The Apple M1 processor inside the newly announced iPad Air 5 makes the tablet as powerful as the similarly sized iPad Pro. Given the price difference, the new Air is a better option for most people.
The iPad Pro has advantages. And it’s still the right device for some folks. But think hard before putting down an extra $200 that might be unnecessary. Here’s why the iPad Air 5, which Apple unveiled during Tuesday’s Peek Performance event, comes out ahead in many ways.
iPad Air 5 vs. 11-inch iPad Pro: Head to head
When Apple redesigned the iPad Air in 2020, the tablet became strong competition for the smaller model in the Pro series. The Air has a 10.9-inch screen versus an 11-inch one in the Pro. Both displays pack 264 pixels per inch.
And now that there’s an M1 processor in the both the iPad Air 5 and the third-gen 11-inch iPad Pro, they’re equally powerful. This is the same eight-core CPU with eight-core graphics. The Air does not have a dumbed-down version.
There’s a USB-C port in each tablet for connecting powerful accessories. And speaking of accessories, both tablets support the Apple Pencil 2.
Apple also added Center Stage support to the iPad Air 5. That great feature already works on the third-gen 11-inch iPad Pro, so each tablet offers this camera trick for easier and better video conferencing.
The iPad Air 5 and 11-inch iPad Pro 3 are the same size and weight. They even accept many of the same cases. Apple makes one Magic Keyboard model that fits both, for example.
Either model can be configured with 5G cellular-wireless networking.
One of the biggest differences comes in the devices’ biometric security hardware. The iPad Pro includes Apple’s facial-recognition system, Face ID. The new iPad Air relies on Apple’s fingerprint-recognition system Touch ID, which is built into the side button. Each system has fans and detractors, so it’s hard to say one is better than the other.
Advantages of the 11-inch iPad Pro
Despite the many, many similarities, the 11-inch iPad Pro does have some features the iPad Air 5 lacks.
The base model Pro comes with 128GB of storage, while the iPad Air starts at 64GB. And the Pro goes all the way up to 2TB … though that adds a whopping $1,100 to the base cost. And in an era of inexpensive cloud storage and USB-C drives, terabytes of onboard capacity is a niche feature.
Most versions of the two tablets come with the same amount of RAM: 8GB. But pay enough, and the iPad Pro can be provisioned with twice that much. If you configure the Pro with 1TB or 2TB of storage, you get 16GB of RAM.
The iPad Pro has ProMotion, which is Apple’s term for a screen with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. This provides fluid scrolling and greater responsiveness. It’s lovely to have, but not essential.
Cameras and LiDAR Scanner
The iPad Pro is definitely the better option for photography. Both tablets have a 12MP rear camera, but the Pro adds a 2x optical zoom, a brighter flash and a 10MP Ultra Wide camera. That said, most people don’t regularly use their iPad as a camera.
The third-gen iPad Pro also comes with a built-in LiDAR Scanner used for augmented reality. Which might be handy someday.
As noted, each of these tablets comes with a USB-C port. But the Pro’s supports Thunderbolt 4 for faster data transfers.
These are all nice features, and if you need them, you want them. But whether any of them are game-changers for typical users is questionable.
Advantage of the iPad Air 5
The fifth-generation iPad Air has almost the same size screen as the 11-inch iPad Pro, the same processor, the same design and it can use the same accessories. But it costs less. That’s more money in your pocket.
The base model iPad Air costs $599, while the base model 11-inch iPad Pro runs $799. To put it another way, the Pro is 33% more expensive.
If you truly need any of the extra features of the iPad Pro, then the additional $200 is justified. But if you don’t, that money is wasted.
Another option: Wait for fall 2022
A head-to-head comparison between the Air and Pro will change this fall. A lot.
The next iPad Pro models supposedly will run on an Apple M2 processor, bringing a jump in performance. And the upcoming 11-inch Pro reportedly will include a mini-LED display. That’s the same gorgeous type the 12.9-inch version sports now. There could be some other bells and whistles, too, like MagSafe.
If you can hold out six months to buy your tablet, the upcoming fourth-generation 11-inch iPad Pro might be worth the wait. And the extra $200. Otherwise, the iPad Air 5 gives you the most bang for your buck.