iPad Air (2022) preview and first thoughts: the actual iPad Pro killer?

Apple, quite predictably, announced a refresh to the iPad Air line. Why predictably? Because the iPad mini 6 that launched last year already had slightly better specs than the bigger and more expensive Air — we can’t let that stand, can we?

Anyway, here we are — the Apple iPad Air (2022) comes back with the same shape of a candy-colored chassis but new internals to keep it on par with its peers.

Is it an iPad Pro killer? Kind of… Apple does manage to keep the iPad Pro line enticing by holding 120 Hz refresh rates hostage. But now that the iPad Air 5 has an M1 chip… it’s kind of hard to overlook it.

So, what can we expect from the iPad Air (2022)? Let’s throw in a quick preview, shall we?

iPad Air (2022) design

No huge surprises here — it’s the same slate as before. We’ve seen this design on the iPad Pro 11” (2018), then on the iPad Air (2020), and here’s another reiteration. Keep in mind — the iPad Air has a 10.9-inch screen, meaning its bezel is ever so slightly thicker than on an iPad Pro 11-inch.Not a big deal? You are correct, it is not. It barely makes an impression and it kind of gives your thumb more space to rest on, to speak the truth.

What is a big deal is the amount of colors you get to pick from with the iPad Air line. It’s kind of disheartening that if you spill a bag of cash on the serious Pro models, you get to pick between darker gray and lighter gray, while the iPad Air adds Blue, Purple, Pink, Silver, alongside Space Gray into the mix.

The fact that the iPad Air 5 comes in the same form factor means it will still be compatible with all the accessories that fit the iPad Air 4 and even the iPad Pro 11” line. That includes the excellent (and pricey) Magic Keyboard, which this writer here is quite addicted to. Or the more affordable (but also finicky) Smart Keyboard Folio. And any of the Smart Covers — the iPad Air is laced with magnets, just like the Pro line.

There’s still a USB Type-C port on the bottom and we — again — have dual speakers firing in stereo when the iPad is in a landscape position. (so, if you are holding it upright, they are top and bottom speakers).

The iPad Air 5 still doesn’t use Face ID — it has a Touch ID scanner embedded in the power button, just like on the Air 4 or the iPad mini 6. And our experience with the old models is that it’s easy to use and quick to scan. Personally, I’ve grown very accustomed to Face ID on the iPad Pro, but I can definitely live with “just” Touch ID.

iPad Air (2022) screen

While it kind of looks and acts like an iPad Pro, the iPad Air takes a couple of hits in the screen department.

For one, Apple adamantly refuses to give the Air line a refresh rate above 60 Hz. So, yeah, if your eyes are spoiled by buttery-smooth animations, you will feel that here. Whether or not it’s worth to jump to an iPad Pro just for the ProMotion display, it’s up to you.

Secondly — and there’s probably no need to say this — there’s no mini-LED tech on the screen. This feature is still exclusive only to the biggest and baddest iPad Pro 12.9-inch.

Otherwise, you can rest assured that Apple has its LCD tech on point. The iPad Air 4 looks fantastic, with very accurate colors, great brightness, and good sharpness. I’ve no reason to believe the iPad Air 5 would be worse.

There’s still True Tone on board, and Dark Mode — of course — to keep your eyes relaxed after sundown.

iPad Air (2022) hardware

And here, we have half the reason why this update came about. The iPad Air 4 (2020) was powered by an Apple A14 Bionic chip, this new model comes with an Apple M1. Yeah, you read that right — the same chip that powers the newest iPad Pro, the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and the base MacBook Pro.

Should you run to the stores to update your 2-year-old iPad Air? It does sound kind of tempting, to be fair. Plus, Apple will happily give you some money back for the iPad Air 4 through a trade-in program. On the other hand, these tablets do hold value, so you might do better if you chuck it over to the second-hand market. But, in all fairness, the Apple A14 is still a pretty powerful chip in its own right, so unless you demand a lot from your hardware — you should be fine.

In terms of RAM — the iPad Air 5 gets a huge bump up to 8 GB of RAM. That’s double what the iPad Air 4 had and it’s equal to the RAM of the iPad Pro.

The only place where the iPad Air (2022)’s hardware drags behind is storage. That $599 price is for the 64 GB base storage variant. And, come on, for a machine that can edit 4K HDR video in a flash, 64 GB is kind of a joke. Especially with iPadOS, which just loves to create unique copies for your files whenever you are working on them in different apps.

More on storage options and buying decisions in the conclusion.

It’s also worth mentioning that the iPad Air (2022) is now capable of 5G connectivity. The Air (2020) had an A14 Bionic chip, which powered the iPhone 12 line, but capped out at 4G for one reason or another. The 

iPad Air (2022) speakers

So, speaking from past experience — the iPad Air 4’s stereo speakers are… good. We have the same top-bottom setup here. Don’t let the diagram fool you, the Air has two speakers. They don’t have an edge over the quad speakers of an iPad Pro — the latter definitely sound deeper, more well-defined, and slightly louder.

But if you aren’t A/B testing them, you’ll find that the iPad Air’s speakers are just fine. Apple has been on top of audio for some years now, and it shows in all the latest products we’ve had in the office. I expect the iPad Air 5’s speakers to be on par or slightly better than the ones from 2020.

iPad Air (2022) camera

Yeah, I know, nobody takes a tablet out to take pictures with (or do they?). But tablet cameras have proved useful for light office-related work — you can use the back camera to scan documents via a plethora of useful apps. And, of course, you use the front camera for video calls.

And this is where we have the major upgrade — or the second half of the reasons why Apple needed to upgrade the Air line. The iPad Air 4 was the only tablet in the entire iPad lineup that didn’t have the ultra-wide selfie camera with Center Stage.

Well, now the iPad Air 5 has it. In case you were out of the loop, Center Stage is a software feature that zooms in on the ultra-wide angle camera footage and follows your face around. It’s kind of cool — like you have your personal camera operator. You don’t need to be nailed to your tablet while calling the relatives — you can sort your groceries and be confident that the camera is still on your face.

The main camera on the back is seemingly the same 12 MP snapper as before. As previously mentioned — I don’t find this to be a pressing problem. The camera was good enough for the minor tasks I may or may not need it for, and I expect the new one will perform the same.

iPad Air (2022) software features

Here’s a spoiler — iPadOS is iPadOS. The new iPad Air will come with iPadOS 15 out of the box, with all the features you can get on the Pros, the old Air 4, the mini 6, or even the base iPad. It’s just how it is.So, Split-view, Slide-over, mouse compatibility, multiple instances of the same app, Apple Pencil 2 and Magic Keyboard compatibility, the new updated iMovie, anything you can find on the App Store — they all work.

And yeah, this is why a lot of people are calling the iPad Air an “iPad Pro killer”. It looks the part, it has all of the basics, and it runs like a beast.

If you can swallow the fact that it doesn’t have a 120 Hz refresh rate, you are golden.

iPad Air (2022) expectations and recommendations

Should you buy the iPad Air 5? To be fair — yeah, it is very hard to recommend the iPad Pro over it.

You basically get all of the power of the Pro and access to the same accessories — the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard.

Still, if you are considering an iPad as your serious work machine, the big screen of the iPad Pro 12.9-inch definitely gives you more real estate to play with.

But I feel the main comparisons will be drawn between the iPad Air (2022) and iPad Pro 11 (2021). They basically have the same specs, but the iPad Pro 11 has 120 Hz ProMotion display, and there are slightly different storage options.

Let’s ponder that a bit.

  • iPad Air (2022) with 64 GB storage – $599. It’s a massive value for money that will be powerful and productive for years, but these 64 GB will feel claustrophobic if you intend to do video work on it.

  • iPad Air (2022) with 256 GB storage – $749. That’s still $50 cheaper than the base iPad Pro 11 (2021) and it has tons of storage for you to play around on.

  • iPad Pro 11 (2021) with 128 GB of storage – $799. You get a 120 Hz screen, quad speakers, and Face ID. To be fair, 128 GB of storage feels comfortable — I’ve been using an iPad Pro with 128 GB for a year now and I am currently at 62 GB full. But when putting all these specs side to side… it’s very hard to recommend to a budget-conscious buyer to go for an iPad Pro over the new iPad Air!

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Last update was on: May 17, 2022 10:43 pm

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