iPad vs iPad Pro: Which is Right for You? [October 2019]
It’s hard to believe nearly ten years have passed since the first iPad was launched. 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 four models to choose from. From the iPad Mini to the iPad Pro, it’s easy to pick an iPad that matches your preferred size, as well as your budget. Apple’s cheapest tablet, simply called the iPad, starts at just $329, while the newest iPad Pro—featuring the first radical redesign of the tablet since its launch in 2010—costs more than double, starting at $799 for the 11″ model. So, is the iPad Pro worth the upcharge in price, or should you stick to the cheaper iPad? 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 deep dive into which you should buy.
Design and Display
Both the iPad and the 11″ 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. The 2019 iPad has a slightly larger display than its predecessors, bumping the display from 9.7″ to 10.2″, meaning the whole device is a bit longer and wider than the 2018 model it replaced. It’s tough to notice unless you put it side by side with an older 9.7″ iPad, though, and the bezels remain the same around all four sides. The iPad Pro, however, is a complete reinvention of the iPad, with gesture controls and FaceID replacing the Home button and TouchID for an iPhone X-like experience. Let’s look at what makes each of these models unique.
Continuing from 2018, Apple has spent most of their energy with the 2019 iPad trying to make the device a good option for students. Outside of the larger display, the design of the iPad hasn’t changed much from the original 2017 low-cost iPad. It’s still a large display surrounded by a sea of either black or white bezels, depending on the color of your device. The sleek aluminium body is available in silver, gold, or space gray, though the gold model has a bit of rose gold in it as well. The home button is still here, even in a Face ID world, found on the bottom of the device when held in standard portrait mode. The device is good, thin, and light, weighing 1.07lbs for the WiFi-only model and 1.09 pounds for the cellular model. That’s just a bit heavier than the 11″ iPad Pro, but the difference is so slight, you aren’t likely to notice. It’s also a bit heavier than the 2018 iPad, likely due to the larger display.
Speaking of which, the biggest difference between this year’s entry-level iPad and its premium older brother is the display. It isn’t just the size—though obviously, the 11″ display on the iPad Pro is larger than the 10.2″ screen on the $329 model—but the quality. The screen on this year’s iPad still lacks the anti-reflective coating and the laminated display on both the iPad Pro and the 2019 iPad Air. While most consumers won’t notice the lack of an anti-reflection film across their device, the continued lack of lamination is notable.
Laminated displays bond the screen to the front of the glass, allowing a unique pixels-on-glass appearance that you won’t get on the $329 model. If you head to an Apple Store or a Best Buy, it’s easy to compare the difference between the two devices. Hold both at an angle, and you’ll see that the display on the 2019 iPad looks recessed, almost like you’re looking through a window. It’s something you’ll notice if you’ve used a tablet with a laminated display before, though if you’re buying an iPad for the very first time, it’s less likely to be an issue unless you’re specifically looking for it.
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. The slightly larger device is great for watching videos or web browsing, but it isn’t going to revolutionize how you use a tablet. And for all our qualms about the screen, it’s certainly not bad. It’s decently bright, still uses IPS display tech, and has the same 264 pixels-per-inch pixel density as the Pro.
iPad Pro (11″)
Released last October, the iPad Pro has a completely new design, ditching the classic “big iPhone” look for something closer to a laptop display that has had its keyboard removed. The iPad Pro is all screen, surrounded by a thin layer of bezel that makes it possible to hold the device without constantly registering accidental screen presses. The curves of the iPad match the curves of the screen, ditching the classic rectangle for something a bit more fun and friendly to use. The iPad Pro isn’t larger or smaller than the entry-level iPad; it’s about the same size, just in a slightly-different shape. It is, however, definitely thinner. At 5.9mm, it’s more than a millimeter and a half thinner than the 7.5mm iPad, and you can really feel that difference in your hand. Aluminium on the back of the device makes everything feel premium, but unfortunately, you can only pick up the iPad Pro in space gray or silver. No matter which color you choose, however, the bezel will always be black.
As we mentioned, the iPad Pro’s display is in a whole other league than the cheaper model. It’s brighter and offers a wider color gamut. Lamination and anti-reflection coatings both return, and the screen is once again bonded to the front glass, giving it a premium look that’s stunning in your hand. The Pro also adds TrueTone technology, which helps adjust the color temperature of the display based on the lighting conditions of your surroundings. And, most importantly, the iPad Pro continues to offer a 120Hz refresh rate, or what Apple calls “ProMotion.” Some consumers won’t be able to tell the difference, but trust us: higher refresh rates make a big difference in how you use the device. This thing feels fast and fluid when scrolling around the home screen or skipping through a bunch of photos. It looks absolutely fantastic, and it’s easily the best display you can get on an iPad today.
Obviously, the lack of a home button means you’ll have to rely on gestures to get around iPadOS, but if you’ve gotten used to the iPhone X or 11, you’ll be comfortable here in no time. When we reviewed the 2017 iPad Pro, we spoke about how the iPad needed to be updated in order to feel a bit more modern, and this iPad Pro really has hit the mark. It’s easy to imagine this design being around for years to come.
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.
It’s really easy to describe the specs of the 2019 iPad, because for the most part, they’re unchanged from the model launched eighteen months prior. The entry-level iPad still uses an A10 Fusion chip, the same processor that was first launched with the iPhone 7. In 2018, it was great to see the iPad make the jump from an A9 to an A10, and we were sure that this model would see a similar jump to the A11 Bionic. Alas, no dice. Still, the A10 is pretty powerful, and it’ll do basically anything you need done with iPadOS. It’s more of a question of longevity: most new iPads are updated for five or six years after their initial launch, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see this model only last through three or four software updates. That’s far above what you’ll find on Android, but well below what we’ve come to expect from Apple.
There is some good news though. Unlike the 2017 and 2018 iPads, this year’s device sees a jump to 3GB of RAM, which really improves multitasking on iPadOS.
The cameras on both the back and the front of the iPad haven’t been changed since the 2017 model. On the back, you’ll find an 8MP sensor that lets you take some decent shots in a pinch. It works fine for document scanning, but otherwise, you’ll probably want to stick to the camera on your phone. 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. On the front, you’ll find the same mediocre 1.2MP lens that’s been around for years. It’s fine for FaceTime, but you probably won’t be taking any selfies with it.
Similarly, the choices for storage have remained the same as last year. 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 the third year of offering this combination of storage, though we wished Apple would step up to 64GB as its bare minimum for its lowest-end device. Apple has used this entry-level model to help advertise their new Apple Arcade subscription, and while we think Apple Arcade is an excellent edition to your device, 32GB just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Meanwhile, users looking for extra storage can step up to 128GB for an extra $100, but you might be better off looking into the iPad Air once you’ve entered that price tier. As a final miscellaneous note, this year’s iPad once again retains its bottom-firing dual speaker setup, foregoing the stereo option supported by the iPad Pro line.
iPad Pro (11″)
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 iPad Pro is powered by the A12X Bionic chip, a successor to the A10X used in the older 2017 iPad Pro, along with 4GB of RAM. Though it’s no longer the newest chip made by Apple, the A12X is plenty fast, often besting most of Apple’s MacBook Pro line of devices in performance. It’s really speedy, and if you’re worried about performance, this is obviously the chip to get.
Unlike the older Pro, the 2018 iPad Pro has an all-new camera module exclusive to that device, offering a 12-megapixel sensor complete with optical image stabilization and support for Smart HDR. 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. Unfortunately, the trade-off for that level of camera quality is the large camera bump. Combined with the slim profile of this device, it does create an uneven profile when using the device on a table.
The front-facing camera is much improved, offering the same sensors and 7MP TrueDepth camera found on last year’s iPhone XS. The iPad Pro allows you to unlock the device with FaceID used in any orientation, which makes it about as easy to use as TouchID on a standard iPad. That’s great, because without a home button, you’re likely to hold the device upside down a whole lot more. As with the previous iPad Pro models, 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. Three additional model models are available as well, offering 256GB, 512GB, and a whopping 1 terabyte of storage, though obviously, all three 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 at least look into upgrading to 256GB, especially if you’re looking to use the device like a laptop.
Winner: iPad Pro
The iPad’s version of iOS has been inching closer and closer to an independent OS for years, and finally, Apple pulled the trigger in 2019. iPadOS is a reinvention of how iOS works on an iPad. Don’t let the name confuse you: this is still iOS 13, but there’s a number of exclusive features that use the larger display to show more information, allow you to multitask with apps side by side, use picture-in-picture viewing modes, and much more.
It’s tough to describe all the new and updated additions to iPadOS, but here’s just a few that Apple advertises on their website:
- Slide Over and Split View: Multitasking on iPad doesn’t work quite as well as it does on a typical laptop, but Apple has spent years now refining how users can be more productive on their device. Split View allows you to use two apps side by side, while Slide Over gives you a pop-out app that lets you use up to three windows at once.
- Improved home screen: iPadOS finally lets you choose between zoomed-in and zoomed-out views for your home screen, showing more apps than a typical home page on iOS 12. In landscape, you can also gain access to your Today View widgets to the left, letting you slide through news stories and weather updates as you wish. This is the most advanced the iOS home screen has ever felt, and it’s really great to see these improvements finally arrive on iOS.
- Keyboard settings: Do you want to type one-handed on your iPad? It’s finally possible, thanks to the new keyboard settings included on iPadOS. You can swipe along the keyboard to type words quickly, all while holding your iPad with one hand.
- Desktop-class Safari: Apple’s doing some real trickery behind the scenes, but thanks to how they’ve coded Safari for iPadOS, their browser now defaults to desktop sites every time. You can even edit a Google Doc right within the browser!
- Files and Download Manager: Apple has continued to improve how their file management works on their service, and now you can finally move files to and from external storage drives like SD cards and USB drives.
- Sidecar: Own a Mac? You can finally use your iPad as a secondary display for MacOS. This is something that’s been possible for years with third-party apps, but with Sidecar, it’s native, free, and wireless.
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 iPadOS is a must. It’s also worth checking out Apple’s page for iOS 13, which details non-iPad exclusive features like dark mode. iOS 13 had a buggy launch to say the least, but on iPadOS 13.1.2, things seem to have calmed down quite a bit. Apple’s still in the process of squashing some of those bugs, so stay patient and keep updating your device as more software patches roll out.
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.
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. We haven’t discussed the cellular models of these devices much throughout this article, but nevertheless, both devices will see reduced battery times when running on LTE. Something to keep in mind when choosing a model to purchase.
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.
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. Unfortunately, since the new iPad has completely original dimensions to any other iPad, if you’re upgrading from a 2017 or a 2018 iPad, you’ll need to buy new a new case.
Like the 2018 iPad, this year’s model continues to offer support for the Apple Pencil, though unfortunately, they didn’t extend support for the second-gen Pencil to the $329 device. That means you’ll still need to buy Apple’s stylus that charges through the Lightning port on the bottom of the device. Unlike the 2019 iPad, however, Apple has also added the Smart Connector, a series of Pogo-style pins along the side of the device for connecting accessories like keyboards. That means that you won’t miss out on any major accessory features between this iPad, the midrange iPad Air, or the iPad Pro.
iPad Pro (11″)
The iPad Pro used to have the benefit of Apple’s Smart Connector over the $329 device, but with the addition of that port on the newest iPad, there’s really only two major benefits the iPad Pro offers when it comes to accessories.
First, the improved second-gen Apple Pencil. There’s a lot to love about this revision including wireless charging through a magnetic connection on the iPad itself. The biggest flaw with the original Apple Pencil was its charging method, and the newer method for charging is much, much easier. There’s no metal cap, and the flat side on the Pencil helps to keep it from rolling off a table. Unfortunately, these improvements come with a price hike, and if you want to get the Apple Pencil for your iPad Pro, you’re looking at paying $129, a $30 price increase over the first-gen model.
The second, and arguably more important change, is one that’s been long awaited for years. Apple made the switch to USB-C from Lightning on their newest iPad Pros, and after the launch of iPadOS, we’re finally seeing some real benefits to this change. In addition to USB-C being a universal standard, it also makes it easy to use almost any USB accessory with no adapters. Wired mice and keyboards, USB drives, SD card readers, external monitors, headphones, ethernet cable—they all work with your iPad now. You can even charge your iPhone off your iPad as if it was any other computer.
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. Apple’s devices are always well-supported, and the iPad Pro is no exception.
Winner: Mostly a draw, but USB-C is a great addition.
Despite everything we described above, pricing is absolutely the most important section of this review for a majority of consumers. While there are plenty of differences between the two devices, it’s difficult to even compare the two tablets without first glancing at the price tag next to each unit. So, let’s take a look at how each unit is priced, and whether the Pro model is really worth the upcharge considering everything we just reviewed.
For nearly three years now, the iPad’s low cost has been the best feature of Apple’s entry-level tablet. At $329 for the base 32GB model, it’s never been easier or cheaper to dive into the iPad lineup. It’s even cheaper than the smaller iPad Mini, though Apple’s 8″ tablet does have a better processor. Qualms about the display aside, an iPad at $329 is a great buy, even with the aging A10 processor. As it was last year, the iPad is nearly an impulse buy at this price, especially considering how advanced of a computer it has become.
More than ever, though, the 2019 version of the iPad has become the cheapest tablet really worth owning. Yes, the Amazon Fire tablets, even at their highest end, are far cheaper, but if you’re looking to use a tablet for all sorts of content consumption and creation, the Fire tablets won’t do you much good. Likewise, Android tablets seem to be as good as dead, and Google has all but stopped selling their Chrome OS tablet, the Pixel Slate. We thought the field for competition in tablets was dire in 2018, but as we prepare to close the book on this decade, it’s never been an easier fight for the iPad to win.
It’s also worth noting that, if you know where to look, you can probably save some cash on your iPad purchase. The 2019 iPad sells for $329, but students can save $20 and grab the device through Apple’s education store for just $309. Even better, though, is picking up an open box iPad from 2018 on eBay. As long as you don’t need the Smart Connector, the 2018 iPad offers you virtually the same exact experience as this newer model, including Apple Pencil support. At the time of writing, we were able to find open box 128GB iPads on eBay from reputable sellers for just $279. That’s the same exact processing power, speakers, RAM, and software, with a slightly smaller screen and quadruple the storage, for $50 less than this newest model from Apple, all for giving up a connector you might never use.
Of course, Apple sells a 128GB model for an additional $100, and a cellular version through the carrier of your choice (or unlocked) sells for an additional $120 on top of whichever version of the iPad you choose (meaning a 32GB cellular iPad will run you $459). Most people will probably choose with the basic 32GB model for $329, but if you’re truly concerned about storage, you’ll need to bump up to that 128GB version.
iPad Pro (11″)
While the iPad stands as the best value choice for tablet buyers in general, everyone needs something different in a device. Despite their similarities, the iPad Pro is really meant for people who want the very best out of their technology, who want the highest-end product money can buy. The iPad Pro currently represents Apple’s idea of the future of computing, especially if you look at their controversial “What’s a Computer?” ad for the last-gen Pro. This tablet is meant to replace your laptop, not supplement it, and you can see that in the specs. It’s got a beefier processor, improved speakers, a larger screen with lamination and Pro Motion, and an all-new design to emphasize the display.
But those additions don’t come cheap, starting at a whopping $799 for the 64GB model and quickly raising in price when looking at storage options. If you do plan on replacing your laptop with the iPad Pro, you might want to upgrade to the 256GB version, which costs $949. The 512GB model, meanwhile, runs you $1149, and the terabyte model costs a whopping $1349. Like with the classic iPad model, if you want to add cellular connectivity to any of these options, you’ll need to drop an additional $130. You’re deep into traditional laptop territory at these prices, especially once you move to the 256GB model.
And of course, all of those prices are without considering accessories. While the Apple Pencil certainly isn’t a must-buy, anyone looking to replace a laptop with an iPad Pro will need to pick up a Smart Keyboard cover with it, since it isn’t included in the box. That optional accessory will run you an additional $179, which places the starting price for a 64GB WiFi iPad Pro with Keyboard Cover at more than a grand after taxes. There’s no doubt that the iPad Pro offers some real advancements over the standard $329 iPad, but those enhancements come at a real cost.
In the interest of fairness, we should mention that students can grab an iPad Pro for $749, and you can also pick up a refurbished iPad Pro from Apple starting at $679. It’s still a ton of cash, but saving something is better than saving nothing.
Winner: iPad (2019)
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 A12X processor and 4GB of RAM; a 12MP camera, along with a 7MP front-facing camera for FaceTime and FaceID; quad speakers for stereo sound; and better battery life. Anyone who is serious about looking for a tablet that can replace your laptop should look long and hard at the iPad Pro. 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 both media consumption and 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.
Here’s the thing: the differences between the $329 iPad and the $799 iPad Pro have never been slimmer. The iPad Pro nets you a larger screen with lamination and Pro Motion, a faster processor and more RAM, improved camera quality, and quad-stereo speakers. And while those are definitely enhancements, most consumers won’t be able to look at that list and justify spending nearly two and a half times as much on the iPad Pro than they would on the iPad. With the addition of both Apple Pencil support and, more recently, Smart Connector support on the cheaper model, the iPad Pro is a difficult purchase for most people shopping for a new tablet. Unless you’re truly looking to drop your laptop for an iPad, the cheaper tablet is the correct model to pick for anyone who still has a laptop or desktop computer for doing real work in their life. $329 grants you the perfect device for reading, studying, taking notes, watching videos, browsing the web, and so much more. The A10 chip might not be new, but it’s plenty powerful, especially for everyday tasks.
Ultimately, despite losing out to the iPad Pro in most categories, it’s impossible not to declare the iPad (2019) the winner as of right now. While the iPad Pro is certainly a great tablet and a solid laptop replacement, doubling the cost makes it a tough pick for consumers who just want a tablet to supplement the experience they get from their laptop. Though it may not be the most exciting choice on the market, if you need an iPad right now, you should drop the $329 on the standard iPad. Most users will find it reliable, fun, and a good value for what they get in return.
Overall Winner: iPad (2019)