iPad Air Vs iPad Pro 2021: Which is better?

iPad Air vs iPad Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s iPad range has dominated the tablet market for years now, and the latest matchup is proof that the company’s main competition in the space is, well, itself. We're setting the iPad Air vs iPad Pro to see which is reigns supreme.

While the former got a sizeable revamp in 2020, the latter marks the first tablet with the tech giant’s transformative M1 chip that’s also found in the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Both product lines have never been closer, but with a sizeable pricing gap of $200 between the two, you may be wondering what your money gets you. 

Both of these devices are easily amongst the best tablets on the market today, but which should you choose? Thankfully, we’re here to settle which slab of glass comes out on top.

iPad Air Vs iPad Pro 2021: Display 

The first thing to note when comparing the tablets is that for the first time ever, the iPad Pro’s 11-inch version is very different to the 12.9-inch one.

That’s because while both sizes of the Pro are powered by Apple’s M1 chip, the 12.9-inch has a mini-LED backlighting system that offers ‘local dimming zones’. In less techy terms, that means it’s particularly bright, doesn’t drain the battery as much as you’d think, and offers the best viewing experience you can find on a tablet.

iPad Air

(Image credit: Apple)

While the 10.9-inch iPad Air doesn’t offer the same fancy tech, it does offer the same ‘Liquid Retina’ display as found in the 11-inch version. This means you get a sharp resolution as well as the curved corners that give it a modern design.

Winner: iPad Pro 12.9-inch

iPad Air Vs iPad Pro 2021: Specs and price

The iPad Air starts at $599, and for that money you’ll get a Wi-fi only, 64GB model in a choice of colors, and while you can boost its storage to 256GB for $749, that’s the max capacity. It uses Apple’s A14 Bionic chip, which is the same as the iPhone 12 range.

On the other hand, the iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 11-inch version with 128GB of storage, and is powered by the M1 chip which means incredible performance. The 12.9-inch version, though, will set you back $1099, but it does have the aforementioned mini-LED system.

iPad Pro offers up to 2TB of storage for an eye-watering $1899, and are available in Space Gray or Silver. 

The iPad Air is available with 4G connectivity, but the iPad Pro is Apple’s first tablet to offer 5G cellular.

The iPad Air is fantastic, but if you need more storage than the base model, you may find it worthwhile to jump to the 128GB 11-inch Pro. While it’s $50 more than the 256GB iPad Air, you’ll be getting a sizeable performance jump - if you can stomach the storage hit.

Winner: iPad Pro 11-inch

iPad Air Vs iPad Pro 2021: Features

There are plenty of similarities between the Apple’s latest and greatest tablets, and many of them are to do with what accessories can be connected. Apple has been increasingly working towards the iPad being a modular device, and to that end, both the iPad Air and iPad Pro (in both sizes) are compatible with the Magic Keyboard accessory and Apple Pencil.

Those accessories don’t come cheap, though, and if you’re factoring those in then the price can start to spiral - and may leave you considering a laptop instead.

iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

Thankfully, they also pack some fantastic features into their slimline chassis, too. Both offer charging via the more ubiquitous USB-C, a solid 10-hour battery life, and if you’re the type to take photos using a tablet, you’ll find competent snappers on both (albeit with the Pro range offering a much more comprehensive set of zoom options).

If you’re looking to make a lot of video calls, we’d opt for the Pro, though. It offers a larger image sensor on the front-facing camera, as well as ‘Center Stage’ which keeps the video focused on whoever is talking.

The Pro is also better suited to watching video content, or enjoying music, thanks to a four speaker audio system, and if you’re OK with connecting peripherals for work, you can use its USB-C port as a Thunderbolt port for blazing fast transfer speeds.

Finally, the M1 chip means that the iPad Pro is likely to be the most powerful tablet on the market for some time - even if iPadOS doesn’t necessarily demand all that power at the moment.

Winner: iPad Pro

iPad Air Vs iPad Pro 2021: Battery life

As we noted above, despite the M1 chip in the Pro models, battery life remains at 10 hours while surfing the web or watching video.

As with any device, a more demanding workload will see that decrease, but presumably while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has space for a larger battery, the mini-LED display technology means it doesn’t offer any tangible benefits.

Winner: Tie

iPad Air Vs iPad Pro 2021: Which should you buy? 

If you’re a casual web-surfer and movie watcher, or if you’re a digital artist and just want to grab an Apple Pencil and create content, then the iPad Air is an excellent choice.

If you’re looking for something a little more powerful, then the iPad Pro offers unrivalled performance, but there’s little to do with all that power - making it a pricey investment, particularly when factoring in accessories.

Lloyd Coombes
Customer Advisor, Computing

Lloyd Coombes is Top Ten Reviews' Computing Customer Advisor, and a freelance writer with a specialism in tech, gaming, and fitness. Since starting out as a blogger, he’s written for sites like IGN, TechRadar, and more.

An expert on all things Apple ever since he got a second-hand iMac, Lloyd can regularly be found testing software on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac — when he’s not testing the platforms themselves, that is. He’s also Dexerto.com’s Games Editor, and a podcaster.

When he’s not writing, you can probably find him running after his son, playing Destiny 2, or at the gym.