iPad Air 5 vs. Pro (2021): Which should you buy?

Best iPad for artists
Best iPad for artists (Image credit: iMore)

With the introduction of the fifth-generation iPad Air in 2022, Apple is giving prospective buyers a tough choice when it comes to which tablet to pick up. The new Air is now super fast thanks to the M1 chip powering it — the same chip found in the iPad Pro — and 5G and Center Stage are useful additions. With some of the best features trickling down the lineup, is it still worth getting the iPad Pro over the iPad Air? Let's find out.

iPad Air 5 vs. iPad Pro (2021): Breaking down the specs

In order to get a feel for which iPad offers which features, we've gathered the important specs below for easy comparison. We'll go into more detail and give our buying advice further down, too.

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPad Air 5iPad Pro (2021)
Starting price$599$799
ProcessorM1M1
Storage64GB
256GB
128GB
256GB
512GB
1TB
2TB
RAM8GB8GB
16GB
Display10.9-inch Liquid Retina display11-inch Liquid Retina display
12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
Resolution2360x1640 resolution at 264 ppi2388x1668 resolution at 264 ppi
2732-by-2048 resolution at 264 ppi
ProMotionNoYes
True ToneYesYes
P3 wide colorYesYes
Peak brightness500 nits max600 nits max (11-inch)
1000 nits max full screen, 1600 nits peak HDR (12.9-inch)
FaceTime camera12MP Ultra Wide12MP Ultra Wide
Center StageYesYes
Rear camera12MP Wide camera12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras, LiDAR scanner
Cellular5G5G with mmWave support
ConnectorUSB-CThunderbolt / USB 4
SecurityTouch IDFace ID
Battery lifeUp to 10 hoursUp to 10 hours
ColorsSpace Gray
Starlight
Pink
Purple
Blue
Space Gray
Silver
Apple Pencil 2 supportYesYes
Smart ConnectorYesYes

iPad Air 5 vs. iPad Pro (2021): iPad Air 5 has power enough for most folks

Ipad Air 5 Colors

Ipad Air 5 Colors (Image credit: Apple)

In most respects, the iPad Air 5 like an iPad Pro but with the fanciest features stripped out. For a lot of people, that will leave them with the perfect product for their needs without having to spend big bucks on the Pro model.

Firstly, it's much faster than the previous-gen iPad Air 4 with a 60% improvement in CPU speeds and twice the graphics performance, according to Apple. That's thanks to the inclusion of the M1 chip, the very same one that powers the iPad Pro and that first debuted with Mac models in 2020. Most new iPad Air owners won't come close to pushing this chip to its limits. It's super powerful and power-efficient which is a boon to any iPad Air buyer.

iPad Air is like an iPad Pro with the fanciest features stripped out.

The 10.9-inch display of the iPad Air 5 offers a good mid-range option and is the right size for a lot of folks. It's a little larger than the the entry-level 2021 iPad and much less cumbersome than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, though it lacks the ProMotion high-refresh rate of the similarly-sized 11-inch iPad Pro.

One more way it's like the iPad Pro, but not quite, is in the 5G support. Apple's 2022 iPad Air gains 5G for the first time in the cellular configurations though it does not support the faster mmWave standard — that's reserved for the Pro line. Similarly, the iPad Air 5's USB-C port is twice as fast as the one on the previous-gen model and on the current iPad mini 6, but it's still not as advanced as the Thunderbolt / USB 4 port on the iPad Pro.

When it comes to accessories, both the iPad Air and iPad Pro support the Apple Pencil 2 and the Magic Keyboard so you're not missing out on those regardless of which you pick.

One thing the 2022 iPad Air offers that the iPad Pro can't is a selection of colors to choose from, unless you really enjoy choosing from two shades of gray.

iPad Air 5 vs. iPad Pro (2021): Go Pro if you really need the extras

iPad Pro 2021 review

iPad Pro 2021 review (Image credit: Daniel Bader / iMore)

So, where does the iPad Pro excel and why should you fork out the extra cash? Though design-wise the iPad Air and iPad Pro look almost identical, the Pro offers some bells and whistles that the Air can't match at its price point.

Where the iPad Air uses Touch ID for security, for example, the iPad Pro offers the more convenient Face ID. The iPad Air tops out at 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM, whereas the iPad Pro can be configured with up to 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM if you need it. You'll enjoy two speakers in the iPad Air 5, whereas the iPad Pro offers four. You get the picture.

The iPad Pro offers some bells and whistles the Air can't at its price point.

Of course, display size is another differentiator, as is display technology. The iPad Air offers a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display. Go for the iPad Pro, and you can choose between an 11-inch Liquid Retina display or a 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display. Both of the Pro sizes feature higher-refresh ProMotion technology, and the larger XDR version features a mini-LED panel which provides deeper blacks and higher peak brightness.

Professionals love their cameras, so it's no surprsie that the iPad Pro wins here too. Though it's the same on the front with the 12MP Ultra Wide camera and Center Stage support in both the Air and the Pro, the iPad Pro's rear cameras are a class above. It offers a dual-camera setup offering 12MP and 10MP lenses plus a LiDAR scanner and brighter True Tone flash making it ideal for AR experiences as well as photography. That compares to a single 12MP shooter on the iPad Air 5.

iPad Air 5 vs. iPad Pro (2021): Which should you buy?

While the iPad Air and iPad Pro serve different types of customers, there is a bit of an awkward crossover between the new Air and the 11-inch iPad Pro both in terms of features and price which can make the decision a little harder.

If you know you push your iPad to its limits, desperately need more storage, want the more advanced display or camera hardware, then you'll need to shell out for the iPad Pro. If the advanced features of the iPad Pro don't call you, then you can save yourself some money knowing that the new and improved iPad Air 5 will be the best iPad for you.

Adam Oram is a Senior Writer at iMore. He studied Media at Newcastle University and has been writing about technology since 2013. He previously worked as an Apple Genius and as a Deals Editor at Thrifter. His spare time is spent watching football (both kinds), playing Pokémon games, and eating vegan food. Follow him on Twitter at @adamoram.