ipad Air (2019) re­view

AP­PLE FINDS THE SWEET SPOT

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY JA­SON CROSS

THE SWEET SPOT FOR MOST USERS IS HERE, SANDWICHED BE­TWEEN THE BA­SIC BUD­GET IPAD AND THE PRICEY IPAD PRO.

Ap­ple’s new ipad Pros ( go. mac­world.com/nw19) are high-end tablet mar­vels, with a new slim-bezel de­sign, Face ID, crazy-fast A12X chip, and new wireless Ap­ple Pen­cil. But when Ap­ple in­tro­duced the over­hauled third­gen­er­a­tion mod­els, it also blew up the price. The old 10.5-inch Pro was $649 and the new 11-inch re­place­ment is $799, while the 12.9-inch model jumped from $799 to $999.

That leaves a big price gap for any­one who doesn’t want an ipad Pro, but wants more than the ba­sic $329 ipad ( go. mac­world.com/9718). Ap­ple is fill­ing that gap with a strange mid­dle-child prod­uct that bor­rows the de­sign of the old 10.5inch ipad Pro, the name of the re­tired-foryears ipad Air, and an odd mix of hard­ware fea­tures.

Start­ing at $499 with 64GB of stor­age, the ipad Air is a set of com­pro­mises and trade­offs that may be just the thing for users who want more than an ipad but don’t want to pay steep

Pro prices.

MORE THAN AN IPAD

Com­pared to the 9.7-inch ipad, the ipad Air is a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade. Sure, the en­trylevel con­fig­u­ra­tion of the ipad Air costs $170 more, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.

The most ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ence is the form fac­tor. The ipad Air is just slightly big­ger (9.8 x 6.8 inches to the ipad’s 9.4 x 6.4 inches) and has slightly smaller bezels, giv­ing room for a more gen­er­ous 10.5-inch dis­play. De­spite be­ing a lit­tle big­ger, it’s also a few grams lighter and 1.4 mil­lime­ters thin­ner. Hold­ing it gives the impression that it’s a lot less chunky (ipad Air in­deed) though it’s not quite as thin as the new ipad Pro. If you’re fa­mil­iar with the older 10.5-inch ipad Pro, you’ll no­tice al­most no dif­fer­ence here. In fact, the di­men­sions are

so sim­i­lar that this new ipad Air is meant to use the same Smart Key­board as the 10.5-inch ipad Pro from 2017.

Stick­ing with the old ipad Pro 10.5-inch de­sign means a couple of other things of note. One, you still have a head­phone jack, which the new ipad Pros do not. Two, it has a Light­ning con­nec­tor for charg­ing and ac­ces­sories, rather than the new ipad Pro’s USB-C. That’s ei­ther good or bad, de­pend­ing on what other gear you have. I do wish Ap­ple would make up its mind and stan­dard­ize around one con­nec­tor.

In­side, the changes are more sig­nif­i­cant. The ipad Air has an A12 pro­ces­sor, 3GB of RAM, and starts at 64GB of stor­age (a 256GB op­tion is $150 more). That’s an enor­mous im­prove­ment over the ipad’s A10, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of stor­age (with

128GB op­tion for $100 more).

In per­for­mance bench­marks, the new ipad

Air runs cir­cles around the

9.7-inch ipad. CPU and graph­ics per­for­mance are both be­tween 75 per­cent and 100 per­cent faster, de­pend­ing on the test. It’s a dif­fer­ence you can re­ally feel when run­ning in­ten­sive tasks like gam­ing or video edit­ing, though nor­mal ev­ery­day ac­tiv­i­ties like email and web browsing are al­ready so fast you won’t no­tice much of an im­prove­ment. Let’s not for­get that the A12 has Ap­ple’s sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Neu­ral En­gine to speed up ma­chine learn­ing and AI com­pu­ta­tion, while the A10 has none.

The bat­tery lasts a lot longer, too. In our Geek­bench bat­tery run­down test, the reg­u­lar ipad ran for 6 hours 8 min­utes while the new Air ran for 8 hours 19 min­utes—35 per­cent longer!

For $170 more than the 9.7-inch ipad you get a slightly larger yet thin­ner and lighter tablet with dou­ble the per­for­mance and stor­age space. That’s a good deal!

LESS THAN AN IPAD PRO

While the new ipad Air re­sem­bles the 10.5-inch ipad Pro from 2017, it is dis­tinctly not a Pro model. Ap­ple re­serves sev­eral key fea­tures for its Pro tablets that you won’t find here.

There’s no Pro­mo­tion dis­play—in­stead of the vari­able re­fresh rate that tops out at 120Hz, you get a fixed 60Hz re­fresh rate. That means you don’t get crazys­mooth scrolling and re­duced Ap­ple Pen­cil la­tency. Oddly enough, the Air does have a couple other dis­play fea­tures you’ll find in ipad Pros. It has the wider DCI-P3 color gamut and True Tone, both of which are miss­ing from the leas­t­ex­pen­sive ipad.

The ipad Air sup­ports Ap­ple Pen­cil, as all ipads now do, but not the slick new wire­less­charged Pen­cil that works with the ipad Pro. Rather, it works with the old Ap­ple Pen­cil that charges by stick­ing the back end into the

Light­ning port (don’t lose the cap!). It’s an awk­ward de­sign that we’d like to see Ap­ple move on from; main­tain­ing two “Ap­ple Pen­cils” with the same name but dif­fer­ent fea­tures and mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive com­pat­i­bil­ity is a mess.

The A12X pro­ces­sor in the ipad Pro is a lot faster, too. It’s got an ex­tra gi­ga­byte of RAM, four high-speed CPU cores (in­stead of two in the A12), and seven GPU cores (versus four in the A12). As much as the ipad Air blows the doors off the ipad, the lat­est ipad Pro leaves it in the dust.

Then there are other Pro fea­tures, like the Truedepth sen­sors for Face ID and An­i­moji ( go.mac­world. com/anim) (and the slim­mer bezels that go along with that), and quad stereo speak­ers (two on each side). That’s some­thing you’ll no­tice ev­ery time you watch a video and hear the sound oddly com­ing out of one side of your ipad. It’s a real step back.

The lat­est ipad Pros also have a su­pe­rior 12MP cam­era ca­pa­ble of 4K video record­ing while you’re stuck with an older, 1080p-lim­ited, 8MP cam­era on the ipad Air. It’s not a bad cam­era for a tablet, it gets the job done, but noth­ing more.

THE BEST IPAD FOR MOST PEO­PLE

The ipad Pro costs $800 and up (way up), with the key­board case and Pen­cil sold sep­a­rately, so it’s even harder to rec­om­mend it to the average ipad buyer. But the gap be­tween it and the ba­sic ipad in fea­tures, per­for­mance, and price is just too wide.

While I think Ap­ple’s prod­uct lineup is getting too big and com­plex, we le­git­i­mately need a solution in the mid­dle, and the ipad

Air fits in nicely. For $499 you get a huge step up in fea­tures, per­for­mance, and stor­age over the

$329 ipad. You miss out on a num­ber of ben­e­fits of the ipad Pro: a Pro­mo­tion dis­play, quad speak­ers, Face ID, a su­pe­rior cam­era, faster A12X pro­ces­sor, and sup­port for the new-and-im­proved wireless Ap­ple Pen­cil. But you get most of what the average ipad buyer wants most: a fast mod­ern pro­ces­sor, plenty of stor­age space, a wide color dis­play with True­tone, Pen­cil sup­port (first­gen­er­a­tion), and yes, a head­phone jack.

I should men­tion that the 10.5-inch ipad Pro is a bet­ter buy if you can find it at a dis­count (it’s now dis­con­tin­ued, but re­fur­bished mod­els ( go.mac­world.com/rfip) are avail­able). The A10X pro­ces­sor is nearly as fast as the A12, the size and weight are the same, and bat­tery life is sim­i­lar, but you get quad stereo speak­ers and a Pro­mo­tion dis­play.

Ab­so­lutely noth­ing about this ipad Air is new. It’s an odd­ball col­lec­tion of reg­u­lar-ipad and Pro-ipad fea­tures that may not ex­cite techno-philes look­ing for the lat­est ad­vance­ments, but de­liv­ers the right ipad at the right price for most users. ■

Sure does look like the 10.5-inch ipad Pro, doesn’t it?

It’s a lot faster than the ipad, but doesn’t come close to the ipad Pro.

The ipad Air is slim­mer and lighter than the ipad.

Yes, there’s Ap­ple Pen­cil sup­port, but only for the old Light­ning-style Pen­cil, not the slick new wireless one.

Bat­tery life on the ipad Air is fan­tas­tic.

If you want Face ID, you’ll have to spend hun­dreds more for an ipad Pro.

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