iPad Air 2019: A review

The iPad Pro for the rest of us

Apple, iPad, iPad Air, iOS, review
Dan Masaoka/IDG

To all intents and purposes, Apple’s iPad Air is a budget-priced iPad Pro. While it lacks some of the features that make the pro tablet great, for the price you’ll get a slab of glass that should be equal to everything most casual users throw at it.

The iPad Pro for the rest of us

Apple patents the entire experience, right from the moment you tug the small green tag on the packaging to open the iPad Air’s box.

When you pull that tag you’re guided through the whole experience – the entire set-up process takes just a few minutes on an iPad ($329), iPad Pro (from $799) or the all-new iPad Air ($499). (The iPad mini remains my favorite model and costs from $399.)

Apple now offers iPads in a cumbersome range of configurations, but here are the specs for the basic models. 

A spec for everyone

So, where are we on the specifications?

  • iPad mini: 7.9-inch Retina Display, A12 Fusion chip, up to 256GB storage, Apple Pencil 1 support, weighs under 0.7 pounds, 6.1mm thin, Touch ID. From $399.
  • iPad: 9.7-inch Retina Display, A10 Fusion chip, up to 128GB storage, Apple Pencil 1 support, weighs around one pound, 7.5mm thin, Touch ID. From $329.
  • iPad Air: 10.5-inch, A12 Bionic processor, up to 256GB storage, Apple Pencil 1 support, weighs around one pound, 6.1mm thin, Touch ID. From $499.
  • iPad Pro: 12.9-inch or 11-inch Liquid Retina Display, A12X Bionic chip, up to 1TB storage, Apple Pencil 2 support. Weight from 1.03 pounds, 5.9mm thin, Face ID. From $799.

You’ll get around 10 hours battery life in all the tablets, all models are equipped with Wi-Fi, and LTE/4G supporting models are available at a higher price. All the iPads except the iPad Air use Lightning connectors rather than USB-C.

In comparison with the previous Air, Apple claims the new iPad Air delivers a 70% boost in performance and twice the graphics capability.

The specs have it, the specs have it

At the risk of sounding obvious, quick glance at the specs should make it clear that the only iPad better than an iPad Air is an iPad Pro.

The recent iFixIt teardown of the product confirms this, saying:

“Your eyes don’t deceive you! That Air 3 looks an awful lot like the 10.5-inch iPad Pro.”

You even get a Smart connector for peripherals such as Apple Smart Keyboards -- but there are some limitations. For example, you'll see a clear bezel around the screen, not the minimal surround you find in the Pro, despite which the Air's display is nearly 20% larger than that of its predecessor.

Other compromises include the lack of that second set of high-quality speakers you’ll find inside the Pro, and that storage maxes out at 256GB rather than the mighty 1TB of the Pro range. You also get 3GB of RAM in comparison to the 2GB inside the entry-level iPad and 4GB inside the Pro, which makes a difference when using the most demanding apps.

Does it truly deliver iPad Pro performance?

No.

In part this is because the Pro tablets use the souped-up A12X chip, which Macworld’s benchmarks show delivers significant speed enhancement.

There are several other differences that demarcate the difference between Pro and Air.

For example, while on the Pros you get a ProMotion display with a 120Hz refresh rate, the Air delivers 60Hz. That means you’ll find a Pro delivers slightly smoother usage when writing with Apple Pencil of scrolling with touch, at least on paper. I n my experience the difference is pretty minimal, and most people won’t really notice it.

When it comes to using the Air I experienced no significant lag in anything I did. Writing with an Apple Pencil was certainly good enough to annotate a few PDFs, sketch, or take notes. (The iPad Air 2019 also carries a headphone jack – making it the only iPad Pro-class Apple system you can use your headphones with.)

Must or miss?

While it costs more than the entry-level model, iPad Air casts a huge shadow across the entry-level iPad. Its superior display, powerful processor and near iPad Pro performance means I'd now find it hard to recommend the entry-level iPad to many people.

Instead, I’d urge first time customers to see the iPad mini (which costs $70 more than the entry-level iPad) as a starting system for casual use, or to choose the iPad Air.

If you need a tablet for professional use, then you should go Pro.

In most cases, the iPad Air is the iPad Pro for the rest of us. It sets the scene for what an entry-level iPad should be, and it seems inevitable that all the iPads Apple sells will coalesce around this level of performance.

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