The debate between the two sizes of the iPad Pro is ongoing and, as many have said in forums, there may never be a totally definitive answer.
However, having owned both sizes myself and reviewed them previously, here is my argument for why I’d ultimately probably pick the 12.9″ if I had to only have one.
There’s no avoiding that the 11″ version of the iPad Pro is more portable and easier to shove into a bag. My “dad bag” (Maxpedition Riftpoint) is a small 15L backpack that my 13″ MacBook Pro (and 12.9″ iPad) does fit in, but it’s tight. The smaller 11″ iPad is a bit easier to throw in there without it feeling tedious.
However, I also realize that most people who wear a backpack around during the day are probably using a much bigger pack than 15L. For students, especially, you likely have a pack large enough for textbooks and notebooks. The larger 12.9″ iPad Pro isn’t bigger or longer than either of those things. It’s pretty similarly shaped to a spiral notebook and doesn’t weigh much different.
I’ve still carried the 12.9″ iPad around one-handed through my house, either holding it in portrait view or with a hand underneath it the way a server would carry a tray.
While the 11″ is lighter to do either of those things with, I’ve never thought to myself, “Man, this damn iPad is heavy!” as I carried the bigger one.
If you’re using the Magic Keyboard as a typing device and cover when folded up, either iPad carries well in the hand the way you would carry a book.
The Screen On The 12.9″ Is Exceptional.
None of the other iPad screens are bad. Apple does a great job with the retina display in terms of resolution and color contrast. However, iPadding on the 12.9″ screen feels luxurious.
That’s both because of the sheer screen real estate and the gorgeous XDR display. Many people have lauded it as on par with the very expensive Pro Display XDR monitor.
Having that level of picture quality and contrast in a portable device full of so many other features makes for a strong package, and is a compelling reason in itself to pick the larger iPad Pro over the 11″.
The XDR is obviously most noticeable on HDR movies, but still makes a difference for games, video production, and looking at photos. You don’t have to be a pro photographer to appreciate the color vibrance and detail of shots you’ve snapped when viewed on this iPad’s display.
I was looking at some photos I took of my son recently and was wowed by how they looked on the iPad Pro versus even my MacBook screen.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that after seeing things on that screen going back to the 11″ iPad Pro screen feels like a serious downgrade. It’s not night and day.
But think of it like this: You’re already spending the extra money to get an iPad Pro rather than an iPad Air in this case. Do you want a screen that feels definitively “pro” or one with the same size and resolution as the Air? Do you want a screen that feels like a real upgrade from other iPads?
Some would argue that the 11″ iPad Pro is basically a slightly more expensive iPad Air since they’re the same size, have the same screen (except Pro Motion 120hz), same RAM (unless you spring for the 1TB storage options on the Pro), and same M1/M2 chip. Even though I like my 11″ iPad Pro, I can agree with that sentiment to a point.
And with that said, it’s another way the 12.9″ iPad Pro feels pro. No other iPad is like it, so it feels like a true upgrade in all senses from the iPad Air.
Each time I’ve spent a day using the 11″ iPad it felt fine. But then when I next picked up athe 12.9″ one immediately it felt more comfortable to look at.
The 12.9″ On-Screen Keyboard Is Much More Comfortable To Type With.
For some reason Apple decided not to give you a full on-screen keyboard on the 11″ iPad, meaning two things:
- You don’t have a dedicated number row above the letters, requiring extra key presses to toggle.
- All the keys are spaced further apart, which I find slows down my typing noticeably. The larger iPad’s keyboard feels more like a real keyboard in terms of spacing and ease of typing.
If you use the iPad Pro at a desk for some of your day you’ll likely be using an external keyboard — whether the Magic Keyboard or another bluetooth one of your choosing. (I use the Logitech MX Keys Mini.)
But when you’re out and about, or when the iPad is on your lap on the couch, for me it makes the difference between being willing to type an email or saving it for later when I’m back on my MacBook.
In fact, in that specific way I’d say that for me that’s a knock against the 11″ iPad in terms of portability. The one everyone is always touting for portability.
If the on-screen keyboard is a worse experience and being truly portable might sometimes mean not bringing an external keyboard, I’d personally rather have the larger iPad if I knew I’d be writing anything longer than text messages while I was out. And if you feel you have to bring an external keyboard everywhere, that goes against the portability a bit unless you’re using the Magic Keyboard.
Using It Alongside A MacBook
A frequent recommendation I’ve seen in Reddit discussions about which size to get is essentially this: If you don’t have a laptop, get the 12.9″. If you’re using the iPad alongside a MacBook, get the smaller one.
The rationale there is pretty straightforward. You don’t need as big of an iPad screen if you already have a laptop with a 13″ or larger screen.
On the other hand, you could look at it like this.
If you already have a 13″ or larger MacBook, having a similarly sized 12.9″ iPad brings a sense of continuity between devices. If you’re using them side by side in Sidecar, for instance, the iPad feels like a more natural extension of the MacBook.
And even when not side by side, closing my MacBook for the day and switching to my iPad Pro feels less like a downgrade into a mobile device.
At the end of the day both versions of the iPad Pro are excellent. It’s why I’ve bought both kinds over the years and still have both of them. (M1 12.9″ and M2 11″.)
For the most part I don’t think you’d have serious buyer’s remorse with either one, though I will say that I’ve reversed my priorities over the last few months using them more extensively head to head.
When I first got the 11″ after already owning the 12.9″ I was quite taken by how much lighter and more portable it felt. “The 12.9 makes sense on a desk,” I’d said, “but the 11 inch for everything else.”
But over time the smaller screen really did feel less ideal to do writing and various day tasks on, and was noticeable when I played games or used Procreate to draw.
At this point I’ve reversed my stance, and would summarize it to say, “Use the 12.9 inch for basically everything, and have the 11 inch as a backup for when that extra portability is really important.”
I’m obviously in a convenient position to say that because I own both, and I realize that many people will not. If you’re deciding between them, hopefully my experiences here have helped a bit.