Should You Buy an iPad Air?
The iPad Air is Apple's mid-range tablet, offering many key iPad features such as a USB-C port and Touch ID for prices starting at $599. The current model added the M1 chip from the previous-generation MacBook Pro, an upgraded front-facing camera with Center Stage, and a new range of color options.
Announced in March 2022, the iPad Air is now among the older iPads in Apple's lineup and it is likely midway through its product cycle. Apple does not seem to update the iPad Air regularly, leaving up to two and a half years between upgrades, and there are no immediate signs of a new model at the moment. This means that now is still a good time to buy the iPad Air and most customers should not wait for a new model to launch.
The iPad Air is Apple's middle option in the iPad lineup, but for those who want a smaller tablet, there is the iPad mini, which still offers almost all of the iPad Air's features, but in a much more portable form factor. Users who are looking for a more affordable option should consider the tenth-generation iPad. Starting at $449, the iPad offers many iPad Air features, such as Touch ID and a Retina display, but at a lower price that balances functionality and affordability.
On the other hand, for iPad models with a larger, more advanced display and high-end features, there is the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro takes the iPad Air's features to the next level, adding up to 16GB of memory, an Ultra Wide camera and a LiDAR scanner, Face ID, ProMotion, a mini-LED display panel on the 12.9-inch model, and more.
2022 iPad Air
- Should You Buy an iPad Air?
- 2022 iPad Air
- How to Buy
- Smart Connector
- Microphones and Speakers
- WiFi 6 and Bluetooth Support
- 5G Connectivity
- Storage Space
- Magic Keyboard and Trackpad Support
- Apple Pencil
Apple in March 2022 updated the iPad Air with a fifth-generation model that features an M1 chip that brings it closer in design to the iPad Pro. Priced at $599, the iPad Air is a middle-tier option between the low-cost $329 ninth-generation iPad, the $499 iPad mini, and the more expensive iPad Pro, priced starting at $799.
The iPad Air features a 10.9-inch edge-to-edge display with a 2360x1640 resolution, 3.8 million pixels, and a design that's similar to the iPad Pro with an aluminum chassis that has flat, rounded edges that wrap around the fully laminated display. True Tone support is included for adjusting the display to match the ambient lighting, as is P3 wide color, 500 nits brightness, and 1.8 percent reflectivity. It does not feature mini-LED technology or ProMotion support.
Apple's iPad Air was the first iPad to offer unique color options similar to iPhone colors, and the 2022 iPad Air comes in space gray, pink, purple, blue, and starlight. The iPad Air features a Touch ID sensor integrated into the top button rather than Face ID like the iPad Pro. Other than being built into the top button instead of a Home button, the Touch ID functionality is the same as other devices that feature Touch ID.
Apple's iPad Air includes the same M1 chip that's in the 2021 iPad Pro models. The M1 chip features an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU, along with 8GB RAM and a 16-core Neural Engine. The M1 chip's CPU is up to 60 percent faster than the A14 chip in the prior-generation iPad Air, and it provides up to 2x faster graphics.
Cellular iPad Air models are now compatible with 5G networks, but Apple did not add support for the fastest mmWave 5G networks. Instead, the iPad Air is limited to the slower but more widespread Sub-6GHz 5G networks.
Though there's no Face ID, the iPad Air includes a 12-megapixel front-facing FaceTime camera with Center Stage support along with a 12-megapixel f/1.8 rear camera which is the same wide-angle camera used in the iPad Pro. The iPad Air includes stereo speakers in landscape mode for wider stereo sound when watching video.
Instead of a Lightning port, the iPad Air has a USB-C port for up to 10Gbps data transfer along with support for connecting cameras for downloading images, hard drives, and 4K external monitors. The iPad Air ships with a 20W USB-C adapter for charging purposes.
Like the iPad Pro, the iPad Air supports the $129 second-generation Apple Pencil and it works with the $299 Magic Keyboard with trackpad that Apple offers. It is also compatible with the Smart Keyboard Folio and Smart Folio covers.
The iPad Air became available for pre-order on Friday, March 11, with a launch following on March 18. Pricing starts at $599 for 64 GB of storage. 256GB of storage is available for $749. Base prices are for WiFi models, with Cellular models available for an additional cost.
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How to Buy
The iPad Air can be purchased from Apple's website and it is priced at $599 for the 64GB version and $749 for the 256GB version. Refurbished models of the previous-generation iPad Air are also available from Apple.
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Initial reviews of the iPad Air concluded that it remains great value for money, with performance now on par with the previous iPad Pro thanks to the M1 chip and other Pro-like features.
Geekbench 5 benchmark results that surfaced earlier this week confirmed that the M1 chip is not downclocked in the new iPad Air, resulting in the device having virtually identical performance as the iPad Pro.
Nevertheless, several reviewers pointed out that iPadOS makes it challenging to take advantage of the performance capabilities.
If you're using the iPad for things like browsing the web, reading books, watching movies or TV shows, or even light productivity, you won't likely notice the extra performance headroom the M1 chip provides. It mostly shines when doing especially demanding tasks, like editing and exporting 4K video or managing large file transfers. The Air is capable of doing those jobs, but there are better tools available if that's what you intend to do that don't have the limitations of iPadOS and a relatively small screen.
The iPad Air now supports 5G networks on Wi-Fi + Cellular models, but not faster mmWave 5G like the iPad Pro does.
CNET's Scott Stein tested 5G on the new iPad Air:
This iPad doesn't support mmWave, just sub-6 5G. Effectively, at many times, it feels similar to LTE: Speeds at my home were around 290 megabits per second on Verizon, while in Washington Square Park in New York speeds were only around 60Mbps to 80Mbps.
Center Stage Camera
With an upgraded 12-megapixel front camera, the new iPad Air is the last iPad to gain support for Center Stage, a feature that helps keep you and anyone else with you in the frame as you move around during video calls. Center Stage is available for FaceTime calls and in supported third-party video calling apps, such as Zoom.
TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino:
The front camera has gotten a 12MP upgrade too – and is definitely improved from the previous Air. Facetime gets that nice Center Stage enhancement we saw come through on the iPad Pros last year too. As I said in my review of those this is a pretty huge quality of life improvement for those who video chat a lot as the auto-crop and tracking feature mitigates the odd left hand side placement of the camera when the iPad Air is in landscape mode. The angles feel more natural and less awkward overall. The color and contrast of the video call quality is improved as well.
The 2022 iPad Air is identical to the prior-generation model, measuring in at 10.9 inches. It features an iPad Pro-like edge-to-edge display with slim bezels and an aluminum chassis with flat, rounded edges that wrap around the Retina display. Compared to the 11-inch iPad Pro, it has a slightly thicker body and thick bezels around the display.
iPad Pro left, iPad Air middle, iPad right
iPad Pro left, iPad Air middle, iPad right
The iPad Air measures in at 9.74 inches long and 7 inches wide, and it is 6.1mm thick. It weighs in at one pound, and it is similar in both size and weight to the 11-inch iPad Pro.
With the all-display design, there is no Touch ID Home button, but the iPad Air also hasn't adopted Face ID. Instead, Apple has put a Touch ID fingerprint sensor into the top power button. The fingerprint sensor in the top button scans a fingerprint like the Touch ID Home button, but it is smaller and more compact.
The Touch ID top button works just like the Touch ID Home button and it can be used to unlock the iPad, access apps, and make purchases with Apple Pay, and more. Touch ID on the iPad Air is functional in both portrait and landscape orientations.
Speakers and a microphone are located at the top of the iPad Air adjacent to the Touch ID button, while the right side features features volume up/down buttons, a nano-SIM tray on cellular models, and a magnetic space for charging the Apple Pencil.
At the back, there's a single-lens rear camera with a microphone, and a single lens camera. Stereo speakers and a USB-C port are located at the bottom of the iPad Air.
The aluminum shell of the iPad Air is available in five colors, including space gray, pink, purple, blue, and starlight, which is a light silver/gold shade.
The Smart Connector at the back of the iPad Air allows it to communicate with and power accessories like the Magic Keyboard. The Smart Connector interface is able to transfer both power and data, so accessories that connect to the iPad Air using the Smart Connector do not need to have batteries.
Like the prior-generation iPad Air, the 2022 model continues to include a USB-C port instead of a Lightning port. With the USB-C port, the iPad Air can be connected to 4K or 5K displays, cameras (downloading images only), and other USB-C devices. The USB-C port supports 10Gbps data transfer and is able to charge an iPhone or Apple Watch with the right cable.
The iPad Air is equipped with a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display that is identical to the iPad Pro display but without 120Hz ProMotion technology for a smoother scrolling experience.
It has a resolution of 2360 by 1640 at 264 pixels per inch and 3.8 million pixels total. It has P3 wide color support for rich, true-to-life colors, an anti-reflective coating with 1.8 percent reflectivity, 500 nits maximum brightness, and True Tone support.
True Tone adjusts the white balance of the display to match the ambient lighting to make the screen easier on the eyes. If you're in a room with yellower lighting, for example, the iPad's display is warmer in color so there's not a stark contrast between the color of the iPad and the lighting in the room.
The 2022 iPad Air is equipped with the same M1 chip that's in the 2020 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and iPad Pro models. The M1 features an 8-core CPU, an 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine, plus it supports 8GB RAM.
Apple says that the M1 chip in the iPad Air offers up to 60 percent faster CPU performance than the prior-generation iPad Air and 2x faster graphics.
Though there's no TrueDepth camera system to support Face ID in the iPad Air, there is a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide front facing camera with a 122 degree field of view and an f/2.4 aperture. The camera supports Center Stage, designed to keep users perfectly framed on screen during video calls. With the wider field of view, the camera can zoom in as appropriate and follow people around the room as they move.
When other people join in on a call, the camera is able to detect them, and it will zoom out to fit everyone into the view. Center Stage is designed for FaceTime, but it also works with third-party video apps like Zoom and Skype.
At the rear of the iPad Air, there's an updated single-lens f/1.8 12-megapixel Wide camera for taking photos.
The camera includes all improvements that Apple has added to its device cameras such as Live Photos with stabilization, autofocus with Focus Pixels, wide color capture, exposure control, Smart HDR, auto image stabilization, noise reduction, and more.
4K video recording is supported at 20, 30, or 60 frames per second, as is slo-mo video at 120 or 240 frames per second. The iPad Air can also record in 1080p at 30 or 60 frames per second, and it supports continuous autofocus, cinematic video stabilization, and the option to take 8-megapixel still photos when recording 4K video.
The iPad Air is equipped with a 28.6-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery that Apple says lasts for up to 10 hours when surfing the web on WiFi or watching video.
Cellular models last for up to nine hours when surfing the web over a cellular connection. The iPad Air can be charged using the included 20W USB-C power adapter and USB-C to USB-C cable.
Microphones and Speakers
The iPad Air features two sets of speakers for stereo sound in landscape mode. Dual microphones are included for calls, video recording, and audio recording.
Along with a Touch ID sensor, the iPad Air features a three-axis gyro, an accelerometer, a barometer, and an ambient light sensor for True Tone and other features.
WiFi 6 and Bluetooth Support
The 2020 iPad Air supports WiFi 6, otherwise known as 802.11ax. The updated standard offers faster speeds, improved network capacity, better power efficiency, lower latency, and upgraded connectivity when there are multiple WiFi devices in the same area.
WiFi 6 devices also support WPA3, which is a security protocol that offers improved cryptographic strength. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0.
The iPad Air includes a 5G chip that allows it to connect to 5G networks, but it does not support the fastest mmWave 5G networks and is limited to the slower but more widespread Sub-6GHz networks.
mmWave 5G networks are the fastest 5G networks, but mmWave is short-range and can be obscured by buildings, trees, and other obstacles, so its use is limited to major cities and urban areas along with venues like concerts, airports, and other places where a lot of people congregate.
Sub-6GHz 5G is much more widely available and available in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the United States and other countries.
Cellular iPad Air models are compatible with the following bands: n1, n2, n3, n5, n7, n8, n12, n20, n25, n28, n29, n30, n38, n40, n41, n48, n66, n71, n77, n78, n79.
LTE connectivity is also available and the iPad Air is compatible with FDD-LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 32, 66, and 71 along with TD-LTE bands 34, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 46, and 48.
There are two SIM options in the iPad Air: a physical nano-SIM slot at the side of the device and an eSIM, or digital SIM, which is designed to work without the need for a physical SIM card.
The physical nano-SIM slot supports the Apple SIM that is designed to let users swap between carriers without a hassle. Many carriers in the U.S. and other countries support the Apple SIM, but for those that don't, like Verizon, a physical SIM card is still required.
Apple sells the iPad Air with 64GB of storage or 256GB of storage, with no middle tier 128GB storage option available.
Magic Keyboard and Trackpad Support
Like the iPad Pro, the iPad Air is designed to work with the Magic Keyboard that was introduced earlier in 2020. The Magic Keyboard is a folio-style case that features a full backlit keyboard and, for the first time, a trackpad.
The Magic Keyboard uses scissor mechanisms much like the keyboard of the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. The scissor mechanism provides 1mm of travel, for what Apple says is the best typing experience ever on iPad.
The Magic Keyboard attaches to the iPad Air through a magnetic connection, and it features cantilevered hinges that allow it to work on a desk or on a lap. The hinges allow for adjustments of the viewing angle up to 130 degrees, so it can be tweaked for every usage situation. The design of the Magic Keyboard allows the iPad to "float" in the air, with the bottom part of the case tilting backward when used in keyboard mode.
When not in use, the keyboard's folio-style design keeps the iPad Air safe, covering the front and back of the device. A USB-C port is included on the Magic Keyboard for passthrough inductive USB-C charging capabilities, leaving the iPad Air's built-in USB-C port free for accessories like external drives and displays.
2020 iPad Air models are compatible with the second-generation Apple Pencil. Priced at $129, the Apple Pencil connects to the iPad Air using magnets, and when attached magnetically, it charges inductively. Pairing is also done through the magnetic attachment.
Gesture support is included with the second-generation Apple Pencil, and with a tap, you can change brushes or quickly switch from a brush to an eraser without having to pick up the pencil and select a new tool.
The Apple Pencil works across the iPad Air, with first and third-party apps. It features advanced palm rejection, extreme precision, and imperceptible lag for a paper-like writing experience that's unmatched by third-party styluses.
Pressure support allows thinner and thicker lines to be drawn by increasing the amount of pressure on the iPad's screen, and side nib detection allows for shading when the Apple Pencil is tilted.