iPad Air (2020) Deep Dive

Released on October 23, 2020, the new iPad Air (4th generation) is a step up from last year’s model.

The latest iteration of Apple’s mid-range tablet brings a new generation of processors, a redesigned body, and two new colors to the iPad family.

In this iPad Air review, we’ll take a closer look at how the new iPad Air compares to Apple’s other tablets and what new features are available for users considering an upgrade.

Let’s jump right in.

If you'd rather watch our video comparison between the iPad Air 4th Generation and iPad Pro, check it out below. Otherwise, read on.

 

 

Table of contents

Image of the new iPad Air (2020)

Summary

Right out of the box, the new iPad Air is a stunning entry into Apple’s family of handheld products.

With redesigned bezels and a more spacious display, the 2020 iPad steps away from the design used by its predecessors to more closely resemble the iPad Pro.

Apple has packed a ton of new tech into the new design, including a new processor and an upgraded camera, in order to price the Air as the “mid-range” iPad model.

These upgrades make Apple’s new tablet a top contender for any shopper searching for the right mix of cost, power, and portability.

iPad Air (2020) lying next to iPad Pro on a desk

First Impressions

At first glance, the new iPad Air uses a body style that is vastly different from previous generations.

Apple has opted to move away from sleek curves and wide bezels. In this model, the falloff from the edge to the bottom of the device is crisp and defined. The bezels around the screen are equidistant to the edge.

This is a clear design change from the smooth edges and soft rounding that the company has used in the past.

The resulting design makes the new iPad Air closely resemble the iPad Pro model.

The new design solution removes the home button and provides more screen space for the user, bumping the new Air to a 10.9-inch display, up from 10.5-inches on the previous iteration of the device.

As with its predecessor, the iPad Air still supports TouchID (but not FaceID). Since the home button has been eliminated, the fingerprint sensor now resides within the power button.

Though these changes give the device a more substantial feel, the new iPad still weighs exactly one pound — less than the entry-level iPad (8th Generation) and the Pro models.

Additionally, the new iPad Air also adds two exclusive colors: Green and Sky Blue. Like the Rose Gold option, each color adds a unique, desaturated finish to the device that stops short of being too gaudy or colorful.

Overall, the iPad Air feels very much in line with the iPad Pro, and those similarities don’t stop on the surface.

Playing a game on the new iPad Air (2020)

A14 Processor: New Tech Under the Hood

Without a doubt, the most important upgrade in the latest iPad Air is the new A14 Bionic chip. This chipset controls how the Apple device handles everything from web browsing to video processing on iPadOS.

Because it’s so important, let’s clarify one thing: The term “bionic processor” is just the name for the CPU family to which the chipset belongs. This terminology doesn’t have any bearing on the actual performance of the device.

That being said, the A14 chip is the fastest processor that we’ve seen on an Apple device thus far. This chipset currently runs on the new iPad Air, as well as the iPhone 12, and we’ve seen top-level performance across iPadOS and iOS 14.

The A14 chipset on the iPad Air vastly outperforms the A12z on the iPad Pro in single-core scores (1582 vs. 1121, Geekbench benchmark), but lags in multi-core performance (4186 vs. 4648, Geekbench benchmark). Considering that the Air is armed with only 4GB of RAM, compared to 6GB on the Pro, the operational efficiency is impressive.

But what do all the numbers really mean?

Simply put, the 4th generation iPad Air has more than enough power to perform all but the most difficult tasks with ease. Even editing high-quality images or processing 4k video is easily achievable for this iPad Air with only minor dips in performance.

Compared to the previous generations of the iPad Air, as well as the iPad (8th generation) — the entry-level contender on the market — the latest model is a substantial step up in terms of power and performance. Despite these upgrades, the battery life is similar to other models, clocking in at around 10 hours of web surfing on Wi-Fi.

For everyday use, from note-taking and web browsing to gaming and checking email, the new iPad Air has more than enough horsepower to handle anything you’re likely to throw at it.

Display Comparison watching a movie on the iPad Air (2020)

Display, Cameras, and More

In many ways, the iPad Air feels like a device built from compromises.

On the one hand, it closely resembles the design and layout of the iPad Pro, with an incredible amount of horsepower under the hood. But, on the other hand, it feels like so much of that processor power is limited by Apple’s need to differentiate the Air both from the Pro and from the entry-level, basic iPad.

As a result, many of the upgrades feel very minor or inconsequential.

The display is larger on the Air and comes with the Liquid Retina Display, which packs even more pixels on the screen for brighter, more vibrant colors. But the display still only supports 500 nits of brightness, compared to 600 nits on the Pro.

As with the previous generation, the new iPad Air display is equipped with a wide color display and a True Tone display to help balance brightness, intensity, and color. But the Air’s refresh rate is limited to 60Hz, rather than the Pro’s 120Hz, because Apple’s ProMotion technology was withheld from its feature set.

The same is true for the camera, where users are limited to the 12-megapixel wide camera rather than the two-camera ultra-wide setup on the Pro. Even so, the Air can shoot with a wider aperture than previous models, supports 4k video recording, and slo-mo video at 1080p.

The audio quality is another point of contention. In older generations, the speakers inside the iPad have been positioned to one side, creating awkward sound projection when trying to watch a movie or listen to audio. The new Air tries to fix that by placing one speaker on each side of the device, but the results are mixed. The sound is tinny and thin, a vast difference from the iPad Pro’s four-speaker audio setup.

For Air users, all of this means that the user experience on the Air isn’t as good as it could be. The Air has the chipset to perform as well as the Pro in many cases, but the device is hobbled by its own hardware.

And that feels like a choice that Apple had to make when selecting features because experience on the Pro needed to be better in order to justify the upgraded cost.

iPad Air (2020) with Magic Keyboard

Accessories & Compatibility

One of the key touchpoints for the new iPad Air is accessory compatibility.

The new device replaces the lightning connector with the new USB-C port. While this does eliminate compatibility with some older accessories, it ensures that the new iPad can use both the Magic Keyboard and the Smart Keyboard Folio.

While the Smart Keyboard Folio has been around for a number of years, the Magic Keyboard is a new option, borrowed directly from the Pro line.

Using the Magic Keyboard with the iPad Air, users can create a full workstation — including keyboard and trackpad support — using their iPad as a display in landscape mode.

However, this comes with the caveat that the Folio case is compatible with both the 11-inch iPad Pro and the new Air, meaning that the hole in the back of the case is designed for the Pro’s dual, rear camera setup. For Air users, the cutout will be much larger than necessary.

Additionally, the new Air is compatible with the Apple Pencil (2nd generation), which attaches magnetically to the side of the device. The Air also supports Bluetooth 5.0 for better wireless range and stability.

Overall, the upgrade to USB-C aligns the new iPad Air with the design and compatibility direction that Apple has used for Macs and other iPads.

For users who still use Lightning connectors and have held off on USB-C-enabled devices to avoid compatibility issues, the iPad Air is a likely tipping point.

iPad Air (2020) front camera test showing Paul

Other Tidbits

Here and there, Apple has sprinkled some interesting upgrades that position the Air well as a mid-range hardware device. These changes are subtle and are minor upgrades compared to previous devices.

Overall, these features are unlikely to change the way you use your device, but they’re nice to have.

The cellular version of the iPad supports a wider range of LTE compatibility, which improves network performance and increases connectivity.

The new Air also offers better video stabilization and continuous autofocus — a plus for video power users — and even larger panoramic shots (63-megapixels).

Apple’s new LiDAR scanner didn’t make the cut for the iPad Air, but this may be inconsequential at this stage since users haven’t found a strong use case for these features.

Screenshot of the storage menu of the new iPad Air (2020)

Pricing & Storage Options

With the new iPad Air, Apple is seeking to deliver a device that serves as a good generational stepping stone between the iPad (8th generation) and previous Air models.

Clocking in at $599 for a 64GB model ($729 for cellular), the new Air is nearly $200 cheaper than the Pro. This makes it one of the best tablets on offer because it comes equipped with new hardware and doesn’t break the bank.

Unlike the Pro models, the iPad Air 4 caps out at 256GB on storage options, while the iPad Pro offers up to 1TB of storage at a substantial cost.

Using the Magic Keyboard case ($299) iPad Air users can create a touchscreen laptop setup for a minimum of $899, which is just shy of Apple’s MacBook Air lineup.

Paul holding the iPad Air (2020) and the iPad Pro

Verdict

At the end of the day, the real question is simple: Is the new iPad Air worth it?

For the most part, we believe that it is.

Though limited in some ways, the Air is a great device for everyday use. It’s powerful enough to be a viable laptop replacement for most casual users.

For those who need more control but don’t want to purchase a MacBook Pro, the Magic Keyboard narrows the gap between mobile and laptop by a considerable margin. Combine that with touchscreen and Apple Pencil support, and the iPad Air has some unique advantages over a MacBook running MacOS Big Sur.

The CPU and GPU are powerful enough to handle processor-heavy tasks well, even while multitasking, and the added portability may be a benefit to users who don’t want a dedicated laptop setup at all times.

Compared to the Pro, the new Air is a better fit in terms of cost. While some of the missing features are a letdown, users who don’t see them as dealbreakers probably won’t miss them.

Overall, the Apple iPad Air (4th Generation) is the best iPad for everyday users, and we’d recommend it as our go-to choice in Apple’s current iPad lineup.