PROS: Fast performance. Slim, light design. Nice display. Works with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard case.
CONS: Camera could be better. There are a lot of other iPad choices right now.
In General: The new iPad Air is a tablet that works best with a keyboard case as a pseduo-laptop for anyone who wants a basic PC with Apple’s software elegance.
Think of the new $499 iPad Air less as Apple’s midrange tablet and more as its low-cost laptop. The 2019 Air is light, smooth, fast, and runs a wide range of entertainment and office apps. It suffers from a bit of middle-child syndrome, though. It’s neither as cheap as the entry-level iPad, which does basic tablet things just fine, nor is it as powerful for creative apps as the iPad Pro. When you pair it with a keyboard accessory, though, the iPad Air suddenly comes into its own as a basic laptop for people who don’t need to mess with a more powerful OS. That’s a big enough niche that the iPad Air will find its fans.
Physical Design and Pencil
The Air comes in gold, gray, or silver. A 64GB model costs $499 and a 256GB model costs $649. Adding 4G LTE cellular to either adds $130. The Apple Pencil costs $99, and Apple’s keyboard case costs $159. Sticking with the 64GB model and the keyboard case, that gets you an “Apple laptop” for $658. The 11-inch iPad Pro and the MacBook Air, the least expensive Mac laptop, both cost at least $300 more.
The tablet’s design is a lot like the 2017 10.5 inch iPad Pro. It measures 9.8 by 6.8 by 0.2 inches (HWD) and weighs exactly one pound. There are dual speakers on the bottom, a Lightning (not USB-C) port, and a traditional home button with Touch ID. The Air doesn’t support Face ID, but Touch ID was very accurate and easy in testing.
The 2,224-by-1,668, 10.5-inch screen, meanwhile, is similar to the new iPad mini screen. The colors are quite accurate. Apple’s TrueTone technology changes the screen’s white point based on ambient light. When tested the screens with SpectraCal’s CalMAN for Business software and a Klein K-80 colorimeter, and found that both the iPad Air and iPad mini are about equally bright with TrueTone turned on, at 432 to 440 nits, but that the mini is brighter with TrueTone turned off, at 480 nits to the Air’s 451. Both are brighter than most smartphone screens.
The tablet supports the original Apple Pencil stylus, as well as Logitech’s $69 Crayon, which is easier to hold than the long, round Pencil, but lacks tilt sensitivity.
While Apple’s first-gen Pencil is more accurate, more sensitive, and less laggy than capacitive styli used on older or cheaper tablets, the 120Hz screen on the Pro tablets makes the second-gen stylus feel even more responsive, more realistic, and makes you aware of a tiny bit of lag on 60Hz screens.
The biggest reason to buy this iPad is Apple’s $159 Smart Keyboard case, which attaches to physical connectors that smaller and less expensive iPads don’t have. Apple’s iPad keyboard is now better than its disappointing MacBook keyboard. The chiclet-style keys are sealed against dust and water. They have some travel to them, and land softly but firmly. They’re much quieter than the clack of the MacBook keyboard I used to use, and I find the Smart Keyboard faster to type on.
Processor and Performance
The iPad Air has the same A12 processor as the iPad mini and the current iPhones do, and it benchmarks just about the same: 4,776 on Geekbench single-core, 11,501 on Geekbench multi-core, and 24.42 on GFXBench’s most intense Aztec graphics test. Those results aren’t quite as fast as the current iPad Pro models, which use an A12X processor with boosted graphics, but they’re considerably faster than the current $329 iPad with its A10 processor, which got 3,512 single-core and 5,934 multi-core on Geekbench.
As found with the iPad mini, you see most of the performance difference when using apps like video encoding or augmented reality. Plantale, an educational AR app about plants, animates much more smoothly on the iPad Air than on the standard iPad. The A12 chip also just has more runway in front of it, something to keep in mind because many people hold onto tablets for four or five years. In three years or so, if history is a guide, new games will drag on an A10 processor but not on an A12.
Battery life is good, for an iPad. The Air lasted 6 hours, 13 minutes streaming a YouTube video with the screen set to full brightness over Wi-Fi, which is noticeably better than the fifth- and sixth-gen iPads, which lasted 5 hours, 40 minutes each. That translates to about eleven hours of use at half brightness.
The iPad Air also has the same networking capabilities as the iPad mini. That means a perfectly good 802.11ac Wi-Fi setup and an optional LTE modem that supports all US and most foreign networks. The Air has both an eSIM and a physical SIM card slot. Using the eSIM, you can sign up for plans on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or various roaming carriers; you can use a physical SIM with Verizon or any other carrier.
Like other iPads, the Air runs iOS 12.2, which is a blessing and a curse. Apple’s OS has versions of all the major business apps, like Microsoft Office and Photoshop, but they’re not full-featured. iOS 12.2 also supports dual-window multitasking and a limited file manager, but workflows that demand easily switching between different windows and documents still don’t work ideally on iPads.
Camera and Multimedia
Like the new iPad mini, the iPad Air has an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 7-megapixel front camera, both of which record 1080p video at 30 frames per second. Images are aggressively sharpened, and often quite noisy. They both fall far short of the quality that you get from the most recent iPhones, especially in low light. It’s not that they’re dim, it’s that they’re noisy.
While the iPad Air is fine for editing your next movie, it isn’t great for shooting it. Use an iPhone for that. Rather, the hyper-sharpened iPad camera is for computer vision, especially as Apple tries to push augmented reality apps. Text and bar codes look razor sharp, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the new image processing software helped the iPad map the room more quickly than previous models.
The TrueTone screen supports the DCI-P3 wide color gamut, so photos and videos look excellent, if not technically HDR. While the screen is technically better than the $329 iPad’s display, which doesn’t support the wide color gamut and has a little bit more reflectivity.
There are dual speakers on the bottom of the iPad Air; like on many tablets with this layout, it’s a little too easy to muffle one of them when holding it in landscape mode. The iPad Pro has quad speakers, but it costs $300 more. At least there’s a headphone jack.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Apple’s iPad lineup has gotten pretty granular this year, but it’s relatively clear to me who each of the models is for and why.
The base $329 iPad is for kids or anyone focused primarily on video and web browsing. Its less powerful processor doesn’t really matter in basic use. You can certainly dress it up with a less expensive keyboard case like the $99 Logitech Slim Folio, but that isn’t as elegant as Apple’s solution for the Air. Its Pencil support makes it good for drawing and taking notes.
The $399 iPad mini is primarily for someone who wants a smaller iPad. But with its small, light form factor and powerful processor, it’s also ideal for augmented reality applications.
The $799 iPad Pro is for people who want to use the Pencil in serious creative apps. The second-generation Pencil is much more convenient than the first-generation one thanks to its magnetic charging, the ProMotion display makes the stylus more responsive, and the upcoming version of Photoshop will run well on the A12X processor.
A Mac laptop is for most people trying to do traditional corporate workflows.
The $499 iPad Air is for either creative apps or basic quasi-laptop use. Apple’s keyboard case is more reliable than Bluetooth, and the more powerful processor reaps real benefits in apps like iMovie and Photoshop Express. No, it is not a real laptop; if you have a workflow that involves a lot of dragging files between applications, no iPad will work for you. But many people just want a word processor and web browser.
(Source PC Magazine)