After updating the iPad Pro earlier this year, Apple last night updated the iPad Air with a whole new design, and the 8th-gen iPad with a new processor. The company’s entire iPad line-up (save the iPad Mini) is now updated for 2020 and if you’re wondering what are the differences between each of these devices, we have you covered.
We will be taking a look at the various feature and hardware differences between the three iPads. And, in order to make things easier to follow, we are breaking this article down into the following sections:
- Design and Build
- Performance (Hardware)
- Apple Pencil and Keyboard Support
- Battery Life
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Design and Build
Up until last night, the iPad Pro was the most clean looking iPad on offer. It has thin bezels all around, a full screen display, and flat edges that harken back to the iPhone 4s days (in a good way). The iPad Pro comes with an aluminium body, a dual rear camera with a third LiDAR sensor, and four speakers plus a USB Type-C port.
Now, the 4th-gen iPad Air has some of those same design elements. You get a full screen display here as well, along with flat edges, same as the iPad Pro. There’s a single rear camera, which is why it kinda looks like the last-gen iPad Pro from behind. The iPad Air is available in more colours than the Pro, by the way. Apart from the Silver and Space Gray of the Pro, the Air is also available in Rose Gold, Green, and Sky Blue.
The 8th-gen iPad, on the other hand, looks the same as its predecessor. You get the same, chunky bezels, and a Touch ID sensor on the home button up front. This too has a single rear camera, by the way, and is available in three colours: Silver, Space Gray, and Rose Gold. Apple didn’t bring the Green and Sky Blue colours to the 8th-gen iPad.
The iPad Pro and iPad Air are closer than ever in terms of dimensions as well. In fact, both the iPad Pro and the iPad Air have the same height and width of 247.6mm and 178.5mm respectively. In thickness, you wouldn’t expect it, but the iPad Air is slightly thicker than the Pro. 0.3mm thicker that is. Still it’s a lighter iPad, weighing in at 458 grams as compared to the 471 grams of the iPad Pro.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Display
Moving on, the iPad Pro’s display is one of the best in class. You get an 11-inch or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina display with a 264ppi pixel density. The resolution obviously varies by screen size, but the 11-inch iPad Pro has a 2388×1668 pixel display. It’s also a very bright screen, at 600 nits typical brightness. Plus, it’s laminated, has an anti-reflective coating on it, and supports P3 wide colour gamut. Moreover, unique to the iPad Pro so far is the 120Hz ProMotion display.
The iPad Air brings a lot of these display features at a lower price, and it now has a bigger 10.9-inch screen as compared to 10.5-inch on the 3rd-gen iPad Air. Same as the iPad Pro, you get a 264ppi display, but the typical brightness is slightly lower at 500 nits. This display is also laminated, and comes with an anti-reflective coating along with P3 wide colour gamut. However, you don’t get the ProMotion display of the iPad Pro here. It’s a standard 60Hz liquid retina screen.
The 8th-gen iPad, on the other hand, cuts down on a lot of display related features, largely to stick to the $329 entry price. The new iPad still has the same 10.2-inch screen, with the same 264ppi pixel density of the other iPads. It also matches the iPad Air in brightness (500 nits). But that’s pretty much all it offers on the display front. There’s no lamination, no anti-reflective coating, P3 colour gamut, and obviously no 120Hz ProMotion.
That’s not to say the 8th-gen iPad’s screen is bad by any means. I’ve used the 7th-gen iPad and that display is great. However, both the iPad Air and the iPad Pro offer a much better viewing experience thanks to their immersive, and better displays. So if that’s a primary concern for you, keep this in mind.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Performance
The iPad Pro comes with Apple’s A12Z Bionic SoC. Up until now, this was certainly the fastest processor in an iPad. However, the new 4th-gen iPad Air comes with the latest A14 Bionic processor, which is bound to be the fastest processor in iPhones at least.
Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t spell out internal hardware differences between its chipsets, so as of right now we don’t know in numbers just what the A14 runs at and how it will compare against the A12Z. However, we do know a couple of things to make educated guesses.
When Apple announced the 4th-gen iPad Air it detailed some aspects of the A14 along with it. So we know that the A14 Bionic comes with a 6-core CPU with 4 high performance and 2 high efficiency cores. We also know that the A14 Bionic comes with a 4-core GPU. Apple claims a 40% increase in performance over the A12 Bionic that was found in the 3rd-gen iPad Air.
However, the A12Z Bionic inside the iPad Pro was designed just for the iPad Pro. It’s not the same chipset we saw in the 3rd-gen iPad Air or the iPhone XS series. The A12Z has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU with specific improvements aimed at computer-like usage since that’s what Apple was aiming for with the iPad Pro this year as well.
How those things factor into performance as a whole isn’t something we can say without using the devices, or at least getting proper numbers about clock speeds among other things, and of course, RAM.
At the very least, it seems the iPad Air is on-par, if not better than, the iPad Pro right now in terms of performance. That said, Apple will likely upgrade the iPad Pro line-up with a new SoC sometime soon and that should bring the difference right back.
Coming to the 8th-gen iPad, the only improvement here is actually with the processor. The iPad now has an A12 Bionic chipset (same as on the 3rd-gen iPad Air) as compared to the A10 Fusion on the 7th-gen iPad, and the A14, and A12Z on the iPad Air and iPad Pro.
Confused yet? That’s because it is confusing.
Bottom line, the iPad offers entry-level iPad experience for an entry-level price. It’s more than powerful enough for most users though and will easily handle a standard workload. The 4th-gen iPad Air on the other, is currently looking like the most powerful iPad on offer and should easily handle all your creative needs.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Cameras
On the optics front (and back, heh), the iPad Pro leads the pack. For starters, it comes with the Face ID True Depth camera up front with a 7MP camera. This can take portrait photos, and create animojis and memojis. It also shoots 1080p videos, and supports Smart HDR.
On the other hand, the new iPad Air also comes with a 7MP camera on the front. However, this isn’t the True Depth camera system, so you don’t get features like portrait mode on the front camera, or support for animojis and memojis. You do, however, get support for shooting 1080p videos, and Smart HDR.
The 8th-gen iPad comes with a 1.2MP camera on the front, which is just hilarious in this day and age. Forget portrait mode and animojis, you can’t even shoot 1080p videos with this. It only supports 720p video recording, and no Smart HDR.
On the back, the iPad Pro comes with a 12MP f/1.8 primary (wide) lens, and a 10MP f/2.4 ultra-wide lens along with the LiDAR scanner. You can shoot 4K videos up to 60FPS and slow-mo videos in 1080p at 120 and 240FPS. The ultra wide lens also shoots slow-mo at 240FPS.
The iPad Air borrows the primary camera from the Pro, so it’s the same 12MP f/1.8 lens here with all the same video features as the iPad Pro. There’s no ultra-wide lens here though, if that’s a big selling point in a tablet for you.
Lastly, the 8th-gen iPad comes with an 8MP f/2.4 primary rear camera. As you’d expect, you can’t shoot in 4K with this. The iPad supports 1080p videos at up to 30FPS, and slow-mo videos in 720p at 120FPS.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Biometrics
All three of the iPad variants we’re discussing support biometric authentication for various purposes. Of course it’s used to unlock your device, but you can also use biometrics to make purchases on the App Store, and (in supported countries) use Apple Pay.
The iPad Pro obviously supports Face ID thanks to the True Depth camera up front. There’s no fingerprint scanner here, but the Face ID recognition does work in landscape and portrait orientations without any problems. (Surprisingly, that’s still not fixed on the iPhone).
The 4th-gen iPad Air and the 8th-gen iPad both support Touch ID. However, they implement it differently. The iPad Air, since it uses the new iPad Pro like design, doesn’t have a home button. Instead, the fingerprint scanner is integrated with the power button up top. The 8th-gen iPad on the other hand, keeps the home button that doubles as the fingerprint scanner.
Personally, I’m not sure how efficient it would be to use Touch ID integrated with the power button because anytime you need to authorise a payment or a purchase, you’ll have to touch the power button, which just sounds less intuitive than touching the home button. Obviously, since I haven’t used the new iPad Air, I can’t say for sure that it’ll be a hassle to do this, but it definitely seems that way.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Apple Pencil and Keyboard Support
All three of these iPads have smart connectors. That means you can hook them up to Apple and Apple certified accessories for things like iPad keyboards. However, while the iPad Pro, and the new iPad Air both support Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio and the new Magic Keyboard, the 8th-gen iPad only supports Apple Smart Keyboard.
Similarly, the iPad Pro and the 4th-gen iPad Air both support the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil. This means you can attach the pencil magnetically to these iPads for charging and storage, which is a lot better than plugging in the 1st-gen Apple Pencil into the lightning port on your iPad. That, by the way, is exactly what you’ll have to do on the 8th-gen iPad since it still supports the first-gen Apple Pencil.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Connectivity
Both the iPad Pro and the 4th-gen iPad Air come with WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0. Plus, they support simultaneous dual band WiFi for speeds up to 1.2Gbps. On the other hand, the 8th-gen iPad comes with WiFi 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 4.2.
While I don’t hold it against Apple to keep the iPad on WiFi 5, essentially, what annoys me is Bluetooth 4.2. There’s no reason for the iPad to have Bluetooth 4.2 anymore.
As far as physical connectivity is concerned, the iPad Air finally made the switch to USB-C this year, joining the iPad Pro as the only two mobile devices from Apple that use USB Type-C. The 8th-gen iPad is still using Lightning.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Battery
Apple’s battery life claims for the iPad line-up are slightly confusing. The iPad Pro comes with a 28.65Wh battery in the 11-inch variant and a 36.71Wh battery in the 13-inch variant. On the iPad Air, you get a 28.6Wh battery, and the 8th-gen iPad packs in a 32.4Wh battery.
However, according to Apple’s testing, all the iPads are rated to last 10 hours of surfing the web on WiFi, or watching video. Or, 9 hours if you’re surfing the web on cellular networks. That makes sense somewhat for the 11-inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air, since both of them have almost the same sized display and the same sized battery. However, the 8th-gen iPad has a smaller 10.2-inch screen and a larger 32.4Wh battery but apparently still lasts the same as the iPad Pro and the iPad Air.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air vs iPad: Price
Starting from the most affordable, the 8th-gen iPad is priced at $329. The 4th-gen iPad Air starts at $599, while the iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 11-inch variant.
As of right now, I don’t see how buying an iPad Pro makes sense. It’s $200 more expensive, and the only advantage it really offers is the 120Hz ProMotion display when compared to the $599 iPad Air. True, the base variant of the iPad Pro comes with 128GB storage as compared to 64GB on the base iPad Air. However, if you spent $749 on the 4th-gen iPad Air you’ll get 256GB storage, and stills ave $50.
Basically, right now, if you’re looking for a high-end iPad for intensive applications, and you don’t need LiDAR, I would suggest you get the iPad Air. The regular iPad is perfect for everyone else who wants a tablet to get regular work done. Although it probably still can’t replace a computer.