Apple’s M2 iPad Air is more than just a spec bump

Most people looking for an iPad probably want the iPad Air. That was true for the 2022 version and it still applies to the freshly launched 2024 version.

The iPad Pro is too expensive and too powerful to recommend to regular users. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blast. But it’s best to leave this to the real professionals. What about the standard 10th generation iPad? That’s especially attractive given the recent price drop, but it lacks support for some key accessories, starts with much less storage, and is excluded from certain useful multitasking features.

Where does that take you? Back to the iPad Air. The new one is faster (hello, M2 chip), supports the existing Magic Keyboard and the latest Apple Pencil Pro, and has higher base storage. And, the best news for entertainment fans, a new 13-inch screen size. That’s the one I tested, and trust me, you’ll notice the 30% larger size.

Apple iPad Air (2024): design

No shock here, but the iPad Air continues to look like an iPad. It’s a flat glass surface with rounded edges and black borders around the screen (about the same size as on other iPads) and a handy USB-C port at the bottom for charging and connecting peripherals.

You get volume buttons and a main button that is also a sensor for Touch ID. Unfortunately, there is no Face ID on board here. While I love the security and simplicity of the fingerprint reader, I have to say that there is a noticeable difference if you don’t have Apple’s lightning-fast facial recognition technology.

I noticed a slight delay in verifying payments, auto-filling passwords, and unlocking the device – as will anyone who’s used to an iPhone released in the last seven years.

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Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Display

There’s not much to say here, as Apple is sticking with the exact same LCD display as in the last iPad Air – on the 11-inch with a resolution of 2360 x 1640, rising to 2732 x 2048 on the 13-inch variant.

You don’t get the “Tandem OLED Ultra Retina XDR” technology of the latest iPad Pro, which looks absolutely amazing, but it’s still a good screen. Sometimes I wish it was one with a higher refresh rate for smoother animations, but most of the time you won’t notice the difference.

What you feel is the sheer size of that 13-inch version. It’s much bigger without adding too much extra weight to the weight. The 11-inch weighs 462 grams, while the 13-inch weighs 618 grams. It’s a brilliant screen for watching movies and shows.

I used this to watch the first episodes of the new season of Doctor Who on iPlayer, as well as most of Star Wars: Tales of the Empire on the Disney+ app. For anyone who uses streaming services all the time, the larger version is worth considering.

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Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Processor

It’s overshadowed a bit because the iPad Pro is ridiculously overpowered, but the new iPad Air is a seriously capable computer. In fact, I think it’s more powerful than most users will ever need.

It now features Apple’s M2 chip as the brains of the tablet, delivering a 50% speed increase compared to the M1 iPad Air. It’s fast: we used it for a lot of emailing, Slack messaging, FaceTime calls, multitasking, and writing this entire review. But it can do so much more: we haven’t tried any rendering, animation, or editing yet that would really push this to its limits.

It’s worth remembering how good that M1 processor is too: it’s the one I use on my work laptop every day when I’m juggling 50 different tabs for research, and it’s the one in the iPad Air from 2022 I used everything from vacation planning, writing articles, processing and editing photos, and watching most of Masters of the Air and X-Men ’97.

The M2 is a professional-level chip found in the Vision Pro headset and previous MacBook Pro and iPad Pro models. It’s more than fast enough for most work you’ll ever want to do, and better at AI tasks thanks to the upgraded “Neural Engine” – though I should be clear that the last generation was already more than good enough. This is an excellent chip, but during normal use you won’t notice the difference.

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Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): cameras

I know you don’t use your iPad camera for actual photography (you don’t, do you?), but the sensors on these tablets are excellent for what most of us will use them most of the time: video calls.

Yes, the tech specs of the iPad Air cameras and the iPad Pro cameras are about the same, although the iPad Pro does have a handful of additional optimizations, including a LiDAR scanner for understanding depth and distance (and removing shadows from document scans). to a “TrueDepth” front camera for FaceID and the ability to shoot 4K or ProRes footage.

In practice, however, these are good cameras for your video calls and receipt scans. They may not be the best for taking a ton of photos, but that’s not what they’re for. The front camera is now placed where it always should have been, at the edge of the landscape, and supports “Centre Stage” to keep you in view at all times. I used it for FaceTime calls. It works well and you won’t feel like anything is missing.

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Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Battery life

This is another area where there isn’t much to say. Look at almost any iPad spec sheet – whether current or 2018 models – and you’ll see the same claim. Namely that the battery lasts “up to 10 hours” when surfing the Internet on WiFi or watching videos. It also gives you up to nine hours of internet usage if you are on a mobile data network.

In reality, this always feels good. These tablets aren’t quite designed to rival something like the M3 MacBook Air in terms of battery life, but they deliver what feels like almost all-day use under normal circumstances.

This is a bit of inside baseball, but works as a real-world example: To travel light in Apple Park, I used an M1 iPad Air instead of a laptop when covering the iPhone launch last September, and that got me through most of the day before I needed to charge, around the time I finished processing the hands-on photos from the event. On that day I had a 10K power bank with me, something I recommend everyone keep in their backpack.

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Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): disadvantages

None of the iPad Air’s “cons” are real dealbreakers, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for a few more upgrades. This is more than a standard spec, especially with support for the artistic new Apple Pencil Pro.

It is striking, however, that it does not contain Face ID. I wish it were so. It’s so much more seamless than the fingerprint reader. I wouldn’t mind if this also had a high refresh rate screen for those super smooth animations around the interface, but that’s not a shame it’s missing.

It’s also a shame that while this does support the Magic Keyboard, it’s the existing version and not the version that’s been completely revamped for the iPad Pro. It has aluminum wrist rests, a larger trackpad, function keys above the row of numbers. It feels so premium and I would have loved to have a version of it that supports this iPad Air.

Undoubtedly, much has remained the same compared to its predecessor. I think the addition of the 13-inch size and the M2 chip make this more than a minor innovation, but when you have this and the M1 iPad Air side by side there isn’t a huge difference. Therefore, I highly recommend finding deals on that iPad as the price will have dropped with the arrival of this one.

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Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Verdict

Let me simplify your iPad purchasing experience. If you want a versatile Apple tablet with a great display, a simple design, a chip that can handle everything you can throw at it, and that supports the latest Apple Pencil and the existing Magic Keyboard, then just choose the iPad Air. It should be more compact for travel. Go for the 11 inch Air. Do you need one that’s bigger for better multitasking, entertainment, and photo editing? You’re looking for the 13-inch Air.

The 11-inch starts at the same price as the old version, while both come with a small but significant upgrade that I haven’t mentioned much so far – the base storage is up to 128GB from 64GB. That’s something I appreciate.

The new M2 iPad Air is now the best iPad for most people, while the 13-inch Air is the best full-size iPad for most of us. If you’re sure you don’t need multitasking features, accessory support, extra storage or a better screen, then you should look at the most affordable 10th generation iPad, which now starts at £349 in the UK.

Apple iPad Air (2024): Other products to consider

The main product I would consider instead of this new iPad Air is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the iPad Air. I mean the 2022 one, of course. If you can find it, it still supports my most essential productivity accessory (the Magic Keyboard), while also having the power of the M1 chip (as mentioned, more than enough) and support for the 2nd generation Apple Pencil. For most users, this is still probably more than you need.

I can’t recommend going for the iPad Pro unless you’re a true professional or just want to spend too much on an iPad with more power than you’ll ever need. If that sounds like you, then go for it. The 10th generation iPad is worth considering for beginners, but I’d say the Air is the better buy overall.

Meanwhile, Android users probably won’t think about the iPad at all. If you’re looking for a tablet from Google, we recommend picking up the Google Pixel tablet. This is also now available for purchase without a speaker dock and at a lower price, if you were never going to use it as a home hub anyway. Samsung instead? The Galaxy Tab S9 is the best tablet for most Samsung users.

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