iPad vs. iPad Pro: Which is right for you?

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2018 iPad and Apple Pencil
Is the new iPad right for you?
Photo: Ian Fuchs/Cult of Mac

Apple’s most affordable iPad is now even greater. With a faster A10 processor and support for Apple Pencil, it’s closer to the iPad Pro than it’s ever been. And yet, it’s less than half the price — and even more affordable if you’re a student.

So, what’s the difference between them? Is the iPad Pro still worth the extra cash?

Choosing between the two doesn’t have to be difficult. Our helpful comparison will help you decide which iPad is right for you.

Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. It’s probably fair to say most iPad consumers aren’t too interested in the specifications, but they do help us understand the big differences between each model — and why the Pro options are so expensive.

We’ll look at what those specifications mean when it comes to the user experience after; you can skip ahead if you like.

iPad vs. iPad Pro specifications

iPad comparison chart
iPad specs compared.
Table: Cult of Mac

Which iPad is more powerful?

The iPad Pro is more powerful than the iPad — but there isn’t that much difference when it comes to raw processing power. The iPad Pro’s A10X chip is only slightly faster than the new iPad’s A10, so both devices are more than capable of handling whatever you throw at them.

According to early benchmarks, the new iPad is the fastest Apple device behind the iPad Pro and the latest iPhone lineup. It outperforms both the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus.

The new iPad can even run multiple apps simultaneously now, like iPad Pro — but there is a catch. The regular iPad has half as much RAM as the latest iPad Pro lineup (2GB versus 4GB), so you’re limited to using just two apps at once as opposed to three.

You’ll also find that with less RAM, processor-intensive tasks won’t run quite as smoothly on the iPad. And if you use many tabs in Safari, they will need to reload more frequently then they would on the iPad Pro. This could limit your multitasking somewhat, so that’s something to bear in mind.

Battery performance is just as good on both devices; you can expect around 10 hours between charges.

Which iPad does more?

iPad supports Apple Pencil now, which is huge for those who want a tablet they can draw on. You no longer have to cough up for a pricey iPad Pro just so you can use the best stylus available. But, of course, the iPad Pro has another big advantage.

Apple didn’t port the Smart Connector over to the iPad, so the entry-level model misses out on the Smart Keyboard and other accessories that take advantage of it. This might not matter all that much to you, but if you need a physical keyboard, it makes a big difference.

Other than the Smart Connector, both the iPad and iPad Pro are capable of doing the same things. You’re going to enjoy almost exactly the same experience on both. Almost.

Which iPad is more impressive?

Of course, the iPad Pro is the most impressive — that’s why you have to pay more for it. It’s not just because of the Smart Connector, either; other differences make the more expensive models … more expensive.

iPad display comparison

Not only do you get a larger display with iPad Pro, but it’s also a more impressive display. With support for a wider color gamut and increased brightness, it’s a whole lot nicer to look at. It’s also twice as fast.

The latest models feature a variable refresh rate, which Apple calls ProMotion, that can go all the way up to 120 frames per second when required. That’s twice the number of frames per second as the regular iPad can display, and it makes a big difference when you’re using Apple Pencil.

The faster refresh rate is also noticeable when browsing the web, playing fast-paced games, and watching video. It makes everything feel buttery-smooth. You won’t miss it if you’ve never experienced it, though. Just don’t look at an iPad Pro if your budget will only cover the iPad.

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro has slimmer bezels than the other models, which means you get more screen space in a form factor that’s not much larger than that of the 9.7-inch iPad. It also packs a True Tone display — like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s — which you don’t get with the smaller model.

The iPad also misses out on Apple’s anti-reflective coating, which means it will be more difficult to use in bright environments. More importantly, its display isn’t laminated, so there’s a noticable gap between the cover glass and the LCD panel beneath it.

Cameras

You don’t want to be one of those people who takes photos with an iPad. Your iPhone is a much better solution. But if you really, really have to, you’ll probably want an iPad Pro. It boasts the same 12-megapixel cameras found in iPhone 7 — along with optical image stabilization.

The iPad has an 8-megapixel camera without optical image stabilization. It’ll certainly get the job done; the results just won’t be quite as impressive. The difference between the front-facing cameras on each model is much more significant.

The iPad Pro has a 7-megapixel front-facing camera, whereas the iPad has a measly 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera. This could be an issue for you if you make a lot of video calls. Unless you’re not so pretty, in which case you might be glad of the blurrier image.

Speakers

The iPad packs stereo speakers that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve owned any other iPad in the past. They’re located on the bottom edge of the device, and they’re… okay. In almost all scenarios, a small Bluetooth speaker will provide better sound.

The iPad Pro, on the other hand, boasts a substantially more impressive four-speaker system. It has two on its bottom edge and another two on its top edge for louder and deeper stereo sound, and they balance themselves automatically depending on how you’re holding the device.

Not only are iPad Pro’s speakers better than the iPad’s speakers in every way, but they’re better than any tablet’s speakers, period. They will even outperform the vast majority of laptop speakers.

Security

Sadly, Apple is still packing its first-generation Touch ID sensor into the more affordable iPad. It’s just as secure as the second-generation Touch ID sensor in the iPad Pro, but nowhere near as fast.

What’s the biggest difference?

The biggest difference between the iPad and the iPad Pro is obviously the price. You’ll be spending at least $649 on the latter, whereas the new iPad is less than half the price at $329. You can shave another $30 off the cheaper model if you’re in education.

This is huge. So huge that lots of potential iPad buyers won’t be even considering the Pro option. But if money is no object, and you have to choose between the two, which is best for you?

What’s the best iPad for you?

The most affordable iPad is a terrific iPad — especially now that it’s faster and compatible with Apple Pencil. It runs exactly the same operating system as the iPad Pro, and all the same apps and games. It’s even capable of multitasking.

It’s no surprise Apple is targeting students with this model. When you compare the iPad with the laptops you could buy for $299, it’s a great deal. It’s more powerful than most, more reliable than most, and more versatile than most.

So, is the iPad Pro really worth the extra cash?

Maybe not if you’re only going to use it to browse the web, check your emails, and watch a bit of Netflix. But the iPad Pro is a more impressive tablet overall, and if you’re going to use for everything — if it’s going to replace your laptop — it’s definitely worth the money.

Don’t miss out on the much nicer display, better speakers and cameras, the Smart Connector, and faster Touch ID unless you have to.