Apple iPad Air (2020) full review

At its recent Spring Loaded event, Apple introduced updated versions of the iPad Pro, featuring the company's new M1 chip. We take a look at how the smaller of the two, the iPad Pro 11in (2021), compares with its similarly proportioned albeit cheaper sibling the iPad Air (2020).

Price

One of the first considerations with any purchase is of course price. While the iPad Air is a mid-tier product and the Pros are obviously premium, neither is what you'd call cheap. But you do get some serious tech for your money with both devices.

Here's how the current ranges line up:

iPad Pro 11in (2021)

Wi-Fi models

  • 128GB - £749 / US$799 / AU$1,119
  • 256GB - £849 / US$899 / AU$1,349
  • 512GB - £1,049 / US$1,099 / AU$1,649
  • 1TB - £1,399 / US$1,499 / AU$2,249
  • 2TB - £,1749 / US$1,899 / AU$2,849

Wi-Fi + Cellular models

  • 128GB - £899 / US$999 /AU$1,449
  • 256GB - £999 / US$1,099 /AU$1,599
  • 512GB - £1,199 / US$1,299 /AU$1,899
  • 1TB - £1,549 / US$1,699 /AU$2,499
  • 2TB - £1,899 / US$2,099 /AU$3,099

iPad Air (2020)

Wi-Fi models

  • 64GB - £579 / US$599 / AU$899
  • 256GB - £729 / US$749 / AU$1,129

Wi-Fi + Cellular models

  • 64GB - £709 / US$729 / AU$1,099
  • 256GB - £859 / US$879 / AU$1,329

You can pre-order the iPad Pro on the Apple store from 30 April (it's available mid-May) and you can buy the iPad Air from the Apple store now.

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 said goodbye to the curved design that characterised iPads in recent years. Both the Air and the Pro have squarer edges now, reminiscent of the the old iPhone 5 era, something which has also returned to the iPhone 12 models.

As a result the new iPad Air actually looks confusingly similar to the iPad Pro 11in, with the same slim and thin design.

The casings on both offer almost identical proportions, with the dimensions as follows:

  • iPad Pro 11in (2021): 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 5.9mm; 466g (Wi-Fi), 470g (Cellular)
  • iPad Air (2020): 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 6.1mm; 458g (Wi-Fi), 460g (Cellular)

So the Pro is marginally thinner and heavier, but you'd be hard pressed to notice even when holding them, as the differences are so slight.

The Home button has disappeared from the front of the Air, making the two devices even more aesthetically similar, but unlike the Face ID feature on the 11in, Apple employs a Touch ID sensor in the power button on the top.

As you'd expect from the name, the Pro has an 11in display, boasting the faster 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate that remains a differentiator for the Pro line, while the Air is almost as large with a 10.9in Liquid Retina panel that comes with a standard 60Hz rate.

Ports are minimal on both, with USB-C charging/connectors replacing the Lightning ports found on cheaper iPads and current iPhones. The Pro 11in has the added capability of Thunderbolt speeds through its aperture. Each also has a Smart Connector to allow Apple's keyboard cases to work with the devices.

Twin speakers are available on the Air, with the Pro 11in doubling this with its four-speaker arrangement. There are no headphone jacks on these models, so you'll be looking at wireless headphones if you want to enjoy media while others are around.

One area where the Pro and Air diverge is in the liveries available. The iPad Pro 11in is offered in the more sedate Space Grey and Silver hues, while the Air adds Rose Gold, Green and Sky Blue to the options. There are of course matching protective covers in complementing colours: Deep Navy, Cypress Green and Citrus Pink - in addition to black and white.

iPad Pro 11in (2021) vs iPad Air (2020): iPad Air 2020

Which is faster?

The Air features the A14 bionic chip, which is a powerful peace of silicon that ensures higher performance and lower energy consumption than previous Air models. It's also the chip that powers the iPhone 12 range, so you know it packs plenty of punch and will be more than enough for the tasks required by many users.

The Pro, though, is catering to a more demanding audience, and as such is the first of Apple's mobile devices to make the leap into the company's new age of chip design. The M1 silicon that was introduced to the Mac lineup at the end of 2020 is now at the heart of the iPad Pro lineup. While there hasn't been time to test it yet, we know from the already impressive speeds it delivered on the Mac that it should be like rocket fuel for the iPad Pro 11in.

iPad Pro 11in (2021) vs iPad Air (2020): iPad Pro Top View

Touch ID instead of Face ID

As mentioned above, Apple retained Touch ID for the iPad Air, but moved it from the Home button to the Power button, allowing the former to be eliminated entirely. This is different to the iPad Pro 11in, which has the camera array that allows Face ID (although thankfully no notch like on the iPhone).

This new positioning of the touch sensor is an interesting 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 the Air.

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 passcode, 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.

Display

At 11in (2,388 × 1,668 pixels), the Pro's display is slightly larger than the 10.9in display of the iPad (2,360 × 1,640 pixels), but the difference is only a few pixels, plus the 264ppi the resolution is also identical.

There are small differences in the display technology: Apple has given both devices a laminated Liquid Retina display with anti-reflective coating, which not only looks great, but also means fewer reflections (reflectivity for both displays according to Apple is 1.8%).

Both models also offer True Tone technology, which automatically adapts the screen display to the ambient light, and they 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.

The main difference between the panels is ProMotion technology given to the Pro. This automatically adjusts its refresh rate, with a maximum of 120Hz meaning scrolling looks incredibly smooth, plus using the Apple Pencil should be better on the device than its cheaper stablemate.

Interfaces

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. The new iPad Pro 11in now also has support for Thunderbolt/USB 4 for even greater speeds and capabilities.

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, but note that any Bluetooth keyboard will suffice. We have a roundup of iPad keyboards.

iPad Pro 11in (2021) vs iPad Air (2020): iPad Air and keyboard

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).

Cameras

The main cameras of the two iPads are 12MP sensors with f/1.8 apertures - 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 10MP ultra-wide-angle camera, which we find particularly useful for videos, and LiDAR sensor.

The FaceTime camera of the iPad Air features a 7MP sensor and f/2.2 aperture, but the Pro has been upgrade to a 12MP sensor with a f/2.4 aperture and 2x optical zoom. The Pro also has functions such as portrait light and portrait mode, plus the new Centre Stage, which adjusts framing to keep the subject in the centre of the screen even when you're moving around.

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.

iPad Pro 11in (2021) vs iPad Air (2020): iPad Air back

Network support

Both devices are available as an LTE version on request and support the latest WLAN standards. If you're looking for the future-proof option, then the new 5G ultra-fast LTE capabilities of the iPad Pro 11in is the way to go.

Battery life

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.

Specs

Here's a more detailed outline of the technical specifications.

  iPad Pro 11in (2021) iPad Air (2020)
Display 11in Liquid Retina, 2388x1668 resolution, 264ppi, 600 nits, True Tone, Wide Colour, Fully Laminated, ProMotion 10.9in Liquid Retina, 2360 x 1640 resolution, 264ppi, True Tone, Wide Colour, Fully Laminated
Processor M1 A14 Bionic
Storage 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB 64GB/256GB
Main Camera 12MP Wide, f/1.8, SmartHDR, Wide colour,10MP f/2.4, 2x optical zoom, True Tone Flash, 4K video at 60fps, Slo-mo 1080p at 240fps, Continuous autofocus, Cinematic video stabilisation 12MP Wide, f/1.8, SmartHDR, Wide colour, 4K video at 60fps, Slo-mo 1080p at 240fps, Continuous autofocus, Cinematic video stabilisation
Selfie Camera TrueDepth camera with Ultra Wide camera, 12MP, f/2.4, 2x optical zoom, Centre stage, Retina flash, Smart HDR 3 for photos, Portrait modes, Cinematic stabilisation for video, 1080p HD video at 25/30 or 60fps, Animoji & Memoji 7MP FaceTime HD, f/2.2, 1080p video recording, Smart HDR for photos and video
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 6 Wi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5 5
LTE 5G Gigabit class
GPS Yes Yes
Ports USB-C (Thunderbolt/USB 4) USB-C
Biometrics Face ID Touch ID
Apple Pencil Support Gen 2 Gen 2
Dimensions 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 5.9mm 247.6mm x 178.5mm x 6.1mm
Weight 466g (Wi-Fi), 470g (Cellular) 458g (460g for cellular)
Colours Silver and Space Grey Silver, Space Grey, Rose Gold, Green, Sky Blue
Price From £749 / US$799 / AU$1,119 From £579/US$579/AU$899

Verdict

The new iPad Pro 11in (2021) packs a lot into its compact frame. The move to the M1 chip is sure to keep the device speedy for years to come, plus the 5G LTE option and extended storage capacities mean you can future-proof the iPad to your wallet's desire.

That being said, the iPad Air (2020) is more than good enough for the vast majority of people. It looks identical to the Pro, albeit with more attractive colour options, and the Touch ID sensor in the Power button means you get all the advantages of those biometrics without losing screen space. If you want a great iPad, buy the Air, if you want the most powerful tablet on the planet, then it's the Pro.

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