Now that there are three different iPads to choose from within an inch, the most common questions on our social media posts and DMs we get is “which iPad should I get?” While being a very pertinent question, it’s also one that Apple may have deliberated over and hence, the answer is quite simple. Only, you’ll have to skip to the conclusion of this review to get the spoilers.
Without wasting time on the B&W back story then, let’s get right to it.
Bigger and lighter
It’s almost impossible to tell an iPad Air from an iPad Pro now and that’s a good thing! The Home button has been retired and instead, Apple has reinstated Touch ID in a different form factor, atop the iPad Air, as a flat power button that doubles up as the biometric reader. This has freed up plenty of real estate for a larger (and better) screen in dimensions that make the regular iPad seem bulky! Width remains the same but now you get a 10.9in display instead of a 10.2 (iPad), all while being slimmer and lighter than the iPad! This is classic Apple engineering that focuses on refining and re-refining until it’s time for a complete overhaul. The 10.9in display is a similar Liquid Retina variety that is seen on the iPad Pro, with support for P3 wide colour, True Tone for adjusting to ambient light and low reflectivity which is all appreciated. The only real miss here compared to the iPad Pro is the lack of ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate which makes scrolling through text pages visibly smoother and once seen, cannot be unseen. But, the iPad Air is also up to Rs. 30,000 cheaper than an iPad Pro with the same storage, so we’ll excuse that readily!
Power to the people
The real clincher here to the aforementioned question in the intro is the all-new A14 Bionic processor. It not only is the world’s first 5nm chip before Huawei announced its ‘Kirin’ version the week after, but it’s also the same chip that makes its debut on the new iPhone 12 generation and is a step up even from the iPad Pro! It’s a powerhouse even if you intend to own this iPad Air for the next 3-4 years and that is easy to vouch for considering my iPad 2nd gen from 2011 still served as an e-newspaper reader and browsing for senior citizens in the house during the entire lockdown period! With a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU and a 16-core Neural engine, this iPad Air will easily be as fast in 2022 as it is today. I routinely use Adobe Photoshop Fix and Snapseed for photo editing and games like Dirt and Asphalt 9 for recreation and the power, even compared to the iPad Pro was sometimes superior. Apps opened a second or two faster, game load times were quicker and edits on large video files processed rapidly too. The performance gain is the most tangible feature after the overall design change and it’s tangible just after a few minutes of using the new iPad Air. Even without pushing its innards, opening apps like Apple Music or any streaming service, the load times for all the artwork is tangibly quicker too and this could also be a function of faster WiFi 6, especially if you’re using the 5GHz bandwidth.
Laptop me not
Support for the new-generation accessories has also resulted in the iPad Air getting ever closer to its Pro sibling. Both the Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil 2 now work with the iPad Air and that means you get the brilliant trackpad and backlit keypad of the Magic Keyboard and the magnetic latching/charging capabilities of the Pencil 2 along with its lower latency and more precise tracking. Both of these add-ons also aid in bringing the iPad Air closer to the end goal of replacing the traditional laptop completely. As in our iPad Pro review, the fact still remains that with USB-C and the new Files app, while it’s a lot easier than before to carry out laptop-ish tasks, there are still some bugbears that need to be sorted before you can completely relinquish your laptop under the sofa. Depending on your profession, a lot of specialist software doesn’t even have a MacOS version, let alone an iPadOS version. Even for everyday use, there are apps that get Apple’s cold shoulder in terms of multitasking. The side-by-side window is great on iPadOS but try opening Google Docs on the side while on a Zoom call and you’ll be unceremoniously switched off from Zoom video, Netflix doesn’t allow any other window to share split-screen space, only lets them float as a quarter screen...and the list goes on. This isn’t to say that the iPad Air can’t be used for work, but you do have to alter your workflow to Apple’s ways and it may not be for everyone. On the other hand, if you’re willing to bend a little and adapt, the advantages are multifold. The pencil makes it quick and easy to annotate or sign on a document that you can scan, straighten and sharpen directly from the Files app for example. Something no laptop can do, unless you involve a smartphone in the process and have a digital signature residing in your storage. Similarly, the iPad Air’s ability to partner with a gaming controller to become a portable gaming powerhouse is also unique, as is the convenience of tucking into bed with one without it cooking your jewels or use it for any of the growing number of augmented reality apps and experiences. Eventually, the jury is still out on this one and the truth is, the iPadOS on any iPad doesn’t make for a laptop replacement but alternatively, no laptop can also do what the iPad can, so it boils down to what you want and most people want both.
Hence, most people indeed own both kinds of devices and it’s best if we stop pandering to that mystery and just live with it. There is one thing that the iPad adds to your everyday life though - joy. You’ll find yourself picking it up over the laptop more often than not unless the app you want to use doesn’t have an iPadOS version. That says a lot about its inherent convenience, quality of the screen and the tactility of using a touchscreen along with the trackpad now. Its form factor, now with reduced bezels and the flat surfaces with rounded corners is just so handy and the build quality is second to none. Sure, the argument about a Surface tablet or an iPad opens up another can of worms, but that’s for a different day since I don’t have the Surface on me at the moment.
Smile please, you’re on FaceTimeHD!
With improved cameras front and back, you can now also indulge in your inner Asian tourist or just look better for your Zoom buddies and the only thing you’ll be giving up to the iPad Pro here is portrait mode for selfies since there is no True Depth camera here. But in everyday use, TouchID becomes second nature and the single 12MP camera suffices for any iPad. The front camera is a huge improvement and welcome addition compared to the puny 1.2MP on the regular iPad and it really makes for great-looking selfies or video calls, especially significant in current times. The 500nits of brightness makes the FHD+ screen pop with always accurate colours and the dual speakers placed in landscape configuration go plenty loud without distorting, overall making this iPad Air a brilliant entertainment device. While gaming though, you might have to be aware that your palms might be blocking off the speakers on either side so you might want to rotate the iPad Air 180 degrees for louder audio. There are four speaker grilles, indicating that there could be four speakers like on the iPad Pro, but there are only two here. As has become the norm with iPads, 10 hours of battery life is the claim and depending on how busy your life is (or not), mostly it lives up to that claim. I charged it once every couple of days with about 3-4 hours of daily use that included emails, browsing, writing and streaming and I guess by this time it’s really hard to find someone who has battery anxiety over an iPad.
With performance that didn’t leave me wanting for any more horsepower in the apps and tasks I encounter in my daily workflow, the iPad Air is evenly matched to the more expensive iPad Pro in terms of outright speed and even betters it on some apps. Its handy size, lightweight and the subtle new blue and green metallic finishes certainly add to the allure of all-day computing if you aren’t into specialised software. The list of support for apps for iPadOS is constantly growing though, with Microsoft announcing trackpad support for Office and Adobe Photoshop following soon. If this is Apple’s vision for the future of computing, it’s on the right path and like all things Apple, maybe it might be a bit too ahead of its time for your use-case scenario but if you need a tablet in your life, it’s hard to think of a more fun-to-use option.