It’s no secret that there’s not much competition for the iPad in the tablet space. Amazon and Samsung do their best to try and match up with Apple’s offering, but it never seems to be enough and for good reason. Apple has created an experience that is simply unmatched, with the combination of the App Store and the superior hardware.
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As our phones get lighter and have thinner bezels, it only makes sense for the same design changes to come to the iPad lineup. That’s what brings us to the 2020 iPad Air, which saw a long-overdue refresh in a few different major categories. This begs the question – is there a point in purchasing the 11-inch iPad Pro with the refreshed iPad Air now available?
What does the 2020 iPad Air bring to the table?
Before looking at the iPad Air and thinking that you get more colors, and a spot-on design for $200 cheaper, there’s more to these tablets than that. But it’s important to look at all of the variables before making a decision on which way to go.
|iPad Air (2020)||iPad Pro 11″ (2020)|
|Display||10.9-inch (2360 x 1640)||11-inch (2388 x 1668)|
|Processor||Apple A14 Bionic||Apple 12Z Bionic|
|Materials||Stainless Steel||Stainless Steel|
|Front Camera||7MP FaceTime HD||7MP TrueDepth|
|Rear Camera 1||12MP||12MP|
|Rear Camera 2||N/A||10MP Ultra Wide|
|Dimensions||247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1 mm||247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9 mm|
|Weight||458 grams||471 grams|
|Storage Options||64GB / 256GB||128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB|
|Battery Life||Up to 10 Hours||Up to 10 Hours|
|Colors||Silver, Space Grey, Rose Gold, Green, Sky Blue||Silver & Space Grey|
A matching design
From a design perspective, Apple is creating some cohesiveness across all of its 2020 devices. Not only did we see this with the iPad Air’s announcement, but it’s also evidenced by the same design coming to the iPhone 12 lineup.
The display between the iPad Air and iPad Pro is extremely similar, with the Air coming in just 0.1-inches smaller. Obviously, this reflects in the resolution, coming in at 2360 x 1640 versus the 2388 x 1668 found in the iPad Pro 11. And while this may not seem like a big deal, the iPad Pro has the added benefit of its ProMotion technology.
ProMotion was introduced when the iPad Pro line was redesigned back in 2018. With this technology, your display is capable of automatically switching the refresh rate, based on whatever tasks are being performed. Scrolling through pages? Your iPad Pro gets bumped up for a smoother experience. Interacting with menus, the iPad Pro bumps the refresh rate down because it doesn’t need to be moving that fast.
We’ve already touched on those colors, but that’s something that can’t be overlooked. For years we have been subjected to Space Gray and Silver for the primary handsets, while the devices that didn’t cost as much saw all of the cool colors. That mindset has shifted in recent years, partially thanks to the iPhone 11 Pro which introduced the amazing Midnight Green. Now, the iPhone 12 features an array of colors, with some being available across all four devices, and some only being available based on the “Pro” moniker.
There are two more key factors with the design of the iPad Air and iPad Pro – Dimensions and Weight. The iPad Air measures in at just 0.2mm thicker than its Pro counterpart. But the Pro takes the cake when it comes to weight, weighing in at 471 grams versus the 458 grams of the iPad Air.
Alongside the introduction of the refreshed iPad Pro lineup earlier in the year, we also were introduced to the Magic Keyboard. This turned your iPad into a laptop of sorts, with a floating design, allowing your iPad to simply float over the keys. But until now, these keyboards have been only compatible with the iPad Pro line.
The same can be said for the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, which was redesigned back in 2018 with the iPad Pro line. Apple has continued selling the first-generation Pencil, as it’s compatible with other iPads in the overall lineup, including the older iPad and pre-2020 iPad Air.
But now, the iPad Air 2020 can take advantage of both of these accessories which are almost a necessity for any iPad owner. This brand-new iPad Air is compatible with the Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio, and the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil.
It sure sounds like the gap between the two iPads is closing faster than ever.
Let’s dive a little bit deeper to see what the iPad Air does better than its similarly-sized counterpart. As the company does on a yearly-basis, Apple updated the primary chipset that will power many of its devices for the next year, or until new versions are released.
A14 Bionic vs A12Z
The A14 Bionic has arrived in the iPad Air, which is the same processor that can be found in the brand new iPhone 12 lineup. This is manufactured on the 5nm process, which offers improved energy management (read: battery life), along with creating more space on the processor itself for other features like Apple’s Neural Engine.
The A14 Bionic may not offer an astronomical leap in terms of performance over its predecessor, but it still outperforms the A12Z Bionic from the iPad Pro. Notably, single-core performance is better, with scores coming around at 1602 in GeekBench. The iPad Pro, comparatively, featured a single-core score of just 1118.
The impressive part about this is that while the A12Z is built on the older 7nm process, it also features a total of 8 cores. Whereas the A14 Bionic features a total of 6 cores with a faster clock speed. This just goes to show that you don’t need a higher core count to get a better performance. But that’s not the entire picture, and we’ll touch more on it in a bit.
For one reason or another, Apple has committed to keeping TouchID for some devices, while it’s a thing of the past for others. Since the 2020 iPad Air features a slimmer and bezel-less design, that means there is no space for the Home Button, or TouchID. So Apple did something we’ve seen from Android phone makers and integrated TouchID in an ingenious location – the Power Button.
This was one of those features that many were hoping would come to the iPhone 12. And after seeing it included with the new iPad Air, it was almost a foregone conclusion, until it wasn’t. The problem with Face ID is that while it’s ultimately more secure and can be faster, there’s just something about unlocking your device with a fingerprint that is easier overall. Especially given the state of the world in 2020, with more folks wearing masks while in public.
Likely as a way to keep the iPad Air and iPad Pro separate, Apple did not bring Face ID to the iPad Air. So while these are the two best biometric methods you can find today, you have to pick one or the other and can’t have the best of both worlds.
Price is king
The final big difference between the 2020 iPad Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro comes down to price. For the base 64GB Wi-Fi only model, you’ll “only” have to spring for $599, compared to $799 for the 11-inch iPad Pro. That’s a savings of $200 that you can then put towards the aforementioned accessories like the Magic Keyboard and/or Apple Pencil.
Even jumping for 256GB of storage (the most you can get with the iPad Air) is still less expensive than the base model iPad Pro ($749). So has Apple cannibalized one of its own products already? Not so fast.
Why even bother with the 11-inch iPad Pro?
So remember when we were talking about how great it was that the iPad Air outperformed the Pro in Single Core performance? That’s the only upper hand that the Air has over the Pro in terms of performance.
Apple has packed 6GB of RAM into the Pro, along with offering a total of eight cores with the A12Z Bionic. This allows the iPad Pro to wallop the Air when it comes to multi-core performance, putting up a score of 4657 versus 4194 from the A14 Bionic.
So why does this matter? Well, for most potential iPad owners, it won’t. But if you plan on taking using the iPad for some photo editing with the new Photoshop, or even tinkering with a resource-heavy app like LumaFusion, then the multi-core performance is the way to go.
That’s not even going down the route of having an overall better display in the iPad Pro versus the Air. Yes, the 0.1-inch size difference is negligible at best. But, what isn’t is the ProMotion display, which offers a smoother experience when navigating and interacting with your iPad Pro. This is a game changer, and is one reason why I, personally, could never go back to an iPad without ProMotion.
Another benefit the iPad Pro has in its favor are the various storage options. Sure, the Air may have more colors, but is limited to either 64GB or 256GB of built-in storage. Meanwhile, the Pro comes in at 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB (!!!) of storage. If you plan on turning your iPad into your primary computer, then the choice is rather simple, as you’ll need to go for the Pro.
The 2020 iPad Air is the way to go for many
Moving my excitement aside for the better multi-core performance and higher storage options, that’s not enough for many. The iPad Air 2020 gives the “average” consumer enough benefits, with an all-new design and the latest Apple processor to make this the “perfect” tablet. All of that, with a price tag starting at $200 less, and it’s pretty compelling.
Then, throw in the compatibility with the Magic Keyboard and 2nd-generation Apple Pencil, and it’s a home run. The icing on the cake comes in with awesome and unique color options that provide something other than just the same silver and gray options.
It’s true, Apple may have cannibalized its 11-inch iPad Pro, which was just refreshed earlier this year. But the professionals already have their eyes on the future, and the next iteration of the iPad Pro will surely widen the gap.
Andrew is a freelance writer based on the East Coast of the US.
He has written for a variety of sites over the years, including iMore, Android Central, Phandroid, and a few others. Now, he spends his days working for an HVAC company, while moonlighting as a freelance writer at night.