Apple iPad Air (2022) review: The best iPad for most people
Introduction, design, and features
Note: This review was first published on 16 March 2022.
Almost an iPad Pro
The iPad Air was given a thorough refresh in 2020 and in my review I called it an iPad Pro Lite. That’s because it has many of the features found in the pricier iPad Pro. In fact, it seems that Apple has taken a long hard look at the iPad Pro and then stripped it down to its key ingredients for the iPad Air. That approach should be applauded. And fortunately, Apple has taken the same approach again in 2022 with its latest update to the iPad Air.
Apple hasn’t done much to change the way its newest iPad Air looks and feel. This latest generation iPad Air looks and feels just like its predecessor. That’s no bad thing because there’s little to fault its design. The 100% recycled aluminium body has flat sides that many love and it feels solid and every bit like a premium device should. It's also thin, compact, and light. The only change in terms of design is colours. There are still five colours to choose from – Space Grey, Starlight, Purple, Pink, Blue – but the hues have been updated.
The 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display is unchanged. So we have a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels, P3 wide colour support, and True Tone technology. I know many were hoping for a ProMotion display but Apple is reserving that for its “Pro” iPads. Even though the refresh rate is capped at 60Hz, there are really not many bad things to say about this display. For an LCD display, it’s fantastic. It’s sharp, crisp, and the colours are bright and natural-looking.
And as for features, both the new iPad Air and old iPad Air support Apple’s second-generation Apple Pencil. They also have the Smart Connector to use with the Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad and the Smart Keyboard Folio. The rear-facing camera is also the same 12-megapixel unit with an f/1.8 aperture and Smart HDR 3 technology. It will suffice for quick snaps and if you have documents to scan.
One of the few major updates is the front-facing camera. It’s now a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera unit with a wide 122° field of view that supports Apple’s Centre Stage feature. Using machine-learning and taking advantage of the wide field of view, Centre Stage tracks subjects and keeps them in the middle of the frame even as they move about. And if someone else joins in on the call, it’s intelligent enough to zoom out and reframe itself.
I have written about it in greater detail in my iPad Pro review explaining how it works. And while it might seem like a gimmicky feature at first, I guarantee that you’ll quickly appreciate it after a few video calls with it. It gives you so much more freedom to move around and it's especially helpful if you have someone else with you joining in the call. That said, like its predecessor, there’s no Face ID. Instead, there’s Apple’s good old Touch ID integrated into the top button. It’s certainly not as convenient as Face ID but it works well enough so I can't really complain.
The other big update is under the proverbial hood. Like the iPad Pro, the iPad Air is powered by Apple’s M1 chip. The M1 chip, if you have already forgotten, was Apple’s first custom chip designed for Macs. But because it’s based on the ARM architecture, Apple can easily use it to run iPadOS too. Performance should therefore be similar to the iPad Pro, which is to say great. The M1 was a chip that has performance rivalling desktop chips and the iPad Pro was easily the fastest tablet we’ve tested. This iPad Air should be no different.
Despite having an M1 chip, Apple hasn’t given this new iPad Air a USB-C Thunderbolt 4 port. Instead, the USB-C port now supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 so you get faster transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps – double that of its predecessor. It’s a nice update but outside of external portable SSDs with USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, there aren’t many USB peripherals that I can think of that can take full advantage of this extra bandwidth.
Lastly, the iPad Air joins the iPad Pro and iPad Mini in supporting 5G. It's only the slower sub-6GHz version but you'll still see a good boost in speeds if you happen to be in the right place. While I don't think it’s a must-have killer feature, it's still nice to have and should go some way in ensuring the longevity of the device as we gradually transition wholly to 5G data plans.
Deep integration with Macs
If you have a Mac, an iPad can be a great companion device, especially now that Universal Control is coming. In case you have already forgotten, Universal Control is a new feature in macOS Monterey that will enable users to control multiple Macs and iPads with a single keyboard and mouse. That’s incredibly helpful and opens up a lot of new workflow and work setup possibilities. And even if you don’t have a need to control two systems at once, you can also use the iPad to mirror and extend your Mac’s desktop with Sidecar, which was introduced as part of macOS Catalina in 2019.