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Lifewire / Sandra Stafford
Fast A12 Bionic processor
Gorgeous display with True Tone adjustment
Sleek and stylish design with narrow bezels
Compatible with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard
Long battery life
No ProMotion display increases Pencil latency
Only two speakers
Physical Touch ID home button
The Apple iPad Air (2019) offers better multimedia than the basic iPad, and some of the productivity features of the Pro, all at a mid-range price point that makes it accessible to most consumers.
Apple’s latest iPad Air refreshes a product lineup that hasn’t had an update since 2017. Returned to the shelves in 2019, the new iPad Air incorporates hardware and features from both ends of Apple’s lineup by straddling the space between the affordable iPad and the premium iPad Pro. It has a price tag that is friendly to most consumers, but Pencil and Smart Keyboard capability that allows it to fit into the busy lives of professionals and creatives alike.
That’s not an easy market segment to stand out in, but with its powerful A12 Bionic processor, gorgeous display, and compatibility with the Pro’s accessories, the Air manages to carve a space for itself. We tested the iPad Air to see how well it serves for all-day work and play.
The iPad Air is 10.5-inches, the same size as the base model of last year’s iPad Pro. The sleek, aluminum-and-glass body weighs 1.03 pounds, light enough to hold for hours. It is incredibly thin, only 0.24 inches, with a footprint that measures 9.8 by 6.8 inches (HW), making it smaller than a sheet of paper.
The Air still has a 4:3 aspect ratio, though the bezels don’t intrude much into the smudge-resistant glass screen. Users who haven’t embraced Air Pods or the switch to Lightning-connected headphones will appreciate the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack, something that was removed from the larger iPad Pros. Unlike the Pro, the iPad Air uses a traditional Lightning port to recharge, rather than USB-C which is a bit disappointing.
The new iPad Air incorporates hardware and features from both ends of Apple’s lineup by straddling the space between the affordable iPad and the premium iPad Pro.
Another part of the design that we can’t get behind is the physical home button. Ours worked fine in testing, but a broken home button is an expensive thing to replace, and it’s a frequent point of weakness in iPhones and iPads. We’d have preferred if the Air had Face ID for easier, risk-free unlocking.
If you already own an iPhone or another Apple device, setting up the new iPad Air is effortless. You will be prompted to place your devices beside one another, which will sync everything from downloaded apps to files. Even if you don’t have another Apple device, setting up is as easy as answering a few questions and creating an Apple ID. Virtually every part of the process can be saved for later, so if you aren’t interested in Screen Time or Apple Pay, you can skip that and be using your iPad in minutes.
The base model of the iPad Air is only Wi-Fi-enabled, but that wasn’t a problem for us. On the rare occasion that we were testing it somewhere without Wi-Fi, an iPhone was able to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for the iPad Air. If that isn’t an option, then the cellular option for $629 is still pretty affordable for a device this powerful.
The iPad Air also has Bluetooth 5.0, which is a major source of improvement. Bluetooth 4.2 in the previous model didn’t cut it with the Magic Keyboard, which frequently suffered from delays of several seconds before text appeared. That never happened when testing the new iPad Air. The improved range was great for headphones and speaker use. They never dropped connection no matter how far away we moved from the iPad Air in the house.
iPads are meant to be the perfect all-in-one device: more functional than an iPhone, but more portable than a Mac. That’s especially apparent when looking at display quality. The 2224-by-1668, 10.5-inch panel on the iPad Air was crisp and beautiful while streaming movies. While watching “A Quiet Place”, where most of the action takes place in the dark, everything was still bright enough to see. With 264 pixels per inch, there was never any visible pixelation even when viewed very close.
The other iPads on the market are either smaller or drastically more expensive, so with its reasonable price, beautiful display, and a suitably large screen for creating art on, we weren’t left with any complaints. There’s also features like True Tone white balance correction and an anti-reflective screen, which ensure that the display is always easy on the eyes. The iPad Air was equally suited to the tasks of streaming videos in bed and writing in the bright midday sun.
The iPad Pro has two speakers on the top of the iPad and two on the bottom, creating a stereo effect when the iPad is in landscape mode. This is noticeably absent in the iPad Air, which only has two speakers on the bottom. In landscape mode, the most natural way to watch videos, there is no stereo effect. Sound only comes from one side of the iPad.
This was one of our biggest complaints with the new iPad Air. The loss of two speakers isn’t the end of the world, but streaming videos is a major part of iPad use, so it would have been nice to have sound from both sides of the screen.
That said, the iPad Air’s sound quality is great even if it won’t match up to the quad-speaker array of the Pro. Compared to the previous-generation iPad Air it’s a big improvement. Whether watching movies or playing games, we never felt the need to resort to either headphones or extra speakers.
With a 7-megapixel front-facing camera, FaceTime looks fine. The rear-facing camera is marginally better at 8-megapixels. It takes decent enough pictures, but any flagship phone in 2019 is going to be significantly better. Fortunately, most people don’t use a tablet as their primary camera. The Air camera is good enough to do things like scanning documents, video chatting, and taking decent-quality pictures. For everything else, you should use a phone.
The A12 Bionic processor that powers the iPad Air handled everything we could throw at it. For testing, we played hours of The Elder Scrolls: Blades. The game is demanding enough that it can’t be played on the earliest generations of iPads. We were impressed by the level of detail the iPad Air was able to deliver to the visual effects, beautifully rendering everything in the environment from mossy rocks to dirty peasants. The A12 handled all of these without ever heating up or dropping frames.
Our Geekbench 4 benchmarks were solid, giving the iPad Air a multi-core CPU performance score of 11,480, which is significantly less powerful than the iPad Pro’s score of 18,090, but a significant improvement over previous generations.
The A12 Bionic processor that powers the iPad Air handled everything we could throw at it.
The GFX Metal test was another success for the iPad Air. The Car Chase benchmark yielded an impressive 2,094 frames at 35 fps (frames per second). The iPad Pro is still undoubtedly a major improvement, with 3,407 frames at 57 fps, but it is an improvement you have to be willing to pay for. Unless you’re a hardcore mobile gamer, this level of performance is overkill for the average user. For most people, the iPad Air will still provide an excellent gaming experience.
Productivity and multitasking on the iPad Air was always smooth. The screen is large enough that we could easily use Scrivener, a word-processing and outlining app, along with other apps like GoodNotes 5 for brainstorming, or multiple tabs on Safari for research. Pushing the iPad Air a little further, we played our favorite episodes of Judge Judy on Youtube. In total, we had twelve tabs of recipes, Japanese language learning sites, Goodreads, and Reddit open without any slowdowns.
For those keen to use the iPad Air for productivity, you’ll be pleased to know that both the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard are compatible with the slate. The Air particularly benefits from having a laminated display, nearly eliminating the gap of air between glass and display you can see on the iPad. While this makes for nice usability, keep in mind the new iPad Air is only compatible with the first generation Pencil, which still sells new for $99.
The iPad Air is also compatible with the Smart Keyboard Folio, a flexible cover that combines the useful features of a sturdy stand and case, with a keyboard that remains connected to the iPad and doesn’t need to be paired via Bluetooth. Everything works right out of the box with no setup required. It gives the iPad Air a leg up in terms of productivity, letting you bang out documents on Google Docs or sections of your screenplay in Scrivener.
The iPad Air claims to have 10 hours of battery life while browsing, watching videos, and listening to music. While working in Google Docs or GoodNotes 5, we found that claim to be absolutely true. The Air easily lasted through a full day of drawing and writing with the Pencil, typing up work on Google Docs, and listening to Spotify.
All-day battery life combined with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard functionality makes the iPad Air a productivity powerhouse for students and professionals.
When we put it through Geekbench 4’s battery test, which runs processor-intensive tasks until battery death, the iPad Air lasted an impressive 10 hours and 28 minutes and scored 6,310. By contrast, in our test of the iPad Pro, we recorded 9 hours. It’s a small difference that could be explained by the more power-hungry apps on the Pro. Apple estimates about 10 hours of use on either device, and we expect most users will find this to be true.
Running on iOS 12, the iPad Air has the latest quality of life improvements and updates. The Apple ecosystem is too vast to list, but there were some key apps and services we used on the slate. Aside from the aforementioned split-screen multitasking, one feature we got the most use was AirDrop, which allowed us to seamlessly share lesson plans and notes from the iPad Air to colleagues’ iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. Similarly, with Handoff, we found recipes on the phone and then transferred them to the iPad Air to read them on the bigger screen.
The iPad Air costs $499 for the base model, making it more costly than the $329 iPad, but more affordable than the base model of the iPad Pro ($799). It isn’t the cheapest iPad, but improvements like the laminated display, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support, and a more powerful processor are worth paying for. It’s a good tablet option for students and professionals seeking to get some productivity use out of a multimedia device.
There are four iPads in Apple’s lineup now: the basic iPad, the iPad Mini (2019), the iPad Air (2019), and the iPad Pro in two size variants. The overlap of features and price points that plagued previous generations and made the decision difficult is gone. Now you can choose which functionality matters most to you.
If none of the bells and whistles we discussed in previous sections appeal to you, the base iPad has all the power you need at $329. It has Pencil compatibility, so it’s a great choice for students on a budget. They can take notes laptop-style with any Bluetooth keyboard, or for better recall, they can hand-write notes in Notability or GoodNotes 5 with the 1st-generation Apple Pencil.
The latest iPad Mini, with the same A12 chip that you find in an iPad Air, is powerful enough to be the perfect choice for augmented reality games and apps. This was our go-to device for testing those because it is incredibly light, weighing only a little over half a pound. It’s also a good choice for someone who wants the power and functionality of an iPad in their purse or backpack for digital planning or as an alternative to a Kindle.
The iPad Air is the cheapest iPad with Smart Keyboard capability. The simple connect-and-go design of the Smart Keyboard is a good choice for people who need to take their work on the go. A larger screen is also better suited for creating art with Affinity Designer or Procreate.
Serious artists and creatives will want even more power. The 11-inch iPad Pro at $799 is still reasonably priced, and if you’re willing to pay for the extra space, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro at $999 is as much of a canvas as you’re going to get with a tablet.
A Pro tablet without a premium price
All-day battery life combined with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard functionality makes the iPad Air a productivity powerhouse for students and professionals. The A12 Bionic chip runs games beautifully and has the performance needed to power resource-intensive apps creatives need. It is a great choice for anyone who needs capabilities similar to what an iPad Pro offers, but at a more affordable price.
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