Artist compares: iPad Pro vs iPad Air for Drawing

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The announcement of the upgraded 4th generation of iPad Air has quickly caught the attention of the artist community.

ipad pro and ipad air comparison for digital artists
iPad Air vs iPad Pro for artists (artwork credit: Procreate)

The new iPad Air has got a massive design overhaul which makes it look and feel very similar to the Apple’s flagship – iPad Pro.

Apart from the upgraded chassis, the iPad Air has also got support for the Second generation of Apple Pencil, making it a great alternative to iPad Pro.

This is big news for digital artists – as they now have the option to get a top-of-the-line drawing experience without spending top dollars.

In theory, this sounds great. But is the iPad Air really a good alternative to the iPad Pro?

In this detailed analysis of iPad Air and iPad Pro, we will compare all the major and minor features from the perspective of a digital artist.

We will figure out how close is iPad Air to the performance and feature set of iPad Pro? and which if the two devices should you get as your next drawing tablet.

iPad Air vs iPad Pro – Features overview and Comparison

*Note for mobile users – Pan left/right to see the complete table

 iPad AiriPad Pro (11")iPad Pro (12.9")
new iPad Air specs ipad pro 11 inch ipad pro 12.9
Screen size10.9 Inches11 Inches12.9 Inches
Dimension247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1 mm247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9 mm280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9 mm
Resolution2360 x 1640 p2388 x 1668 p2732 x 2048 p
Brightness500 nits600 nits1000 nits
StylusApple PencilApple PencilApple Pencil
ProcessorA14 Bionic
4 cores
Apple M1 chip
8 cores
Apple M1 chip
8 cores
Storage64 GB
256 GB
128 GB
256 GB
512 GB
1 TB
128 GB
256 GB
512 GB
1 TB
RAM4 GB8 GB8 GB
CameraRear: 12MP
Front: 7MP
Rear: 12MP& 10MP
+ Lidar Scanner
Front: 12MP
Rear: 12MP& 10MP
+ Lidar Scanner
Front: 12MP
SoundSetreo, 4 speakersSetreo, 4 speakersSetreo, 4 speakers
Battery28.6 Wh28.6 Wh40.88 Wh
ConnectivityWiFi only
WiFi + cellular
WiFi only
WiFi + cellular
WiFi only
WiFi + cellular
Weight1 pound
(458 grams)
1.04 pound
(470 grams)
1.50 pound
(635 grams)
ColorSilver
Space Gray
Green
Rose Gold
Sky Blue
Silver
Space Gray
Silver
Space Gray
PriceCheck on AmazonCheck on AmazonCheck on Amazon

Display comparison

Apple iPad Pro and Air - display quality comparison

A display is one of the most important parts of a drawing tablet as that is where everything happens. In a good drawing tablet, you want to have a high-resolution color accurate screen with good viewing angles.

It is common for cheaper tablets to make compromises with the display quality. So it would be interesting to see how iPad Air compares to the iPad Pro.

Here is a detailed report on the display quality of these two tablets.

 iPad Air (10.9 inch)iPad Pro (11 inch) iPad Pro (12.9 inch)
Display Size10.9 inches11 inches12.9 inches
Resolution2360 x 1640 p2388 x 1668 p2732 x 2048 p
PPI (pixels per inch)264264264
Aspect Ratio1.43:11.43:14:3
Color AccuracyWide color display (P3)Wide color display (P3)Wide color display (P3)
Refresh Rate60 Hz120 Hz120 Hz
Brightness500 nits600 nits1000 nits

From the comparison we can see, in spite of a massive price difference – iPad Air has still got a very comparable display.

Pixel density and brightness

Both iPad Air and Pro has the exact same 264 PPI (pixels per inch) rating and support for p3 wide color gamut plus 112% sRGB color space coverage.

Talking of the display brightness, the Apple iPad Air comes with a max brightness of 500 nits compared to 600 nits on 11 inch iPad Air.

Both these tablets are bright enough to be visible outdoors.

The iPad Pro 12.9 on the other hand, is in the league of its own when it comes to display brightness.

It comes with 1000 nits of brightness, plus it can reach up to 1600 nits of peak brightness in certain situations, which is very impressive.

Instead of using a single backlight, like in traditional screens, the 12.9 inch iPad Pro comes with a mini-LED matrx backlight.

The mini-LED backlight consist of thousands of small LEDs which can be controlled and turned on and off at will.

This gives you deeper blacks and better constrasts, improving the color output of the screen.

Overall you can say that the iPad Pro 11 inch and iPad Air, both have similar screens in terms of picture quality and brightness, whereas iPad Pro 12.9 inch model is a step ahead.

ProMotion Display – why it is important?

Promotion display on Ipad Pro
iPad tracking the Apple Pencil

In our detailed analysis of how Apple Pencil works, we found that the tablet is responsible for recording the location and positon of the apple pencil and the line drawn by it.

In order to display the lines drawn by the Apple Pencil, the screen refreshes and updates the “contents of the screen”.

A normal display has a refresh rate of 60Hz, meaning the screen refreshes itself 60 times in a second. The faster the refresh rate, the quicker and smoother the output.

The Apple iPad Air comes with a refresh rate of 60Hz, whereas the both 11 and 12.9 inch iPad Pro comes with a refresh rate of 120Hz.

Apple calls this faster refresh rate technology as “ProMotion display“.

This faster refresh rate minimizes the stylus latency and improves the responsiveness of the Apple Pencil.

Here is the side by side comparison of how drawing/writing with Apple Pencil looks on a 60Hz (iPad Air) screen compared to 120Hz (iPad Pro) screen.

Realtime: Drawing with a Apple Pencil on iPad Air (left) vs iPad Pro (right)

apple pencil latency (real time)
apple pencil latency (real time)

Slow-motion: Here is the same footage in slow motion

As you can see in the footage above, the lines drawn by the Apple Pencil is instantly visible on a 120Hz screen.

On 60Hz screen it takes some time, and the line appearing on the screen trailes behind the tip of the Stylus.

This is what is called as “stylus latency” and it depends on the refresh rate of the screen.

As far as drawing on iPad is concerned, this difference in the refresh rate of the screen is the most important difference between iPad Air and iPad Pro.

If you are someone looking at the footage and thinking – the difference in stylus latency is not that big – especially looking at the realtime footage. You are right and in that case you should get the iPad Air (Amazon).

On the other hand, if you want the smoothest possible drawing experiace with minimum stylus latency, get the iPad Pro (Amazon).

Apple Pencil – 2nd gen.

If you are an artist and hang out in online art communities, you already know that – Apple Pencil is the most advanced stylus in the market.

Some artists who use it as their daily driver even go as far as to say it is better than the Wacom Stylus, which are often considered as the holy grail of stylus for artists.

 

second generation apple pencil
Second-generation Apple Pencil

So far, the previous generations of the iPad Air supported the 1st generation Apple Pencil. But with the 4th generation, iPad Air has got the support for the 2nd generation of Apple Pencil.

Since both iPad Air and Pro are compatible with the same stylus, you won’t find any difference in the actual drawing performance.

You get the same best-in-class pen tracking, pressure sensing, tilt detection, and overall a very balanced and natural drawing experience, no matter whether you get the iPad Air or the iPad Pro.

The only difference is in the response rate, thanks to the 120Hz ProMotion display on the iPad Pro, it feels a tad smoother than the iPad Air.

Charging the Apple Pencil

apple pencil features
Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil 2 magnetically sticks to the top edge of the tablet where it charges wirelessly. Both iPad Pro and Air have appropriate wireless charging pads to enable this feature.

The Pencil also comes with a quick-change, where the pen can rapidly charge in case you run out of charge.

Does Apple Pencil comes included in the box?

No, neither the iPad Air nor the iPad Pro comes with a free stylus. You can purchase Apple Pencil on Amazon.

Design and portability

When it comes to design and portability, there is absolutely no match for iPads.

Apple iPad Pro thickness and portability

They are the thinnest tablet in the market. The iPad Pro measures 5.9 mm and the iPad Air measures 6.1 mm.

Talking of portability, the 11 inch iPad Pro and the 10.9 inch iPad air are exactly the same. They have roughly the same form factor and have similar battery capacity and battery backup.

Their compact form factor enables you to use easily use them in places such as bus and Airplane seats.

The 12.9 inch iPad Pro on the other hand while being thin and compact, it is not as portable as the other two options.

Its large screen is too large to use in compact places and its larger size and slightly heavier weight make it difficult to hold it for long.

Processor – Apple M1 chip vs A14 Bionic

In order to have a good drawing experience, your tablet should be powerful enough to handle large resolution project files with hundreds of layers and shouldn’t lag when using the heaviest of texture brushes.

inside ipad
inside iPad – Source: ifixit

The Apple iPad Pro comes with Apple’s in-house M1 chip with a 5nm technology. This is the same processor that Apple uses in their M1-based Macbooks.

Meaning you are getting laptop-level performance on an iPad.

iPad Air comes with a A14 Bionic processor which again works on a 5nm nodes and has 4 cores inside.

Both these processors are some of the most powerful at the same time power-efficient processors in the market.

No other tablet or ultralight device can match the power of these processors.

When comparing the two, the newer M1 chip on the iPad Pro is more powerful than the A14 Bionic on the iPad Air.

With that said, A14 bionic itself is more than sufficient to handle heavy workloads.

Thes processors does not stutter when working with large resultion in powerful apps such as procreate.

So no matter whether you pick the iPad Pro or the iPad Air, you are guaranteed to have more than enough power to handle almost anything.

Battery Life

iPads, in general, are known for their long-lasting battery which can easily handle a full day of casual usage.

Although the actual battery life depends on a lot of things including the screen size, resolution, and also apps you are using. Looking at the battery capacity is one of the best ways of comparing the rough battery life of these tablets.

Here are the battery capacities of the iPad Pro and the iPad Air

  • 10.9 inch iPad Air – 28.6 Wh
  • 11 inch iPad Pro – 28.6 Wh
  • 12.9 inch iPad Pro – 40.88 Wh

Mind that the 12.9 inch iPad Pro has the largest battery capacity but it also has a larger screen requiring more power.

Storage

More storage is always better, considering the huge amount of space occupied by image and video files these days.

The base variant of the iPad Air comes with 64 GB of onboard storage, whereas the iPad Pro comes with 128 GB of storage on the base variant.

In case you want more storage, you have the option to select the tablet with a higher storage capacity. Here are all the available options.

  • iPad Air – 64 GB, 256 GB
  • iPad Pro – 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB

It is important to note that neither of the two tablets comes with an expandable memory card slot, which can be found in Samsung drawing tablets (new tab).

But you can for sure plug in an external memory drive.

Camera (front and rear)

Having a good camera is essential for artists as it allows you to take pictures of something that you are gonna paint later, right on your tablet.

Rear camera setup – With the iPad Pro, you get a triple camera setup whereas with iPad Air you get a single camera.

With that said, both iPad Air and the iPad Pro come with the same 12 MP primary camera with 4K video recording.

The other two cameras of iPad Pro are a 10 MP Ultrawide camera and a lidar sensor for depth sensing.

Front (selfie) camera – iPad Air comes with a 7MP front camera. iPad Pro on the other hand has 12MP ultrawide front camera.

Sound quality and Speaker setup

Speakers are one of the first compromises that budget-focused tablets make, but that is not the case with the iPad Air.

Just like the iPad Pro, the iPad Air also comes with a stereo sound system, where the sound comes from the left as well as the right side of the tablet.

The sound quality of all the tablets is actually really good considering how thin these tablets are. You will for sure have a great multimedia experience using these tablets.

Unfortunately, neither of the two tablets comes with a headphone jack.

Security

The iPad Pro comes with FaceID to unlock the tablet. It works in both portrait and landscape mode. Plus all the faceID hardware is present within the bezel and does not protrude towards the screen as it does on the iPhones.

The iPad Air on the other hand comes with TouchID instead. The TouchID sensor is conveniently located on the top right side of the tablet-like in older iPhones.

Color Options

ipad air all color options
iPad Air color options

The more expensive iPad Pro is available in silver and space gray, whereas the iPad Air is available in multiple colors.

Here is the list of all the color options available with iPad Air…

  • Space Gray
  • Silver
  • Green
  • Rose Gold
  • Sky Blue

Accessories – Magic Keyboard, 2nd Gen Apple Pencil

Once again both iPad Pro and the iPad Air support the second-gen. Apple Pencil and the floating Magic keyboard.

Do iPad Pro and iPad Air work with first-gen. Apple Pencil?

Unlike the older 3rd generation iPad Air, the new 4th gen iPad Air does not work with the first-generation Apple Pencil. The same is the case with the iPad Pro, it does not work with the older Apple Pencil 1.

Other art features – screen mirroring for artists

For artists who are already in the Apple ecosystem and own a Mac computer, iPads can be a great add-on.

Both the iPads have a feature called “Apple Sidecar” which allows you to mirror your Mac screen on the iPad and use the Apple Pencil on it.

This is a very powerful tool that can be used to natively use apple pencil with your desktop-based drawing apps.

This also allows you to draw over desktop-based 3D sculpting apps such as ZBrush and Blender which are not yet available for iPads.

Another use of Apple Sidecar is that you can use your iPad as a second screen for things like looking at reference images.

There is also a third part Sidecar alternative called AstroPad which is specifically catered towards artists and has better screen mirror capabilities.

variants and choices

With the iPad Air, you have the following options to choose from

  • Size – 10.9 inches
  • Memory – 64 GB or 256 GB
  • Connectivity – Wifi only, or Wifi+cellular
  • Color – Space Gray, Silver, Green, Rose Gold, and Sky Blue

With iPad Pro, you get multiple sizes and memory options but limited color choices

  • Size – 11 inches, 12.9 inches
  • Memory – 128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB
  • Connectivity – Wifi only, or Wifi+cellular
  • Color – Silver, Space Gray

iPad Pro vs iPad Air – Which is the right tablet for you

ipad air vs ipad pro which is better for artists
source: affinity

The first thing you need to decide is which size is a better fit for you.

Well, it is different for everyone. If you are someone looking for a compact and powerful drawing tablet, that you can pretty much take anywhere with you, the 11 inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air are the right choices.

But if you are someone who can appreciate a larger screen and a bigger drawing area and willing to somewhat compromise with portability for that, the 12.9 inch iPad is a better choice.

Once the size is figured out – then you can look at differences in features. Basically, weighing in what features you get and what you don’t.

Main difference

Out of everything that we have compared above, the lack of ProMotion display is the only major difference between iPad Air and iPad Pro.

If you are getting these tablets for normal multimedia usage, the lack of ProMotion display is not that big of a deal.

But when you are buying these devices as a drawing tablet, having and not having the 120Hz ProMotion display can be a deciding factor.

Now as we mentioned before, the iPad Air with its 60 Hz screen is good enough and still provides the best drawing tablet in that price range. But the iPad Pro with its ProMotion display feels smoother to draw and write on.

If you ask us – our recommendation would be – “iPad Air is a good fit for hobbyists and casual artist who draws every once in a while.

But if you are a full-time artist, we would highly recommend you get the Apple iPad Pro (Amazon).”

Other than the display, you should also keep in mind that the lower variant of the iPad Air comes with just 64Gb of onboard storage. This is quite a small storage space by today’s standards. On the bright side, you can expand the storage by plugging in an external storage drive.

Value for money: iPad Air or the Pro

Between iPad Pro and the iPad Air, if you ask where you are getting a better value for money, the answer is – iPad Air.

At the time of writing this post (prices always change), the cheapest iPad Pro costs about 25% more than the cheapest iPad Air.

With the iPad Air, even at this lower price, you are getting a tablet with identical display quality, comparable processor, support for the same stylus, and same accessories.

Now the iPad Air has definitely cut some corners to keep the prices low. Like replacing the FaceID with TouchID or not having the ProMotion, but still, it is better value for the money than the iPad Pro.

If you are someone who wants a good drawing experience while saving some cash, you should for sure go with the new iPad Air (Amazon).

But if you want the most out of your tablet and the best possible drawing experience, iPad Pro (Amazon) is the right choice.

Which is a better choice? Base variant of iPad Pro or the top variant of iPad Air

If you compared the top variant of the iPad Air and the cheapest variant of iPad Pro on Amazon, you would find there is not that much of a difference in their price tag.

We often get asked – which of the two tablets is a better choice for artists.

If you are also stuck between these two options, we would suggest you to get the lower variant of iPad Pro instead of the top variant of iPad Air.

We say this for one simple reason and that is – iPad Pro has a 120Hz display which will provide you a better pen experience, after all that what matters the most for an artist.

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Related topic:
Essential iPad accessories for artists

Aaron Levie

Aaron Levie loves painting. he started as a traditional watercolor artist and later switched to digital. He really likes freedom and control that digital art provides.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. turkce

    This is a particular absorbing post. You are doing well with writing.

  2. Vela

    I absolutely loved this review and you guys helped me make the best choice between my options. Thankyou so much for taking the time to write this review and share it !

  3. Andy

    Thanks for the review, it is one of the most complete I have seen, and helped me a lot with my decision.

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