Cheaper than the Pro
Nothing of note
Of course, the latest iPad Air still isn’t cheap. If you want affordability, there’s still the $329 entry-level iPad (2020). But if you can stretch your budget to the Air's $599 entry price, it’s definitely worth doing so. You’ll get a device that’s much more powerful, looks more modern, and is just generally nicer to use.
About the 2020 iPad Air
Unlike the iPad Pro, the 2020 iPad Air is only available in one size, 10.9 inches. But it does come in a range of cool colors, a few different storage options, and for those on the move, a cellular version. In other words, there should be a variant for everyone, even the business traveler who needs to be connected at all times.
Here’s a quick rundown of the iPad Air's specs:
- Chipset: Apple A14 Bionic
- RAM: 6 GB
- Storage: 64 GB, 256 GB
- Rear-facing camera: 12 MP wide
- Front-facing camera: 7 MP
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, GSM/CDMA/HSPA/LTE (Cellular model only)
- Biometric authentication: Touch ID
- Display: 10.9-inch IPS LCD with 265 pixel-per-inch density
- Connections: USB-C
Pricing varies depending on which configuration you go for. Thankfully, pricing reflects storage and cellular connectivity, not options like color—so you can still get that funky green one without having to pay extra for it. It’s also important to note that the overall experience and performance is not impacted by storage.
We reviewed the 256 GB cellular model, but the entry model will offer the same performance. Get more storage if you really want to store large games and lots of videos, and get cellular if you want to connect to data on the go—but remember, you'll need to add a data plan as well.
Here’s a rundown of pricing:
- 64GB iPad Air: $599 for W-Fi only model, $729 for Wi-Fi + Cellular model
- 256GB iPad Air: $749 for Wi-Fi only model, $879 for Wi-Fi + Cellular model
What We Like
A modern design
The iPad Air marks the second step in Apple’s major redesign of the iPad lineup. Eventually, it’s expected that the square-edged, large-display design will make its way to all iPad models, though it may be some time before it comes to the base iPad. For now, that design is limited to the iPad Air and iPad Pro, and it looks great.
As mentioned, the Air is available in a range of cool colors, including blue, green, and rose gold models. They look great, and it’s nice to see some variation in the lineup. We’re reviewing the silver model which still looks nice, but it’s my least favorite of the colors on offer.
There are some subtle differences in design between the iPad Air and iPad Pro. The two devices have the same footprint, but the display on the iPad Air is slightly smaller, coming in at 10.9 inches compared to the iPad Pro’s 11 inches. You can tell that the bezels around the display are slightly bigger if you put them side-by-side, but it’s barely noticeable.
Another difference is the fact that the iPad Air's power button is bigger than the iPad Pro's. That’s no aesthetic decision though. It’s related to the fact that the iPad Air has Touch ID in the power button, rather than the Face ID found on all modern iPhones and the iPad Pro.
Now, I love Face ID on the iPad Pro, but if I couldn’t have Face ID, the implementation of Touch ID here is stellar. It’s super fast, very responsive, and Apple even has you set up fingerprints on both hands during the setup process so that you can get into your iPad in landscape or portrait orientations without having to think about it. It takes a little getting used to if you’re coming from an iPad Pro, but those coming from an older-model iPad will be used to using Touch ID anyway—it’s just that now, you’ll do so on the power button instead of the Home button.
Other design elements include a single-lens camera on the back and a USB-C port on the bottom. Turns out, USB-C isn’t just reserved for Apple devices with “Pro” in their name. It’s an essential addition on the iPad Air too, as it means you can connect accessories like external hard drives and SD card adapters.
Before the iPhone 12 was ever official, Apple announced the new A14 Bionic chip in the iPad Air, even though the company refrained from actually releasing the Air until after the iPhone. The new chipset is Apple’s most powerful yet, and it’s the first mainstream processor to be built on a 5 nm process. Essentially, this means Apple's engineers are able to fit more transistors into the same amount of space as before to allow for more processing punch.
The result? The iPad Air is a performance beast, just like the iPad Pro. Without getting too technical, it’s important to note that the A14 is a six-core processor, while the A12Z in the iPad Pro is an 8-core chip. That said, the performance of each is ultimately similar.
The iPad Air can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it. That includes heavy multitasking, such as using Microsoft Word side-by-side with a Safari window that has multiple tabs open, all-the-while using the Notes app in Slideover, all without a hitch. It also includes mobile gaming. Games like Call of Duty: Mobile and Ark: Mobile loaded quickly, and were responsive throughout even longer gaming sessions.
Benchmarks confirm the excellent performance. Here’s a quick look at the scores we achieved on benchmarks with the iPad Air:
- GeekBench 5: 1,595 single-core, 4,241 multi-core
- AnTuTu: 649358
The GeekBench 5 score is particularly telling of how the iPad Air performs against the Pro. The 5 nm process means that the iPad Air performs better during GeekBench 5’s single-core test, while the fact that the iPad Pro’s chipset has more cores means that it performs better (with 4,701) in the multi-core score. Both scores are way above any Android tablet on the market, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+, which is the best Android tablet out there.
The excellent performance also means that, while we can’t fully judge this without time-travel, the iPad Air will almost certainly continue performing well even three or four years down the line, as all iPad models to date have done.
A great display and solid camera
Other things about the iPad Air complete the package, and are smaller points of difference between it and the iPad Pro.
The display on the 2020 iPad Air is beautiful. It offers deep black levels with vivid colors, especially for an LCD display, making it perfect for watching movies and prestige dramas. It gets super bright too, and while its rated 500-nit brightness doesn’t quite match the iPad Pro’s 600-nit brightness, in practice the difference is small, and the Air still gets more than bright enough for use even in direct sunlight.
The iPad Air has a 60 Hz display, which is a step down from the iPad Pro's 120 Hz display. That’s a difference you can feel if you’ve used a 120 Hz display before, but it’s not a huge deal considering iPadOS is so responsive and smooth. It’s a small concession for most users considering the $200 price difference.
The camera is also pretty good on the Air. It's only a single-lens camera, but it still takes great photos thanks to the excellent image processing tech under the hood. More important for a tablet is the front-facing camera, which generally looks great. It’s perfect for Zoom calls, which everyone can relate to this year.
The iPad Air’s camera isn’t as high tech as the iPad Pro’s but most people don’t need a versatile camera from their tablet anyway; you probably won’t find yourself wishing you had a LiDAR or ultrawide sensor.
Support for the best accessories
Because the iPad Air has a flat edge, it can support the second-generation Apple Pencil’s wireless charging, which is super handy. That means you can simply magnetically attach the Pencil when you’re not using it, instead of having to use the first-gen Apple Pencil that sticks out of the Lightning port when it’s charging. The second-gen Apple Pencil is a great tool that feels smooth and natural, plus it now supports tech like Apple’s Scribble, which translates your handwriting into digital text.
And, because the Air has the same footprint as the 11-inch iPad Pro, it supports the Magic Keyboard. Now, most users likely don’t need the Magic Keyboard, especially given the fact that it comes in at $300. But if you can shell out the cash, you won’t regret it. The accessory looks awesome, allows you to charge your iPad through the Keyboard’s USB-C port while still getting access to the iPad’s port, and the typing experience is great.
What We Don't Like
A price jump over last year's model
The iPad Air is an incredible machine, and throughout its history, it has served as a solid middle-ground between the entry-level iPad and the iPad Pro. But this year, that middle ground is a little more expensive, jumping from a $499 base price to $599.
That's to be expected—the 2020 iPad Air represents a huge shift for the series, and it’s still the iPad to get if you can afford it over the entry-level model. But it would be nice to get all the features on offer by the Air at a lower price, especially considering how old-school the entry-level iPad now looks.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, you should
Despite the fact that the iPad Air is still an expensive machine, it’s a very powerful and value-packed expensive machine. Even if you don’t plan on using your iPad for more than browsing the web, watching movies, and gaming, if you can afford this over the entry-level iPad, you won’t regret buying it. It’s just so much nicer to use, and you’ll enjoy picking it up that extra bit more.
If you’re deciding between the iPad Air and the iPad Pro, unless you want that huge screen on the 12.9-inch model, save your cash and go for the Air. Sure, it’s missing a few features, but the overall experience is so similar you won’t miss them.
The iPad Air is the best tablet for most people right now. There are Android options, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+, but the experience just isn’t the same. Ultimately, you won’t regret getting the 2020 iPad Air.
Meet the tester
Christian de Looper
Originally from Australia, Christian has long had a passion for gadgets and consumer electronics. Christian has experience reviewing products in all areas of the consumer tech world, and is dedicated to helping people find the best products for their lifestyle.
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