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Apple iPad Air 2020
Apple iPad Air 2020

Apple iPad Air 2020 review: The fastest iPad this year

  • Most users will perhaps get better value out of the Macbook Air powered by Apple’s new M1 chip, while Pro users looking for a tablet will do good by waiting for next year’s iPad Pro

NEW DELHI: The 2020 version of Apple’s iPad Air has a weird market position. While there’s still almost no competition from Android tablets, with the iPad Pro out there and Apple’s new M1 chipset-driven Macbooks, the iPad itself is becoming a tough sell. At its core, this year's iPad Air is a toned-down version of the iPad Pro, which itself is a mobile alternative to Apple's laptops. Wouldn’t a laptop running the Apple M1 processor and with a detachable screen just make much more sense?

But that’s not the only reason why the iPad Air is difficult to review. While the Air is meant to be a “toned down" version of the iPad Pro, this year’s Air is actually faster than the Pro. It uses the new A14 Bionic chipset, which is faster than the A12Z running on the iPad Pro, though it’s a difference you’ll notice only if you’re running benchmark tests.

Apple seems to want to make storage and screen size the differentiator here. The new iPad Air comes in 10.9-inch screen size only, whereas the Pro has 11-inch and 12.9-inch offerings, which believe it or not, can make a difference to some. You also don’t get larger storage sizes with the iPad Air and have to choose between 64GB base storage or a 256GB variant. This may be too little storage for many creators.

Like the iPad Pro though, the Air’s true functionality is unleashed by Apple’s new Magic Keyboard. The detachable keyboard case is sold separately and adds over 25,000 to the cost of the device. But combined with Apple’s new iPadOS operating system for tablets, the keyboard really makes this much more like a laptop than ever before.

If all you do is type, browse the web, and stream content, look no further than the iPad Air. But then, you could also pair the new non-Air models of the iPad with the Magic Keyboard and get the same functionality out of it. You see why the new iPad Air is weirdly placed now? It seems to suit every use case for an iPad, while not suiting them at the same time. The good news is that I used to use my older iPad only to play games and stream content, while I actively do my day to day work on this new iPad Air.

Despite that confusion, there are some clear differences worth noting between the iPad Air and Pro. For instance, the Air doesn’t have Apple’s FaceID unlock feature, instead building the TouchID fingerprint scanner into the power on/off button on the side. It’s not a big loss, but FaceID is just more seamless to use.

On the other hand, two big changes are the lack of a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensor on the back and lower refresh rate on the screen. The LIDAR mostly helps with augmented reality (AR) features, so it may not matter as much in India just yet, but a high refresh rate screen (Apple calls it ProMotion) may still be something creators want.

That said, the lack of ProMotion is difficult to spot on the iPad Air. It doesn’t slow the device down noticeably and may only matter for specialized use cases, which matter only to Pro users. Perhaps why Apple wants to keep the feature exclusive to the iPad Pro line.

In sum, if you want to buy an iPad this year, the iPad Air is the fastest one on the market. That said, most regular users will perhaps get better value out of the Macbook Air powered by Apple’s new M1 chip, while Pro users who want a tablet will likely get more value by waiting for next year’s iPad Pro, which will likely have the same processor as this one.

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