iPad Air (2022) vs 11-inch iPad Pro (2021): Save your money

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iPad Air (2022) vs 11-inch iPad Pro (2021): Save your money
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It's time to compare Apple's new, M1-powered iPad Air (2022), also known as the iPad Air 5, against the more premium option – the currently-newest 11-inch iPad Pro from last year.

Should you shed quite a bit of extra dollars to get the iPad Pro, or does the new iPad Air offer pretty much the same great experience, minus a few gimmicks? Let's find out!

Apple iPad Air (2022)

Apple iPad Air (2022)

The Good

  • Unrivaled performance at this price
  • Premium build quality
  • Solid speakers
  • Supports iPad Pro (11-inch) accessories

The Bad

  • 64 GB of base storage is a bit stingy, the only other option is a costly jump to 256 GB
  • Expensive accessories

Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2021)

Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2021)

The Good

  • Smooth 120Hz display
  • Snappy, unrivaled performance thanks to the Apple M1 processor
  • Loud and punchy quad speakers
  • Familiar premium design

The Bad

  • iPadOS 14 doesn't take advantage of all this power
  • Expensive accessories

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Colors, price and storage options

If you like expressing yourself through fun colors or just having a more interesting-looking iPad, you'll have to go for the iPad Air 5. While that one has a rainbow of color options to pick from, the iPad Pro only has silver and gray.

iPad Air 5 colors:
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Pink
  • Starlight
  • Space Gray

iPad Pro (2021, 11-inch) colors:
  • Silver
  • Space Gray

Obviously the iPad Pro's colors match its theme of being the "sleeker, professional" tablet, so we realistically can't exactly expect it to come out in purple and what not, but still. You'll need to get a colorful iPad Pro case or cover in order to make it pop.

As for storage options, you'll definitely get way more from the iPad Pro, while the iPad Air still starts a bit stingy with only 64 GB. If you're a content creator or just expect to film a lot of videos, that likely won't be enough at all.

iPad Air 5 storage options and starting price:
  • 64 GB – $599
  • 128 GB – $749

iPad Pro (2021, 11-inch) storage options and starting price:
  • 128 GB – $799
  • 256 GB – $899
  • 512 GB – $1099
  • 1 TB – $1499
  • 2 TB – $1899

Of course, if you get those tablets with cellular connectivity, those prices will jump even more. But again – basically, if you plan on creating content like filming and editing videos, or you want to download lots of movies, shows, music and games directly on your tablet – the base iPad Air 5 won't cut it. You'll need to invest in either the 256 GB iPad Air or the iPad Pro.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Design and display

At first glance the iPad Air (2022) and the 11-inch iPad Pro (2021) aren't that different. Both feel nice and premium to the touch, with glass at the front and metal everywhere else. Sleek, flat edges, reasonably lightweight.

Speaking of weight, the iPad Air 5 is slightly lighter at 462 grams, while the 11-inch iPad Pro is 466.

Now let's talk about their design differences, however few those might be. The iPad Air 5 has just a single camera on the back, while the iPad Pro has a large square module holding two cameras and a LiDAR sensor.

On the front, the iPad Air 5 has ever so slightly thicker bezels around the display, making it a 10.9-inch one. While the iPad Pro has exactly the same body dimensions, thanks to its smaller bezels its screen is a tiny bit larger at 11.0 inches.

And perhaps most notably, albeit hardest to notice – the iPad Air 5 has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor embedded in its power key, while the iPad Pro does not. Instead, the Pro uses a Face ID sensor array to unlock itself once it detects its user's face, which can be quicker and more convenient for some than Face ID. But, in these times – some of us have to wear masks or just might plain not like Face ID – so Touch ID likely has its fans who'd prefer it. In any case, you either get one or the other.

The display differences between the iPad Air 5 and the 11-inch iPad Pro don't end at size. While both displays are LCD (not AMOLED or Mini-LED), the iPad Pro's screen has twice as smooth refresh rate – 120 Hz. It's also a bit brighter, and at a slightly higher resolution.

iPad Air 5 display specs:
  • Size: 10.9 inches
  • Resolution: 2360 by 1640 pixels, 264 pixels per inch (ppi)
  • Refresh rate: 60 Hz
  • Peak brightness: 500 nits
  • P3 wide color
  • Supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation)

iPad Pro 11-inch display specs:
  • Size: 11.0 inches
  • Resolution: 2388 by 1668 pixels, 264 pixels per inch (ppi)
  • Refresh rate: 120 Hz
  • Peak brightness: 600 nits
  • P3 wide color
  • Supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation)

I personally don't find the 120 Hz screen refresh rate on the iPad Pro a must-have, but it does indeed make scrolling through iPadOS feel smoother.

Some people can't seem to live without it, so if you feel like you're one of them, and you've already been spoiled by 120 Hz laptops and tablets – you'll definitely want it. Otherwise – I doubt most users would find that particular feature important or necessary.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Performance

This is pretty hilarious – the new "mid-tier" iPad Air 5 is actually more powerful than the currently-latest, flagship 11-inch iPad Pro, at least in some instances.

That's despite the fact that both the iPad Pro and the iPad Air 5 pack Apple's famously powerful M1 processor, along with 8-core CPUs and GPUs. I'll let our benchmarks speak for themselves:

Higher is better
Apple iPad Air(2022)
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch(2021)

As we can see, the iPad Air 5 is ever so slightly more powerful than the 2021 iPad Pro when it comes to single-core performance on Geekbench. But click on "multi-core" and the difference is a bit more significant.

Yet in some of the other benchmark tests, the Pro has the upper hand, so all of this gives us just a rough idea of the tablets' performance. But bottom line – both are some of the best-performing tablets on the market right now.

The thing is, though – iPadOS doesn't really take full advantage of all that M1 power right now, in my opinion, so rest assured that either tablet will crush any tasks you throw at it effortlessly.

It's also worth mentioning that both the iPad Air 5 and the iPad Pro (2021) have 8 GB of RAM, so again – the Pro doesn't really have an edge. That is unless you buy the top-tier iPad Pro with one or two terabytes of storage – those exclusively have 16 GB of RAM.

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More RAM essentially means more apps can stay open in the background for longer, readily waiting for you, without needing to refresh once you get back to them.

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iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Camera

As mentioned before, the iPad Air 5 only has a single main camera on the back, plus a single front (FaceTime) camera. The iPad Pro, however, is equipped with two main cameras on the back, plus a LiDAR sensor. Let's take a look at the specs again.

iPad Air 5 camera specs:
  • Main camera: 12 MP Wide camera
  • Video recording: up to 4K, 60 frames-per-second
  • Smart HDR 3 support
  • Front camera: 12 MP Ultra Wide front camera with Center Stage
  • Front camera video recording: up to 1920 by 1080 (Full HD)

11-inch iPad Pro (2021) camera specs:
  • Main camera: 12 MP Wide camera
  • Second camera: 10 MP Ultra Wide camera with 2x optical zoom out
  • LiDAR Scanner
  • Video recording: up to 4K, 60 frames-per-second
  • Cinematic video stabilization
  • Smart HDR 3 support
  • Front camera: 12 MP (Wide Angle, HDR)
  • Front camera video recording: up to 1920 by 1080 (Full HD)

If you're one of many aspiring YouTubers, you'll find that the iPad Pro offers a more feature-rich video recording experience, although both tablets have pretty good main cameras… for a tablet. We have sample photos and videos taken with each one below for you to check out.

As for their front cameras (a.k.a. FaceTime cameras) – both of these are pretty decent for things like video calls, and both support Center Stage. That's a feature which will crop in the footage from either tablet's front camera to zoom close to where your face is, and follow you around as you move, like you have your own personal camera operator.

Video Thumbnail

Video Thumbnail

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Speakers and microphones

While both tablets have four speaker grills, two on each side (when in landscape orientation) – the iPad Air 5 actually has only two speakers, while the iPad Pro has four.

In my personal opinion, that doesn't necessarily mean the iPad Pro sounds better, but it does get louder. But objectively, both tablets produce fantastic sound, especially compared to the competition.

Both have great stereo separation and can fill a room with clear sound, with rich highs and mids, and even a hint of bass that you'll feel while holding them.

Whether you're gaming or watching a movie in bed with a loved one, both the iPad Air 5 and the iPad Pro will likely provide a perfectly satisfactory sound for you to enjoy the experience.

As for the microphone situation, the iPad Air 5 has dual microphones for calls, video recording and the sort. But the iPad Pro has five microphones that Apple calls studio-quality, so that's something to keep in mind if you're a YouTuber looking to use your iPad for both content creation and editing. Check out our video samples above to see how both of these tablets sound in terms of audio recording.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Accessories

The iPad Air 5 and the 11-inch iPad Pro have exactly the same body dimensions, so the Air can use pretty much all the great Apple accessories the Pro has. That includes Apple's awesome (but pretty pricey) Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro 11-inch and the Smart Folio Keyboard.

And speaking of accessories, both the iPad Air 5 and iPad Pro support the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil, and have a magnetic charging dock for it.

So in terms of accessories, you're not sacrificing anything if you go with the iPad Air instead of the Pro; you'll likely find plenty of iPad Pro keyboard cases and covers that can fit both.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Battery life

According to Apple, and we know this to be true from years of using its iPads, both of these will last you up to 10 hours of surfing the web or watching videos over Wi-Fi.

And honestly, maybe even more depending on your usage. So whether you plan on using either iPad for work or school, they'll get you through the day. And their standby time is excellent too.

Change that 10 hours to 9 if you get one of the Wi-Fi + Cellular models, though.

As for the charging situation, both tablets charge via the USB Type-C port they have on the bottom (or right side, when held in landscape orientation). And both the iPad Air 5 and iPad Pro come with a 20W charger in the box, in addition to a meter-long USB‑C charging cable. Which, if you're also an iPhone user, you know is pretty "generous" these days.

iPad Air 5 vs iPad Pro: Which one should you buy?

So, should you buy the new iPad Air 5 or the 11-inch iPad Pro? Now that we've covered that both are very powerful tablets, packing that Apple M1 chip, and both support the exact same pro accessories by Apple, what would be the main differences to sway you towards the Pro?

Well, the iPad Pro has a smoother 120 Hz display, while the iPad Air 5's screen still refreshes at the more traditional 60 Hz. The iPad Pro has two extra speakers, totaling four, slightly smaller screen bezels, and an additional main camera, plus a LiDAR sensor. And if you buy a top-spec iPad Pro with 1TB or 2TB of storage, you'll get twice as much RAM – 16 GB as opposed to 8.

But as someone who's used both tablets extensively, unless you want more storage – the rest is pretty much stuff most users don't need, as they don't make that huge of a difference, if any. The iPad Air also has more color options, and of course – most importantly – is quite more affordable.

So it's down to you. If you're a content creator – you should probably invest in the Pro for the better cameras, more storage and smoother display, but if you're just someone who wants an entertainment device – the iPad Air 5 will deliver everything you'll ever need from it without breaking a sweat. So for most people – I'd advise you to save your money and get the new iPad Air 5.

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