up, but that’s not to say it’s a lethargic sloth. Far from it, in fact – with the iPad, you can happily run a vast majority of apps smoothly, multi-task, and flick between processes in an instant. Apple has also added Apple Pen support, meaning that you can annotate or sketch directly onto the screen.
It’s also lovingly crafted, with a thickness of just 7.5mm, and weighs in at just a pound.
So what can’t you do? Well, it’s not best suited to run really demanding software such as Adobe Photoshop CC, but unless you’re a professional designer, this is unlikely to be a concern.
Then there’s the capacity. On the standard iPad 10.2, you’re limited to 32GB or 128GB of storage space. You might yearn for the 1TB of the Pros, but Apple’s memory is notoriously expensive. Our advice is to make use of Apple’s cloud storage, and don’t be afraid to delete the apps you barely use to make room for new ones. You’ll need to do a little space management now and then, but for the price, it’s worth it.
Best iPad for Home Working
The last year has seen many of us changing our approach to the way we work, with the pandemic forcing many of us to work from home. If you’re looking for the best iPad that suits this style of working the best bet is the iPad Pro, thanks to its large screen, USB-C port and powerful M1 chip.
However, we realize that the best option isn’t always the most affordable, so if you can’t stretch to a Pro, then the standard, 10.2-inch model iPad is a great alternative. Sure, it might not offer the screen real estate, but thanks to updates to the iPadOS, even the standard iPad can now almost perfectly mimic a traditional laptop, with folders, and mouse and keyboard support. Plus that 10 hour battery life will keep you going for a long time, whether you’re working in the office or on the couch.
Verdict: Which iPad Should You Buy?
If value is your main driver, then consider this. For the price of the entry-level iPad Pro, you could buy two iPad 10.2 models and an Apple Pencil. If you don’t need to run demanding software, and need a tablet for social media, Netflix, and browsing, then the iPad 10.2 is just right for you, and your wallet.
For the more creative types among you who don’t want your vision to be hamstrung by technology, it’s the Pro range that you should be looking at. Pricey? Yes, but they do offer the most powerful iPad experience to date – and the extras, such as USB-C connectivity, are a massive plus.
So where does that leave the iPad Air? Essentially, somewhere in between – not as powerful as the Pro, not as cheap as the iPad 10.2. It’s undoubtedly a good tablet, but hard to recommend for either casual users or demanding professionals.
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Jack is the Content Manager for Tech.co. He has been writing about a broad variety of technology subjects for over a decade, both in print and online, including laptops and tablets, gaming, and tech scams. As well as years of experience reviewing the latest tech devices, Jack has also conducted investigative research into a number of tech-related issues, including privacy and fraud.