A great, versatile tablet that struggles to establish an identity
Two years ago, the iPad Air wowed us, and the 2022 model repeats the feat: it’s an impressively versatile and capable tablet. The powerful new M1 chip is welcome, and the extra punch will be appreciated by digital artists and gamers especially, even if it doesn’t offer a clear everyday benefit in the way improved battery life would. The iPad Air 2022 is also now dangerously close in price to the iPad Pro, which has seen discounts since its launch last year, and it’s harder to pin down the Air’s place in the iPad lineup as a result. But this is a great tablet for a spot of word processing, digital sketching, gaming, messaging and more. It’s all the things that make Apple’s iPad great, in a stylish design with some attractive color options.
- Great design
- Speedy performance
- Incredibly versatile
- Too close in cost to iPad Pro
- Battery life only average
- 64GB is too little storage for base model
The iPad Air 2022, also known colloquially as the iPad Air 5, has a tough act to follow in the shape of the show-stopping Air 2020.
That model brought a striking new design, more power than many expected, and was the perfect showcase for iPadOS. The new Air is basically more of the same, with a higher-power chipset.
If that sounds like we’re saying it’s a boring tablet, it’s far from the case – we’ve really enjoyed our time with the new iPad. The 2022 Air arrives at the same price point as its predecessor but ups the power, adds 5G and brings an all-new front camera for better video calling.
The angular, industrial design from the iPhone 12 and iPad Pro lineup returns, allowing the Apple Pencil 2 to clip to the top of the tablet and be instantly accessible for sketching or note-taking; it also charges when docked.
It’s annoying that the magnet isn’t a little more powerful, as while it’ll hold the Pencil firmly when you’re carrying the iPad Air around, it’s possible to knock it off when sliding the tablet into a bag or putting it down on a car seat.
The new iPad Air is beautifully made and lightweight, with the 10.9-inch screen the ideal size for viewing your apps, emails and movies on the go.
We did encounter one issue: the Touch ID sensor is still housed in the long, thin power button at the top of the tablet – and, as on the previous model, it rattles slightly under the finger, which really diminishes the premium feel.
(Note: This rattle wasn’t present in all the review models we tried, but it was disconcerting enough to be an issue with our main review device).
The screen is bright enough, with decent color reproduction for all tasks. The brightness isn’t at the level of the iPad Pro (500 nits vs 600 nits peak brightness), but most people would struggle to see the difference if they’re not editing video or closely studying photos.
We’re still not huge fans of the Apple Pencil as a stylus, as no matter what people say, it doesn’t mimic the sensation of pencil on paper in a way that would convince us to move away from scribbling on dead trees. If Apple could develop some clever haptic means of mimicking the flow of lead over paper then we’d be all over it, and the Apple Pencil in general; as it is, the rubber tip still slips too freely over the display.
That said, the amount of things you can do with the Pencil is impressive. The array of sketching and photo-editing apps now available for the iPad means you can turn the iPad into a brilliant creative tool – although you willneed to spend $129 / £119 / AU$189 to add the stylus to your arsenal, which is quite an outlay on top of the cost of the tablet.
The iPad Air 2022’s M1 chip brings a big power boost, putting the tablet shoulder to shoulder with the iPad Pro series in terms of raw power.
There was nothing at all we could throw at the Air that remotely compromises its performance – in both benchmark testing and real-world use it proved far superior to the iPad Air of two years ago, and it’s rare to see such a step change between iterations.
The M1 chip is made for those who want to manipulate 3D models smoothly in Procreate, or who want to run the most graphically-intensive games (or code for them) on the go. Want to seamlessly jump from The Last Campfire to Affinity Photo to GarageBand? This tablet can absolutely do it. The switch isn’t instant, as apps are placed into stasis when not on screen, but the time it takes for an app to return to life is minimal.
The iPadOS 15.4 software that the new iPad Air runs on is good… but only good for a tablet. And this ties into our biggest issue with new Air – who, and what, is it really for? It’s goodat a lot of things, but it isn’t the best at many of those things.
iPadOS is a great operating system for a tablet, with loads of easy-to-use apps, and a slick user interface that allows you to jump between high-power tasks. Pair it with the Magic Keyboard (as long as you’ve got another $299 / £299 / AU$499 going spare) and the Apple Pencil, and the iPad Air can be a digital sketchbook, high-end gaming device, highly portable laptop and entertainment center all in one.Advertisement
But… there are better options out there for all of those tasks. We’ve tried to write this review on the iPad itself, and for the most part it’s been possible, and at times really helpful when we needed a small, lightweight laptop that we could just pull out while waiting for a train and type a few words.
However, the keyboard and trackpad feel a little cramped, and even though the Safari and Chrome browsers can offer a true desktop experience, it’s still nowhere near as expansive as on a full laptop.
We couldn’t work with spreadsheets with quite the same level of control. Google Docs doesn’t respond as well as Apple Pages when you’re trying to edit documents. Watching movies is pleasant, but the dual speakers and LCD screen don’t offer the best viewing experience. It’s a powerful mobile gaming experience, but it’s not the best.
And while iPadOS is good, it’s still not primed for productivity – and 64GB as a base storage level simply isn’t enough when apps these days are regularly coming in at over 1GB.
For a lot of the things listed above – digital sketching, gaming, movie watching and so on – the iPad Pro 11 is superior, and not too dissimilar in cost now that it’s been out for a year.
A dedicated laptop is still better for working on the go, and if you just want iPadOS and the great range of apps, then the base model iPad is perfect already.
The iPad Air 2022 is a good tablet for sure. It performs well at nearly everything you’d buy it for. But for all those tasks there’s something better out there for a similar (or even lower) cost. Advertisement
The new iPad Air is one of the best iPads – and one of the best tablets – around, and you won’t regret buying it; but a few key upgrades to things like storage and screen quality would have gone a long way. Ultimately it comes down to whether you want a tablet that performs most tasks well, and many very well, but aren’t willing to spend the extra for the iPad Pro.
iPad Air 2022 release date and price
- iPad Air 2022 release date: March 18
- iPad Air 2022 price: from $599 / £569 / AU$929
The iPad Air 2022 price starts at $599 / £569 / AU$929 for the 64GB Wi-Fi only model, and goes up if you want 5G connectivity, 256GB storage or both.
|Configuration||US price||UK price||AU price|
The iPad Air 2022 release date is confirmed as March 18. It’s worth pointing out that the last-gen iPad Air was very hard to buy at launch, so check out our hub with all the iPad Air 5 order info, including when and where you can buy Apple’s latest tablet.
iPad Air 2022: Design and display
The design of the iPad Air 2022 will impress the second you get it into your hands. The sharp, angular edges don’t hurt to hold – they give the sense of a premium build, with a rigidity that tells you you’re holding a well put-together product.
The anodized aluminum, which comes in a variety of colors (we’re into the blue color we were sent for review) feels smooth to the touch, and the flat edges allow for the Apple Pencil to snap easily to the side for storage and charging – although, as we’ve mentioned, it can detach a little too easily.
The iPad Air 2022 weighs just 469g (Wi-Fi) or 478g (5G), and is easy to carry in the hand and in a bag. True, if you place it in the weighty Magic Keyboard, which is the accessory that we recommend you buy (assuming you can afford it), the weight goes up to over 1kg – but that’s still less than many laptops, and with as much power under the hood, so it’s a worthy trade-off.
The one issue we have with the iPad Air’s build quality is the Touch ID sensor, which is located in the power button on the top side (or on the left side, if you’re using the tablet in landscape mode). On our main review device it moved slightly under the finger when pressed, which instantly diminished the ‘premium feel’ – although a second Air we tested didn’t display the issue to the same extent.
Beyond that the build quality is excellent. The USB-C connector on the bottom of the tablet (or on the right-hand side when in landscape) is easy to plug into for charging, and doesn’t get in the way too much.
Apple built a beautiful tablet in 2020 with the iPad Air 4, and the new model is identical (to the point where we would have got constantly confused if our 2022 and 2020 models weren’t different colors). It looks like an iPad Pro Lite might if such a device existed – and that’s how it functions in daily use.Today’s best Apple Magic Keyboard (iPad Air 4th Generation) deals
The iPad Air 2022 display hasn’t been upgraded over its predecessor’s, and while that’s not an issue in terms of usability, it lacks the pop and verve of the OLED display on the iPhone 13 series – and on rival tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra.
The 10.9-inch screen is great for portability, and you’ll quickly get used to the smaller dimensions compared to a typical laptop – as long, that is, as you’re not regularly using spreadsheets, or navigating websites that need a wider field of view in order for you to see everything at once; we found that doing either soon became frustrating, and had us reaching for the laptop so we could get more done.
It’s hard to not to compare the iPad Air screen to that of the iPad Pro 11, which has an almost-identical size of display (11 inches, as the name suggests); but while they’re both using IPS LCD technology, the Pro brings smoother 120Hz ProMotion scrolling and greater brightness.
While most won’t notice this change when watching films, if you’re someone who needs extra fluidity and brightness when editing movies or scrutinizing video, it’s worth the extra to upgrade.
As we mentioned in our two-minute review, we weren’t hugely impressed when viewing 4K HDR movie content on Apple’s own TV app. It’s definitely not bad looking, and quickly allows you to become immersed in your content of choice, but you don’t get those moments when the picture ‘wows’.
The display is nicely anti-reflective, to the point that during our testing we never found that we couldn’t see what was on the screen because of a backlight – that’s often an underrated feature in a tablet, especially one that’s docked on a keyboard and needs to be viewed at a specific angle.
While not part of the display, the speakers on the new iPad Air are only average compared to the booming, rich sound of the iPad Pro, and even the iPhone 13 Pro Max – and great sound can dramatically improve what you’re watching.
It’s worth noting that the iPhone 13 Pro costs nearly twice as much as the new Air, so you would expect superior audio from it.
iPad Air 2022: Specs, performance and Apple Pencil
When it comes to the internal spec, the iPad Air 2022 is very close in performance to the iPad Pro range, which is impressive when you consider that the list price of the more powerful model is $799 / £749 / AU$1,199. Advertisement
However, given that a year has passed since we last got a new iPad Pro, the price of the smaller model has come down to the point where you can get it for almost the same price as the new iPad Air.
The main issue that most will have with the iPad Air’s specs is that the 64GB base storage just isn’t good enough for a table in 2022. Download a few movies on Disney Plus and they’ll gobble up 3 or 4GB of that. And GarageBand is pretty hefty, and that’s pre-installed (though it is really good).
The sketching apps, such as Affinity Photo, Sketchbook and Procreate, are all large in size too, and most high-end games are a GB or two.
You’ll be able to manage 64GB if you’re careful about what you download, but if Apple had launched the iPad Air with the base model coming in at 128GB we’d be far more inclined to recommend it here.
Okay, so that’s the annoying thing about the specifications of the new iPad Air out of the way, and we can get into what we liked – and what we liked most is that this tablet is fast. Really fast, thanks to the new M1 chip inside.
We side-by-side tested it with the iPad Air 2020, which uses the A14 Bionic chip that’s also in the iPhone 12, and the new Air was so much better at multitasking, and was able to run games at double the frame rate in our benchmarking tests.
We pushed things a little bit, speedily manipulating 3D objects in the popular app Procreate, and again the Air 2022 was appreciably smoother and faster. We never really felt that the previous iPad Air was slow, but this new version is just so much smoother. Apple has really amped up the power here, and it shows – and if punch is a big consideration for you, then you can confidently choose the iPad Air over the iPad Pro.
One other key spec: 5G is now onboard, meaning that if you go for the pricier iPad Air model you can get the blazing-fast data speeds on the go, coverage and provider permitting. Apple is talking this up like it’s a big upgrade, but most people will use their tablet in Wi-Fi and would consider, for the price, that it would be a given that 5G would be included in the cellular version.
The Apple Pencil is a useful, and for some essential, upgrade to your iPad purchase – although it’s been around for so long now that you can be surprised that it’s actually an optional extra – and an expensive one at that.
The range of things it can do, from a double-tap to switch between eraser and pen, all the way up to a dazzling array of pressure sensitivity levels in high-end photo-editing apps, shows how versatile the Pencil is.
We found ourselves enjoying digital sketching, image manipulation and note-taking with the stylus – but Apple’s notion that you can scribble anything more than brief notes, instead of using the keyboard, is nonsensical. The slippery nature of the glass means handwriting never feels or looks good, and only with incredible concentration could we get decent results, and forgo the much more handy keyboard.
Definitely invest in the Pencil if you’re going to use apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, Affinity Photo, Sketchbook or Procreate; otherwise you’ll manage perfectly well without it.
iPad Air 2022: iPadOS
iPadOS 15.4 is a nice, iterative update to Apple’s tablet operating system, with some neat tweaks making it more usable.
No matter what we wanted to do on the new iPad Air, we didn’t find it a chore; our finger swipes were registered smoothly (although in some games we struggled to activate the gesture control to jump between apps as the action got in the way), and the animations were fluid.Advertisement
We’d recommend that those coming from older iPads, and are tempted to just copy over their normal homepage setup to the new device, start afresh. The trays on the far right of the home screens are slick, and an easy place to find all your apps; and having a clear desktop is so much more refreshing than having to barrel through multiple screens to get to the app you need.
We’ve been using the new iPadOS multitasking features for years now, and with iPadOS 15 we finally feel confident that we can achieve most things we want to without wondering if some windows are going to resize, some snap across and some just hover irritatingly on top.
We were able to open a spreadsheet and copy across stats from Google Analytics in two ways: one with the small window floating for a quick update, and another where had the two apps fully open side by side – and both worked seamlessly.
Another instance saw us trying to update a doc with facts from Gmail – this also worked really well, and we can finally say that third-party apps (well, the ones from Google Suite we use for work) seem to be on a par with those from Apple.
However, as we’ve mentioned, when you try to push the iPad Air to be more of a laptop it quickly starts to reveal the limitations of the software.
Opening text boxes on third-party software, which are usually instantly accessible on Windows machines, takes an extra click or two. Each time you open a new tab on Google Chrome you need to tap into the search bar to enter text and start looking on the web – when clearly that’s what you’re going to want to do if you’ve just opened a tab.Advertisement
Using Google Docs is a little clunkier when using the mousepad compared to Apple Pages – it’s not a massive problem, but it doesn’t feel as slick as using a laptop, unless you’re using Apple’s own software.
If you’re someone who’s wedded to Pages, Safari and all the other apps Apple offers (for free, we might add, which is quite a big advantage) then you won’t notice as much of an issue, but stray too far from that ecosystem and you might get a little frustrated – or at least find yourself yearning for the more expansive user interface of a dedicated laptop.
iPad Air 2022: Battery and camera
Apple is claiming that the iPad Air should be good for around 10 hours of video watching, or nine hours of continuous surfing and wandering around multiple apps.
We’d say that’s largely accurate, although we had a few instances where the battery ran down a little faster than we’d have expected.
We managed to drain the battery in a couple of ways: firstly when trying to download a game with spotty 5G coverage, which depleted the battery to nearly dead in under five hours, and then when writing heavily in Apple Pages with the screen on for four hours, which killed nearly 75% – although in that case the battery held out for around seven hours.
Equally, when doing a spot of writing while on the train to work, we managed to drop a 100% battery down to under 85% within an hour, connected to Wi-Fi and browsing the web / writing an article. Advertisement
Apple claims for battery life feel about right most of the time, but there were a few occasions when the numbers felt a little on the generous side.
However, with less-intense usage, the iPad Air 2020 is good at sipping quietly at power. It can go for an entire 12-hour stint and only use around 5% of the battery, so if you just need it for an hour here and there while on a weekend away, you should be okay to leave the charger at home.
Speaking of the charger, it’s a shame that Apple has only included a 20W charging block in the box – although we should be pleased there’s one in there at all, of course, with Apple and other brands increasingly cutting back on providing chargers and other in-the-box extras.
In our tests, it took nearly three hours to fully charge the iPad Air 2022, although it was juiced up to 25% in just half an hour (exactly the same time as the old model), so the quick charge is there, even if it’s not been improved with the M1 chip.
If you have a MacBook-sized charging block you could get this thing up to full power in less time, you can do so – however, we’ve now tested this fully, and it’s not really going to get you there that much quicker.
The 20W charging block will fill your battery in 2:35, where the 30W power adaptor will achieve it in 2:11. Useful if you’ve got one, not worth the money if you don’t.
The snapper on the back of the iPad Pro is a 12MP single sensor, which is more than enough for a tablet of this power, and at this price.
The iPad Pro range comes with two cameras and a Lidar sensor, meaning you can be more forensic with your close-up photos, as well as truly scan a room to create a 3D render.
We still aren’t seeing large numbers of apps emerging that make real use of the Lidar sensor, so its omission from the iPad Air makes sense in terms of saving on manufacturing costs.
The M1 chip, combined with a strong sensor in the camera array, means pictures from the rear camera look fine, with plenty of color, sharpness and depth.
Things get a bit grainy when you zoom in, but given that most images should be taken to support an app’s function – for instance, taking a quick picture to edit or capturing someone’s motion for analysis in a biology app – we don’t need the high-end sensors found on the iPhone 13 Pro Max, for instance.
However, the f/1.8 aperture camera is also good enough at taking low-light photos, so the Air can do the job in most situations – but given that the sensor hasn’t been upgraded since the last iPad Air, it’s clear that the rear camera isn’t a priority for Apple here.
The front-facing camera has been improved though, with a 12MP ultra-wide sensor allowing Apple to add in Center Stage, the feature that keeps you in the middle of the frame when you’re on a FaceTime call.
It’s neat enough in use, with the camera panning around (digitally) to make sure you don’t go out of frame, and allow the person speaking to be the focus.
The quality of the video feed from the new sensor is good, and we had no issue with video calls. Add in a pair of AirPods, and you’ve got a top video-conferencing machine here – or at least you would have, but for the fact Apple has kept the front-facing camera at the top of the iPad Air when its held in portrait mode.
It means you’re never looking directly at the speaker – would it be so hard to add another sensor into the long side of the tablet, so that it would become a great video conferencing tool when placed on a desk in landscape orientation, whether propped on a stand or used with the Magic Keyboard.
Should I buy the iPad Air 2022?
Buy it if…
You want a tablet that can do it all
The iPad Air 2022 has unbridled utility, as the sheer range of tasks it can accomplish well is impressive. It’s a brilliant sketch pad, movie screen, internet browser and gaming machine, as well as functioning – to an extent –as a laptop replacement.
You’re a digital artist on a (slight) budget
The raw power of the M1 chip is very much on display here, and if you like manipulating 3D objects or working with multi-layer images, you’re onto a winner here… you can save money over the iPad Pro, and still use the apps you love with ease.
You want to express yourself
It’s perhaps overlooked that the iPad Air range comes in a range of attractive colors – the chance to add a little flavor of personality to a tablet is important to many.
Don’t buy it if…
You can stretch to the iPad Pro
For not a lot more money you can get the iPad Pro 11, which has a superior screen, better cameras, thinner bezels and more internal storage, with stronger speakers too.
You’re into spreadsheets
We’re not saying you can’t edit spreadsheets on the go – we just updated one while writing this section, and then flicked back to writing – but if you’re someone who wants to update a lot of cells quickly, it’s a frustrating experience.
You want a great movie experience on the go
The iPad Air 2022 is a good movie device, but it’s not brilliant. The two stereo speakers are loud, but not rich, and the 10.9-inch LCD screen lacks the verve and pop of the OLED or mini-LED screens on other devices from Apple’s range.
By Gareth Beavis