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Apple iPad Air (2020) review: This is the one to buy

The iPad Air (2020) is the best tablet for most people

iPad Air 4 (2020)
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The best tablet for most people, the redesigned iPad Air has a modern chassis, fast performance and long battery life — plus, it supports Apple's best accessories.

For

  • Sleek design with thin bezels
  • A14 Bionic chip delivers excellent performance
  • Good battery life
  • Loud, clear speakers
  • Support for Apple Pencil 2 and Magic Keyboard but...

Against

  • Accessories are expensive add-ons
  • No Face ID or headphone jack
  • 64GB base storage
  • Display could be brighter, more vivid
iPad Air 2020 specs

Price: $749 (starting at $599)
Display: 10.9-inch, 2360 x 1640-pixels
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
CPU: A14 Bionic
Cameras: 12MP f/1.8 (rear); 7MP f/2.2 (front)
Video: 4K at 60 fps (1080p at 240 fps Slo-mo)
Battery life: 10:29
Size: 9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches
Weight: 1 pound

With the iPad Air (2020), Apple brings its mid-range tablet closer to parity with the premium iPad Pro. No longer a larger version of the entry-level iPad, the iPad Air was redesigned with slimmer bezels and outfitted with the new A14 Bionic CPU. Now with a larger 10.9-inch panel and support for the Magic Keyboard, the Air borrows the best features of the iPad Pro while omitting niche extras to keep the cost down.

I can't remember reviewing a product with so few shortcomings. The Air 4 has a sleek design, a good 10.9-inch display, long battery life and epic performance for the price. Yes, I wish it had Face ID and a headphone jack, but those are easily overcome with Touch ID and Bluetooth headphones. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Air has nothing to do with the tablet itself, but rather, that the best accessories are sold separately and at an exorbitant price. 

If you can stretch your budget, the iPad Air gets you worthwhile upgrades over the iPad without omitting too many features found on the iPad Pro. As such, the new iPad Air is the easiest tablet to recommend in Apple's lineup, and arguably the best tablet on the market. 

iPad Air price and storage options

Slotting between the iPad ($329) and iPad Pro ($799), the iPad Air starts at $599 with 64GB of storage. Upgrading to 256GB of storage raises the price to $749. An extra $130 on top of the Wi-Fi-only price gets you LTE support for mobile connectivity. 

Apple doesn't sell a 128GB model so you're stuck with limited storage (64GB) or forced to spend $749 on the 256GB model, which is only $50 less than the 128GB iPad Pro (11-inch).

iPad Air design 

The iPad Air looks more similar to the iPad Pro than the entry-level iPad, and that's a good thing. 

Something about the Air gives off cool retro vibes. It could be the rounded machined aluminum corners, sculpted like an old Mercedes racing car, or that single prominent circular camera lens above a small mesh microphone. Whatever it is, the iPad Air's elegance helps to offset the industrial aesthetic. 

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I did have a "come onnn, Apple" moment when I first unboxed the iPad Air and saw silver shining back at me. The Air comes in four other hues — space gray, rose gold, green and sky blue — and this one would be at the bottom of my list. Although I admit, I've grown to appreciate the color, a soft silver reminiscent of the Frost shade Dell uses on the XPS 13

The Air's redesigned chassis has slimmer display bezels, allowing for a smaller footprint and more immersive viewing. Gone are the circular power button and white bezels, and in their place are slim black borders that contrast against the colorful screen. The edge-to-edge panel modernizes the iPad Air, but at the expense of a headphone jack. Now you'll need to pair AirPods or other wireless headphones when you're in a meeting or privately listening to music.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Touch ID button on the previous model was relocated to an oblong power button on the top edge of the new model. It still works reliably; resting my fingertip on the button signed me in almost instantly. Still, of the features that didn't trickle down from the iPad Pro to the iPad Air, I miss Face ID the most. 

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

At 9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches and 1 pound, the iPad Air is thinner and lighter than the Microsoft Surface Go 2 (9.7 x 6.9 x 0.3 inches, 1.2 pounds) and about the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 (10 x 6.5 x 0.25 inches and 1.1 pounds). The 11-inch iPad Pro has almost the same dimensions and weight as the iPad Air, coming in at 8.7 x 7 x 0.23 inches and 1 pound. 

iPad Air display 

The iPad Air has a 10.9-inch, 2360 x 1640-pixel Liquid Retina LED display with True Tone. It's a nice screen, but not the most colorful and it lacks the silky smooth 120Hz refresh rate found on the iPad Pro. 

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

It doesn't help that I recently reviewed the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus, its 12.4-inch OLED display being the best tablet screen around. The Air's display looks dull in comparison. Still, I enjoyed watching the trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife on the iPad Air. While not the most saturated, colors on the 11-inch panel looked natural. The green lines in Paul Rudd's plaid shirt were a pleasing emerald hue and the screen was sharp enough for me to see strands of white hair in his full beard. 

The measurements we clocked with our colorimeter were as I expected: good, not great. The iPad Air's display covers 102% of the sRGB color gamut, making it slightly more colorful than the display on the iPad (97%) but not as vibrant as those on the iPad Pro (123%), Surface Go 2 (107%) and Galaxy Tab S7 (152%). 

With 440 nits of average brightness, the iPad Air's screen is visible outside on bright days. It practically matches the category average (442 nits) but is dimmer than the iPad Pro (559 nits), iPad (484 nits) and Galaxy Tab S7 (499 nits). The Air gets brighter than the Surface Go 2 (408 nits).

iPad Air Apple Pencil Gen 2

The Apple Pencil 2nd Gen is one of the best tools for artists drawing on a digital canvas. About the size of a standard pencil and similar in girth, the Pencil is nicely balanced and the flat side makes it easy to grip. 

That flat edge attaches magnetically to the side of the iPad Air for charging and pairing. If you're as absent-minded as me, the magnetic strip will prevent you from misplacing the stylus. Just snap the pen onto the side of the slate and don't worry about remembering where you last placed it. It took me a few tries to find the sweet spot, but once I did, the pen began charging and stayed glued to the top edge of the tablet no matter how vigorously I shook the slate. 

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Writing and drawing with the Apple Pencil feels great. When Apple launched iPadOS, it dropped the Apple Pencil's latency from 20 milliseconds to 9ms so scribbling lines or handwriting notes feels almost as instantaneous as putting ink to paper. That being said, artists don't get the benefit of the 120Hz panel on the iPad Pro. 

I had fun drawing an admittedly elementary picture of flowers and a sunset in the Notes app. My picture is drawn terribly but not any worse than if I'd used a pen and paper. 

iPad Air Magic Keyboard

I'll refer you to my Magic Keyboard review for my full thoughts on the accessory. The TL;DR version is that the keyboard is comfortable to type on but the folio is too rigid and the floating hinge doesn't rotate far enough. And don't get me started on the price — $299 for a keyboard accessory is insulting, with or without "magic."

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

If you aren't on a strict budget, the Magic Keyboard is a necessary accessory for the iPad Air to double as a laptop; for all of my complaints, the keys are snappy and the floating hinge lets you comfortably read the display. The 3.9 x 1.8-inch touchpad underneath the keys has a smooth glass surface and responds quickly to swipes and gestures.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Unfortunately, you can't actually use the iPad as a tablet when it's attached to the accessory, and the heft added by the keyboard will be a deal-breaker for some. I also find it odd that Apple recycles the Magic Keyboard from the 11-inch iPad Pro instead of selling an iPad Air-specific variant with a different camera cutout. 

iPad Air 4

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

If you want a keyboard for typing reports or drafting emails and don't want to spend so much, the $179 Smart Keyboard Folio is another option. Apple didn't send us one for this review, but my past experiences using the keyboard haven't left a good impression. The keys aren't backlit and they feel mushy compared to those on the Magic Keyboard. And unlike the Magic Keyboard, the Smart Keyboard Folio doesn't have a touchpad so you don't get the full transformation from tablet to laptop. 

iPad Air audio 

Reminiscing of my middle school emo days, I played Box Car Racer's "There Is" on the iPad Air using the YouTube Play app. Tom Delonge's distinctive voice filled my three-story townhouse loud enough for my wife to hear it playing upstairs while she worked out in the basement. I comfortably listened to the ballad at 50% volume with the tablet in hand, and I've got to say, the stereo speakers sound great. 

Switching over to The Shins' "Sleeping Lessons," the keyboard that sets the tempo for the song was audible over the ethereal vocals and light strumming of an acoustic guitar. It sounded well balanced until the crescendo when the cymbals became a tad shrill. Skipping to something with more heft, I demoed Glass Animals' "Heat Wave" and was impressed by how much depth the speakers captured. I'm not talking skull-rattling bass but a nice thud to bob your head to was more than I anticipated.

iPad Air performance 

The first device shipping with an A14 Bionic processor, the iPad Air is the fastest tablet in Apple's arsenal until new iPad Pro models are released. This tablet also gives us our first look at the chips expected to debut next month in new ARM-based MacBooks

So, how does the A14 fare? It demolished the competition in this price range. I had no problems browsing the web on one side of the screen while taking hand-written notes on the other side, all while YouTube Music played in the background. There wasn't any lag when I streamed an FC Bayern game on the ESPN app and photo edits I made in Photoshop Express worked flawlessly until I hit one paywall after the next. 

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Air scored a 4,262 on the Geekbench 5 overall performance test, crushing the Galaxy Tab S7 (3,074, Snapdragon 865+), the Surface Go 2 (1,563, Core m3-8100Y), and the iPad 8 (2,685, A12 Bionic). Only the iPad Pro (4,720), armed with an 8-core A12Z Bionic chip, notched a higher score than the Air. It's worth pointing out that the Surface Pro 7, using a laptop-grade Core i7 U-series chip, narrowly beat the iPad Air with a score of 4,443.  

Video editors won't find fault with the iPad Air's performance. The slate needed only 27 seconds to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution after applying a color filter and transition in the Adobe Rush app. That same task took the iPad Pro 34 seconds and the iPhone 11 Pro needed 46 seconds.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

As for the graphics, I played the mobile version of Sid Meier's Civilization VI on the iPad Air at stable frame rates. Of course, it doesn't look as good as it does on a proper gaming rig but everything ran smoothly.

iPad Air battery life and charger 

The Air reached Apple's 10 hours of battery life estimate plus another half hour on our in-house test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), powering off after 10 hours and 29 minutes. 

Anything beyond 10 hours is a great result, but other tablets endure for longer on a charge. The Surface Go 2 (11:39), Galaxy Tab S7 (13:08) and iPad (12:57) will get you a few extra hours of use while the iPad Pro 12.9-inch nearly matched the iPad Air at 10:16. The iPad Air and Pro fall just shy of the 10:56 category average.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The iPad Air got the upgrade the iPhone 12 missed out on. Replacing the Lightning port is a USB Type-C input. And unlike the new iPhone 12 variants, the iPad Air ships with a USB-C charging brick and a Type-C-to-Type-C cable for fast charging. 

In our tests, the iPad Air charged to 25% in 30 minutes, so you can expect a full charge in a few hours.

iPad Air cameras 

The Air has a single 12MP, f/1.8 lens, forgoing the secondary ultra-wide-angle camera on the iPad Pro. I don't mind the omission, and I doubt there are many professional tablet photographers out there who would.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The rear camera takes great shots in good lighting. This photo of my Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones is sharp and the colors are accurate. I can clearly read the ink bottles after zooming in and the warm brown tone of the patio table is spot-on.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Low-light shots weren't as impressive. There is a layer of digital noise visible across this photo of my first-attempt Halloween pumpkin and the light shining in from behind is blown out.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I'm impressed by the 7MP, f/2.2 front-facing camera. It might stand out on the specs sheet, but a selfie I snapped under bright lighting is detailed and colorful. I could see loose strands of hair in my beard from when I got lazy shaving during the pandemic, and the greenish-blue tint to my eyes is just visible when you zoom in.

iPadOS 14 

Merging the best of iOS and macOS, iPadOS 14 adds various features to improve multitasking while retaining the simplicity of a mobile OS. Redesigned widgets now come in various sizes and show more information. 

A new feature called Smart Stack uses AI to automatically surface the best widgets at the right time based on your time, location and activity. For example, if my favorite soccer team, FC Bayern, were playing, a sports widget might tell me the live score. You can swipe through this stack of widgets to find more relevant info.

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple also redesigned the sidebar on various apps to maximize the amount of info being displayed. Photos, Music, Shortcuts, Voice Memos, Calendar and more now have drop-down or sidebar menus where you'll find relevant tools and controls. 

Search was updated to show the most relevant info and its new compact design doesn't take up as much screen real estate. You can now start a search within apps and see as-you-type suggestions. Other improvements were made to the Apple Pencil and a new Scribbles app lets you handwrite in any text field. 

Bottom line 

iPad Air 4 (2020)

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple's iPad Air is the tablet most people should buy. With a redesigned chassis, the new Air flaunts thin display bezels to go along with a fast A14 Bionic chip and support for the Magic Keyboard. 

Everything else about the tablet is as good as you would expect. The 10.9-inch panel, while not the best in the category, looks great, and the iPad Air lasts longer on a charge than the iPad Pro. On top of that, you get loud, crisp speakers and capable cameras.  

Here is my advice. If you just want a tablet that runs iPadOS, get the iPad. However, if these upgrades appeal to you: a larger display, faster CPU, a more modern design and proper accessories, the Air is well worth the extra $270 (especially when you factor in storage capacity). 

So what about the iPad Pro? The main advantages the Pro has over the iPad Air are a Face ID scanner and the 12.9-inch display option, but that larger version costs $999. Other benefits, like the LiDAR scanner, dual-camera setup, and 90Hz display, simply aren't worth the $400 price gap for most users. 

The bottom line? If you're torn between the iPad and iPad Air, save up for the mid-range model. Can't decide between the iPad Air and iPad Pro? Go with the Air — you'll save money and get all the best features found on the 11-inch iPad Pro.