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How to choose between Apple’s iPad and iPad Pro

If you look at an iPad and an iPad Pro side by side, you won’t notice much of a difference. The Pro is a little bigger, it has slightly thinner bezels, there are some metal dots on one edge — and that’s about it.

With Apple’s update to the entry-level iPad on Tuesday, the two full-sized tablets are surprisingly close together in both appearance and spec sheet. There are some notable differences between them, but if you’re planning to buy one for casual use — or for a student, like Apple hopes — there’s not a ton you’re missing out on by getting the $329 iPad instead of the $649 iPad Pro.

Seriously, if you want an iPad (or really, any tablet at all) and don’t have particularly demanding needs, the entry-level iPad is more than likely the best option for you. This article is over now. Bye.

OK, fine, I can go into some more detail: there are a few instances where you might want an iPad Pro, which still remains clearly superior despite having only some improvements over the standard version. One of those instances is that you don’t mind spending an extra $300 and love gadgets. Unfortunately, I meet only one of those requirements. And the others instances are a bit more specific.

To figure out which iPad makes sense for you, let’s take a look at the specs, then go over some of the standout differences:

iPad vs. iPad Pro, March 2018

iPad iPad Pro
iPad iPad Pro
Display 9.7-inch 10.5-inch
Resolution 2048 x 1536 2224 x 1668
Front camera 1.2 megapixel 7 megapixel
Rear camera 8 megapixel 12 megapixel with OIS
Stylus support Yes Yes
Keyboard support Bluetooth only Bluetooth or smart connector
Processor A10 A10X
Storage 32/128GB 64/256/512GB
Weight 1.03 pounds 1.03 pounds
Price $329/$429 $649/$799/$999
Touch ID First generation Second generation
Battery life 10 hours 10 hours
Misc. 120Hz refresh rate, True Tone display

Apple did two big things this week to bring the iPad and iPad Pro closer together. First, it upgraded the iPad’s processor to the A10, the same processor found in the iPhone 7. It’s only somewhat slower than the A10X processor found in the iPad Pro, so you aren’t missing out on much.

Perhaps more importantly, Apple also enabled support for the Pencil stylus on the smaller iPad. Previously, it had been kept exclusive to the iPad Pro. That means if you pick up a $99 Pencil stylus, you’ll be able to use it to navigate the iPad, take notes, and sketch and draw in a variety of apps with additional stylus support.

But this is where the experience starts to differ between the two tablets: the iPad Pro has a much nicer display in a number of small ways that really add up. The Pro’s screen has a wider color gamut, an antireflective coating, and True Tone support (so it matches the lighting of the room you’re in). If you’re working with photos or videos, that extra color is going to matter.

And more importantly, if you’re an artist who works with the Pencil, there’s one other display feature that’ll make a difference: refresh rate. The Pro has a higher refresh rate than the standard iPad, which means it’ll likely feel a bit more responsive when you’re drawing. For general note taking or doodling, that probably isn’t worth $300 more. But if you’re actually planning to use the iPad for professional work, the upgraded screen might matter.

The other big advantage the Pro has is a smart connector, which lets you physically attach keyboards and keyboard cases. If you’re planning to use an iPad as a laptop replacement, that’s a big help, since you won’t have to deal with Bluetooth all the time and keeping something extra charged up. You can attach a Bluetooth keyboard to the cheaper iPad if you want, but that’s probably best for people who don’t plan to keep the keyboard attached at all hours, since Bluetooth can be a pain.

The iPad Pro has a number of more subtle advantages, too. Its display feels closer to the glass, which should make using it use feel all around nicer. The front camera is better, which is important if you’re going to be on a lot of conference calls (so probably not students). And the rear camera has optical image stabilization and better autofocus. The speakers should get louder on the Pro as well.

So in what cases does it make sense to buy the Pro instead of the entry-level model? Really just if you need any of those specific advantages. If you’re an artist who’s going to be drawing a lot, the Pro definitely has an edge. If you’re trying to replace your laptop with a tablet, the Pro’s smart connector will be a big help. And those are really the clearest two circumstances where you’d want to spend the extra money.

That’s not to say the Pro isn’t the nicer of the two iPads — it really does look better — but I’ll put it this way: you can nearly buy two iPads for the cost of a single iPad Pro. If you’d get more joy from having two iPads instead of a single iPad with a somewhat better screen, maybe pick up a single, entry-level iPad first and see how you feel about it.

One final addendum: the two iPads may be similar today, but there’s a good chance they won’t be this similar for long. There have been rumors that Apple will bring Face ID to the iPad Pro, which suggests the tablet would also get a bit of a design rework and a screen with even slimmer bezels. That probably won’t happen until at least September, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about an iPad Pro and don’t urgently need one. I’d guess that such an iPad would be more expensive than $649, but it’d be a lot clearer what you’re getting for the extra money.

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