Apple iPad Air 2020 review: a cheaper iPad Pro for the rest of us

Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor
·7-min read

The latest tablet on the block is the totally revamped iPad Air with a modern design and plenty of power.

The fourth-generation iPad Air costs £579 and fits in between the £329 iPad and the £769 11in iPad Pro.

The new iPad Air ditches the older design still used by the basic iPad, which still has a home button, large bezels around the screen and curved edges. The new tablet is practically identical to the 11in iPad Pro, matching its height, width, aluminium back and flat sides. It has thin bezels around the screen, although the display is a smidgen smaller at 10.9in on the diagonal compared with the Pro’s 11in, giving it a stunning and modern look.

The display is really good – colourful, crisp and bright. It is significantly better than the basic iPad but doesn’t have the faster “ProMotion” refresh rate of the iPad Pro, so doesn’t look quite as slick when scrolling around the home screen, apps and sites.

The tablet has really good speakers that are stereo when held in landscape orientation. It also has a magnetic wireless charger for the optional Apple Pencil stylus (£119) on one edge, a USB-C port for charging and connecting accessories such as card readers, plus a pogo-pin smart connector on the back for attaching keyboards and cases.

The seven-megapixel selfie camera and excellent microphones make video calling easy and great. The rear 12-megapixel camera is pretty good too, but is still beaten by a good smartphone.

The power button now doubles as a Touch ID fingerprint scanner, as the iPad Air has neither Face ID nor a home button. It works well but is certainly a downgrade from Face ID on the iPad Pro.

Specifications

  • Screen: 10.9in 2360x1640 Liquid Retina display (264ppi)

  • Processor: Apple A14 Bionic

  • RAM: 4GB

  • Storage: 64 or 256GB

  • Operating system: iPadOS 14.1

  • Camera: 12MP rear, 7MP selfie camera

  • Connectivity: Wifi 6 (4G optional, eSim), Bluetooth 5, USB-C, Touch ID

  • Dimensions: 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm

  • Weight: 458g (4G version: 460g)

Reliable battery life and top performance

The iPad Air has Apple’s very latest chip, the A14 Bionic, which also runs at the heart of the iPhone 12.

The new processor is a considerable step up on the A12 used in its predecessor and more or less matches the raw horsepower of the A12Z used in the current iPad Pro, making it easily one of the most powerful tablets available.

As you would expect, everything is snappy, including complex image edits in programs such as Affinity Photo. Games run super smooth; in fact, I couldn’t find anything to slow the tablet down.

The iPad Air has enough power to get anything you can do with an iPad done with plenty to spare but is equally happy doing menial tasks such as emailing or just browsing the web.

That means battery life is very good. Using it as a laptop replacement connected to Apple’s Magic Keyboard, the iPad Air lasted a good nine hours of work, using multiple sites, chat apps, word processors, Affinity Photo and a bit of watching video.

Used just for watching streaming video it lasts well over eight hours or just under 10 hours if the video is stored offline first.

The iPad Air takes two and a half hours to fully charge with the included 20W USB-C power adapter but can also be charged from more powerful Apple or third-party USB-C chargers.

Sustainability

Apple does not give a rated lifecycle for the iPad battery, typically 500 full-charge cycles, but it can be replaced for £99. The tablet is generally repairable, with the out-of-warranty service cost being £396.44, which includes the screen.

The iPad uses 100% recycled aluminium in its case, 100% recycled tin in the solder of its main board, 100% recycled rare earth elements in speaker magnets and at least 25% recycled plastic in multiple components. Apple is also using renewable energy for the final assembly of the machine, and breaks down the tablet’s environmental impact in its report.

Apple also offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

iPadOS 14.1

Apple’s iPadOS 14 is the best mobile-tablet software available, offering a balance of utility, entertainment and broad app support unrivalled by Windows 10 or Android. You can also expect at least five years of software support from Apple, so you can safely use the iPad Air for longer than competitors.

The software is essentially the same as that on other iPads, including the 8th-generation iPad and the 2020 iPad Pro. You’ve got new at-a-glance widgets on the home screen, a more desktop-like appearance to apps, faster search and Siri, plus improved privacy controls and all the split-screen multitasking you can handle.

Apple’s new Scribble handwriting recognition feature, which lets you write straight into any text entry field on the screen with the optional £119 Apple Pencil instantly turning your scrawl into typed text, is very impressive and would be really useful for anyone making handwritten notes, sketching or drawing diagrams.

The iPad Air also has access to an extensive productivity app library, allowing you to use it as a full laptop-replacement similar to an iPad Pro, although to do so properly you’ll likely need to invest in additional accessories such as a keyboard – for example, Logitech’s £140 Folio Touch or Apple’s £299 Magic Keyboard.

Every major media app is also available, there are lots of games, from the casual to the graphically intensive, plus lots of learning and children’s apps for those moments you need to occupy a little one. Note, however, that Fornite is not available.

The only thing really missing is multiuser support, although a few apps such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have multiple profiles these days.

Observations

  • The power button now does three things: press to power on, rest to unlock with your fingerprint and press-and-hold for Siri.

  • iPadOS 14 supports standard Bluetooth keyboards and mice.

  • The selfie camera is mounted in the left side when held in landscape – it would have been better at the top as most video calls are landscape like a laptop, not portrait.

Price

The wifi-only 2020 iPad Air costs £579 with 64GB or £729 with 256GB of storage. 4G-capable models cost an additional £130.

For comparison, the RRP for the 8th-generation iPad is £329, the iPad Pro costs from £769, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ costs £799 and the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 costs from £799.

Verdict

The iPad Air is essentially an 11in iPad Pro but with a few high-end features removed for a £190 price cut.

That means it has Apple’s attractive, modern tablet design, slim bezels, top performance, long and reliable battery life and a robust software ecosystem that will be kept updated for five-plus years.

The iPad Air is just as happy getting work done as it is as an entertainment station. Movies and TV shows look and sound great, as do even the most graphically intensive games, but if you want to use it as a laptop replacement you can with the right accessory.

It also has an excellent front-facing camera, good mics, and speakers that make great video calls easy, regardless of your app of choice.

The iPad Air is not cheap but it is the all-rounder that’ll beat pretty much any tablet in its class.

Pros: modern design, great performance, good battery life, great screen, USB-C, iPadOS, plenty of apps, great speakers, great mics, great video-call camera, long support, recycled aluminium.

Cons: no Fortnite or cloud game streaming, no multiuser support, relatively small storage on the starting model with no way to add more, comparatively expensive.

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