For the last couple of years, the 12.9” iPad Pro has been my mobile writing and productivity companion of choice.
Then, I bought an M1 MacBook Air, and everything changed.
The MacBook Air has now replaced my iPad Pro as my main “take it anywhere” device. That’s for two reasons:
- the battery is just as good as the iPad’s; and
- it runs macOS.
You see, no matter how hard I tried to make the iPad Pro a laptop replacement, it always felt a little ham-fisted. Certain tasks on the iPad demanded workarounds and new workflows which always felt cumbersome and needlessly complicated.
macOS is like a pair of old, comfortable shoes. That’s why the M1 MacBook Air is the first device I pick up whenever I need to do something quickly.
However, this created a gap in may digital life. My 12.9” iPad Pro is a wonderful consumption device, but it is huge. It’s why I’ve long hankered after its smaller brother, the 11” iPad Pro.
Then, Apple launched the iPad Air 4.
So, I bought one instead of the 11” iPad Pro.
Here’s why it’s the perfect replacement for my 12.9” iPad.
Differences you’ll notice
I suspect many 12.9” iPad Pro owners will be more than happy with their device – it’s a wonderful tablet, after all. However, if, like me, you fancy something smaller, the iPad Air 4 is the best ‘downgrade’ you can make.
There are some noticeable differences, though. For some people, they might be dealbreakers.
- The screen: obviously, the Air has a smaller screen than the 12.9” Pro, but for me, that was a selling point. Unfortunately, the Air also has a 60Hz refresh rate, versus the Pro’s 120Hz ‘ProMotion’ display. The difference is immediately obvious if you’ve been using the latter (the Air almost appears ‘slower’ when scrolling through your app library) – but your eyes do adapt pretty quickly.
- The physical size: the iPad Air’s form is identical to the 11” iPad Pro and therefore considerably more nimble than the 12.9” Pro, if you’re coming from that machine like I did. It feels ‘classic iPad’ size. Which is nice.
- Face ID: one concession the Air makes is swapping Face ID for a Touch ID sensor built into the power button. It beats ProMotion in terms of features I miss, but also becomes second nature after a while.
That’s it. I sat for quite a while trying to work out what else I could add to the list above, but there really aren’t any other noticeable differences between the iPad Pro and the iPad Air.
It simply comes down to the size of the device and lack of those ‘pro’ features (ProMotion and Face ID) which I immediately longed for but then quickly forgot about as I started to enjoy the fourth generation iPad Air.
Is Apple ditching the 11” iPad Pro?
At the time of writing, there’s no concrete evidence that Apple is dropping the 11” iPad Pro. It was refreshed in March 2020 with a faster chip, LiDAR depth sensor and better camera system, but many have pointed out that the new iPad Air might be its logical, silent replacement.
The iPad Air is an incredibly capable tablet. Bar the LiDAR sensor and camera system, it actually features a faster chip than the 11” iPad Pro, and despite the lack of ProMotion and a slightly smaller screen, it benefits from the same form factor.
If I were Apple, I’d ditch the 11” Pro. There really isn’t a reason to buy it if you’re after an iPad of that size. The aforementioned pro features simply don’t justify the almost £190 price difference between the two.
However, Apple does have a tendency to confuse its product lines, and the iPad lineup has always been troublesome. It’s therefore entirely possible that we’ll still have an 11” iPad Pro sitting alongside the Air for some time to come, and if Mini-LED is one of the only differentiating features, it will become increasingly difficult to recommend the more expensive tablet.
Why I’m switching: 5 reasons
If you think switching from a 12.9” iPad Pro to an iPad Air is an odd decision, here are five reasons I’ve done just that.
1. The screen size
As mentioned before, the 12.9” iPad Pro is too big. When paired with a Magic Keyboard, it becomes a far more interesting device, but even then, it weighs more than many laptops.
That screen is beautiful, sure, and when you first lay your eyes on a giant iPad, it’s genuinely impressive. But as a tablet, it’s just unwieldy. And iPadOS still fails to take full advantage of that screen real estate, which makes the additional weight and discomfort relatively pointless.
By comparison, the iPad Air’s 10.86” screen is absolutely perfect.
2. Speed just doesn’t matter any more
It doesn’t. iPads are – and have always been – blisteringly fast. That won’t change – ever.
In fact, they offer more performance than most apps and even iPadOS itself can take advantage of. I won’t refer to benchmarks, because they bore me rigid, but suffice to say, the iPad will always be the fastest tablet on the planet, beating plenty of desktop machines and laptops in the process.
When switching between the 12.9” iPad Pro and the fourth generation iPad Air, the only noticeable difference was a perceived difference in speed because of the lower screen refresh rate. But, in reality, they both feel super speedy.
The same goes for the iPhone. These things are fast. That’s the end of that particular story.
3. It supports Apple Pencil 2nd generation
I was an early adopter of the first generation Apple Pencil. It was great, but had two flaws:
- it was too big; and
- the charging method was stupid.
The second generation Apple Pencil, on the other hand, is more nimble and charges by attaching itself magnetically to the iPad Pro or Air. It’s also faster, technically and feels far nicer in the hand.
The fact Apple adopted for the second generation Pencil over its predecessor for the Air increases the usefulness of the tablet tenfold.
4. It’s an iPad – not a computer
As noted earlier, I spent years using an iPad Pro as a secondary computing device. And, to a degree, it worked brilliantly.
But when I look back, it only really coped well with email management, writing tasks and general admin. Attempting to do anything more with an iPad always reveals the limitations of touch input and iPadOS.
The iPad Air can indeed be paired with a Magic Keyboard and trackpad, but it’s far better at just being a tablet.
I’ve come full circle with the iPad in that regard. If I think back to the way I used the original iPad when it was launched in 2010, it amounted to web browsing, media consumption and referencing digital documents during meetings. That’s exactly what the iPad Air is doing for me now, and it excels at the task. Why complicate things?
5. The Magic Keyboard is still an option
I’m not berating the iPad’s ability to act like a laptop. Indeed, for many people, it has successfully replaced the latter. It just didn’t work for me.
That being said, it is a comfort to know that the iPad Air is compatible with the 11 inch version of the Magic Keyboard. It’s a damn expensive accessory, but the 12.9” version has always impressed me, and if I ever fancy going back to that realm, I can do so with the Air.
Should you buy the iPad Air 4?
Yes. If you’re in the market for a new iPad, it is 100% the one to go with.
I simply cannot recommend the 11” iPad Pro. It features a lesser processor and a significantly higher price tag.
If there’s one thing the iPad Air 4 has taught me, it’s that Apple’s pro features are often anything but. They’re icing on an already perfectly tasty cake. If you’ve never experienced ProMotion, you won’t miss it – and the same goes for Face ID.
However, I have experienced both of those things, and despite my initial disappointment with their exclusion from the iPad Air, their benefits quickly faded as I enjoyed this wonderfully-sized and biblically powered tablet.
I won’t be going back – trust me.
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