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When the original iPad launched almost a decade ago, buying one was as simple as selecting the one model available and being on your way. In 2023, though, there are five to choose from – the iPad 10.9, iPad Air, the iPad Mini, and two iPad Pros.
So, should you get the iPad Air or the iPad Pro? We're going to cheat in our answer a bit here and say – probably neither of them. For almost all users, you can't go wrong with the cheaper iPad 10.9. Often just called “the iPad,” it's affordable, stylish, portable, and definitely powerful enough for your everyday user.
That is, unless you're working from home, in which case the iPad Pro will be your best bet. Its increased power and USB-C port are a godsend for those who have been asked to conduct their jobs from their own homes.
But, if you don't want the entry-level iPad, then let's return to the Air vs the Pro. They're both great tablets, of course, but the iPad Air is for showing off the slimmest model, while the Pro is for getting some serious work done. If you're looking for a little more kick and have the budget to stretch, the iPad Air is a respectable option, while the iPad Pro is reserved for demanding creators that need the extra power.
In this guide, we’ll be focusing on two premium models – the iPad Air and the iPad Pro. We’ll explain the differences between them and show you just where your money goes.
iPad Air vs iPad Pro – Head-to-Head
The iPad Pro and the Air are both pitched by Apple as its high-end tablets, and while they may seem similar, there are distinct differences between the two. From the connections to processors and cameras, there’s a lot that separates them.
Here’s a breakdown of the specifications of each iPad in the range:
The built in storage space for files, programs, apps and the operating system
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iPad Air or iPad Pro – Which is Best?
There’s no question that the Air and Pro are both fantastic iPads, let alone tablets, and that whichever you pick up, you won’t be disappointed. However, to get the best experience for your own needs, take the time to check out their main features:
- The iPad Pro is compatible with Apple Pencil 2
- The iPad Pro is Apple’s most powerful iPad
- The iPad Pro has Apple's new M2 processor
- The iPad Air starts at $599, making it much cheaper
- The iPad Air has Touch ID; the Pro has Face ID
As you can see from the points above, in a pure battle of specifications, the Pro beats the Air hands down. However, there’s also the small issue of price.
Yes, the Pro is the better machine on paper, but it’ll also cost you plenty of paper. Starting at $799, the Pro is a serious tablet for serious people, as opposed to the Air, which is a slightly more palatable at $599.
iPad Air – A High Powered All-Rounder
The iPad Air occupies the space between the standard iPad 10.2 and the iPad Pro, bridging the gap between design and power. The Air features an A14 processor, which beats the standard iPad’s A13, but can't match the Pro's M1 processor.
Like the Pro, it can record 4K video, and features a 7MP front camera, which is a nice step up from the 1.2MP version found on the standard iPad – you'll look better than ever on those Zoom calls. It’s also compatible with the Apple Pencil, although only the first iteration – Pencil 2 support is reserved for the Pros.
iPad Air Storage
Storage-wise, it’s available in 64GB or 256GB variants, which should be more than enough for the average user. Creators might be interested in getting that 1TB, in which case the iPad Pro is going to be your best option.
- Compatible with Apple Pen and Smart Keyboard
- 10.9-inch screen
- Cheaper than the iPad Pro
- Pricier than the similar 10.9-inch iPad
- No additional ports
iPad Pro – Designed with Demanding Creators in Mind
The Daddy of the iPad series, the Pro is pitched at those with lofty ambitions and deep pockets. It’s slim, sleek, and features the Apple M2 processor, making it the most powerful iPad available.
It’s also the only iPad in the range that has borrowed the iPhone’s Face ID concept, getting rid of Touch ID in favor of opening your iPad with your face instead. The subsequent removal of the touch button has made the design even more appealing.
Don't let the size fool you though. Yes, it boasts the biggest screen size to date for an Apple model, but thanks to some excellent Apple design, the bezels have been trimmed down and the 11-inch Pro is actually lighter than a standard iPad.
iPad Pro USB-C Port
The iPad Pro also has a few neat tricks up its sleeve, such as ditching Apple’s Lightning port for a far more versatile USB-C, making it easier to connect to your other equipment without the need for a separate dongle. Not only that, but the 2021 models have Thunderbolt connectivity too, making for faster data transfers than ever. Only the Pro and Air models have a USB-C port.
If you need power, a MacBook could be a better investment. See our dedicated MacBook guide.
- Powerful M2 processor
- Slim and light
- USB-C port
- Cheaper than the 12.9
- No headphone jack
- A bit small for designers
- Most powerful iPad yet
- Slim and light
- Apple M2 chip
- Perfect size for designers
- No headphone jack
iPad 10.9 – The Everyday iPad for the Everyday User
The iPad 10.9 is the ‘standard’ iPad, and while it may not turn heads, it’s a tireless workhorse that will suit most users. Starting at $449, it’s a seriously good deal, and the cheapest iPad in Apple’s range. For the money, you get a 10.9-inch Retina display and an M2 chip.
iPad 10.2 Battery Life
Battery life is on par with the more expensive iPads, coming in at around ten hours, meaning you can be confident it will last you during long trips away from the power outlet. This is where the iPad 10.9 becomes the obvious choice, because it's much more affordable and features the same standards as the expensive models, like battery life.
- Cheapest iPad available
- Compatible with Smart Keyboard
- 10.9-inch screen
- More expensive than previous iterations
The iPad Air is Better for…
…now that's a tricky one. The iPad Air, in isolation, is an exceptional tablet. Its problem is that when you start to look at the rest of the range, you’ll notice it’s more powerful than the standard iPad, but more expensive; it's cheaper than the Pro, but not as powerful.
This begs the question: “Who is the Air for?” The answer is basically anyone who wants to upgrade their iPad experience but doesn’t need the high specs or price tag of the Pro series.
The Air starts at $599, compared to the iPad’s $449, thanks to its slim build, but with the updated iPad 10.9, it's hard to justify buying the iPad Air over other options on the list. The Pro starts at $799 – a considerable increase in investment — but definitely worth it if you need the extra power.
Want to compare the whole range? Check out our Which iPad Should I Buy guide
The iPad Pro (12-inch) is Better for Designers
The large iPad Pro, with its gorgeous 12.9-inch display, is a great choice for designers. For starters, there’s that screen real estate, which is the largest in the iPad line-up. This means it’s best for applying intricate detail to a concept, or even zooming out your current project and viewing it on a large screen. And then there’s the ability to connect it to a larger display through that handy USB-C port.
Of course, the Pro also happens to have the most powerful processor in the range, and that Apple M2 chip will give you the extra muscle to juggle several projects at once. You’ll also be able to run complex design software smoothly, with apps like AutoCAD not causing the Pro any issues.
Lastly, there’s the Apple Pencil 2. With all iPads now Pencil compatible, it might seem like the Pro has lost one of its core exclusive features. Well, not quite.
The Pro models are the only ones compatible with the second iteration of the Pencil, which introduces some new features that designers are sure to appreciate. First up, it’s now magnetic, and charges while attached to the side of the iPad. Compare this to the first-generation model, which needs to be charged by plugging into the lightning port and sticking out like an ugly appendage.
The Pencil 2 also adds some new practical applications, such as gesture support. Double tap now, and you can switch between functions – a handy feature that means users don’t have to constantly move to the menu to select a new function.
The iPad 10.9 is Still Best for Most Users
For all the talk of the iPad Pro and Air in this guide, it would be remiss of us to overlook the iPad 10.9 model. Technically, it’s the ‘standard’ iPad in the lineup, but Apple has given it so many revisions over the years – and added features that have trickled down from the more premium models – that it’s still a real contender. It’s the iPad that has the most universal appeal, and as luck would have it, it’s also the cheapest.
The iPad 10.9 has an M2 chip, giving it some serious power compared to even more expensive options on the iPad lineup. With this iPad, you can happily run a vast majority of apps smoothly, multi-task, and flick between processes in an instant. Apple has also added Apple Pen support, meaning that you can annotate or sketch directly onto the screen.
So what can’t you do? Well, it’s not best suited to run really demanding software such as Adobe Photoshop CC, but unless you’re a professional designer, this is unlikely to be a concern. Other than that, we'd recommend the iPad 10.9 for most users.
Best iPad for Home Working
The last few years have seen many of us changing our approach to the way we work, with the pandemic forcing many of us to work from home. If you're looking for the best iPad that suits this style of working the best bet is the iPad Pro, thanks to its large screen, USB-C port and powerful M2 chip.
However, we realize that the best option isn't always the most affordable, so if you can't stretch to a Pro, then the standard, 10.9-inch model iPad is a great alternative. Sure, it might not offer the screen real estate, but thanks to updates to the iPadOS, even the standard iPad can now almost perfectly mimic a traditional laptop, with folders, and mouse and keyboard support. Plus, that 10-hour battery life will keep you going for a long time, whether you're working in the office or on the couch.
Verdict: Which iPad Should You Buy?
For the more creative types among you who don’t want your vision to be hamstrung by technology, it’s the Pro range that you should be looking at. Pricey? Yes, but they do offer the most powerful iPad experience to date – and the extras, such as USB-C connectivity, are a massive plus.
So where does that leave the iPad Air? Essentially, somewhere in between – not as powerful as the iPad Pro, not as cheap as the iPad 10.9. It's undoubtedly a good tablet, but hard to recommend for either casual users or demanding professionals.
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