iPad Air (2020) review - main

Apple continues its Goldilocks theme. Releasing devices that are ridiculously powerful, but expensive – or affordable, but lacking certain specs. And then, one that is “just right”. The NZ$999 iPad Air (2020) is exactly that. Just right.

Recently, iPad has splintered into two subcategories. The play iPads (iPad mini and the iPad) and work iPads (iPad Pro). The iPad Air bridges the gap a little. It’s a device that’s got plenty of processing power, an excellent screen and killer accessories. It’s a device you can do serious work on – providing you buy the Magic Keyboard too – but doesn’t price itself out of reach from most users.

Continue reading this iPad Air review to find out more.

iPad Air + Magic Keyboard = Winner

Over the past two weeks, I’ve used this iPad Air more than I’ve used any other iPad – and I think I’ve had/used them all. 

The reason I’ve used the iPad Air so much isn’t because it’s vastly different from its predecessors. It’s the Magic Keyboard accessory. Keyboard, trackpad, adjustable screen angle, and carry case all in one. I love it.

This is a big deal.

Apple has been trying to convince us that the iPad is a device that can flip between work and play seamlessly. And Magic Keyboard is the accessory that validates that claim. 

The Magic Keyboard, of course, has been available to buy since April – it works with the iPad Pro that was launched earlier in the year.

The problem is that the new iPad Pro is very expensive, with prices starting at NZ$1,499 for the 11-inch 128GB model. When you consider the Magic Keyboard is another NZ$549 on top, you naturally question if it’s worth the price, or if a laptop would be a better investment.

Convincing the average office worker to spend NZ$2,048 on a 128GB iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard combo isn’t easy – especially when Apple is already offering a 256GB MacBook Air for NZ$1,799.

The new 64GB iPad Air (NZ$999) bridges that gap. A bit.

Price aside, the iPad Pro is a too “pro” for most people. It comes with a lot of features – that ultimately bumps its price – that will never be used. Face ID, four speakers, ultrawide camera, LiDAR, and ProMotion high-refresh-rate screen are the “pro” features you don’t get with the Air.

Oh, and the processor is different, but that needs a bit more explanation.

iPad Air (2020) review - body 1

iPad Air processing power just right…

…for the price

Part of the reason the iPad Pro was so expensive was because it had the processing specs of a high-end laptop inside it. This was overkill for most people. The iPad Air dials it back a bit with fewer CPU and GPU cores and an updated A14 Bionic chip, built using 5nm transistors. 

The question everyone wants to know: Is an iPad Air with a 6-core CPU and a 4-core GPU and an updated A14 chipset more powerful than an iPad Pro with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU with a slightly older A12z Bionic chip? 

The answer, annoyingly, is yes and no.

The iPad Air has better single-core performance, but if you require an iPad that put a needs to operate with a heavy load on multiple cores, the answer is no. The reality is, if you’re the sort of iPad user that even has to ask a question about multi-core performance, then the Pro is still the device for you.

All of this talk about processing performance is a long, and geeky way of making the following point: If you’re not looking for a tablet to do professional-grade video, audio, or image editing with – then the Air is all you’re ever going to need in terms of processing power and speed.

TouchID is back!

iPad Air (2020) review - TouchID

Remember when you used to unlock your iPhone by resting your fingerprint on the home button for about a second? Well, that’s back with the iPad Air. The difference is the home button, or power button (it’s actually called the Top Button) is located in a niggly place on the iPad Air. 

If you’re using the device in landscape mode, as I do, you have to reach and twist your left hand to the upper-left side of the device and rest your finger there for a second to unlock. It sounds easy, right? And it kind of is. But it’s not a nice process. And you’ll miss FaceID like crazy.

With Apple still refusing to migrate its “Use Apple Watch to Unlock” feature across from MacBooks to mobile devices, the workaround I’ve had to implement is increasing the amount of time the iPad Air takes to lock itself. Less secure? Sure. But also less maddening.

Better screen

Apple has also upgraded the iPad Air’s display. Now you get a 2,360 x 1,460 resolution Liquid Retina Display with a pixel density of 264 ppi. It comes with Apple’s True Tone technology – that adjust colour temp to suit your environment – and supports the wider P3 colour gamut.

It’s not quite the same screen as the iPad Pro, though. There’s no 120Hz refresh rate and 500 (not 600) nits. It’s a different size too, oddly. Despite fitting the same accessories as the 11-inch iPad Pro, this Air’s display measures in at 10.9-inch. Why? I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that it doesn’t make a difference, and you’re not going to notice the difference.

The best looking iPad ever

It’s gorgeous.

The iPad Air follows the design theme of the iPad Pro and iPhone 12 devices. It’s an all-screen device with flat edges and generally solid feel. It’s not a totally edge-to-edge display, with a small amount of bezel on the edge of the screen – but ultimately, it gets the design right. I think it looks great.

My only issue is with the placement of the camera. It’s located top-middle when in portrait mode. Which obviously moves to centre-left when in landscape mode. And this is the mode you’ll use it in most of the time, I suspect. It’s a problem with Zoom calls and FaceTime as your eyes appear to be looking nowhere near the camera. Like this ?.

Anecdotally, I’ve found that placing the device just left of centre is the best way to combat this – forcing a sidewise looking glance at the screen makes your eye direction look more legitimate natural.

Elsewhere, Apple has upgraded the iPad Air’s port away from Lightning to USB-C, and it’s now compatible with the second-gen iPad Pencil. Both forces for good, I say.

What else you NEED to know

The rest is pretty standard from Apple. There’s a 12MP rear-facing camera (the same as in iPad Pro); 7MP FaceTime HD camera; and all-day battery life (10-hours).

iPad Air (2020): Verdict

If you need a device that’s versatile enough to take anywhere and practical enough to replace your laptop, the new iPad Air is it. It’s design, high-end screen, and good processing power make it impossible not to like. If only bigger storage options, and the Magic Keyboard accessory, were a little more affordable.