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iPad Pro vs iPad Air 4: impressive performance but should you wait?

iPads are head and shoulders above any other tablet in the market. I am certainly biased as I am knee-deep in the Apple’s ecosystem and a low-key fanboy, but most people acknowledge Apple’s devices are beautifully crafted and certainly powerful, whether it justifies the price is down to personal opinion. As the name suggests, iPad Pro is geared towards the professional market, packed in the top of the line features and mind-blowing processing power that they claimed can replace your laptop. But when Apple announced the iPad Air 4 in October 2020 only 7 months after the iPad Pro 2020 upgrade, it muddied the water, BIG TIME. Packed in their latest A14 chip, the single-core processing power even out-performed the A12Z chip in the iPad Pro. So which one should you get or should you wait for the rumoured iPad Pro upgrade just around the corner?

Spec

Let’s get the important spec out of the way

 iPad Pro 2020iPad Air 4
Display11” or 12.9” 
Liquid retina and true tone
ProMotion Technology
600nits
10.9”
Liquid retina and true tone
500nits
ChipA12Z: 
8 cores CPU 8 cores GPU
1.59GHz (boost 2.49GHz)
7nm process
A14:
6 cores CPU 4 cores GPU
1.80GHz (boost 3.01GHz)
5nm process
Storage128, 256, 512GB or 1TB64 or 256GB
Main Camera12MP Wide
10MP Ultra Wide
LiDAR
12MP Wide
Front CameraTrueDepth cameraFaceTime HD camera
ConnectorUSB-C (Up to 10 Gbps)USB-C (Up to 5 Gbps)
UnlockFace IDTouch ID
PriceFrom £769From £579

Display

The main advantage with iPad Pro is their ProMotion (as in “Pro” in “Motion” not like the supermarket sales…I know) technology. It is an adaptive refresh rate that can scale between 60Hz or 120Hz depends on the task at hand. So when you are scrolling through pages, they scale up to 120Hz to give that extra buttery smooth experience or when you are using the Apple pencil to draw to give you take low latency as if you are actually drawing using ink and pen and maybe some games that can take advantage of the fast refresh rate. But then drop back down to 60Hz if you are just reading a news article or watch a YouTube video to save you those precise juice to make your entertainment last longer through the day.

Although iPad Air 4 remains only 60Hz, the argument is that you won’t notice what you are missing unless under direct comparison. We have been using a 60Hz screen for years without any problem and surely if you are an iPhone user, have you ever sit there and think this screen is so laggy and slow? With that said, if you need that absolute minimal latency or you have an android phone that you are so used to 90Hz or 120Hz display screen, iPad might be your choice, so 1 : 0 to iPad Pro.

Chip

iPad Air 4 takes the latest A14 Bionic chip, with an industry-leading 5nm fabricating process allowing more transistors to be packed in and a higher frequency. It is not hard to see the A14 chip is just more advanced than the A12Z, and surely enough A14 crushed the A12Z in single-core performance. Although what is a lack in single-core performance, A12Z compensate by having more cores. 2 more high-performance cores and 4 more GPU cores to be precise. So iPad Pro still has an edge over the iPad Air 4 in multitasking power. What is surprising though is that despite having 4 fewer GPU cores, iPad Air 4 still managed to out-perform iPad Pro in graphic performance. Here is a link to all those numbers crunched by MacRumors. Unless you are a power user that requires every drop of CPU core performance like 4K video editing, “mid-tier market” iPad Air 4 out-powered the “professional market” iPad Pro in almost another scenario. ONE ALL!!!

Camera

iPad Pro has an extra 10MP ultra-wide camera lens compared to the Air 4. I am not judging, but walking around on the street taking pictures with your iPad doesn’t sound like what the majority of people do. So the fact that Air 4 has one less camera, in my opinion, is better. Get rid of the unnecessary thing to keep it cheap(er) – everything is relative…

Although the same argument cannot be used for the front-facing camera, iPad Pro comes with their TrueDepth camera also seen in iPhones for portrait mode and Face ID unlock. This TrueDepth can unlock your iPad both on portrait and landscape orientation which is very handy. iPad Air 4 only has the usual FaceTime HD front-facing camera which means no blurry background selfie or Face ID. Although nowadays with us all wearing masks everywhere, you might actually appreciate the Touch ID that is integrated on the top button more. So let’s say they draw on this one.

Storage

iPad Pro offers four different storage options to choose from, 128GB all the way to 1TB, but Air 4 only has two, 64 or 256GB. Let’s be honest, with today’s 4K movies and the million selfies you have, the 64GB option is a bit petty. But Apple notoriously over-charging their storage and no 128GB option, Air 4 quickly loses its price advantage. 256GB Air 4 starting at £729 which is merely £40 difference from the iPad Pro 128GB version. It is like giving you the option of either using a toothpick or a nuclear bomb to clean your house. This is where it kind of gets difficult in judging who comes out on top. If you only need 128GB storage, iPad Pro seems a bit more sensible with the many extra minor boosts for £40 extra. But if you are only a 128GB kind of person, do you really need all those minor boosts or should you instead use those £40 to treat yourself to a takeaway tonight?

Miscellaneous

Something good to know but unlikely to be a make or break deal to most people. Pro has a 600nits display rather than a 500nits in Air 4, they both use a USB-C connector but Pro offers transfer speed up to 10 Gbps rather than 5 Gbps in Air 4. There is a 0.1″ difference between the Air 4 and Pro 11″, and the Air 4 is 0.2mm thicker but 13 gram lighter.

Verdict

With the iPad Air 4 only released 7 months after the iPad Pro upgrade, Apple has quickly closed the gap between its mid-tier product and its flagship pro-level product. Some say iPad Air 4 is the true iPad Pro killer, but some also argue with their weird storage options, Air 4 is really a product to sell the most basic config. Pro.

Recommend:

If you want an iPad Pro but think the price is just slightly out of reach, iPad Air 4 is a very good alternative with minimal compromise. Faster chip, USB-C and support Apple Pencil Gen 2 that charges magnetically rather than sticking out like a giant lollipop.

If you have the money and require the top features all-round, iPad Pro, despite an older chip, is still a go-to choice. There are not many apps out there capable of challenging its processing limits. And if you require a bigger display such as a digital artist wanting a large physical canvas, you have no other choice but the Pro that offers 12.9″.

Think Twice

What I really think though, unless you need the iPad right now, you might benefit from waiting for a few weeks. Some rumours suggest Apple is going to release an updated iPad Pro in April. They all seem to suggest that this year iPad Pro will have the latest mini-LED display (at least in the 12.9″) and carry the chip with similar processing power to the M1 chip used in MacBook Pro/Air that has blown the whole computer industry away. If that is all true, it might worth waiting until then to either see some discount on the 2020 iPad Pro or get the best iPad Pro possible. 

Although how much you can rely on those rumours, you can look at Jon Prosser’s eyebrows and judge it yourself 😉

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