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If you’re looking to get an iPad right now and can afford it, the new $599 iPad Air is the best tablet for most people. Apple has taken the design from the more expensive iPad Pro and brought it down to a more reasonable price point. It’s $100 more than it was last year, but in return this year’s iPad Air has a bigger, better screen and a faster (and very intriguing) processor.
There are two basic ways a midrange device like the iPad Air usually gets made. Either it’s built up from the base model with key improvements (as happened with last year’s iPad Air) or it’s based on the premium, flagship version with some expensive parts stripped out or replaced. That’s this year’s iPad Air, and that switch means that it feels like a modern device instead of a throwback.
It’s also one of the most enjoyable computing experiences you can get. iPadOS may not have the versatility of a full desktop OS like Windows or macOS, but it’s a lot more relaxing to use.
Compatible with iPad Pro accessories
Very fast processor
Only step-up storage option is a big jump, $749 for 256GB
Touch ID on the power button takes some getting used to
IPAD AIR DESIGN
TheThe new iPad Air for 2020 switches over to the squared-off sides and rounded-corner display we first saw on the iPad Pro in 2018. It’s the exact same size and shape as the 11-inch model. Back then, Nilay Patel said this design is “kind of brutal looking — almost like a reference design.” I’ve gotten used to it in the intervening years and apparently so has Apple. The new iPhone 12 and 12 Pro bear a familial resemblance.
The screen is .1 inch smaller than the 11-inch iPad Pro.
The iPad Air now works with 11-inch iPad Pro accessories.
It also (only) works with the newer style of the Apple Pencil.
There’s a single 12-megapixel wide-angle camera on the back. It is fairly good but shouldn’t drive your purchasing decision one way or the other.
The hardware’s job on a tablet is to disappear, and it does so fairly well here. If you’d like some more character, though, Apple is offering some new colors for the anodized aluminum frame. In addition to the usual silver, gray, and rose gold, there’s now green and a subtle light blue.
The iPad Air also makes the switch over from Lightning to USB-C for charging, just like the Pro. I applaud this move wholeheartedly — USB-C is a more universal port and it opens up the iPad to more accessories, including some of the same dongles you might already use on your laptop. (And yes, I wish the iPhone 12 had done the same).
If you’re switching over from an older iPad, though, be aware that the cable is different. Also be aware that this new design means the iPad Air uses the iPad Pro-style accessories. The old Lightning-based Apple Pencil won’t work here, nor will old keyboards or cases.
Instead, you have the far superior second-generation Apple Pencil and a choice of a couple of keyboards from Apple. The fancier keyboard option is the Magic Keyboard, which includes a trackpad and backlighting for $299. The regular Smart Keyboard Folio is still fine, and it’s lighter, too; it costs $179. There are also more keyboard options from Logitech and others. Now that the iPad Air has it, maybe we’ll see this back-mounted smart connector get a real ecosystem of accessories.
One last design note: the front camera is still on the side when you hold the iPad in landscape. So prepare to have your eyes looking way off to the right or left when you’re on Zoom calls. Or prepare for your camera not to be on at all, since iPadOS turns it off as soon as you start to do any kind of multitasking.
Other than the new colors, there are really only two exterior differences between the Pro and the Air, both of them subtle. The first is that the Air’s screen is technically smaller: 10.9 inches diagonally instead of 11. That’s a touch odd but not really noticeable. The second is that instead of Face ID cameras, the iPad Air has Touch ID embedded in the power button.
TOUCH ID ON THE POWER BUTTON
That’sThat’s right, for the first time Apple is putting its fingerprint sensor on the power button (technically, it’s called the “Top button;” I have many opinions about what this button should be called, which I will spare you from). It’s a little bit larger than other iPad buttons but not that big.
It works well but a little differently than I expected — which is probably because I’ve been trained so heavily by the tap-to-wake fingerprint sensors on Android phones. Just like the old Touch ID sensor on the home button, you need to click down the power button and then let your finger rest on it for a beat. Bam, you’re unlocked. (And yes, it’s a real button.)
But something about it being placed on the power button threw me at first. As with the home button version, if you press down too long you get Siri. If you don’t leave your finger on long enough, it won’t unlock and will give you a little reminder to “Rest to Open.”
It unlocked the iPad quickly, conveniently, and securely. You won’t miss the home button on your old iPad once you get used to it along with the swiping navigation that’s now required to go home and multitask.
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