Should you upgrade to the M4 iPad Pro or M2 iPad Air?

This article is for those still thinking of whether you should upgrade to the new M4 iPad Pro or M2 iPad Air from your older models. I hope this can help you save some money, fight the FOMO (fear of missing out), or maybe you'll still upgrade in the end.

By the way, I'm writing this from the artist perspective so I will only talk about features that artists may care about. And just for context, I currently have the 11-inch M4 iPad Pro 2024 (upgraded from 11-inch M2 iPad Pro 2022) and 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2018.


If I have to make a guess as to why you're wondering about an upgrade instead of just going for it, well, it's probably down to money, and more specifically whether the upgrade is worth the money.

If your current tablet is still working, the upgrade is not really necessary unless you're upgrading for specific features. I've seen people on forums justifying their purchases with "life's short" reasoning. Well, you can use "life's short" reason to buy anything but you aren't, so why?

Let's talk about the M4 iPad Pro first.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself (that I've copied over from my M4 iPad Pro artist review:

Questions you should ask yourself

  • Do you have the "I wish this tablet could be faster" thoughts often?
  • Is your display much dimmer now after years of usage
  • Do you need a bright display because you work outdoors often?
  • Do you watch HDR content often?
  • Is your tablet's battery life much shorter now after years of usage
  • Is your tablet faulty in anyway?
  • Do you need Apple Pencil Pro's new features
  • Do you need the nano-texture surface?

Let me go through each question in more detail.

Do you have the "I wish this tablet could be faster" thoughts often?
If your tablet is becoming slow, it's a good reason to upgrade. But think about what getting a more powerful tablet would mean to your workflow? Is the new tablet gonna improve productivity? Are you gonna be able to work faster?

Apple iPads are quite powerful, and even for the entry level iPads with lousier specs, the user experience is still quite smooth. I'm still using a 12.9-inch iPad Pro from 2018 and it's still as fast as it is on day 1. Actually I've just sent that 2018 iPad Pro for a battery replacement that cost SGD 120 (USD 89), and it's really worth the money. It's still a great tablet and works fine... except for the faulty power button, plenty of scratches on the display, USB-C port can only charge but not transfer data, iPadOS updates will always have problems with Apple logo flashing.


For drawing purposes, I don't feel the 2018 iPad Pro is slow. But maybe that's because my main drawing app is Concepts which doesn't really use much resources, or even storage because the file sizes are so small.

If you're thinking of getting a tablet for drawing, I would probably recommend the M2 iPad Air simply because of the lower price. Drawing experience is going to be almost similar, except there is slightly more latency with M2 iPad Air due to the 60Hz refresh rate, but it's not really a big issue because when drawing we don't usually draw that fast.

Sometimes it's not that the older tablets are slow, it's just the new tablets that are more powerful. And even if new tablets are more powerful, it doesn't mean your workflow may improve because of that. Imagine having an iPad Pro with M10 processor. How's that gonna improve your workflow?

I'm still using a camera from 2017 with the rubber grip that's melting off and I have no intention of upgrading because that camera still works. That camera will still work for a few more years because it just came back from repair. Again, repair is still cheaper than buying a new camera.

While I do run a Youtube channel that reviews tech products, I don't always recommend people to buy new stuff when their old stuff still works, and I don't assume everyone is loaded with cash.

Is your display much dimmer now after years of usage?
If you have been using your tablet daily for years, there's a good chance the display is dimmer now. Or maybe the display may even turn yellowish because that's what old LCD displays do.

The LCD display on my 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2018 does look less bright, but it's not considered dim but still looks more than good enough for indoor use.

The LCD display on my 11-inch iPad Pro 2022 display looks brighter, sure.

If your LCD display is really dim, then it's worth upgrading because a display repair or replacement is just not worth the money. But do note that though the OLED display is brighter, it's not gonna look too different from LCD when working indoors.

Sure the OLEDs will have better contrast ratio, absolute black, but those to me are nice-to-have features, not must-have features. But of course there are many people who think OLED displays are superior. I am not one of them. A good LCD can still look great.

Do you need a bright display because you work outdoors often?
The main reason why I upgraded is because I use my tablet outdoors often for urban sketching, and the maximum SDR brightness of 600 nits from the older iPad Pros (2018 to 2022) is just not bright enough for working in bright sunny environments.

The 1000 nits from the tandem OLED on the M4 iPad Pro is now sufficiently bright enough for use outdoors, even under direct sunlight. However, running the tablet this bright will generate lots of heat, and also cause the battery life to drop fast (4 hours). There's also overheating with the tablet but I've found the M4 iPad Pro to resist overheating and display dimming much better than the iPad Pros with LCDs which typically will dim after a few minutes.

Do you watch HDR content often?
I have purchased many HDR movies from the Apple TV app over the years.

The new tandem OLED display does show off HDR effect more obviously than LCD displays. Watching movies with better HDR effect to me is a bonus, but it's not a must have feature for me even though my movie catalogue is big.

There are also HDR videos on Youtube to watch. However from what I can see, most HDR videos shot with HDR aren't made by professionals and as a result those videos look too jarring as a result.

Is your tablet's battery life much shorter now after years of usage
If so I recommend you just replace the battery.

Battery replacement is way more affordable than buying a new tablet.

Is your tablet faulty in anyway?
If your current tablet is faulty and affects how you work, then an upgrade may be considered.

E.g. If battery capacity is low and you can't use the tablet outdoors for a full day, that would actually affect your work. No battery, no work. But as mentioned earlier, a battery replacement is more affordable.

Even though my 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2018 has several issues, the touchscreen, display and pen still works.


Do you need Apple Pencil Pro's new features
Apple Pencil Pro has a few new features, namely squeeze shortcuts, barrel roll, haptic and Find My (for locating the misplaced pen).

The feature that affects work is barrel roll. This feature lets you create strokes that would be more difficult to create with Apple Pencil 2. So this feature is actually a functional upgrade. As to whether you need such a feature, it will depend on the type of art you create, and the type of brush you use.

Barrel roll is a feature worth upgrading for if you have a need for that. And if you don't know whether you need that feature, you probably don't.

Do you need the nano-texture surface?
The nano-texture surface is only available to M4 iPad Pros with 1TB or 2TB storage options. Those tablets with huge storage capacity are significantly more expensive, and nano-texture surface is an additional USD 100.

If you need to have nano-texture, there are no other tablet options from Apple that has this feature right now.

How does nano-texture actually feel when drawing? You know those matte glass displays from Wacom, Huion, XPPen? It's gonna feel like drawing on those pen displays. Do you have a matte textured LCD at home? Run your Apple Pencil, but do not poke, on the LCD display surface to feel it.

The nano-texture reduces glare, but for me it's not a huge selling point because the anti-reflective coating on the standard glass is already pretty good. Another selling point of the matte surface if your hand can glide on it more smoothly, compared to your palm sticking onto glass.

The nano-texture surface used by Apple is the smoother type and does not produce as much tactile experience while writing and drawing, but it's still better (subjective) than a plastic tip on a glossy display. I personally use a USD 2 silicone Apple Pencil tip to get more glass resistance and control for drawing, and I've already gotten used to that.

Upgrading from an older iPad Air to iPad Pro?
There are certainly many features not available on the iPad Air, namely

  • 500 nits LCD vs 1000 nits OLED
  • 60Hz vs 120Hz refresh rate
  • 11-inch 462g vs 444g
  • 13-inch 617g vs 579g
  • USB 3.1 gen 2 vs Thunderbolt 4
  • Touch ID vs Face ID unlock
  • 2-way vs 4-way speakers

As to whether all these features is worth the difference of at least USD 300 (128GB vs 256GB storage) or USD 400 (256GB storage) is subjective. If you can spend more, I would say the extra features are worth the money. If you want to spend less, the M2 iPad Air is also worth the money because of the much lower price point.

Upgrading from an older iPad Air to the M2 iPad Air

I don't feel like it's worth upgrading to the new M2 iPad Air if you have an older one that still works and has Apple Pencil support.

The main feature to upgrade for is probably Apple Pencil Pro because that pen is not backwards compatible. And again you have to ask yourself whether you really need the new features from Apple Pencil Pro for drawing.

In my review of the M1 iPad Air 2022, I would recommend people get the refurbished iPad Pro because the price difference isn't huge (less than USD 100). But now it's not quite straightforward to recommend refurbished iPad Pros because they do not support Apple Pencil Pro.

Conclusion

This is just my take on whether one should upgrade.

If you don't already have a tablet and want to get one, I don't think you can go wrong with either the M2 iPad Air or M4 iPad Pro. It just comes down to how much you are willing to spend.

By the way you're interested to buy any tablet, or accessories, consider supporting my blog by buying through the affiliate links listed below at no extra cost.

The M4 iPad Pro can be found via these links
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Amazon.es | Amazon.co.jp, Lazada SG and Shopee SG

The M2 iPad Air can be found via these links
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Amazon.es | Amazon.co.jp, Lazada SG and Shopee SG

For matte screen protectors, I recommend SuperShieldz for 11-inch and 13-inch because you can get three pieces for less than USD 10. These are cheap and good. Just make sure you're buying for the 2024 model.

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