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The iPad Air (2020) occupies a middle-ground that will appeal to many people. But is it the model for you?
The iPad Air is the goldilocks of the bunch. It’s not too big, not too small, not too expensive and you don’t need to sacrifice on features or performance.
iPad Mini. iPad. iPad Air. iPad Pro. There is no shortage of iPad models to choose from, ranging in price from £399 all the way up to a staggering £2,149.
While tablet sales generally have slumped in recent years, Apple’s iPad range has consistently performed better than the market. So why are iPads so special and still so revered? We recently published our iPad Mini review, looking at the smallest model in the range, and for this review, we’re focusing on the iPad Air.
It’s not the most expensive iPad – that award goes to the iPad Pro – but unlike the iPad Pro, which is more geared towards pro users, the iPad Air is aimed at a wider audience. One that wants some features that could rival a laptop but also wants a portable tablet for games, browsing and streaming on the go. All without paying through the nose for it.
In our iPad Air review, we take a look at how well the 10.9-inch tablet performs various tasks, from streaming to gaming and as a replacement for our MacBook.
We put the second-generation Apple Pencil to the test, and we compare the tablet’s specs to its siblings, as well as those seen on rivals – namely the Samsung Tab S7 and Tab S7 Plus. Don't miss our iPad Pro vs iPad Air comparison, too.
Price: The iPad Air is available from £579.
The iPad Air was one of a host of Apple products announced at the brand’s virtual keynote in September 2020, alongside a new Apple Watch and a cheaper, smaller iPad. It’s the fourth time Apple has refreshed the iPad Air since the first model was unveiled in 2013, and it followed in relatively quick succession to the third-generation announced in March 2019.
The most recent model is powered by Apple’s A14 Bionic chip, which Apple claims is its “most advanced” chip ever. This chip is said to make the fourth-generation iPad Air 40% faster than its predecessor. The A14 Bionic is also the first chip to include Apple’s latest Neural Engine technology, capable of making 11 trillion computations a second. This helps make machine learning apps, in particular, 10 times faster at calculations. It also helps make Siri more accurate, improves tracking on augmented reality apps, and provides better facial recognition.
On the front of the tablet is a 7MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera, and the iPad Air now has the same 12MP rear camera used in iPad Pro for taking higher resolution photos and 4K videos.
The stereo speakers are positioned in landscape mode to improve the sound quality when watching shows or films, and the iPad Air now features a USB-C port. Instead of a physical Home button, the iPad Air has embedded the TouchID sensor into the power button, and this can be combined with a passcode.
Software-wise, the launch of the fourth-generation iPad Air coincided with the release of iPad OS 14 – a tablet-friendly version of the standard iOS mobile software.
It might be easier to list what the iPad Air doesn’t do because it’s a highly versatile, portable device that can easily be used for streaming and gaming before switching into work mode with a keyboard and Apple Pencil attached.
The iPad Air comes in two storage sizes – 64GB and 256GB – and is available with Wi-Fi only, or Wi-Fi and cellular.
The prices are as follows:
|Price Without Cellular
|Price With Cellular
You can also buy the iPad Air from the following places:
With iPhones ringing in at around the £1,000+ mark, it can be a little tricky to determine whether an iPad that costs almost £600 is good value for money. It almost seems “cheap” by comparison, which can be a little misleading.
Firstly, chances are – if you’re an Apple fan – you’ll likely be shelling out for both, so it’s not quite a like-for-like comparison. Secondly, £579 is still a substantial amount of money to spend on any gadget, let alone one that may only ever be used for streaming and browsing the web, especially when you can use your phone for these tasks.
That said, there are few tablets in this price range that offer such a package of design, features and power. The downside is that to get the full benefits of this tablet; you do need to pay extra for the Apple Pencil and a keyboard.
As a result, we’d say the iPad Air is good – albeit not great – value for money; it’s just maybe not quite the bargain it might first seem.
Like all iPads, the iPad Air runs on iPad OS. This is a slightly redesigned version of the iOS software seen on iPhones. It largely looks and works in the same way, but iPad OS has been tweaked to make sure apps and features render better on the larger display.
This includes a new compact design for incoming FaceTime and phone calls, Siri interactions, and Search to make these less distracting when you’re working. Universal Search lets you search for a phrase or information, and Apple will scour everything from apps to contacts, files, and the web, to locate what you’re looking for. Then there are new sidebars for many apps, including Photos and Files, and streamlined toolbars that put all of your controls in one place.
Apple’s App Store on iPadOS comes with the same huge range of apps seen on iOS. The tablet also comes with a number of Apple apps installed by default, including Music, Apple TV, Podcasts, Books, GarageBand, News, Clips, iMovie, Fitness, Health, Voice Memos, Reminders, Notes, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Files, and a university app called iTunes U.
Speaking of iTunes, you also get access to millions of TV shows, films, and songs via the iTunes Store. This is where you’ll find any previously purchased content stored in your iCloud account. You can choose to keep it stored in iCloud or download it onto your device. By connecting the iPad Air to an existing iCloud account means you’ll also get full access to all your settings, photos, videos, downloads and more on every device linked to the same account.
We find this particularly useful when switching from our MacBook at home to our iPad when working out of the house. There’s also a small yet game-changing feature with Apple products that makes a big difference. When you copy a paragraph of text on your iPhone, for instance, you can paste it directly on your tablet or Mac because it’s stored in a shared clipboard. This may not seem like a big deal, but it saves so much time.
The downside to all of these pre-installed apps is that they eat into your device’s storage, and Apple doesn’t let you physically expand the storage on any of its products. However, you can remove any or all of these apps, so this is more an FYI than a major issue. Plus, you can pay for up to 2TB of iCloud storage, so built-in memory becomes less important. Yet this is another cost.
Security-wise, there is a Touch ID sensor embedded into the Power button. This allows Apple to remove the physical home button and stretch the screen without making the overall tablet much bigger. Other hardware features include a 7MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera and the same 12MP rear camera used in iPad Pro for higher resolution photos and 4K video capture.
Although you have to pay extra for it, a standout feature of the iPad Air is support for the Apple Pencil. The second-generation Pencil is head and shoulders above the original model and – when used with iPad OS 14 – comes with some brilliant features, including gesture controls as well as the ability to handwrite in any type box, known as Scribble to iPad. This means that if you don’t want to fiddle with the on-screen keyboard or a physical one for that matter, you can simply handwrite Google searches, fill in forms and more using the Pencil. The software then converts it to text.
This completely elevates the iPad Air as a notebook and makes working and switching between tasks faster and easier. Another small but useful feature of the Apple Pencil is that it can be stored magnetically on the side of the tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and S7 Plus both store the tablet on the rear which prevents you from being able to place it flat on a surface.
The iPad Air is also compatible with Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio, and new Smart Folio covers.
We previously discussed the benefits of the Retina display in our iPad Mini review, but to recap, Retina is an Apple display technology that crams a greater number of pixels into a smaller frame to make colours brighter and text sharper. The iPad Air takes this technology in a slightly different direction, and its 10.9-inch screen uses what’s known as Liquid Retina.
At its core, Liquid Retina offers the same benefits as Retina displays, but it uses an LCD panel rather than an OLED one. The “Liquid” actually comes from the fact LCD stands for “Liquid Crystal Display”. LCD screens are typically brighter than OLED, but contrast isn’t as good. We could write a whole separate article about the pros and cons of both technologies, but for this iPad Air review, we’ll keep it simple; its display is bright, sharp and colourful and works wonders for Full HD content.
This display additionally uses True Tone technology to measure the ambient light colour and brightness. It then automatically adjusts its display, so whites and colours are shown more accurately.
Despite all of Apple’s marketing claims and terms, the iPad Air screen pales into comparison next to the Samsung Tab S7 and Tab S7 Plus displays. It’s nowhere near as striking and immersive, but you also pay less for Apple’s model, so is expected, to an extent. In the iPad Air’s favour is an anti-reflective coating. You don’t get the glare or reflections when watching content on the iPad as you do on Samsung’s models. It also features Tap to Wake, which allows you to tap the screen to bring it to life, rather than having to find the power button. You can read more about Samsung's rival in our Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 review.
Onto sound, Apple has redesigned the layout of the stereo speakers on the iPad Air to put them on each side when viewed in landscape mode. This creates more immersive, wider stereo sound that is rich and well-rounded when watching videos or on conference calls. However, you only get the full benefit of this layout and sound if you’re using the tablet in a case or stand. If you’re holding the device, then your hands block these speakers, which mutes the sound.
The iPad Air design is almost identical to the previous model in terms of size and design. It’s the same thickness, and there are only a handful of millimetres separating their respective width and height. They also weigh similar (458g for the iPad Air 4 vs 456g for the iPad Air 3)
For the latest model, Apple is offering five finishes – silver, space grey, rose gold, green, and sky blue and they’re all subtle and attractive. We always feel that offering a wider range of colours is largely a moot point because if you’re adding a case or keyboard folio, then the colour is covered. It’s nice to have a choice, though.
The tablet itself is well-balanced and easy to hold. It has a heft to it that makes it feel robust and expensive but isn’t overly heavy unless you add the keyboard folio. The combination of the LCD panel and the removal of the physical Home button means that the iPad Air makes great use of the design to give as much screen real-estate as possible. As is the case with most iPads, the bezels are larger than those seen on rivals, but they’re less noticeable on this model of the Air, which also means it’s easier to hold when not in a case.
In terms of ports, the iPad Air now features a USB-C charging port rather than a Lightning connector. In the long-term, this is great because almost all devices, from various manufacturers, are switching to USB-C. This means you won’t need to have multiple chargers for different devices. In the short-term, however, until this switch becomes universal, you may find the extra charger a tad annoying.
Setting up the iPad Air – as with all Apple products – is straightforward. Especially if you’re an existing Apple customer, as by simply signing into your account, the tablet will do all the hard work for you, pulling in your existing settings, app downloads and syncing all relevant data from your latest backup.
You can additionally set up or disable, TouchID, Siri and sharing settings via the step-by-step guide. Or choose to manually update the tablet if you want to limit which apps are installed on the iPad Air.
If you’re not already an Apple customer, you’ll need to create an Apple ID and manually download the apps you want. Apple has created an Android switching feature, though, which helps you switch from one software to another with ease.
Apple promises up to ten hours of surfing the web or watching video over Wi-Fi, which drops to nine hours when you’re connected to a mobile network. This was almost spot-on in our looping video test, in which we play an HD video on repeat until the battery dies. The iPad Air went from full to flat in nine hours 57 minutes. It’s quite a chunk lower than the 13 hours on the Lenovo P11 Pro, however.
By comparison, when using the iPad Air intermittently, to play SimCity, watch the odd TikTok clip, make a couple of Zoom calls and work with the Apple Pencil on Google Docs for half an hour at a time, this battery lasted almost three days – twice that of the Lenovo.
Power-wise, Apple claims the iPad Air is its most powerful tablet, and while we can’t quantify this, it certainly is a beast of a multitasking device. Being able to make a Zoom call while switching between apps and collaborating on Google Docs barely made a dent in the speed or efficiency of the tablet. We never experienced any noticeable lags when opening or moving between apps and toolbars, calls never dropped out, and the Apple Pencil worked effortlessly.
In the wider iPad ecosystem, the iPad Air is the goldilocks of the bunch. It’s not too big, not too small, not too expensive, and you don’t need to sacrifice on features or performance.
If the iPad Mini is a worthy family tablet, and the iPad Pro is for power users, the iPad Air occupies a middle-ground that will appeal to many people.
When compared to rivals, namely the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and Tab S7 Plus, the iPad Air does fall a little short in terms of its display technology. It’s also a shame that one of the best features of the Air – support for Apple Pencil – requires a separate purchase. But it’s one that’s worth the investment.
Apple has done a superb job of hitting a sweet spot between entertainment and productivity, all housed in an attractive, well-built device. If you’re in the market for an iPad, the iPad Air is the one we’d recommend. The larger, brighter screen, the battery life, the fast power and notably the support for the second-generation Apple Pencil makes it the most cost-effective way to get your hands on an Apple tablet, relatively compromise-free.
Overall rating: 4.4/5
Still comparing tablets? Read our best budget tablet, best tablet and best tablet for kids guides. Think the iPad Air might be a little big? Check out our Apple iPad Mini review or read our iPad mini 6 release date page to find out more about the new 2021 model.