Reviewing Apple’s new iPad Air is tricky. For most people, this is the iPad to buy, the one that will fulfil all your tablet needs, with plenty of room to spare. And with this much power under the hood, it will fulfill all your tablet needs for years to come. It is, objectively, a brilliant device: capable and sleek and, with prices starting at £479, even relatively affordable.
And yet it’s easiest to define the iPad Air by what it lacks. There’s no FaceID, which users of Apple’s newer phones or the superlative iPad Pro (starting price £769) have become accustomed to. It only has two speakers, resulting in a noticeable drop-off in audio quality compared to the Pro. The rear-facing camera is serviceable, but not not a patch on those found in Apple’s top-end devices. It’s compatible with the Apple Pencil for taking notes and sketching, but not the sexy new one with the flat edge and the magnetic charging – instead it uses the original one you have to stuff in the Lightning port to charge, making your iPad look like a lollipop or a fly-swatter.
It even feels a little dated, with the same curved and beveled design that turned heads back in 2013 but now blends coyly into the background.
All of which is a shame, because the iPad Air’s steps forward are significant and tangible. Foremost among them is a greatly improved display, with full lamination and an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare. It’s brighter than ever, with a wide colour gamut, making it great for watching video on the go. The display is now the same size as the (smaller) iPad Pro at 10.5 inches, compared to 9.7 for the base iPad – a small but noticeable increase.
And while the design is hardly cutting edge, it feels great in the hand: light at just 1lb (456g), pleasingly silky to the touch and made to the impeccable production values we’ve come to expect from Apple. It’s super-fast, with the same A12 Bionic chip found in Apple’s high-end smartphones, meaning you’ll probably never really push it to its limits.
It’s also a big step up in terms of storage, with 64GB (£479) and 264GB (£629) options, compared to the base iPad with 32GB (£319) or 128GB (£409). If you use your tablet for more than emails, web-browsing and streaming, that extra storage alone justifies the price.
Another selling point is the compatibility with Apple’s excellent Smart Keyboard, which snaps on to the side of the device, giving you the ability to type longer passages without bashing your fingers against unforgiving, unresponsive glass.
It’s worth bearing in mind that this will set you back an extra £159; coupled with the larger storage and the Apple Pencil (£89), suddenly you’re paying £877, which no longer seems like such a bargain (make that £997 if you throw in cellular internet, too).
But this is Apple, and the option to spend as much as your wallet can bear is certainly nothing new.
If you’re buying your first tablet, this would be ideal. If you’re upgrading from a few generations ago, this is the iPad for you. If you’re on the fence, I’d wait a year, by which time you’re likely to see the equivalent tablet with faceID and compatibility with the second generation Apple Pencil. Rest assured, there will always be a newer, better iPad waiting just around the corner.