iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Should you upgrade?

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5
(Image credit: Future/Apple)

The Apple iPad Air 6 is here two years after the launch of the Apple iPad Air 5. But which one belongs in your arms? That depends.

Apple plugs its M2 chip into the iPad Air 6, which is a generational jump from the M1 chip in the iPad Air 5. But how big is that jump in performance? And what about the display? Surprise! We now have two different sizes of iPad Air 6 (11-inches and 13-inches), so you can expand your visual palate.

We covered Apple's "Let Loose" event in our live blog, capturing each exciting moment, so if you missed the event, go check that out for a look at everything Apple announced.

However, for our iPad Air aficionados, here's a breakdown of the specs and what Apple says about the latest Apple iPad Air 6 versus what we know about the iPad Air 5. We won't decide on an official winner today, since we have to wait until we get this into our lab. But Apple gave us enough details that we have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 iPad Air 6iPad Air 5
Starting Price$599 (11-inch) or $799 (13-inch)$599 (Typically discounted to $499)
Display13 (2732 x 2048) and 11-inch sizes (2360 x 1640)10.9-inch (2360 x 1640 pixels) Liquid Retina
Storage128GB - 1TB64GB - 256 GB

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Price

While it originally started at $599, right now you can get the Apple iPad Air 5 for $499 @ Best Buy. That comes with a 10.9-inch (2360 x 1640) Liquid Retina display with True Tone, Apple M1 Chip, 8GB RAM, 64GB of storage, 12MP wide-angle rear camera, and a 12MP front camera.

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad Air 6 starts at $599 (11-inch) and $799 (13-inch) and is outfitted with an 11-inch (2360 x 1640) or 13-inch (2732 x 2048) display, Apple M2 chip, 128GB of storage, 12MP front and rear camera. We're still waiting on the RAM included. Apple now offers storage up to 1TB in the Air, but that will set you back $1,099 on the 11-inch or $1,299 on the 13-inch. 

A jump from iPad Air 5 to iPad Air 6 is currently $100. I would recommend going for the Air 6, the jump in chip performance alone more than justifies the cost gap. You also get double the storage in the base model. 

However, the 13-inch model and higher-end configurations might be tough to justify the cost, so we're considering only the base models right now.

The overall price for both is egregious when you start calculating that the new Magic Keyboard costs $299 and the Apple Pencil Pro costs $129. That's a major hit to your bank account.

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Design

An iPad is an iPad. You can imagine it like how you imagine a elephant (yes, that was an Inception reference). But let's break down the finer features of the iPad Air 6 and Air 5.

(Image credit: Apple)

The Air 5 clocked in at 1 pound and 9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches, while the Air 6 (11-inch) comes in at 1 pound and 9.7 x 7 x 0.24 inches. The size and weight are virtually the same. However, the 13-inch model weighs in at 1.4 pounds and 11 x 8.5 x 0.24 inches.

The Air 5 is offered in five colors: blue, gray, pink, purple, and Starlight (off-white). The Air 6 actually reduces its color palette to four colors, including blue (looks more like mint), purple, Starlight (off-white), and Space Gray. I'm not a big fan of how the colors got toned down this time around.

Screenshots from Apple "Let Loose" May 7 2024 event

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Display

The iPad Air 5 debuted with a 10.9-inch display with a 2360 x 1640 resolution. While Apple labels the Air 6 models 11-inch and 13-inch, they're actually 10.9-inch and 12.9-inch, as labeled in its asterisk addendums. 

The iPad Air 6 11-inch model offers the same 2360 x 1640 resolution as the previous model, while the 13-inch model features a higher res 2732 x 2048 display. Apple claims that the former can get up to 500 nits of brightness, while the latter will feature 600 nits of brightness. 

The iPad Air 6 didn't leap a 120Hz panel like we expected, which would be up from 60Hz on the iPad Air 5. This would've made for a smoother experience, but in practice most people don't notice this difference unless viewed side-by-side, so while it would be a welcome upgrade, this alone wouldn't be worth choosing the Air 6 over the Air 5. You can still get a 120Hz panel on the new iPad Pro.

Screenshots from Apple "Let Loose" May 7 2024 event

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Features

Let's talk about the biggest difference between the iPad Air 6 versus Air 5: the chip. The latest iPad Air upgrade to the Apple M2 chip. How big is the jump between the M1 vs. M2? Apple claims it offers a 50% performance increase. We'll see how that holds up once we can get one in our lab for testing.

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple also claims that the iPad Air 6 can get up to 10 hours of battery life, which matches our previous tests of the Air 5 surviving 10 hours and 9 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test. Apple's held onto 10 hours as the ideal for iPad battery life for years now, so we would be surprised if the Air 6 breaks too far from that.

Tthe new front-facing 12MP camera on the Air 6 moves to the top of the tablet when it is in landscape orientation rather than portrait on the Air 5. This is a more logical fit for the way people commonly use the iPad during video calls. The lens is ultrawide, again preferable to the Air 5's wide camera for video calling. That means the camera can capture more of the surroundings than before, but Center Stage will ensure that you stay centered in the shot.

The iPad Air 6 is outfitted with a new speaker system that features landscape stereo audio, which offers "double the bass" according to Apple. The Air 5's speakers were located at the bottom of the portrait mode.

Screenshots from Apple "Let Loose" May 7 2024 event

(Image credit: Apple)

iPad Air 6 vs. Air 5: Which should you buy?

The iPad Air 6 sweeps across the board with massive improvements, from raw performance and size to its camera and audio. All that for $100 more? It's hard not to root for the Air 6. It seems like the better choice all around.

However, if you already own an iPad Air 5, I don't recommend buying a brand new one. Apple does offer credit for a trade in, ranging between $40 to $580. It's worth going through the process on the site to see how much it's worth, but if you're going to pay more than $100 to $150, I don't see how that's worth it.

Then there's the 13-inch model, which comes in at $799. Unless you really need more screen space, I can't advocate for getting this model. You get a bigger display with more resolution, but that's it. I really don't recommending using an iPad as a laptop if that's what you're thinking.

The announcements are officially over, but if you can check out our Apple "Let Loose" event live blog for all of the latest details we captured before and after the event.


Rami Tabari

Rami Tabari is an Editor for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline attached to the latest Souls-like challenge.