Apple iPad Air (2020) vs Apple iPad Pro 2020 full review
If you bought the new iPad Pro at the beginning of the year, equipped with the powerful A12Z processor and the new LiDAR scanner, you may be feeling frustrated by the arrival of the new iPad Air, which sports a newer processor and a brand new look.
The 2020 iPad Pro and the 2020 iPad Air are very similar, the performance and features only differ in details. But if you take a closer look, you will find differences.
The last generation iPad Air was one of the most popular iPads and has always been at the top of the sales lists. When it was updated in 2019, however, we were surprised that Apple was still using the old design with a wide frame and Touch ID button. Apple has corrected this with the new iPad Air that was announced in September 2020. At first glance it looks like a modern 11in iPad Pro.
The WiFi version of the iPad Air starts at £579/$599 for 64GB model. There is also a 256GB model for £729/$749. Apple charges £709/$729 or £859/$879 for the cellular versions. The iPad Air will go on sale in October, you will be able to buy one from Apple here.
There are two iPad Pro models: one with an 11in screen the other with a 12.9in screen. Apple offers the iPad Pro with capacities of 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB. Prices start at £769/$799 and go up to £1,469/$1,499. You can buy an iPad Pro from Apple here.
We have a round up of the best prices for iPads too, so you don't need to pay full price.
Design & colours
With the arrival of the 2020 iPad Air Apple is saying goodbye to the curved design that has characterised iPads in recent years. The iPad Air borrows from the iPad Pro with its design, which was first introduced in 2018. It has clear metal edges and fewer curves than the older iPads. The display looks almost borderless and much more modern.
As a result the new iPad Air actually looks confusingly similar to the iPad Pro, with the same slim and thin design.
Thanks to the smaller bezels, Apple was able to enlarge the display of the iPad Air by 0.4in while retaining almost identical dimensions. The new model is slightly lighter and more compact.
The home button has also disappeared from the front, the Touch ID sensor has moved into the button on the top (more on that below).
The iPad Air is available in colours other than the Space Grey and silver of the iPad Pro models. You can get the iPad Air in Rose Gold, Green and Sky Blue. There are of course matching protective covers in complementing colours: Deep Navy, Cypress Green and Citrus Pink - in addition to black and white.
Which is faster?
Thanks to a new A14 bionic chip, the Air has a more modern 5nm processor. This should ensure higher performance and lower energy consumption.
The new A14 Bionic Chip is based on the Apple silicon architecture that will soon be coming to Macs. It is the first time since the iPhone 4S that a new CPU first made its way into the iPad before being introduced to a new iPhone. The new processing unit has 16 cores. Apple says it should offer a performance increase of 40 percent in CPU performance and 30 percent in GPU performance compared to the third generation iPad Air.
If you look at the performance data of the iPad Pro and iPad Air 3, the iPad Pro was a long way in front of the previous model, especially in the multiprocessor test: In the CPU test with Geekbench, the iPad Air 3 from 2019 achieved a single CPU test result of 1112, in the multi-CPU test it scored 2868. With an increase of 40 percent, we expect to see about 4000 points for the new model.
The iPad Pro would still be ahead with 1114/4606 points. The iPad Pro may be a bit faster, but until we see a new A14X (or A14Z) in the next generation there won’t be a really striking difference.
Perhaps even more important is the new neural engine, which speeds up certain computing tasks, and a faster graphics card. The performance is currently not a reason to choose the iPad Pro over the Air.
It remains to be seen whether the new processor in the Air will offer more performance than the A12Z processor in the iPad Pro. What is certain is that the iPad Air has become a serious alternative for users with demanding application areas.
Touch ID instead of Face ID
Surprisingly, Apple retained the touch button for the iPad Air - moving it from the Home button to the power button - saving Face ID for the iPad Pro. Presumably this was done for cost reasons, although it also serves as a key difference between the two iPads.
This is a good solution and likely to make the iPad Air a popular choice for anyone who isn’t a fan of Face ID. However, most people who don’t like Face ID really don’t like the lack of Home button and that’s still going to be an issue for new iPad
Face ID does have its benefits. It is considered to be more secure because fingerprint scanners are easier to outsmart. However, any device is only as secure as your pin-code, which overrides Face ID or Touch ID.
Whether Face ID or Touch ID is right for you is probably a personal decision. As we’ve mentioned above the main frustration about Face ID on the iPhone and iPad Pro has always been associated with there being no Home button rather than the fact that you have to look at the device to unlock it (although in an era of mask wearing there is another reason to avoid Face ID). Touch ID is a handy way to unlock a device and moving it to the power button is a great idea - we’d love an iPhone that offered that as a feature.
If you compare the dimensions of the 10.9in iPad Air and the 11in iPad Pro you may be surprised: the height and width of the two iPads are actually identical.
However, with a depth of 6.1mm, the iPad Air is imperceptibly thicker than the 5.9mm slim Pro.
On the other hand, the Air is lighter and, as a Wi-Fi model, weighs 458 grams less than the 471 grams Pro. (The LTE versions are also two grams heavier.)
Only the iPad Pro is also available as a 12.9in version. This screen size is of particular interest to professional users who work with several windows or large spreadsheets and graphics. The larger screen is also very pleasant in landscape mode, for example when using the keyboard.
Speaking of the display, at 11in (2,388 × 1,668 pixels), the Pro's display is slightly larger than the 10.9-inch display of the iPad (2,360 × 1,640 pixels), but the difference is only a few pixels.
Incidentally, measured as a rectangle, both are 27.96cm vs. 27.9cm. You have to put both devices next to each other to see a difference, at 264 ppi the resolution is also identical. We suspect that the more cosmetic size difference has more to do with marketing needing a way to differentiate iPad Pro and Air.
There are small differences in the display technology: Apple has given both devices a so-called laminated display with an anti-reflective coating, which not only looks better, but also means fewer reflections. (Reflectivity for both displays according to Apple is 1.8%).
This is the first time Apple has installed a Liquid Retina Display in the iPad Air. There’s also the anti-reflective coating.
In contrast to the inexpensive 10.2in iPad, these iPads also offer the True Tone technology: This technology automatically adapts the screen display to the ambient light.
They also support the P3 colour space. The latter is a larger colour space than sRGB and is also supported by newer iPhone cameras.
The brightness is 500 nits for the Air, while the iPad Pro creates 600 nits according to the data sheet.
ProMotion technology is reserved for the Pro - the display automatically adjusts its refresh rate. This should have advantages when using the Apple Pencil, but the image impression is also more pleasant when scrolling through websites.
For the first time, the iPad Air joins the iPad Pro in offering a USB-C interface rather than Lightning. This should increase the data transfer rate tenfold and it will be useful for transferring photos and videos from an external device.
Both iPads have a Smart Connector and can therefore be paired with an Apple keyboard. This is not a new keyboard, but the Smart Keyboard Folio (£179/$179) or the Magic Keyboard (£299/$299). The cheaper (£159/$159) Smart Keyboard isn’t compatible with either of these iPads. You can buy a keyboard from Apple here, but note that any Bluetooth keyboard will suffice. We have a round up of iPad keyboards here.
The iPad Air is also compatible with the second generation Apple Pencil for the first time. As with the iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil can be attached magnetically to the side of the iPad Air and thus charged. You can buy an Apple Pencil (from £89) here.
Only two storage configurations are available for the Air: the WiFi version comes with 64GB for £579/$599 and the version with 256GB is £729/$749. Versions with LTE are slightly more expensive, here Apple charges £709/$729 or £859/$879.
On the other hand, Apple offers the iPad Pro with capacities of 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB - at prices from £769/$799.
Obviously the different storage options set the two models apart: If someone needs more than 256GB of storage, they have to go for the Pro. The basic version of the iPad Air only offers 64GB of memory, which is not enough for demanding users. But there is no version with 128GB and the version with 256GB is so expensive that you can almost immediately grab the iPad Pro with 128GB.
The main camera of the two iPads is apparently identical, they are 12 megapixel cameras with an aperture of f 1.8 - a good step forward compared to the iPad Air 3.
HDR and panorama photos are possible, but only the Pro Version offers the True Tone flash.
It’s also only the Pro that offers a 10 megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, which we find particularly useful for videos.
The lidar sensor is also reserved for pro users.
The FaceTime camera of the iPad Air offers the same resolution as the TrueDepth camera of the iPad Pro, but only the Pro has functions such as portrait light and portrait mode to offer.
Air customers also have to do without Animoji and Memoji - despite the fact that this would perhaps be better suited to Air customers than the professional iPad Pro user.
The new camera of the iPad Air does peep out of the housing though, so it will no longer be possible to lay the iPad flat on the back.
The number of speakers on the iPad Air is limited to two, whereas the Pro models offer four, which should ensure a more balanced sound.
Both devices are available as an LTE version on request and support the latest WLAN standards. There are no differences here, according to Apple, LTE should be 60 percent faster than the Air 3.
According to Apple, both iPad support up to 10 hours of surfing the web, but the different CPUs should allow different battery life. We will be running our own set of tests to determine this.
Here's a more detailed outline of the technical specifications.
|iPad Air (2020)||iPad Pro (2020)|
|Display||10.9in Liquid Retina, 2360 x 1640 resolution, 264ppi, True Tone, Wide Colour, Fully Laminated||11in Retina, 2,388 x 1,668, 264ppi or 12.9in Retina, 2732x2048, 264ppi, True Tone, Wide colour, ProMotion technology, Fully laminated|
|Main camera||12MP Wide, f/1.8, SmartHDR, Wide colour, 4K video at 60fps, Slo-mo 1080p at 240fps, Continuous autofocus, Cinematic video stabilisation||12MP Wide, f/1.8, 10MP Ultra Wide f/2.4, 4K video at 60fps, Slo-mo 1080p at 240fps wide and 240fps ultra wide, Continuous autofocus, Cinematic video stabilisation|
|Selfie camera||7MP FaceTime HD, 1080p video recording, Smart HDR for photos and video||7MP FaceTime HD, 1080p video recording, Smart HDR for photos and video|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6||Wi-Fi 6|
|LTE||Gigabit class||Gigabit class|
|Biometrics||Touch ID||Face ID|
|Apple Pencil support||Gen 2||Gen 2|
|Dimensions||247.6mm x 178.5mm x 6.1mm||247.6mm x 178.5mm x 5.9mm or 280.6mm x 214.9mm x 5.9mm|
|Weight||458g (460g for cellular)||471g (641g for cellular) or 473g (643g for cellular)|
|Colours||Silver, Space Grey, Rose Gold, Green, Sky Blue||Silver, Gold, Space Grey|
|Price||From £579/$579||From £769/$799|
The two iPads are unusually similar; the iPad Pro is only the higher quality device in a few areas. However, we suspect that Apple will update the iPad Pro soon and that this will create a stronger distinction. In every way that matters the iPad Air trumps the iPad Pro. Our main criticism is that there is no 128GB version of the Air.
We also have this comparison between the iPad Air and the new 10.2in iPad.