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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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iPad Air vs. iPad Pro: My buying decision

There comes a time in one’s life when, no matter how long one puts it off, one must buy a new iPad. For me, that day came immediately following last week’s Apple event, at which the company unveiled the fifth-generation iPad Air.

But, before you ask: no, I didn’t buy an iPad Air.

I was tempted, I must admit. Given that the previous generation of iPad Air already had many of the great features of the iPad Pro (as Jason has pointed out), but at a lower price, it seems like an obvious choice.

iPad Air vs. iPad Pro

What ended up tipping me over the edge, however, was the one thing that Apple didn’t change. Like its predecessor, the base $599 model of the new iPad Air comes with just 64GB of storage.

As I was weighing my options, I took a look at my current iPad Pro, the 10.5-inch model from 2017. Despite having a spacious 256GB of storage, I was using only around 60GB. Which, yes, is less than 64, but not enough so that I wouldn’t have to constantly police how much stuff I had on it. (I’d already enabled a bunch of space-saving measures, like letting iPadOS offload apps that I don’t launch regularly.)

So, I was clearly going to need more than 64GB. Unfortunately, upgrading to a 256GB iPad Air raises the price to a decidedly less cheap $749. More to the point, that’s just $50 short of the 11-inch iPad Pro with 128GB of storage.

At that point, I had to ask myself some hard questions. For $50 more than that 256GB iPad Air, I could not only get a probably sufficient 128GB of storage, but also pick up all those extra features that the Air lacks: Face ID, a ProMotion display, better rear-facing cameras, Thunderbolt, and so on. Were those features worth $50, especially compared to storage space that I wasn’t likely to use?

The answer, for me, was an unequivocal yes. Don’t get me wrong, the new iPad Air’s a great device. But as someone who enjoys the finer tech in life, I couldn’t resist the lure of all those step-up features. If I end up keeping this iPad as long as I did my last one, I don’t want to feel like my technology is falling behind.

So far, in the day that I’ve had it1, I haven’t been disappointed. As with any piece of technology, there’s a delight to upgrading to a many years’ newer device, giving you several models’ worth of new features. Though I am still retraining myself not to look for the Home button, and not to accidentally cover the camera when I want to use Face ID.

If there’s anything that I’m missing from the Air, it’s really down to a matter of aesthetics: honestly, I like the colors, and it’s a disappointment that the iPad Pro doesn’t offer more than staid old silver and space gray. (I’m sure Apple will release a version of the Pro with colors within the next year, just to shame me for not waiting longer.)

Despite the added expense of the Pro, I did cut my costs in a few ways. For one thing, I stuck with the Wi-Fi-only model: Convenient as cellular may be, I rarely go some place with my iPad where I need Wi-Fi but there isn’t any.2, and in those few cases, it’s just as easy for me to tether to my iPhone. I also decided not to immediately buy a second-generation Apple Pencil or Magic Keyboard, given that they actually go on sale not infrequently these days, and I don’t need them right away. Instead, I bought an inexpensive cover to protect it until I probably end up upgrading to the Magic Keyboard. But hey, at least it comes in green.


  1. Interestingly, I put my order for the iPad in directly after last week’s Apple event, and it told me it would ship between March 16th and March 23rd. When the 15th rolled around and it still hadn’t moved from the “Processing” stage, I decided to pull a Snell and check my local Apple Store inventory. Sure enough, they had the exact model I wanted in stock—128GB Wi-Fi in Space Gray—so I canceled my online order and made a new one for pickup. A couple hours later, I’d returned with my new iPad. 
  2. These days, if I’m going somewhere without Wi-Fi, it’s because there’s no Wi-Fi. That’s a feature, not a bug. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]

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