iPad Air vs. iPad Pro

I’ve had many emails lately from prospective iPad customers asking for advice when choosing between the new iPad Air and the 11″ iPad Pro. So here’s my breakdown.

The M1 Processor

Both devices use the same M1 chip. I expect that will change with the next iteration of the iPad Pro, but who knows when that will happen. Both devices also have 5G networking. The iPad Air comes with 8GB of RAM, and the iPad Pro has 8GB and 16GB builds.

The Displays

Both devices have Liquid Retina displays with 264 ppi. Both displays also have True Tone and P3 Wide color. There are differences, though: The iPad Pro screen is 11″ and the iPad Air is 10.9″. The more relevant difference is that the iPad Pro has 120 Hz ProMotion. It doubles the frame rate of the iPad Air, and depending on your preferences, it is a huge deal or not noticeable.

Camera System

Both devices have f/1.8 12MP wide rear and f/2.4 12MP front-facing cameras. The iPad Pro adds an f2.4 10MP Ultra wide rear camera with a LiDAR scanner, and TrueDepth to its front camera.

Authentication

The iPad Pro uses Face ID. The iPad Air uses Touch ID on the top button. This is another one that varies with the user. Both are fine by me, but that isn’t true for everyone.

Speakers

The iPad Pro has a four-speaker system that sounds noticeably better than the two-speaker system in the iPad Air.

Storage

You get limited options with the iPad Air at 64GB or 256GB. The iPad Pro goes up to 2TB of storage.

Colors

The iPad Air has fun, whimsical (but understated) colors. The iPad Pro comes in Silver and Space Gray.

Connectors

Both the iPad Pro and iPad Air have a USB-C connector, with the iPad Pro adding support for Thunderbolt and USB 4. Given the state of iPad OS, you don’t get much bang for your buck on that USB-C connector on the iPad Pro.

Price

The prices of these devices are closer than you’d think. While the iPad Air starts at $599 for 64GB and $799 for the iPad Pro with 128GB, if you even out the storage at 256GB, the iPad Air is $749, and the iPad Pro is $899.

Some Recommendations

You should lean toward the iPad Air if you are on the fence about this. The two devices are so close that you should only be buying the iPad Pro for a specific reason. For instance, if you love ProMotion or need better speakers, pay the extra. However, for the vast majority of folks, the iPad Air is plenty enough iPad.

A Few Thoughts on the New iPad Pro


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It’s been rumored for months, and now it’s here. I’ve got a few thoughts:

  • The new iPad Pro has the same design as the previous iteration. Amen. I really like this design, and I hope it finds its way to the iPhone at some point.

  • The new processor “outpaces most PC laptops available today”. The Apple silicon and hardware team continue to crush it on the iPad. Indeed, they do such a good job that the iPadOS team seems to struggle to keep up.

  • The new Magic Keyboard reminds me of the second-generation Apple Pencil in that it solves so many of the obvious problems with the first generation: Low profile? Check. Adjustable angle? Check. Backlit keys? Check. Scissor switches? Check. Extra USB-C port? Check. Backward compatibility with prior iPad Pro? Check. Floating height!? Check. Also, it adds a trackpad.

  • Speaking of that trackpad, there is a promised iOS update that is going to make trackpad support much better than the current mouse support. With iOS 13, we got support through accessibility. With this new iteration, it looks like we’ll be able to control the entire interface. I’m eager to see what software developers make of this. Also, I’m going to have to now reshoot a bunch of the Photos Field Guide. The mouse/trackpad implementation will be great for screencasters.

  • Improved cameras are always nice. I am curious how many people use their iPads for photography, though. I occasionally use mine for B-Roll when shooting video and to scan documents, but that is about it.

  • The LiDAR camera will most likely also come to the next iPhone. Apple keeps pushing forward on augmented reality, and we all continue to yawn collectively. I wonder when they are going to release the AR glasses. That has to be in the cards.

2020 iPad Rumors


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Steve H. McFly has some renders of the hypothetical new 2020 iPad Pros. (Found via 9to5Mac.) According to McFly, who made similar accurate renders of the iPhone 11 pre-release, the new iPads are going to get the three-camera cluster we have in the iPhone 11 Pro.

I’ve been using this new iPad Pro design daily, and I continue to love it. It just feels great in my hand and the existing version still feels ridiculously overpowered for iPad software. I doubt I’d be upgrading since my existing hardware is great, but if you are still on the older design iPad Pro, you may want to keep an eye out for this new hardware in 2020.

iPhone JD’s 12.9″ iPad Review

I enjoyed reading Jeff Richardson’s iPad review.

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The second generation iPad Pro is better than the first generation iPad Pro in the ways that matter most for attorneys using an iPad to get work done — how the screen looks, how fast and responsive the system is, and how it works with the Apple Pencil.
— Jeff Richardson, iPhone JD

I’ve been using the new 10.5 inch iPad exclusively since I received it but I have occasionally missed the big one, which is particularly good for contract reviews and sheet music. I’m going to continue using the small one exclusively for a few weeks to see exactly how much I miss the big one. Right now I’m leaning toward keeping (but not upgrading) my 12.9 inch iPad for those special times where it makes sense and working primarily from my 10.5.

One Week with the New iPad Pro

I’ve been using the new 10.5 inch iPad Pro a lot over the past week and thought I’d share a few thoughts:

That Screen

Wow. 

The screen refresh at 120 timer per second is immediately noticeable. Everything is snappier. Maps zoom faster. Apps and folders leap off the glass. It plays with your mind. As I write these words, it even seems the cursor is jumping across the screen faster than usual. The screen is also noticeably brighter than my existing iPad Pro. My best summary for this new screen is that it is hyper-real. 

Maybe at some point I’ll get used to this but then again it may just delight me for years. (Retina screens still make me giggle.) Speaking of retina screens, I think the jump from non-retina to retina was a bigger deal than this, but not by much. This tech is pretty remarkable. One clever bit to all of this is that the screen isn’t always driving forward at 120 frames per second. Instead the iPad is smart and only amps things up when needed. If there is no movement going on with the screen, the frame rate slows down to conserve battery.

10.5 Inches

While the feel of the 10.5 inch iPad is about the same as the prior 9.7 inch iPad Pro, Apple managed to add some additional pixels. They did not, however, make the 10.5 inch iPad match the pixel count of the 12.9 inch iPad Pro. Doing so would have allowed us to see two full sized iPad apps on the 10.5 inch iPad but also make everything on the screen smaller. I used to make fun of people that didn’t use the smallest possible typeface on their screens. These days I actually prefer text a little larger. Apple’s decision to keep the same pixel size (so text doesn’t shrink) but just add about 20% more screen real estate with the 10.5 inch iPad works for me. However, 20-year-old me would have preferred smaller pixels and two full-sized iPad apps. 

As for my existing 12.9 inch iPad, I have yet to determine its fate. The big iPad currently taking a sabbatical while I attempt to do all of my work on this 10.5 inch iPad to see how it goes. I’ll revisit and report back in a month or so.

There’s another piece to this larger screen: the keyboard. When I first started using the new 10.5 inch iPad, I didn’t feel the keyboard was any different than that for the 9.7 inch iPad. Now that I’ve spent more time typing on the Smart Keyboard and the glass, I can report this slightly wider keyboard is more comfortable than I expected it to be. Just that little extra width makes a significant difference.

The Pencil

In addition to a faster screen render, the new iPad also provides a faster scan for the pencil at 240 times per second. You won’t notice any difference when drawing quickly. The first time I tried it, I made broad fast strokes on prior generation iPad right next to this 10.5 inch iPad and couldn’t notice a difference. Then I got thinking about the times I try to use the pencil with precision and I started doing some tests. I use the pencil to make very small and detailed annotations on PDFs. I also use the pencil to write music in NotateMe. It was with that second test that I really got religion. NotateMe allows me to write music on my iPad with my pencil. It transcribes the music as I write it and even gives me a little preview. I like using the application to sketch of ideas for songs and solos. This task gets a lot easier with a higher scan rate on pencil. The application gets a better reading and, as a result, gives me better response. No longer do my eighth notes turn into quarter rests. One remarkable part about all this is the fact that I did not have to buy a new Apple Pencil. The iPad improvements were all that were needed in order to give my existing Apple Pencil these new powers.

Other Nerdy Bits

  • If you spend any time in Safari, you’ll notice the additional memory (4 GB).
  • The weight feels exactly the same as the 9.7 iPad Pro.
  • The speakers sound about the same to the 9.7 inch iPad Pro
  • There is no discernible difference in battery life. About 10 hours.

What about the Software?

For months I’ve been writing that the problem with the iPad isn’t hardware, but instead software. Apple fixes a lot of my complaints (and a few I didn’t even think of) with iOS 11. I’m currently running the iOS 11 beta on my 10.5 inch iPad and will have a lot more to say about that when it gets closer to shipping. The point, however, is that Apple has improved hardware and software. When iOS 11 ships, a lot of people will be able to get work done on iPad. September can’t come soon enough.

Hacking the iPad Smart Keyboard Viewing Angle with an Apple Pencil

I’m generally pretty happy with the iPad Smart Keyboard cover. It takes little space and the keyboard is good enough to get work done when I need to type on the road. My biggest gripe is the viewing angle. It’s engineered to be angled up when the iPad is in your lap (or down near lap level). When I sit at a higher table, however, the viewing angle is tilted a little too far back and there is no way to adjust it.

When I find myself in that position, I set my Apple Pencil behind the iPad between it and the the Smart Keyboard iPad rest wedge, pictured below. It adds about a quarter of an inch and makes the screen easier to view. If that’s not enough, you can angle the screen even further with an AirPod case.


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Sparky’s iPad screen angle hack. 

Glad I Brought the Laptop

A few weeks ago I wrote about my little nerd-crisis as I prepared to go on a trip. It was largely a trip for fun and I was hoping I could get by with the iPad but I had a few things cooking at the day job that made me ultimately decided to bring the laptop along. I thought I’d report back on that.

I got by just fine with a 9.7 iPad Pro for most of the trip. It’s an excellent computer to use on an airplane and combined with the smart cover, I can type pretty damn fast on it. Moreover, despite my constant grumbling about file management on iOS, I got a significant amount of work done between Microsoft Word, Apple’s Pages, and Numbers. Likewise, the day-to-day management of email and OmniFocus was just fine.

As expected, as I tried to rely on the iPad, I found a few areas that could use automation improvements and the experiment resulted in a couple clever new Workflow recipes.

Overall, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself about not needing the Mac … until the last day. 


On the last day a client contacted me with a new contract that they needed to turn around quickly. In the law game, most contracts are provided to you in Microsoft Word and sometimes even Apple’s Pages. The real rare snowflake is a contract provided to you as a Google document. Lawyers just haven’t adopted Google documents very much. Its track changes features (which Google calls “suggestions”) are fairly recent and still a little clunky. Something I didn’t know until the fateful day is that the Google Docs app for iPad doesn’t include support for Google document change tracking. You can see other people’s suggestions. You can even accept or reject them. You just can’t add your own. If you go to the Google website they explain that the way to suggest an edit on the iPad is to “open a document, spreadsheet, or presentation on your computer.” That’s right. If you want to make suggestions with your iPad the trick is to put it down and open the file on your computer. 

So on the last day of my trip I was forced to pull out the MacBook and do some work. My grand experiment was struck down by Google.

That’s the thing about trying to get by with your iPad alone. It works great until it doesn’t and then it doesn’t work spectacularly. Over the years the percentage of work you can complete and iPad has steadily increased. I’m at about the 90% range. That doesn’t mean I can work just as fast on iPad but I can work on an iPad. The trouble is, however, that last 10%. It’s not a simple problem that Apple can fix with a single software update. In this case, it was Google’s delay in adding a feature that is common on every other platform for their software except the iPad.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to travel that additional 10% but I expect it’s going to be an uphill climb for a while. As much as I’d like to have the freedom of using my iPad only on trips, for the time being I’m still going to have to bring a laptop. That won’t, however, stop me from continuing to try.

Five Weeks

Today Apple announced an update to the MacBook. Overall, the new machine looks pretty solid. Faster SSD. Better processor. More battery life. The shocking thing to me is how little I care. Last week I had to get my laptop out and found a letter open on it that I had started writing … five weeks ago. I knew it had been awhile since I used the laptop. I didn’t realize it was five weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I spend hours a day using my iMac. But for mobile work, the iPad Pro has largely been getting the job done for me. As iOS further matures, I’m just not so sure I’ll have much need for a laptop. Trust me. I’m as surprised by this realization as anybody else.