Note: This review was first published on 27 Oct 2020.
I lost count of the number of times that I stared at the iPad Air and then realised it doesn’t actually support Face ID. It may look identical to the 11-inch iPad Pro, but this being Apple’s mid-range tablet offering, it misses out some on some features that the “pro” iPads have. Even so, it has a lot to offer and, on paper, looks like the best iPad for most people.
As I said in my first impressions piece, the latest iPad Air – now in fourth-generation guise – is almost physically identical to the 11-inch iPad Pro. The only differences are that the iPad Air is oh-so-slightly thicker (6.1mm vs 5.9mm), it only has a single camera, and it comes in more colours. Speaking of colours, this is Apple’s most colourful iPad. The iPad Air is available in five colours: silver, space grey, rose gold, green, and sky blue.
It’s difficult to fault the design. It’s compact, thin, and at just 460g, also really light. My only gripe is that the bezels around the display are a bit thick by today’s standards. Hopefully, this gets addressed when Apple updates the iPad Pro (rumoured to be happening early next year).
The display measures 10.9 inches across and it’s a Liquid Retina display – Apple’s fancy name for its LCD displays with curved corners. Like many other Apple devices, the display is first-rate. Resolution is an entirely adequate 2,360 x 1,640 pixels which means razor-sharp visuals. It supports the P3 colour space so colours are vivid, bright, punchy – in a word, excellent.
Its only shortcoming is that the iPad Air lacks ProMotion technology, so refresh rate is limited to 60Hz. Next to an iPad Pro, the iPad Air is less fluid. What’s more apparent, however, is that Apple Pencil inputs are noticeably laggier. If you write a lot with an Apple Pencil, this could be bothersome.
Watching movies and videos on the new iPad Air is thoroughly enjoyable. Not only because the display is beautiful but also because for the first time in an iPad Air, the speakers are positioned at the top and bottom of the display, which creates a proper stereo effect when used in landscape orientation.
I mentioned earlier that the iPad Air doesn’t support Face ID. Instead, it relies on Apple’s good old Touch ID technology for biometric authentication. Using Touch ID is probably going to feel strange for users who have become accustomed to Face ID on newer iPhones. But it works well here. The Touch ID sensor has been integrated into the top button, which is quite amazing considering how thin the button in. Nevertheless, Apple assures that it is just as effective and secure. It’s certainly fast, and as for security, I could only unlock it with the two fingerprints that I have authorised and nothing else, so I have to assume that it’s just as secure as the Touch ID systems in older iPhones.
The iPad Air ditches the old Lightning port in favour of a USB-C port and Smart Connector. There’s no argument, USB-C is the superior connector. It’s more versatile and opens the iPad Air up to a wealth of USB-C accessories. As for the Smart Connector, it means this new iPad Air will work with accessories designed for the 11-inch iPad Pro, including the excellent but very expensive Magic Keyboard. And since we are on the subject of accessories, the new iPad Air will also work with the second-generation Apple Pencil, which attaches magnetically to the side for quick pairing and charging. The flip side to all this is that if you are coming from last year’s iPad Air, you’ll need to repurchase your accessories.
No one should be taking photos or videos with their iPads, but if you absolutely must, you’ll be happy to know that the rear-facing camera has been improved. There’s only a single camera and it shoots at 12 megapixels with an f/1.8 lens. It can also record 4K videos at up to 60fps. It’s decent, but really, the only thing you should be doing with it is scanning documents.
The front-facing camera is unchanged and so it still shoots at 7 megapixels and records in Full-HD. As a result, quality isn’t the greatest, which is something you might want to take note of if you are going to be using it for video conferencing. Speaking of which, because the front-facing camera is above the display, it will appear on the sides when you are using it in landscape mode. If this is your preferred orientation for video conferencing, this means you’ll inevitably end up looking off to the sides to other participants.