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iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4: which tablet is made for you?

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4
(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is the iPad Pro's biggest upgrade since its inception and is easily the best tablet money can buy, but it's expensive and potentially overkill for some users.

Alternatively, there's the iPad Air 4, which is cheaper (but far from cheap) and offers some impressive capabilities for the price.

With both tablets proving to be so powerful and competitive, how can you know which iPad is best for your needs? Either should do the job whatever your plans, but you might find one has the better balance of features and price, depending on your intentions.

If you can't decide which Apple iPad to buy, we're here to help out. We've looked at all the features and specs of both tablets, as well as the price, design, and everything else you might need to know before you hit the buy button.

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4 price and availability 

The standard iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) starts at $1,099/£999/ AU$1,649 for 128GB of storage. The price rises to $1,199/£1,099/AU$1,799 for 256GB of storage, with up to 2TB available for an eye-watering $2,199/£1,999/AU$3,299.

The iPad Air 4 is significantly cheaper at $599/£579/AU$899 for 64GB of storage or $749/£729/AU$1,129 for 256GB of storage.

Cellular models of both tablets are available too, which further bump up the price if you need more than simple Wi-Fi access, with the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) offering 5G support and the iPad Air 4 sticking with 4G.

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4 design

While both the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and iPad Air 4 are very similarly designed, they're also quite different sizes. The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) measures 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm while the iPad Air 4's dimensions are 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm. So, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is larger in every way, as you'd expect given the iPad Air 4 has a smaller 10.9-inch display.

iPad Air 4

The iPad Air 4 is smaller and lighter than the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) (Image credit: TechRadar)

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) weighs more too at 682g for the Wi-Fi only model or 685g for the 5G cellular version. For comparison, the iPad Air 4 weighs 458g for the Wi-Fi only version or 460g for the cellular edition.

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is only available in fairly sedate colors - Silver or Space Grey, while the iPad Air 4 is far more fashionable. A choice of Silver, Space Grey, Rose Gold, Green or Sky Blue give you more options if you want to show off your personality.

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4 display

The display is what makes the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) stand out most amongst the competition. It sports a 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display with ProMotion technology and True Tone. Beneath the marketing names, this is the first iPad with a Mini LED display, which ensures better contrast as well as improved brightness.

While the iPad Air 4 also has True Tone technology (which adjusts the color temperature based on your surroundings), it lacks the rest and solely has a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina LCD display. That doesn't make it poor quality by any means, but if you want the absolute best display out there for a tablet you need the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021).

iPad Pro 12.9 2021

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) has a slightly bigger and much better screen (Image credit: TechRadar)

As for the resolution, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) comes in at 2048 x 2732, which works out at 265 pixels per inch, reflecting its high-end quality. Its peak brightness of 1600 nits is arguably excessive, so you won't need to use the maximum setting often. A refresh rate of 120Hz completes the package, so you'll appreciate just how smooth it feels compared to other tablets.

The iPad Air 4 isn't quite as strong here but its slightly smaller size means you'll forgive it. It achieves a resolution of 1640 x 2340 which equates to 264 pixels per inch, so you barely miss out here. Strong peak brightness and vibrant colors means it looks gorgeous too.

It only has a standard 60Hz refresh rate so it doesn't feel quite as smooth as the iPad Pro to browse through, but it's these kinds of concessions you'll need to expect when it costs so much less. It still looks great for the price.

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4 camera and battery

Neither the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) or iPad Air 4 will stun you with their photo taking capabilities but they're still both fairly respectable for tablets. 

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) has a more than capable 12MP main rear sensor along with a 10MP ultra-wide camera for when you need to take more in, while the iPad Air 4 solely has a 12MP regular snapper.

When it comes to selfie taking or video calls, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) has a 12MP camera with an ultra-wide lens while the iPad Air 4 sticks to a more traditional 7MP camera.

iPad Pro 12.9 2021

Features like Center Stage give the Pro's cameras the edge (Image credit: TechRadar)

In regular use, it's the software upgrades that make the difference for both tablets. For instance, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) has a feature called Center Stage which allows the camera to follow you around the room when you're on video calls. It does a pretty good job of tracking you too.

The iPad Air 4 lacks this feature so its selfie camera is a bit weaker and feels more dated compared to what else the tablet can do.

Battery life is predictably varied depending on how you plan on using your tablet but, interestingly, both devices promise roughly the same. Both the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and iPad Air 4 should provide up to 10 hours of internet browsing or watching video, with up to 9 hours when using a mobile data network.

Both offer USB-C charging, with the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) also having support for Thunderbolt/USB 4.

iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs iPad Air 4 specs and features

Arguably the most pivotal difference between the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and the iPad Air 4 is the processor that powers them. The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) utilizes the Apple M1 chipset, while the iPad Air 4 uses the A14 Bionic. The latter is more traditional for iPads, while the Apple M1 chip is the same type of chip as you'll see in the latest MacBook or iMac.

That means the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is a powerhouse of a tablet and ideally suited for those looking to make music, edit video, draw, or do all manners of power-intensive tasks. Simply put, it's the fastest tablet out there right now.

Even better, you can combine that with an impressive 2TB of storage if you need to (and can afford to). Bear in mind that with both iPads, there's no microSD support, so you'll need to be certain about your storage requirements before buying.

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) also has the advantage of 5G connectivity if you go with the cellular model, whereas with the iPad Air 4 you're limited to 4G connectivity.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

The iPad Air 4 is less powerful than the Pro, but it's still speedy (Image credit: TechRadar)

This could all be overkill depending on what you need though, as the iPad Air 4 still has the highly competent A14 Bionic chip under the hood, which is the same chipset as you'll find in the iPhone 12 range.

It'll still open apps speedily and handle multitasking well. It might not be the latest and greatest anymore but if you're not editing videos or performing other similarly intensive tasks, you likely won't notice the difference.

Storage options for the iPad Air 4 are limited to only 64GB or 256GB however, so if you need more space, you'll need to look elsewhere. Simply put, 64GB isn't going to cut it for most people, even with extensive use of iCloud.

Takeaway

Both the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and the iPad Air 4 are highly competent tablets but they're appealing to different audiences.

If money is no object and you want the fastest tablet out there, you'll want to buy the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021). Thanks to the M1 chipset, it feels near unstoppable at times and you'll wonder how you lived without it.

Combined with its gorgeous screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, it'll even work as a laptop replacement if you combine it with a keyboard cover. You probably won't feel like you're missing out on the regular laptop experience by doing so.

Alternatively, if you're happy with a competent tablet for quick note-taking, drawing, relaxing with a game or two, or streaming content, then the iPad Air 4 will still roar away happily for you. Its slightly smaller screen suits the tablet experience better and the average user won't mind the slight performance dip compared to what the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) can provide for power users.

Whatever you decide, make sure you buy the most storage you can afford. That's where you may find yourself limited if you go too conservatively with your estimate. 

Jennifer Allen

Jennifer is a roving tech freelancer with over 10 years experience. Her main areas of interest are all things B2B, smart technology, wearables, speakers, headphones, and anything gaming related. Her bylines include T3, FitandWell, Top Ten Reviews, Eurogamer, NME and many more. In her spare time, she enjoys the cinema, walking, and attempting to train her pet guinea pigs. She is yet to succeed.