There used to be a clear difference between the iPad Air and iPad Pro. But Apple has slowly closed the gap between these products, to the point that the new iPad Air is practically the iPad Pro’s clone. But that doesn’t necessarily make the iPad Air a better value—unfortunately, the opposite may be true.
Apple’s wonky pricing strategy makes deciding between the iPad Air and iPad Pro an incredibly difficult task. And hey, I’ll warn you up front; this article may convince you to spring for the more expensive tablet.
In form and function, the current-gen iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro are practically identical. They both feature an M1 processor, a high-speed USB-C port, an edge-to-edge display, a 12MP primary camera, and an ultra-wide selfie lens. Plus, both tablets are available with optional 5G support.
And because the M1 iPad Air is the same size and shape as the 11-inch iPad Pro, both products can use the same cases and accessories. Yes, you can use the 11-inch Magic Keyboard or the second-gen Apple Pencil with the iPad Air.
The iPad Pro has only a handful of exclusive features—a genuinely wonderful 120Hz refresh rate, Face ID (iPad Air has Touch ID), an additional ultra-wide camera, and up to 16GB of RAM with the highest storage configurations. There’s also Thunderbolt 4 support and optional mmWave 5G, which is faster than the iPad Air’s optional sub-6 5G.
Those who purchase the M1 iPad Air will rarely, if ever, find themselves in a situation where the M1 iPad Pro upgrade would make life easier. App performance, video rendering, and iPadOS run with equal performance on both devices—unless you’re willing to pay out the nose for that iPad Pro with 16GB of RAM, of course.
Now, I will admit that the larger 12.90-inch iPad Pro is a very distinct product. Not just because it has a massive screen, but because it contains an exclusive Pro Display XDR panel, which supports HDR content and uses Mini LED technology for increased contrast and color accuracy.
Unless you’re obsessed with the 12-inch iPad Pro’s massive Mini LED screen, you’ll probably find yourself stuck between the M1 iPad Air and 11-inch iPad Pro. Not just because they offer similar features, but because of Apple’s aggressive pricing strategy.
The base-model iPad Air costs $600, which is a whopping $200 less than the base iPad Pro. Here’s the problem; the cheapest iPad Air only comes with 64GB of storage. That’s good enough for streaming video and browsing the web, but it severely limits the tablet’s usability with just about any other task.
No biggie, you can just pay extra for more storage! But there’s another problem. Your only other option is the 256GB iPad Air, which costs $750. That’s only $50 less than the iPad Pro. And frankly, the iPad Pro’s small set of exclusive features are probably worth an extra $50.
It’s like when the dude at the McDonald’s drive-thru says, “you can get a large Coke for fifty cents more.” The smaller option is cheaper, but because of the pricing strategy, the more expensive option may be a better value.
There’s just one fact that may save you from Apple’s up-charge. The base-model iPad Pro only has 128GB of storage—half the amount of the 256GB iPad Air. If storage is more important to you than some quality-of-life features, then the 256GB iPad Air is the better value here. It’s certainly a better value if you plan to download a ton of games, movies, or music.
But maybe you don’t care that much about storage. If you’re happy with a 128GB capacity, spending an extra $50 on the iPad Pro could be a no-brainer. I mean, features like Face ID or a second camera probably aren’t worth the extra money, but that gorgeous 120Hz display will make apps and games feel super responsive.
I’m going to go against the grain a bit. If you’re looking for a great value, you should just avoid the newest iPads entirely. There are rarely any major differences between the current and previous generation of iPad, and because these tablets last so damn long, there’s rarely a reason to get the newest thing.
If you look on Amazon right now, the 2020 iPad Air with 256GB of storage costs just $650. It’s a few years old, doesn’t have an overpowered M1 chip, and has a slower USB-C data transfer port. Still, it’s an incredibly powerful device, it works with the latest Apple Pencil, and it’s compatible with 11-inch iPad Pro accessories.
But if you’re looking for the newest thing, I don’t have any definitive answers for you. Your priorities will dictate whether the M1 iPad Air or the M1 iPad Pro is a better value. Maybe you want more storage, or you really like 120Hz screens, or you just want a tablet to stream Netflix. Because of Apple’s pricing strategy, it all comes down to personal preference.
2022 Apple iPad Air (10.9-inch, Wi-Fi, 256GB) - Space Gray (5th Generation)
Do you prefer storage over quality-of-life features? Then the 256GB M1 iPad Air is probably for you.
2021 Apple 11-inch iPad Pro (Wi-Fi, 128GB) - Space Gray
The base-model iPad Pro costs just $50 more than the 256GB iPad Air. It only has 128GB of storage, but it comes with extra features like a 120Hz display.
2020 Apple iPad Air (10.9-inch, Wi-Fi, 256GB) - Rose Gold (4th Generation)
Why buy the newest thing? Get the 2020 iPad Air with 256GB of storage at a low price.