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Review: Is the new iPad Air the tablet for all your tasks?

The 2022 Apple iPad Air is the best tab for most users, unless you absolutely want all the bells and whistles of the M1 iPad Pros, especially for work

Apple Pencil (2nd generation) makes writing as easy and natural as using pen and paper on the new iPad Air. (Apple)

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Apple iPads are at the point of their life cycle where two things are abundantly clear: Their dominance over consumer mindshare is undisputed, and most yearly iPad updates are going to be somewhat iterative. The 2022 fifth-generation iPad Air is one such iterative update, taking heavy inspiration in design and display from the 2020 model while packing it to the brim of performance with the same M1 chip that powers Apple’s lineup of Pro iPads and all their consumer-grade Mac laptops and desktops—all at the same starting price ( 54,900). The result is a refined and insanely powerful tablet at a relatively reasonable price, but whether this is the tablet for your needs (as compared to the pricier iPad Pro) will come down to the detail.

You can’t really tell this is a newly released iPad by looking at it, unless you have picked it up in the lovely blue finish that’s exclusive to the 2022 iPad Air. For it looks identical to any other recent iPad—a slim, boxy aluminium slab with rounded corners, with the same dimensions as the previous Air or the 11-inch iPad Pro that worked well with most of the popular accessories, including the Magic Keyboard. As ports go, there is just the one: a USB-C port for charging and up to 10Gbps data transfer speeds for moving files quickly or connecting to up to one 6K monitor.

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There’s no splash-resistance (we have had water resistance on iPhones since 2016), and no headphone jack, the latter a modern-day loss in most flagship devices. The modern design aesthetic extends to the magnetic strip on the side for charging and latching on to the optional second-gen Apple Pencil, and a pandemic-friendly Touch ID fingerprint sensor built into the power button. Yet, despite sporting a thicker bezel than the nearly all-screen iPad Pros, the iPad Air still lacks a TrueDepth camera sensor, which means the Face ID login and face-tracking animojis are still exclusive to the iPad Pros. The upgraded 12-megapixel front camera does support Center Stage, a subject-tracking feature that’s useful during video calls.

Below the upgraded front camera setup is a mid-sized 10.9-inch, 2,360x1,640-pixel LCD display that refreshes at 60Hz, and while it doesn’t match the punchy vibrant colours or pitch-black levels of the mini-LED panel on the larger iPad Pro or the OLED displays on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8+/Ultra, it’s bright and crisp enough to consume content even in well-lit environs. That 60Hz refresh rate will matter only to those who have seen how slick and buttery smooth the experience is on iPad Pros’ faster 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate. That may well be the single biggest reason to tempt a consumer to pay extra for the Pro. The stereo speakers are loud and delightfully rich and full for such a thin device, although the iPad Pro’s four speaker setup is still the standard to beat in this department.

The powerful and versatile new iPad Air comes in an array of colours, and features the Apple-designed M1 chip, a new Ultra Wide front camera,  5G, and more.
The powerful and versatile new iPad Air comes in an array of colours, and features the Apple-designed M1 chip, a new Ultra Wide front camera,  5G, and more. (Apple)

It may seem that the new Air is missing quite a few features of the M1 iPad Pro, but it’s what the iPad Air shares with the iPad Pro that makes it such a great option—the Apple M1 chip, solid battery life and support for the second-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard. Every task I have tried on a 11-inch M1 iPad Pro, the iPad Air handled just as capably—from playing graphics heavy games such as Genshin Impact or Gear.Club Stradale, or running batch image edits on Pixelmator Pro or even just doodling/sketching in Procreate. iPadOS runs just as swimmingly, with a bevy of the most optimised and refined apps you can have on any side of the tablet world.

The power on tap feels a little like overkill, no doubt, but it’s the headroom of the M1 chip that will afford the Air longevity and software upgrades years into the future, and more than enough power at your disposal for the most strenuous of work (or play) tasks. Battery life is as good as ever, with the iPad Air lasting the better part of a full workday of browsing/social media, Word/Excel documents, responding to instant messages and the odd game or streaming Netflix while taking a break.

To distil the essence of the 2022 iPad Air into a buying recommendation, this is the best tablet for most people, unless you absolutely must have all the bells and whistles of the M1 iPad Pros, particularly for work. Our single complaint is that the base 64GB storage, which allows for the impressively priced entry into the world of M1-powered Apple devices, is a little paltry and insufficient in the long run. And herein lies the rub—upgrading to the next (256GB) storage tier will place you tantalisingly close to the M1-powered 128GB iPad Pro (11-inch), with the 120Hz ProMotion goodness, Face ID and better speaker and camera setup. Or, if you are confident that the 64GB iPad Air will work for your consumption habits, you could spend the money saved on an Apple Pencil 2 or a Magic Keyboard, both of which more than pull their own weight as accessories par excellence.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.

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