iPad Pro vs. iPad Air: Going Back To School (Which One Is The Best?)

Last Updated on August 26, 2022 by Ernest and Saad

The iPad Pro and iPad Air both have cemented themselves as one of the best tablets money can buy, period. With more than a few differences between the two and the school season almost starting, we thought, why not pit these two behemoths and see which one is the best if you are returning to school?

Therefore, we took the iPad Pro 12.9” equipped with the M1 chip and the iPad Air 10.9” also equipped with the M1 chip to find out which one is the best for students.

So, without further adieu, let’s get started!

iPad Pro vs. iPad Air – The Key Differences

Let’s kick things off by understanding the key demographic for which both tablets were originally intended for. The iPad Pro, aptly suggested by the name, is meant for professionals. It is packed with the latest and greatest in terms of screen, size, performance, and design.

On the other hand, the newly released iPad Air is meant for the all-rounder. It has the same design language as the iPad Pro, with the same M1 chip present in it as well. This puts us in a unique situation. Why? Well, the iPad Pro costs almost $200 more than the iPad Air. 

This begs the question, is the price hike worth it for a student? Or, are you better off with a cheaper iPad Air? After all, if you have a budget of $800, you’ll be able to snag an Apple Pencil 2 and a pair of AirPods 2 at the same price as it would’ve cost you to get a standalone iPad Pro.

So, before diving into the nitty gritty, let’s take a look at the difference in specifications:

SpecificationiPad Air iPad Pro  
Display Size10.9”12.9” or 11” 
Refresh Rate60 Hz120 Hz
Display TypeLiquid RetinaLiquid Retina XDR (12.9” model)
Camera12 MP Wide Back Camera12 MP Wide Back Camera and 10 MP Ultra Wide Back Cameras
ConnectivityUSB-CUSB-C with Thunderbolt / USB 4 support
ColorsSpace Gray, Pink, Purple, Blue, StarlightSpace Gray, Silver
LiDAR NoYes
Speakers2 Speaker Array4 Speaker Array
MicrophonesAverageStudio Quality
AuthenticationTouch ID Face ID
Battery Life10 Hours11 Hours
Weight1.01 lbs1.41 lbs (12.9”) and 1.03 lbs (11”)

Display

The display is where the iPad Pro 5th gen lineup truly takes it up a notch over the iPad Air 5th gen. Offering 120 Hz ProMotion alongside an inherently new display technology, mini-LED in the 12.9” model. Now, if you don’t care about the high refresh rate or simply don’t mind the worse color accuracy or brightness, then the iPad Pro has nothing to offer you.


But, on the other hand, if you are an aspiring creative professional who would want to edit photos on the go on a color-accurate screen or are into tablet gaming, then the iPad Pro (especially the 12.9”) simply offers the best screen an iPad has ever had. 

That doesn’t change from the fact that the iPad Air too has an excellent screen. It uses Apple’s Liquid Retina LED with a P3 Wide Color gamut that doesn’t look too shabby in its own right. But, place it next to a 12.9” iPad Pro; the difference between them is night and day.

Performance

The iPad Air and iPad Pro both come with the same CPU, the M1. Therefore, don’t expect either to be running circles around each other. The only difference is the amount of RAM that is packed into both. The iPad Air is locked in at 8 GBs of RAM, while the iPad Pro offers a 16 GB variant if you decide to shell out for the 1 TB or 2 TB storage options.

From what we’ve tested, the 8 GB RAM configuration on either tablet is more than enough for students and even heavier users. This is because Apple has done a fantastic job at ensuring iPadOS hogs up as little memory as possible. So, we’re met with a pleasant experience even when we have multiple tabs and applications open.

Apple Pencil And Other Accessories Support

The iPad Pro and iPad Air both support the same lineup of accessories. Once we strapped on our Paperlike Screen Protector on both the devices and got to work, the only difference we noticed in terms of drawing experience with the Pencil 2 was the smoothness of the ProMotion display.

Other than that, there was no significant change in how both the devices reacted to Apple’s own accessories. So, there’s no reason to go for the iPad Pro if you plan on using the Apple Pencil 2 or the Magic Keyboard, as both devices support them.

As we mentioned earlier, the iPad Air is a better pick if you are purchasing accessories, as you’ll end up spending less. All in all, you’ll get more value for your money by opting for the iPad Air.

Cameras and Microphone

The iPad Pro has a better camera array since it comes with a LiDAR sensor with a 10 MP Ultra Wide on top of what the iPad Air already has (a 12 MP Wide camera.) All in all, we feel like having an Ultra Wide camera really isn’t that special for a student.

Unless and until you want your camera to fit into a specific niche case where you really need an Ultra Wide, there’s no use for it. In fact, we’ve hardly used the Ultra Wide in our day-to-day with the iPad Pro since it simply isn’t convenient enough to become our primary shooter. We’d rather whip out our iPhone or any other mobile phone we have to take a shot at when the moment arrives.

For the front-facing department, we have the exact same camera with the exception of the iPad Pro having access to Portrait mode, Memoji, and Animoji. Also, iPad Pro has Face ID, which iPad Air doesn’t have, which makes unlocking a bit more convenient. Once again, there’s no real advantage to shelling out $200 to use these features since they’re not going to be used in a classroom setting or when you are studying.

Both the iPad Air and iPad Pro feature Center Stage, a feature powered by the M1 that tracks you around your room and zooms your camera in and out depending on where you are and how many subjects there are in the frame. All in all, we’ve had a pleasurable video calling experience on both tablets.

One difference between the iPad Pro and iPad Air is the microphone department. The iPad Pro has a studio-quality array that captures stereo sound with a lot more depth compared to the iPad Air. From our testing, there’s a significant difference between the two. But, for casual conversations, both work just fine.


But, if you are an aspiring singer or need to record extremely high-quality audio from your tablet, then, the iPad Pro is the way to go.

Miscellaneous

Now, we’re going to be discussing a few niche differences that the iPad Pro and iPad Air have and whether they’re worth it:

  • Thunderbolt / USB 4: The iPad Pro supports Thunderbolt / USB 4, which guarantees speeds of about 40-50 GB/s. This standard, while significantly faster, is relatively unused, which means most of your devices wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the faster data transfer speeds anyways.
  • mmWave 5G: The U.S. variant of the iPad Pro supports mmWave 5G, while the cellular iPad Air does not. If you live in an area that uses mmWave 5G, opting for the iPad Pro makes sense. But, for anyone else, this is not a deciding factor.
  • LiDAR Scanner: A LiDAR Scanner is only present in the iPad Pro. It can be extremely useful when you need to take detailed mappings or 3D scans or need accurate depth sensing. But, for the average student you probably will never use the scanner and therefore don’t need it.

Should I Purchase The iPad Air Or iPad Pro For School?

You should purchase the iPad Air 2022 (M1) if you are going back to school. This is because the iPad Pro has no justifiable feature that warrants you shelling out the extra $200 considering an average student’s use case. 

They both offer the same performance, allow you to use the same accessories, and both have capable speakers, microphones, and cameras. The only reason why a student would want to opt for an iPad Pro is simply because of the display. If you’re an artist or photography student – yes, we would recommend iPad Pro in that scenario. 

If you are used to a 120 Hz display or want a larger 12.9” screen, then the iPad Pro is your only option. But if you are fine with 60 Hz and are okay with the portable form factor the 10.9” iPad Air provides, then, you’ll be able to get a great experience out of the tablet.

Don’t get us wrong; the iPad Pro is the best tablet made by Apple. But, the features that make it so much better are simply not worth it for a student. Since you can opt to get some accessories with an iPad Air M1 alongside better color choices, we think the iPad Air is a no-brainer for someone who’s going back to school.

On both of these devices, you will be able to take notes with an apple pencil, type notes with the magic keyboard, take pictures of your classmate’s notes and listen to Spotify, watch Netflix, Disney+, and everything else you can come up with. 

Bonus Tip: Availing The Student Discount

Whether you end up opting for the iPad Pro or the iPad Air, Apple offers sweet student discounts that slash the price of products (especially the iPad Air and AirPods.) So, before you go about ordering, make sure to head to their website and see if you are eligible for a discount.

Conclusion

The iPad Pro and iPad Air are both very capable devices. But, the iPad Air definitely takes the cake over the iPad Pro when it comes to providing the most value for money and aligning with what a student who’s going back to school wants, great battery life, good color selection, performance, and a price that doesn’t break the bank. 

12.9-inch
iPad Pro 5h Gen

Opt in for iPad Pro if you plan to take advantage of its 120Hz Display. If you plan to do any work – draw, edit photos, videos, etc. iPad Pro is a better pick.

10.9-inch
iPad Air 5h Gen

Getting the iPad Air will give you access to almost all of the features that you would have on the iPad Pro. With few exceptions. For students in our opinion it’s a better overall choice since it’s a bit cheaper. For the money you save on the device, you can get an extra Apple Pencil or AirPods. 

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I love tech and all about it. I'm interested in finding ways how they can make my life more productive, and I share my knowledge with my blog readers. I'm an iPad Pro, iPhone, MacBook, and Apple Watch user, so I know a thing or two about these devices and try to write helpful content around these topics.

Content Creator | + posts

Saad is excellent at what he does. He's a tech fanatic. He strives to improve himself wherever he can. He tries to make each article he writes a little better than before. He explains difficult things in a very simple way.