APPLE IPAD AIR (5TH GENERATION)
The ideal balance of features, software, performance and price means the Air floats to the top of the tablet pile.
64GB, $997 | from apple.com/au
The 5th generation iPad Air isn’t necessarily the best tablet in this Labs – or even the best iPad – but it’s the best tablet overall for most people to buy. On the one hand, it has many of the key strengths of the iPad Pro: class-leading performance, an excellent screen and accessories that can transform it into a productivity or creative powerhouse. On the other hand, it won’t cost you a small fortune.
The Air’s design hasn’t evolved much since the 2020 4th generation model, but then it didn’t really need to. Describing it as all-screen is pushing it – there’s a fairly chunky bezel on all four sides – but it’s a clean look that minimises bulk to put the focus on the display. Like the new iPad, it also comes in a range of colours, with pink, purple and blue on top of starlight and space grey.
The power and volume buttons are arranged (when held in portrait mode) around the top-right corner, with the former doubling as a TouchID sensor, while there’s a USB-C port on the bottom edge. This supports 10Gbits/sec connectivity through USB 3.2 Gen 2. As for wireless, the Air has Wi-Fi 6 (though not 6E) and Bluetooth 5, so it’s well placed for high-speed links to the latest kit.
Apple now offers Pencil and keyboard support across the iPad range with the exception of the keyboard-less iPad mini, but the Air does better than the new 10th gen iPad by working with the Pencil 2 and the 11in Magic Keyboard. The latter converts the Air into a workable small-screen laptop, particularly with iPadOS’s enhancements for multitasking and split-screen views. The setup with the keyboard on the desk or lap and the tablet itself nearly levitating on a hinged magnetic plate feels surprisingly stable and comfortable, while the typing action is tight and responsive. It’s hard to call the Air a serious laptop replacement, but a secondary device for travel? Definitely.
It helps that the screen is great, albeit not as spectacularly great as the screen on the iPad Pro. Brightness can hit over 500cd/m2 with the adaptive brightness setting turned off (it’s closer to 440cd/m2 at the default setting), while gamut coverage sits at 96 percent sRGB and 80 percent DCI-P3. Colours are rich and the image clarity is hard to fault. Whether you’re editing photos or bingeing Netflix, your eyes are in for a treat.
As for your ears, the iPad Air can’t match the wide immersive soundscapes of some tablets on test, but the stereo output is crisp, detailed and well rounded, and easily good enough for background music or a movie marathon.
When it comes to performance, there really isn’t much that the iPad Air can’t do. With the same M1 processor as the previous-generation iPad Pro, it ripped through our benchmarks without any serious resistance. From Geekbench through to 3D benchmarks, no Android slate gives it any real competition, with only the 2022 iPad Pro out in front. Whether you’re planning to play games, create multi-layered illustrations or put videos together on the move, you’re unlikely to come up against the Air’s limitations. In fact, the only thing holding you back would be storage: the 64GB of the base model won’t cover a huge range of apps and data, making the 256GB version look more future-proof.
Battery life isn’t quite so impressive. You can squeeze around ten hours of life from a charge under light usage with brightness set to halfway, but the iPad ran out of puff in 9hrs 20mins in our HD videorundown test. On the plus side, you can get back up to 25 percent in half an hour from the bundled 20W compact charger, or reach 34 percent if you have a 30W charger handy.
The iPad Air isn’t a cheap tablet by any means, but it’s a convincing alternative to the iPad Pro and at a price that’s easier to swallow. What’s more, you still get access to the best line-up of tablet apps and games and the power to cruise through all of them. Hitting the sweet spot between features, performance, size and price, it’s a fantastic buy.