iPad Air (2024) review: Of course this is the iPad to get


The expensive and gorgeous iPad Pro M4 is a complicated device that’s hard to outright recommend — does it make sense to spend well over $1,000 for a tablet with the inherent limitations of iPadOS compared to a Mac or Windows PC? The iPad Air, however, is much easier to evaluate. Since its 2020 redesign, the Air has had nearly the same form factor as the Pro, with some corners cut to differentiate the two. But the Air is also a clear upgrade over the base iPad, appealing to someone like me who appreciates its excellent screen, superior chip, improved multitasking capabilities and a better accessories experience.

It’s pretty easy to sum up what’s new about the iPad Air this year. It has a faster M2 chip compared to the old M1, it works with a new Apple Pencil Pro, the front camera has moved to the landscape edge and it starts with 128GB of storage (double the prior model) at the same $599 price. These are all expected updates given that it’s been two years since the last iPad Air. But with the 2024 iPad Air, Apple is also offering an intriguing new option: the first 13-inch iPad that doesn’t carry the “pro” designation and associated costs. The 13-inch Air starts at $799, which is $500 less than a comparably-sized iPad Pro. (The model I tested with 512GB of storage and 5G costs $1,249.)

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Apple

The iPad Air remains Apple’s best overall tablet, offering a compelling blend of features while keeping a reasonable price. And the new 13-inch Air is a great option for someone who wants a big display without spending as much money.

Pros

  • Apple’s first affordable large-screen iPad
  • Powerful M2 chip
  • More base storage than before
  • Front camera is finally on the landscape edge
  • Apple Pencil Pro offers some smart new features
Cons

  • Uses old Magic Keyboard
  • No Face ID

$799 at Walmart

I’ve never considered buying a 13-inch iPad Pro. Besides the high price, I also find such a large and heavy iPad difficult to use handheld. It’s great when in a keyboard dock, as the bigger screen is much more suitable for multitasking, but I also want my iPad to be easy to hold for casual tasks, playing games, watching movies and all the other basic stuff tablets are good for.

My current personal iPad is an 11-inch Pro from 2020, so I’m an obvious mark for the new iPad Air. And after testing the 13-inch Air, I’m thinking about jumping on the big tablet bandwagon for the first time. Part of my reasoning is that the 13-inch iPad Air weighs less than the previous-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro it is based on. Those tablets typically weighed in around 1.5 pounds, but the Air comes in at 1.36 pounds.

That doesn’t sound like a major difference, but it’s been just enough for me to feel more comfortable using the Air as a tablet rather than just docked in a keyboard case. It’s still a little more unwieldy than I’d like, and it’s still heavier and thicker than the new 13-inch iPad Pro. But, the iPad Air is $500 cheaper; at that price, I’m willing to accept a little trade-off.

Photos of Apple’s 13-inch iPad Air, released in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The new 11-inch model is indistinguishable from the 10.9-inch one it replaces in dimensions, weight and screen size. Don’t let Apple fool you into thinking the screen is a whopping .1 inches bigger this year, because it’s not — the company is just rounding up. (The same goes for the 13-inch Air; it has the same 12.9-inch screen size and resolution as the old iPad Pro.)

The M2 chip is a big selling point for the iPad Air, but note that if you have the 2022 model with an M1, you won’t experience massive performance gains here. Geekbench 6 tests show that the M2’s GPU is about 30 percent faster than the M1, with lesser gains in single- and multi-core performance. But, compared to my 2020 iPad Pro with an A12Z processor, the M2 is more than twice as fast. So if you don’t have an iPad with an M-series chip, the new Air will be a major step forward.

That camera is basically the same as the one in the last iPad Air, but now that it’s on the landscape edge it’s much better for video calling when you’re using it with a keyboard. I’d actually consider taking work calls with the iPad now, something that wasn’t the case before.

I’m also very happy that the base iPad Air comes with 128GB of storage rather than the stingy 64GB it was stuck on last time. It’s far easier now to recommend people pick up the cheapest configuration. And you can also get up to 1TB of storage in the Air for the first time, if you need it.

Photos of Apple’s 13-inch iPad Air, released in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Air is stuck with the old Magic Keyboard, which is heavier and thicker than the new model and lacks the helpful row of function keys. The Magic Keyboard remains crazy expensive — $299 for the 11-inch and $349 for the 13-inch — but it’s still my favorite keyboard for an iPad. Well, it’s my favorite after the updated version for the iPad Pro. It’s comfortable, quiet and responsive, particularly considering how thin it is, and I have no problem banging out stories on it for hours at a time.

If you’re a fan of the Apple Pencil, though, the good news is that the iPad Air supports the brand-new Pencil Pro. I cover it in more detail in my iPad Pro review, but it does everything the older second-generation Apple Pencil can while adding new features like haptic feedback, Find My support, a squeeze gesture for bringing up menus and the ability to roll the Pencil in your hand to change the width of a brush thanks to built-in gyroscopes. It costs $129, which is the same as the second-generation Pencil. The only bad news is that the old Pencil isn’t compatible with the iPad Air because of a redesigned charging and pairing system that accommodates the landscape front camera.

Photos of Apple’s 13-inch iPad Air, released in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

That’s essentially everything new about the iPad Air this year. The display remains the same standard Apple LCD, which looks very good for everything I use an iPad for. It’s definitely not in the same league as the new tandem OLED screen in the iPad Pro, or even the mini-LED display that came before it. I definitely noticed the comparatively worse brightness and contrast in the Air’s screen when comparing it side-by-side with the Pro. But, the good news is that I don’t spend all of my life comparing screens, and the iPad Air’s is still a strong selling point for the tablet. It’s laminated to the front glass, unlike the screen on the basic iPad, and it’s more than bright enough for indoor use.

The only thing I wish it had was a higher frame rate. The iPad Pro’s “ProMotion” feature adjusts the frame rate from 10-120hz, while the Air maxes out at 60hz. Over time, I stop noticing that the UI feels comparatively jerky in animations and don’t think about it too much. But whenever I switch back to the iPad Pro, I quickly appreciate how much smoother and more fluid everything feels.

The back camera is identical to the one on the prior iPad Air, which is fine. It’ll take a decent snapshot in good lighting and you can shoot video in 4K at a variety of frame rates. But you can’t record in the ProRes format — Apple limits that to the iPad Pro. But that likely will not be an issue for anyone considering an iPad Air. Similarly, the iPad Air’s USB-C port doesn’t support faster Thunderbolt 4 speed, but in my testing it was fine for pulling in RAW photos from my camera. If your workflow is such that you’ll use that port a lot and benefit from faster speeds, I will shockingly recommend you check out the Pro.

I haven’t even had the iPad Air for a week, so I’ve yet to run our time-intensive battery test. But from the daily use I’ve put in, it typically meets Apple’s 10-hour rating for light tasks like internet browsing or watching videos. Doing more processor-intensive tasks will surely wear it out faster, and I’ve noticed battery life tends to dip a bit when I’m using the Magic Keyboard. But, as with most iPads, you won’t need to reach for the charger too often.

Photos of Apple’s 13-inch iPad Air, released in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Jumping back and forth between the iPad Air and Pro has emphasized how great of a value the Air is. I can’t deny there are a number of niceties that all add up to make the iPad Pro experience better. Face ID is clearly superior to Touch ID, for example — I quickly got tired of reaching for the power button to unlock the Air. The iPad Pro’s screen is the definition of luxury, and the improved keyboard case provides a slightly better experience. It’s also lighter and easier to hold, with better speakers, too. And, of course, it has that new M4 chip.

These things are all important and useful, but after getting used to the Air again, I don’t miss them too much. The M2 is plenty powerful for my needs, the Apple Pencil Pro experience is identical, the old Magic Keyboard is still great to type on, the screen is bright and colorful and — perhaps most importantly — it’s $500 cheaper than a comparable iPad Pro.

For some, that extra cash might be well worth it. There are some things the Pro can do that the Air cannot, like shooting ProRes video or go into Apple’s Reference Mode for improved color accuracy and consistency against a bunch of color standards. And the M4 will save time on processor-intensive jobs like rendering video. And some people will simply want to get the best iPad they can, money be damned.

But for the rest of us, the iPad Air is still here, offering 80-ish percent of the iPad Pro experience for a lot less money. And for the first time, there is a large-screen iPad at a much more approachable price. My heart may want an iPad Pro, but my head (and wallet) agree that the iPad Air is a far more reasonable option.



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