iPad vs iPad Pro – Which is Right for You?

It’s hard to believe it hasn’t even been eight years since the iPad was announced on stage in January of 2010. While Apple’s tablet computer hasn’t quite caused the revolution Steve Jobs might have wished for when he unveiled the product on stage, it has become ubiquitous in our society today. iPads are used in classrooms, from first grade through college, to access textbooks, take notes, use interactive apps, and more. Hospitals around the world now use iPads to help patients understand in depth what their ailments are. Cafes and restaurants use iPads to keep track of reservations and accept payments using Square products. You probably have an iPad in your house, shared by your family members as an easy way to watch Netflix, read the news, and play games.

Since the launch of that first iPad, the product has seen several iterations, with improved display technology, better cameras, and faster processors. We’ve also watched as Apple has made the iPad into a multi-tier product category, with the traditional iPad, the iPad mini (which Apple is seemingly in the process of phasing out, considering its lack of meaningful updates), and the newest edition, the iPad Pro. The first iPad Pro was a monster, a giant 12.9 inch iPad that was as large as a MacBook Pro. Since then, Apple has iterated on the product category in some important ways, first by unveiling a 9.7″ version of the iPad Pro, and most recently, discontinuing that model in favor of a larger 10.5″ model that fills the body of the original smaller iPad Pro. And of course, this is all leaving out the classic iPad, which also received a major refresh this year, dropping the Air branding and gaining a new lower price of $329.

All of this is to say, Apple’s iPad situation has gotten pretty confusing. There’s enough models to keep things confusing, and while your price limit might dictate which model you purchase between the iPad and the iPad Pro, it’s not a decision you should make quickly. Putting aside both the 12.9″ iPad Pro and the iPad mini 4, the two newest iPad products from Apple are both great choices in their own right. So which one should you pick? Well, like most of Apple’s lineup of products, it really depends on your needs, your budget, and your personal preference. Let’s take a look.

Design and Display

Both the iPad and the 10.5″ iPad Pro have plenty of differences when it comes to their specs, features, and software, but the design of each product shouldn’t be overlooked. Despite the similarities between the two models, there are some pretty major design differences that might make you consider the iPad Pro over the regular iPad. At first glance, the design of the 2017 iPad is strikingly similar to what we’ve seen out of Cupertino before. This makes sense; iPad design has never quite been revolutionized. Even the original iPad, first released in 2010, still appears fairly modern next to current generation iPads if you ignore the thicker bezels and non-retina display.

iPad (2017)

This year’s iPad has done away with the Air moniker that graced the previous two generations, and with that, has returned to a body not unlike the first iPad Air. It still features minimized side bezels, a sleek aluminium body available in standard silver, gold, or space gray (the former two products feature white bezels; the latter features black). The home button is still placed at the bottom of the device when held in portrait mode, and feels nice and thin in the hand. We should mention, however, that the last-gen iPad Air 2 is thinner than this newest iPad, which returns to the previous original Air design. Unless you have an iPad Air 2 to compare this product to, you won’t notice the difference in size. One thing you might notice, however, is the regression in the display technology. The display is still Retina-grade, and looks fantastic in person. In order to meet the new price, however, Apple removed both the lamination and the anti-reflectivity of the display offered in the iPad Air 2. This year’s iPad no longer bonds the screen to the front glass, which means there’s now a noticeable gap when looking at the edges of the display.

In terms of weight, this year’s iPad weighs just over a full pound. It’s heavier than what we’ve grown used to expecting from the Air 2, which weighs almost a full tenth of a pound less, but once again, unless you’re comparing hardware revisions, you won’t notice it as an owner of this new model. The overall take on the design of this product: it’s an iPad, and while that may seem disappointing to some, Apple is simply meeting the high standards they’ve already met for themselves. iPad Air 2 owners aside, it’s a solid upgrade for owners of previous tablets, especially if you’re coming from the original iPad or iPad 2.

iPad Pro (10.5″)

The first “small” iPad Pro carried a design similar to the iPad Air 2, but this revision finds Apple finally increasing the screen size on its product. Indeed, while Apple has grown the size of their device from a standard 9.7″ display to a 10.5″ display, the actual body of the iPad Pro hasn’t increased to an extreme level. No one is going to mistake this for the monster that is the 12.9″ iPad Pro, but the tablet is slightly larger than the standard iPad we described above. Apple has cut down ever so slightly on the bezels surrounding the display on the iPad Pro, meaning the body of the device feels comparable to what we’ve seen from previous tablets. And outside of that small design change, the iPad Pro is still just an iPad. Aluminium on the back of the device makes everything feel premium, and it’s offered in the standard colors we’ve seen previously, plus rose gold. Apple’s standard home button sits at the bottom of the display (complete with Touch ID), and the front-facing camera is at the top. By all accounts, it’s an iPad.

That said, all of the problems we’ve seen with the iPad’s display have been fixed on this more premium model. Lamination and anti-reflection coatings both return, and the screen is once again bonded to the front glass, identical to the iPad Air 2. The Pro also adds TrueTone technology, which helps adjust the color temperature of the display based on the lighting conditions of your surroundings. The biggest change to the iPad Pro’s display might seem like a small advancement, but once you have it, you won’t want to go back. This year’s iPad Pro is the first (and as of writing, only) product to ship from Apple with a 120Hz refresh rate, up from the usual 60Hz featured on their products. Called “ProMotion” by Apple, this refresh rate is variable, meaning your iPad’s software will determine when to feature this higher refresh rate with your content. Instead of displaying apps and menus at the usual 60 frames per second, the iPad Pro can display animation at 120 frames per second, giving your device a buttery-smooth feel when using the display. It’s a big step forward, especially for Apple, and we hope to see ProMotion make its way to other products sooner rather than later.

Overall, the design of the iPad Pro continues the trends we’ve seen set from Apple with the iPad since its launch, but with slightly-minimized bezels and a larger screen, it does start to feel like a more cohesive device, specifically one designed for 2017. A bezel-free iPad, akin to the iPhone X or any number of Android devices launched throughout the year, would probably fail to be a useful product, since the bezel on the iPad gives you somewhere to hold. But reducing the area surrounding the display to something that constitutes just enough space? It’s good engineering on the part of Apple.

Winner: iPad Pro

Hardware and Specs

Prior to launching the first iPad Pro, Apple’s tablet lineup never quite focused on specs. Sure, Apple made it clear that each new generation of device was more powerful than the previous model, both in terms of CPU performance and in graphics capabilities for games. With the Pro line, however, Apple finally started to treat the iPad like a computer, and for obvious reasons: the newest iPad Pro is more or less as powerful as some laptops on the market today. The lower-end iPad won’t be able to hold a candle to the iPad Pro in this battle, but it’s still worth laying out both devices’ strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their hardware and specifications. Let’s take a look.

iPad (2017)

Let’s start with the cheaper model, this year’s iPad refresh. Just because the iPad has received a new, much-lower price than the standard $499 set by Apple way back in 2010 doesn’t mean this version is missing out on some serious power. This year’s iPad is using Apple’s A9 processor, the same chip found in the Apple iPhone 6S and 6S+ launched in 2015. While it might not be Apple’s newest silicon, it’s not a slow chip by any means. While it’s not as fast as the chip in the iPad Pro (more on that in a bit), it still performs adequately today, and should be powerful enough to keep you going for years to come. If you’re upgrading from an iPad that’s older than the iPad Air 2, you should notice increased performance throughout your standard daily usage, like browsing on the web or multitasking. iPad Air 2 owners, however, won’t find any reason here to upgrade, both when it comes to performance and to the display quality. Outside of the A9 processor, you’ll also find 2GB of RAM, an adequate amount for multitasking on iOS 11.

The camera on the back of the iPad is an 8MP sensor, similar to the cameras on older iPhone models. It’s okay, and you’ll be able to take acceptable shots with your iPad (though, for obvious social reasons, you should perhaps use your smartphone instead). One of the benefits to having this smaller camera module is that the lens itself sits flush with the body of the iPad. The iPad Pro has a better, larger sensor, but it also means the device falls victim to a camera bump, making its balance on a table feel odd. The front-facing camera is a mediocre 1.2MP lens. It’ll be good enough for FaceTime or other video chat options, but you probably won’t want to take any selfies with it.

As for storage options, Apple’s iPad ships with either 32 or 128GB, without any options for expandable storage and without the traditional 64GB option in between those two storage allotments. It’s unfortunate, but we are pleased to see Apple no longer offering a 16GB model of their devices. For most users, 32GB will be sufficient as long as you’re willing to manage your apps, photos, and videos on the device. Meanwhile, power users looking to save some cash on the Pro model of the iPad can step up to 128GB, but you’re better off looking into the Pro model once you’ve entered that tier. As a final miscellaneous note, this year’s iPad retains its bottom-firing dual speaker setup, foregoing the stereo option supported by the iPad Pro line.

iPad Pro (10.5″)

The iPad Pro is supposed to act more like a laptop replacement than as an additional device to carry in your backpack, and that’s most evident when looking at the specs. Apple’s 10.5″ iPad Pro is powered by the A10X Fusion chip, a successor to the A10 Fusion processor found in last year’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and 4GB of RAM. The A10X is a powerful processor, and though the recent unveiling of the A11 Bionic powering the iPhone 8 and X is even faster in terms of sheer benchmarks, you’re still looking at a speedy device. Benchmarks can be a bit boring to discuss, but here’s the general details: in testing the iPad against MacBook Pros from both 2016 and 2017, the 10.5″ iPad Pro came incredibly close to besting the laptops in performance. In a single-core Geekbench test, the iPad Pro scored less than a thousand points under the 2017 MacBook Pro revision (4650 vs 3951), and while the 2017 MacBook Pro also bested the iPad Pro in a multi-core test, the 10.5″ Pro managed to outperform the 2016 MacBook Pro, a laptop that’s less than a full calendar year old. And in testing Metal, Apple’s hardware-accelerated graphics API, the iPad Pro beat both the 2016 and 2017 models. This is some seriously impressive power found inside a tablet, and while some creatives will still find themselves limited by iOS, it goes without saying that these aren’t just consumption devices anymore.

The camera on the Pro is the same module found on the iPhone 7, a 12-megapixel sensor complete with optical image stabilization, which will come in handy while trying to balance the gigantic display found on the iPad Pro. Photos look good, and the included flash on the back of the device will help you take low-light photos if you’re into that sort of thing. Cameras on tablets are still something that feels a bit odd to use, but at least the quality has improved. There’s also a 5MP front-facing camera that should be good enough for both FaceTiming sessions and selfies alike. Like the 2017 iPad, the Pro supports Touch ID along the bottom of the device, and you’ll find a quad-speaker arrangement on the device for watching movies and listening to music in stereo (two speakers on the top of the device, two on the bottom).

A “Pro” device needs more storage than a typical iPad, and for that very reason, the iPad Pro starts with 64GB of storage at the bottom tier. Both 256 and 512GB models are available as well, though obviously, both of those carry fairly-hefty price increases along the way. For anyone looking for the best content consumption device, 64GB should be more than enough storage to keep track of your files. Those looking to edit videos or create songs in Garageband should look into upgrading to the 256GB version, especially if you’re looking to use the device like a laptop.

Winner: iPad Pro

Software

As of writing, the final version of iOS 11 has just become available for download on all devices, and it’s a big step forward for both the iPad and the iPad Pro. Both of these devices have never been quite as advanced as they will be running iOS 11, with the operating system now feeling more like a standard desktop OS than ever. There’s a resigned dock feature, similar to the dock used in macOS, a swipe-based multitasking menu that makes it easier than ever to view your open applications at once, support for up to three applications displayed at once on your display, and, in perhaps the biggest change to iOS since its launch ten years ago, the addition of a file browser to the operating system. This is something Apple said would never exist on their platform, and it’s finally arrived to make the iPad that much more viable as a laptop replacement.

There’s plenty of other changes to the operating system—certainly too many to list here—so checking out Apple’s own information page on iOS 11 is a must. We’ll cover Apple’s newest operating system in greater detail over the next few weeks, but for now, just know that the iPad is becoming more like a standard computer every year. And of course, while both the iPad and the iPad Pro will be getting every new feature with this update, the iPad Pro will manage to do everything faster and smoother. That additional horsepower goes a long way here.

Winner: Draw

Battery Life

Since the launch of the original iPad, Apple has used the same 10 hour benchmark for nearly every device, a number the company typically achieves by testing a combination of surfing the web, watching videos, and listening to music while connected to WiFi. Year after year, despite different models having different-sized batteries, Apple seems to come close to meeting this number, occasionally surpassing it and occasionally falling short. But overall, it’s an estimate, and the actual battery life you’ll see on your device will typically end up depending on what you’re doing with your device. There isn’t a lot to say about both of these devices; overall, they both last for about ten hours, give or take about a single hour depending what you’re doing on each device. MacWorld UK tested both devices on Geekbench 3 and found the iPad to reach around 616 minutes, or just over 10 hours. The iPad Pro, however, managed to last 657 minutes, or just under eleven full hours of usage. These are both impressive stats, and while the iPad Pro barely eeks out the victory (primarily due to its newer, more power-efficient processor), the iPad is no slouch.

We haven’t discussed the 4G models of these devices much throughout this article, but nevertheless, both devices will see reduced battery times when using the reduced times. Something to keep in mind when choosing a model to purchase.

Winner: iPad Pro (10.5″), but barely.

Accessories

One of the strongest reasons to choose iOS as a platform for your device is the lively accessory market supported by dozens of OEMs and manufacturers. Whether you’re looking for cases and screen protectors, adapters and dongles, or any other accessory made inside Apple’s MFi program, there’s an entire library of add-ons for your iPad, no matter which you decide to buy. But, as with most of the categories on this list, the iPad Pro lives up to its name with some additional abilities not included with the standard $329 iPad.

iPad (2017)

One quick search on Amazon will reveal thousands of accessories for this year’s iPad refresh, from screen protectors and cases to Bluetooth keyboard covers, stands, and protective skins. You’re likely to find exactly what you’re looking for to customize your iPad, so long as you’re willing to give up some of the extra functionality granted by the iPad Pro. For example, you can turn your iPad into a laptop-like device, but you’ll have to rely on Bluetooth to connect your devices. Styluses are a big one here: there’s no formal stylus support included in the iPad, so you’ll have to rely on cheap third-party additions or expensive alternatives that promise to try and restore the same kind of functionality we’ve seen from Samsung’s S-Pen or the Apple Pencil.

That said, you shouldn’t feel like you’re missing out on any real connectivity options here. If you really need something like the Pencil or Apple’s own Smart Connector-supported keyboards, you’ll be one to jump to the premium Pro model. Cases, skins, stands, and everything else is still supported here. At the end of the day, it’s an Apple device. It’s going to feature solid offerings from third-party manufacturers.

iPad Pro (10.5″)

We’ve already described the advantages the iPad Pro has over this year’s iPad, but to reiterate, the iPad Pro adds support for the Smart Connector (a series of Pogo-style pins on the side of the device for connecting accessories like keyboards) and the Apple Pencil, a stylus specifically designed for the iPad Pro line of tablets. Both of those additions help make the device a bit more suitable for “Pro” types. Writers, for example, might find the iPad Pro’s own keyboard to be a better fit for their workflow, since the keyboard works as a built-in cover for the iPad and doesn’t require charging. The Pencil, meanwhile, could be a graphic designer’s best friend, making it easy to practice graphic design using Adobe’s full suite of apps available on the App Store. There are a ton of different workflows and styles one could adapt around an iPad Pro as powerful as this, and both the keyboard and the Pencil go a long way in adding to that experience.

In addition to those Pro-specific accessories, there’s also the standard Apple third-party experience. Cases, stands, skins—they’re all here, as you’d expect, just as we saw with the 2017 iPad a moment ago. The MFi program is fairly reliable when it comes to expecting a solid slate of additional hardware for your Pro, though looking around Amazon for these add-on items makes it obvious that there’s a bit of a premium on certain iPad Pro-specific accessories. And speaking of premiums…

Winner: iPad Pro (10.5″) 

Pricing

We’ll be blunt: this is finally a category the basic iPad is going to succeed in without fail. This is the widest price margin we’ve seen between the iPad (then the iPad Air) line and iPad Pro line since the latter was released in 2015. Even when the iPad Pro 9.7″ was released in 2016, a much-improved version of the iPad Air 2, the difference in price between the two tablets was only $200. Now that the iPad has become more of a budget device than ever before, and the iPad Pro 10.5″ price has increased to new heights, we’re looking at an expensive commitment to grab the technology we described above.

iPad (2017)

This is by no means a new opinion, but it’s worth reiterating: the best feature of this year’s revision of the iPad is its price. At $329 for the 32GB model, it’s never been easier to dive into the full-sized iPad lineup—and with the iPad mini on its way out, that makes this the budget iPad for 2017. And qualms about the display aside, an iPad at $329 is a great buy. The A9 isn’t a new processor, but it’s more than enough power for almost everything you’d want to do with a tablet. It’s crazy to say this, but at $329, the iPad is starting to approach impulse buy territory. The iPad might not be as cheap as some Android tablets, or Amazon’s lineup of budget Fire tablets, but with this device, you know you’re getting a well-built tablet that will work for years to come. You don’t have to worry about a lack of updates, or poor app support for tablets. iOS as a tablet ecosystem has already been established and built, and that makes the price of the hardware that much easier of a sell.

Also, if you’re looking for more storage than 32GB, Apple sells a 128GB model for an additional $100, and a cellular version is also available for an additional $120 on top of whichever version of the iPad you choose. Most people will probably go with the basic 32GB model for $329, but if you’re truly concerned about storage, the 128GB model isn’t a terrible choice, even at its higher price.

iPad Pro (10.5″)

On the contrary, the iPad Pro represents the evolution of what Apple started with the iPad Air series. The shell of the tablet might not be as thin as the Air 2, but it keep the TrueTone, laminated display technology and improves on it in every way. It’s got a beefier processor, a larger screen with reduced bezels, and the Pro-exclusive features like the Smart Connector. It is a better tablet than this year’s iPad, but it also starts at $649 for the 64GB model. And remember, that’s without accessories—if you’re planning on fully jumping into the iPad Pro ecosystem, you’re going to want to pick up both the Smart Keyboard Cover and the Apple Pencil, both sold separately for $159 and $99, respectively. If you’re upgrading from a 9.7″ iPad Pro, you’ll have to buy a new Keyboard Cover; the two models aren’t interchangeable.

And of course, we’re assuming a pro user is going to jump on the 64GB model. If you decide you need to buy the 256GB version, you’ll need to drop $799 for just the tablet alone (this price was originally $749; Apple quietly increased the price of this and the 512GB model following the September 2017 iPhone launch). The 512GB model will run you a full $999, and adding a cellular connection to either of these models will cost you an additional $130 on top of your purchase. So, if you’re looking to buy the 512GB model of the iPad Pro with cellular support, alongside the Keyboard Cover and the Apple Pencil, you’ll be dropping nearly $1400 on the device. That is a lot of cash to drop upfront, and even with the enhancements provided to iPad users with iOS 11, even with a device as powerful as this, it’s a lot to ask for from consumers.

Winner: iPad (2017)

Which Should You Buy?

If money’s no object, the verdict is obvious: the better tablet between the two devices is the iPad Pro. It’s improved over the typical iPad in nearly every way possible: a better display, complete with TrueTone, ProMotion, and lamination; the A10X Fusion processor and 4GB of RAM; a 12MP camera, along with a 5MP front-facing camera for FaceTime; quad speakers for stereo sound; better battery life; and improved accessory support, with both the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard designed for the iPad Pro. Anyone who is serious about looking for a tablet that can replace your laptop should look long and hard at the iPad Pro 10.5″. It’s an excellent device and, so long as you know what you’re getting into, you won’t regret your decision. It’s better for media consumption and especially creation, and it’s easily our pick for the best tablet on the market today.

But that doesn’t mean you should buy it. In fact, above all else, you should consider exactly what you’re going to use an iPad for? Are you buying it to watch Netflix or YouTube and browse the web in the morning? Sure, an improved display and better speakers will enhance the experience, but the display on the standard iPad is by no means bad, and a set of Bluetooth speakers for less than $50 from Amazon can replace the need for stereo sound in your tablet. When the first 9.7″ iPad Pro was launched last March, the iPad Air 2 dropped to $399. At that time, it was a difficult choice between the two platforms. For only two hundred dollars more, you got a better display, improved speakers, and the option to use the Apple Pencil or Smart Keyboard with your device.

But that price margin has grown. For the price of one iPad Pro, you could now buy two—yes, two—of the basic iPads. That’s a large price gap between the two devices, and it’s really something to consider when looking at devices. That additional $320 can be spent on an excellent pair of headphones, on apps or games for your new tablet, on accessories and a nice case, or on the aforementioned Bluetooth speakers for your tablet. Unless you’re going to replace your laptop with the iPad Pro, you’re probably still going to use a dedicated computer for your actual work, be it writing, photo or video editing, illustration, or any other computer-based assignments. In that case, the iPad represents an excellent value, an easy way to buy into the iOS ecosystem of apps without having to purchase an iPhone. It’s the perfect device for your family, for reading the news or watching videos online. It’s powerful enough to last for years, without paying for hardware you’ll never properly utilize.

At the end of the day, we have to make two separate judgements. If you’re looking for the best of the best in performance, display, and sound quality, and money is not a concern in your purchasing decision, buy the iPad Pro. It’s an excellent computer, and it’ll likely keep you happy for years to come—especially as a laptop or MacBook replacement. But if you’re a general consumer looking for a family tablet, one that can be used by your kids on road trips, in the kitchen to display recipes, and around the house as a general piece of technology, you don’t need to drop $649 to do that. The iPad is an excellent tablet at $329; at that price, you’re not going to be able to find a better device that combines the same build quality, performance, and app library. Most people will drop $329 on an iPad and be happy with their purchase for years to come. And that’s all that matters.

Posted by William Sattelberg on September 20, 2017

One thought on “iPad vs iPad Pro – Which is Right for You?”

Frank Ross says:
$600 – $1,000 to run apps (not actual programs) on a tablet? What a joke. If you’re comparing an older Ford to a newer one, of course the newer model is going to be better. Duh.

Compare it to the competition and the specs don’t match the price. There’s not even anything new and innovative about it. Just upgrades.

You’re basically buying a Ford at Ferrari prices.

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