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(Pocket-lint) - Apple revealed the fifth generation iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and third generation iPad Pro 11 (2021) at an event in April. The two devices sit above the fourth generation iPad Air (2020), the eighth generation iPad (2020) and the iPad mini.

You can read how all Apple's iPad's compare in our separate feature, but here we are looking at how the new iPad Pros compare to the iPad Air to help you work out which is right for you.

Here is how the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) stacks up against the iPad Pro 11 (2021) and iPad Air (2020).

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Design

  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2021): 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm, 682g
  • iPad Pro 11 (2021): 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm, 466g
  • iPad Air (2020): 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm, 458g

The Apple iPad Pro 12.9 and Apple iPad Pro 11 share identical designs, though their measurements differ. The iPad Air meanwhile, borrows some of the iPad Pro's design features, like very narrow bezels around the screen and an aluminium body with square edges but there are some differences elsewhere.

The iPad Pro models have a large square camera housing in the top left corner - like the iPhone 12 models - and they have two camera lenses within that housing. The iPad Air has a singular camera lens in the top left corner so there's a slight step down in the camera department.

The iPad Pro models feature Face ID at the top of their displays, while the iPad Air has Touch ID built into the power button at the top - both allow for as much screen as possible in the body available though.

All models have a Smart Connector on the back and all are compatible with the second generation Apple Pencil and Magic Folio Keyboard.

The iPad Pro models have Thunderbolt/USB 4 for charging and data transfer, while the iPad Air has USB-C. The iPad Pro models come in Silver and Space Grey colours, but the iPad Air comes in Rose Gold, Green and Sky Blue on top of Silver and Space Grey, making for some more exciting finish options.

In terms of overall size and weight, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is the largest and heaviest, while the iPad Pro 11 (2021) and iPad Air are almost identical in size and weight, with the iPad Pro 11 slightly slimmer and the iPad Air slightly lighter.

Display

  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2021): 12.9-inch, Liquid XDR, 2732 x 2048 resolution (264ppi), 1600nits, ProMotion, True Tone
  • iPad Pro 11 (2021): 11-inch, Liquid Retina, 2388 x 1668 resolution (264ppi), 600nits, ProMotion, True Tone
  • iPad Air (2020): 10.9-inch, Liquid Retina, 2360 x 1640 resolution (264ppi), 500nits, True Tone

The Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) has a 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, which is the largest and brightest of the three iPads being compared here with a 1600nits peak brightness (HDR). The iPad Pro 11 (2021) and iPad Air have a Liquid Retina display, with the iPad Pro featuring an 11-inch screen and a max brightness of 600nits and the Air offering a 10.9-inch display with a max brightness of 500nits.

All three models have a pixel density of 264ppi and they all have an anti-reflective coating, P3 wide colour display, True Tone technology and a fully laminated display.

The iPad Pro models come with Apple's ProMotion technology though, offering a 120Hz variable refresh rate, while the iPad Air doesn't have this on board, marking the biggest distinction between the iPad Pro 11 and iPad Air in terms of display. 

Hardware and specs 

  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2021): Apple M1 chip, 8GB/16GB RAM, up to 2TB storage, 10-hour battery, 5G
  • iPad Pro 11 (2021): Apple M1 chip, 8GB/16GB RAM, up to 2TB storage, 10-hour battery, 5G
  • iPad Air (2020): A14 Bionic, up to 1TB storage, 10-hour battery, 4G

The Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and the iPad Pro 11 (2021) both run on Apple's M1 chip - which is the same chip that can be found in the new iMac and the latest MacBook Pros so you're talking about quite a bit of power here. They also both have come with a choice of 8GB or 16GB of RAM and storage options start at 128GB and go up to 2TB. 

The 2021 iPad Pro models come in Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi and Cellular options, with the latter offering 5G connectivity.

The iPad Air (2020) meanwhile, runs on the A14 Bionic chip which although still more than capable and a very powerful processor, isn't quite as advanced as the M1. There are also no RAM options to choose between and storage only goes up to 1TB.

The iPad Air comes in Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi and Cellular models too but the Wi-Fi and Cellular models are 4G rather than 5G.

All three models have a 10-hour battery life. As mentioned though, the iPad Pro models have Thunderbolt/USB 4, while the iPad Air has USB-C. The iPad Pro models also have four-speaker audio, while the iPad Air has two-speaker audio.

Cameras

  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2021): 12MP (f/1.8) +10MP (f/2.4) rear, 12MP front
  • iPad Pro 11 (2021): 12MP (f/1.8) +10MP (f/2.4) rear, 12MP front
  • iPad Air (2020): 12MP (f/1.8), 7MP front

Both the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and the iPad Pro 11 (2021) come with a 12-megapixel wide (f/1.8) and 10-megapixel ultra wide (f/2.4) camera on their rear. They also have 2x optical zoom out, 5x digital zoom and a brighter True Tone flash, as well as Smart HDR 3 for photos.

The iPad Air has a single 12-megapixel wide camera on the rear with an f/1.8 aperture. It offers 5x digital zoom and smart HDR 3 for photos.

On the front, the iPad Pro 12.9 and the iPad Pro 11 come with a 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera with ultra wide camera. It offers an f/2.4 aperture with 2x optical zoom out and a number of features including Centre Stage, portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, Animoji and Memoji and extended dynamic range for video up to 30fps. 

The iPad Air meanwhile, has a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera with an f/2.2 aperture. It has a Retina Flash, Smart HDR 3 for photos and cinematic video stabilisation like the iPad Pro models, but it doesn't have the other features mentioned above.

Price

  • iPad Pro 12.9 (2021): From £999
  • iPad Pro 11 (2021): From £749
  • iPad Air (2020): From £579

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There's quite a big difference in price between the iPad Pro models and the iPad Air. 

The iPad Pro 12.9 starts at £999 in the UK for the Wi-Fi only model, and £1149 for the Wi-Fi and Cellular model. Opt for the top specs and you're looking at quite a significant amount of money.

The iPad Pro 11 starts at £749 in the UK for the Wi-Fi only model and £899 for the Wi-Fi and Cellular model. Again, if you opt for the 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM, you're looking at serious bucks.

The iPad Air starts at £579 in the UK for the Wi-Fi only model, and £709 for the Wi-Fi and Cellular. You of course pay more for the larger storage models, but it is still significantly cheaper than the iPad Pro models.

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Conclusion

The only difference between the iPad Pro 12.9 and the iPad Pro 11, apart from their physical sizes, is the display technology. The 12.9-inch model has an XDR display, while the 11-inch doesn't. Otherwise their specs are the same, but you of course pay more for the larger model.

The iPad Pro 11 and iPad Air are the same size and they have pretty much the same display size too. The iPad Pro offers an extra camera on the rear, an improved front camera with features like Centre Stage, a more powerful processor, a higher storage option of 2TB, 5G capabilities, Thunderbolt over USB-C, RAM options and ProMotion on the display. The Air does have some more exciting colour options though, and it's a bit lighter.

Which you choose of these models will likely come down to not only your budget but what features are important to you. The iPad Air (2020) is fantastic and will be more than adequate for many, though the iPad Pro models do obviously offer those extra premium features and speed.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 21 April 2021.