Over a month ago, Apple announced the exciting (and rumored) iPad Air update.
Yesterday, I finally got mine in the mail.
There has been no shortage of exciting Apple hardware updates this year, though the new iPad Air 2020 might just take the cake. The announcement has sparked tons of discussion on whether or not this the iPad Pro Killer, which is probably just a trendy way of saying it’s a more affordable iPad Pro.
In this post, I’ll try to cut through the hype and share with you everything I’ve learned by using the iPad Air for the last 24 hours.
Let’s get started!
The iPad Air 2020: Everything is new (kind of)
The first thing on everyone’s mind is the design. It looks nearly identical to the iPad Pro save for the cameras on the back and the new color options. So in a way, this is a radical design update over the previous iPad Air.
On the other hand, it’s just a copied design from the iPad Pro. In fact, the form factor is so identical to the smaller iPad Pro that the keyboard and cases for the 11″ iPad Pro will comfortably fit the new iPad Air.
Internally, however, there are key differences. Apple has added the all-new A14 chip, making it the only device (aside from the iPhone 12) to feature the new SoC. This puts its performance on par with and in some circumstances beyond the current iPad Pro.
How does the iPad Air stack up?
So with these similarities and differences in mind, it’s time to see how the iPad Air stacks up against the rest of the iPad lineup. We won’t be comparing it to the tablet market at large because, generally speaking, the iPad is the tablet
Below is a brief breakdown of everything I’ve noticed while using the iPad Air. If you’d like to skip to my recommendations on who should buy this device, go ahead and jump to the end of this article.
The new iPad Air starts at $599 and can cost as much as $879 after upgrading the storage and adding cellular support. This is roughly twice as much as the base iPad and half as much as the largest iPad Pro.
I think that’s a pretty fitting price considering the features and performance you get at that price point. I will say, however, that I think the cost of upgrading the storage and adding cellular is a bit much. Even though Apple always charges a premium for these two features, I still feel that an extra $280 for no change in device performance or longevity is a bit much.
Easily the best part about the new iPad Air is its design. I may be a bit biased, but I believe the iPad Pro’s 2018 form factor is one of the best hardware designs Apple has ever come out with, and it looks just as stunning on the Air.
The device feels great to hold, the screen is immersive, and everything feels premium, even by Apple’s standards. I can easily see this design being referenced in snobby art classes for decades to come; in my opinion, it simply looks perfect.
In terms of features, the iPad Air has everything you would expect from a 2020 iPad. It has a magnetic connector for Apple Pencil, a Smart Connector for keyboards, and a fully-functional USB C port (i.e., you can use it to charge your device as well as connect a thumb drive).
Other than that, there isn’t much to announce in the features department. And that’s just fine, considering that tablets are mostly used as laptop supplements and entertainment devices. It does what it needs to do, and that’s about it.
Everyone has been begging Apple to add TouchID to the power button on the iPhone ever since FaceID was announced, and I have to admit that I’ve always thought this was a terrible idea. So when Apple said that the 2020 iPad Air would have TouchID in the power button instead of FaceID, I expected to hate it.
But it’s not bad at all! Despite being a slim button rather than the round Home button of years past, it still manages to read my fingerprints just fine. I also expected it to be annoying to have to search the edges of the device every time I need to use TouchID.
But this hasn’t been a problem either! It feels completely natural, unlocking the device is quick and easy. iPadOS even has a little indicator on the screen showing you where the TouchID button is when you need it, so you don’t have to search for it at all.
I am pleased to announce that TouchID doesn’t feel like much of a downgrade from FaceID, even when it’s in the power button.
As mentioned before, the iPad Air 2020 works with pretty much anything that the existing iPad Pros work with. Apple Pencil 2, the floating Magic Keyboard, magnetic cases – all of it is compatible with the new iPad Air. The physical dimensions of the iPad Air are the same as the iPad Pro 11″, so anything that works with the 11″ will work with this new iPad.
I am a writer, so I am probably the last person to speak on performance; I could do my job with a 3G connection and an iPhone 4 and never notice any lag.
That said, I’ll do my best to review the A14’s performance.
I am coming to this iPad Air from the 5th generation iPad (2017), which I only rarely experienced lag on. With the new iPad Air, it feels about the same, only slightly slicker. There is less stuttering when switching apps, and multitasking with three apps on screen doesn’t cause any problems whatsoever.
I also tested this iPad on the mobile game Sky and never noticed any sort of performance issues.
In short, like every iPad, this iPad Air is pleasantly overpowered and will probably stay that way for several iPadOS updates.
If there’s one feature I don’t care about on iPad, it’s the camera. The only things I take pictures of are my cats, and I’ve never recorded anything in a higher resolution than 1080p. So again, I may not be the most qualified to critique the camera on the new iPad Air.
What I will say, however, is that it more than meets my needs. Like the A14, it is a more robust camera than I could ask for. It records in 4K, takes excellent pictures, and has a better front-facing camera than my Mac. I’ll still use my iPhone 11 when I want to get the perfect cliche sunset picture, but it’s nice to have a great camera on my iPad as well.
On a side note: The iPad Air only has one rear-facing camera, unlike the iPad Pro, which has two. Additionally, there is no LIDAR sensor, so the AR experiences on iPad Air won’t be much different than they are on the iPhone 11 or 12. AR is something that I like using my iPad for, so a LIDAR sensor would have been a welcome addition.
Again, I am coming to this iPad from the 5th Generation iPad (2017), which was the same 9.7″ as every iPad before it. I believe this makes the new iPad Air the biggest handheld device I’ve ever owned.
Luckily, it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve been carrying it around for reading, watching videos, and playing music, and never feel like it’s distractingly big. I think it’s the perfect size for a tablet – big enough to immerse you without being as cumbersome as the 12.9″ iPad Pro.
The display is just as good as any other Apple display (aside from the iPad Pro). It’s the typical Retina experience, which means it’s crisp, clear, bright, and packed with color. I compared the specs of the new display to last year’s iPad Air 3, and there doesn’t appear to be an upgrade to the display other than that it’s slightly bigger.
Of course, removing the Home button means that now the top and bottom bezels are slimmer, which makes the device look far more attractive than its predecessor. Other than that, though, you’ll find the same great screen experience as you’ll find on all Apple devices.
I’m a headphones kind of person, so speaker quality typically doesn’t mean much to me. But this is yet another feature where the iPad Air caught me off guard.
First, there are four speakers in the iPad Air, two on the top and two on the bottom. Second, they are much better than the speakers on my Mac and get louder than I would’ve expected.
When playing the game Sky to test out the iPad’s performance, I was immediately drawn into how incredible the game sounded on this iPad. Holding four high-quality speakers just a few inches from your face while playing a game like that sucks you into the experience.
Now, when I want to listen to music in my room, I ignore my iPhone and go straight to my iPad. Really excellent sound quality.
Most of Apple’s products have had all-day battery life for the last two years, and this iPad is no exception. I’ve watched copious amounts of Twitch streams, played several mobile games, responded to emails and Slack, and haven’t gotten to the end of the day with less than 30% on this thing yet.
Even if this was your primary work device, I imagine that you could get through an entire day without worrying about charging it.
What I don’t like
That covers everything I imagine most of you care to know, and for the most part, it’s all positive. I’ve enjoyed the new iPad Air, and I’m already certain that it’s going to join the Apple Watch SE as my favorite Apple devices ever.
However, it’s not perfect. Though these complaints are small, they’re certainly worth including, as they stick out like a sore thumb on a device that is otherwise so great.
No headphone jack
If you’ve read my review of the Apple Watch SE, then you’ll know that I haven’t jumped aboard the AirPods train yet. I purchased a pair in 2017 and decided to switch back to wired headphones after those gave out in 2019. I am not someone who can comfortably buy something for $150+ that isn’t going to last more than two years, especially when that product is contributing to electronic waste.
So, with that in mind, I was disappointed to find that the iPad Air is missing a headphone jack (as are the current iPad Pros). For a device that’s meant to replace a laptop, axing the headphone jack simply doesn’t make sense to me.
But the frustration doesn’t end there. Because this iPad Air now uses USB C, that means neither my auxiliary Apple EarPods nor my Lightning EarPods work with this tablet. And since Apple doesn’t make USB C EarPods, the only option is to purchase a third-party alternative or to succumb and purchase another pair of AirPods.
Of course, this isn’t a dealbreaker. It’s a very first-world, 2020 problem to have. However, that doesn’t make it any less annoying. Maybe Apple could offset this annoyance by adding a headphone jack to its Magic Keyboard for iPad…?
A boy can dream.
Only 64GB of storage to start
I don’t think I need to say more than that. It’s 2020, and Apple’s lightweight laptop alternative only starts with 64GB of storage.
Again, this isn’t a dealbreaker. The iPad Air isn’t a “pro” device, and most users will probably never hit the 64GB wall. But it’s still disappointing that $599 can’t get you more than a $13 thumb drive on Amazon.
And yes, I looked that up.
The lack of durability
Or put another way, a “perceived” lack of durability. Fortunately, I haven’t broken my iPad Air yet. But this is definitely the flimsiest feeling Apple product I’ve owned in a very long time.
It’s a combination of the large screen area and the thinness of the device. When holding it in two hands, I feel as though I could destroy it with the slightest flex. And don’t even get me started on what would happen to this thing if I dropped it.
If you think this isn’t a big deal, I have to disagree. The iPad is meant to be a portable device, and with the updates to the iPad Air, I would argue that it’s not only a portable device, but a more portable laptop.
So the fact that I’m paranoid about setting it in my backpack or about how carefully I grip it is kind of concerning. If my MacBook and my iPad both fell from hip height, I would be much more concerned about the iPad.
In other words, I’m buying a case.
Should you buy the iPad Air 2020?
And that, friends, brings us to the end of the iPad Air 2020 review. So, after everything I’ve covered and experienced with this device over the last day, what’s the verdict? Who should buy the iPad Air 2020?
Even though I have a few gripes, this is a stunning device and a real thing of beauty. If you haven’t held an iPad in this form factor before, you are missing out on one of life’s great joys.
In addition to that amazing design, this thing is packed with performance and support. You can use it for reading, gaming, and watching videos. You can draw on it, take handwritten notes, and shoot a 4K movie. You can buy the Magic Keyboard and get rid of your laptop. You can use it as a work machine, a college computer, and a portable media library. And you can do all of this for just $599.
What’s new with the iPad Air 2020?
The iPad Air 2020 has an updated design that copies the current iPad Pro. This includes a larger display, no Home button, Apple Pencil 2 support, and Magic Keyboard support. It also features the brand new A14 chip.
Does the iPad Air 2020 work with Apple Pencil?
Yes, the iPad Air 2020 works with the Apple Pencil 2.
Does the iPad Air 2020 work with the Magic Keyboard?
Yes, the iPad Air 2020 works with the floating Magic Keyboard. Just be sure to purchase the 11″ Magic Keyboard.
Does the iPad Air 2020 have FaceID?
The iPad Air 2020 does not have FaceID. Instead, it has TouchID in the power button.
How much does the iPad Air 2020 cost?
The iPad Air starts at $599 and can be as much as $879 after upgrading the storage and adding cellular support.