iPad Pro 2017 vs iPad Air 2020: Should I Upgrade?

If you’re like a lot of people, you may still be loving your iPad Pro from 2017. After all, it’s a beautiful, large device that is still powerful and a lot of fun in 2021. However, you might also be wondering whether you should upgrade to the latest iPad Air. If you do a quick online search to look at the 2020 Air model then you might not notice much difference when you sit them side by side (except for the obvious size difference and bezels) however there are plenty of improvements in the 2020 Air model and in this post, we’ll go over them so you can decide if you should upgrade to the iPad Air 2020.

Specifications

iPad Pro 2017

  • Chip: A10X Fusion
  • Operating system: iOS 10.3.2
  • Camera: 12MP
  • Storage 512GB (up to)
  • Video: 4K 30fps
  • Screen: 12.9 inches

iPad Air 2020

  • Chip: A14 Bionic
  • Operating system: iPadOS 14.1
  • Camera: 12MP
  • Storage 256GB (up to)
  • Video: 4K 60fps
  • Features: Face ID
  • Screen: 10.9 inches

Design

If you look at the iPad Pro 2017 and the iPad Pro 2020 from the back, you won’t notice too many differences except for the obvious size difference. Both iPads feature a single camera on the top right side of the iPad. The iPad Air 2020 version looks noticeably lighter and more refined in terms of screen space allocation than the 2017 Pro.

When you flip the two iPads over, the first thing you’ll notice is the fact that the 2020 Air version has done away with the in-your-face Fingerprint button underneath the screen. The 2017 Pro model (no longer available from Apple) had thick bezels along the top and the bottom of the screen and it made the screen look smaller altogether. Because the 2020 iPad Air uses a thin fingerprint scanner along the top right side of the iPad, it frees up screen space on the front, even though the screen is smaller than the 2017 Pro model.

Apple has ditched the headphone jack on new iPad models, moving to USB-C, and integrating the inductive charger for the second-generation Apple Pencil. Due to the USB-C port, you could link your 2020 iPad Air up to a monitor. This could be handy if you want to see an increase in detail when drawing.

Something else to be aware of is the 2020 iPad Air is compatible with the Magic Keyboard so if you do a lot of writing then the 2020 Air model would be ideal over the 2017 Pro version.

Performance

Whilst both the iPad Pro 2017 and 2020 Air are beautiful to look at, you might be more interested in the performance differences between the two. The 2020 Air model is arguably a lot more powerful with its updated chip, the A14 Bionic Chip. Most serious iPad users that like to push their iPads to their limits use the devices for gaming, video editing, and other creative work. 

When we look at the difference in Geekbench CPU scores, we can see how far ahead the 2020 Air model is compared to the 2017 model.

Single-Core ScoreMulti-Core Score
iPad Pro 20177622330
iPad Air 202015584322

To have a good look at graphics performances, we ran the Compute benchmarks test to see the real difference. The 2017 Pro model gave us scores between 6400-6700 and the 2020 Air model gave an impressive score of just over 24,000. The 2020 iPad Air model was giving us almost four times the graphics power of the 2017 Pro model. That’s quite the leap in three years and it’s all thanks to the A14 Bionic chip in the iPad Air 2020.

Why you Might Want to Buy the iPad Air 2020 model

Due to its impressive leap in CPU performance, the 2020 Air model is going to give you a more fluid gaming experience and video-editing experience. The Fluid Retina display is also going to look lusciously rich when you sit it next to the 2017 Pro’s standard Retina display. If you use iMovie then you’re going to notice a big leap in video rendering time, even up against your Mac. The latest chip is going to make video production a lot faster. If creating videos is your gig, then the 2020 Air model is also going to be your best bet because it can capture video in 4K and up to 60fps compared to 2017’s 4K at only a 30fps limit.

The technical specifications and features are very similar when it comes to these two iPads but it’s the chips that give them the biggest difference. There’s no difference in the cameras or slo-mo recording, for example. Both iPads can record slo-mo video at 1080p and up to 240fps. The big difference is the fact that the iPad Air is going to make everything a lot faster, as shown in our benchmark scores.

When it comes to storage space, the iPad Air can hold up to 256GB of data and you cannot add any more later. The 2017 iPad Pro however can be pushed up to 512GB. However, if you’re after an iPad Pro 2017 model, just for its boost in storage space then you’ll have to search around online for it because Apple no longer sells it themselves.

If you use drawing apps on your iPad, then you might want to upgrade to the iPad Air, even if the screen is slightly smaller. That’s because the iPad Air supports the second generation of the Apple Pencil whereas the iPad Pro 2017 only supports the first generation.

Both of these generations are identical in technical performance however the second gen has been refined in terms of design. The second-gen has a flat edge instead of being circular all the way along like the first-gen. It’s also smooth, unlike the glossy and slippery first-gen. These minor tweaks do however make for a much more realistic drawing experience and the Apple Pencil 2 is less likely to slip out of your hand when drawing.

The Verdict

If you’re happy to just play a few games and talk to your friends then you should stick with your iPad Pro 2017. If however, you want to get in line with the next generation of Apple accessories then you should upgrade to the iPad Air. Support for the Magic Keyboard and next-gen Pencil is worth it in our opinion. The Air is smaller but richer when it comes to performance and support for older generation iPads will stop eventually. Because of the new chip found in the latest generation of iPads, it makes sense to upgrade if you want the best iPad experience.

The iPad Air starts at $599 and when you compare that to the 2020 iPad Pro selling for $799, it’s a good deal. You’re still getting the latest power performance from Apple but you’ll just have a smaller device and less storage.

Related article: iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro: Which One Is Better?

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