Deciding between iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro could be a real struggle

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iPad Air 4 vs. 2020 iPad Pro vs. iPad 8
Apple’s current lineup of tablets offers a lot of overlap in features.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

The newly announced iPad Air 4 is going to make choosing a tablet harder. It borrows so many features from the 2020 iPad Pro models that many who might have gone for one of Apple’s professional tablets should choose this new model instead. But certainly not everyone.

Here’s how these devices compare, with the newly-unveiled iPad 8 thrown in for good measure.

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iPad Air 4 vs. 2020 iPad Pro vs. iPad 8

At first glance, it’s not easy to tell the difference between the 2020 iPad Air and the Pro models. They all sport edge-to-edge screens, without the Home button.

And confusing the new iPad Air 4 with the 11-inch iPad Pro is going to be very easy, as they have nearly identical chassis, and can even use many of the same cases.

Screen

The model unveiled this week has a 10.9-inch display, with a 2360‑by‑1640-pixel resolution. The smaller iPad Pro is just a hair larger, with an 11-inch, 2388‑by‑1668 display. Both offer 264 ppi.

But there are other differences. The Pro’s screen has a 120 Hz refresh rate, which is twice that of the Air. And the Pro is slightly brighter: 600 nits vs. 500 nits.

Anyone looking for a larger display should go with the 12.9-inch version of the iPad Pro, which has a 2732‑by‑2048-pixel resolution. On the other end of the scale, the budget iPad 8 has a 10.2-inch 2160-by-1620 screen. Again, both offer 264 ppi.

Processor

A standout feature of the iPad Air 4 is the Apple A14 processor. It’s actually the first device of any kind to be announced with this chip, which is certainly going to be in the iPhone 12 and might be part of the first Macs with Apple Silicon.

Both 2020 iPad Pro versions use an underwhelming Apple A12Z processor from 2018. So the Air 4 has a chip that’s two generations newer. But it’s not clear that means it’ll have better performance than the Pro.

The processor in the newest iPadOS tablet uses six processor cores and four GPU cores. The iPad Pro models, in contrast, have eight processor cores. And they include an eight-core GPU.

We won’t know how the additional cores of the A12Z compare with the greater efficiency of the A14 Bionic until the iPad Air 4 is released and benchmark tests can be run.

Apple so far has been mute about the specs for A12 Bionic processor in the iPad 8.

RAM and storage

Cupertino always keeps mum about how much RAM is in its tablets. We know the 2020 iPad Pro has 6 GB. How much will be in the iPad Air 4 is unknown, but it’ll likely be less. We probably won’t find out until this models is in customer’s hands. The iPad 8 has 3 GB of RAM.

For holding your files, the 2020 iPad Air is available with either 64 GB of built-in storage or 256 GB. Those are the only two options.

A base model 2020 iPad Pro features 128 GB of capacity — twice as much. Buyers have the option to upgrade to 256 GB, 512 GB or 1 TB.

The iPad 8 comes with either 32 GB or 128 GB of storage.

Cameras and LiDAR

Apple upgraded the rear-facing camera in the iPad Air 4 to 12 MP with ƒ/1.8. That’s the same as in both the 2020 iPad Pro version.

However, the latest Pro tablet also includes a 10MP camera with ƒ/2.4 for taking wide-angle shots. And it includes a flash, which the Air 4 does not. Plus, Apple put a LiDAR scanner in the 2020 iPad Pro. This is intended to make it an augmented-reality powerhouse.

The rear-facing camera in the iPad 8 is 8MP and ƒ/2.4. There’s no flash.

As for the front-facing camera, the iPad Air 4 includes a 7 MP one. The the same resolution as the “selfie” cam in the latest Pro tablet.

In these days of FaceTime and Zoom calls, people might find a tablet’s front-facing camera even more important than the rear one. So note that the iPad 8 is still down at 1.2 MP on this feature.

Cables, keyboards, styli and other accessories

Among the major changes ion the iPad Air 4 is USB-C replacing the Lightning port. This allows a huge range of off-the-self accessories to be plugged in, like Ethernet adapters to memory card readers. And the tablet can be charged with the same cable as a MacBook.

The iPad Pro series already made this change way back in 2018. The iPad 8 still uses Lightning, though.

But every Apple tablet now includes the Apple Smart connector, and there are versions of the clip-on Apple Smart Keyboard for all of them. There are third-party keyboards too. Or the iPad Air 4 and the Pro series can use the eye-catching Apple Magic Keyboard.

The 2020 iPad Air supports the second-generation Apple Pencil. This clips to the side of the tablet for storage and charging.

This stylus was created for the Pro series. And the iPad 8 can use the original Apple Pencil. Broad support for the Pencil — and other types of styli — in Apple tablets fits well with the new handwriting recognition built into iPadOS 14.

Price

The starting price for the fourth-generation iPad Air is $599, up $100 from its predecessor. That’s noticeably more than the basic iPad 8, which goes for $329. There’s now a significant jump in price and features between these two.

And while Apple’s latest tablet costs 25% less than the 11-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $799, the difference in features isn’t as dramatic. The larger 12.9-inch version starts at $999, but offers much more screen area to work with.

iPad Air 4 vs. Apple’s tablet lineup: Summing up

Choosing between the iPad Air 4 and the 11-inch iPad Pro isn’t going to be easy. Buyers will have to decide whether the handful of better features — additional storage, LiDAR, etc. — in the Pro justify the additional $200 cost.

But the much larger screen in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers enough difference to make this version stand out.

And the iPad 8 will certainly find plenty of buyers with its low price. It can be preordered now, while the Air 4 won‘t be out until September.