Even though we’ve seen a new simple iPad and iPad Pro this year already, the Apple iPad Air 4 might be the most interesting new tablet for most. That’s because we’re getting the iPad Pro design together with its accessories and that’s paired with the brand-new Apple A14 processor. In this review, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the iPad Air 4.
Design: A Bit Pro
With the iPad Air 4, the Air-lineup finally gets the basic design from the iPad Pro series. That means we get slim screen bezels, a little edgier design, and a super-premium-feeling metal body. With 6.1mm it’s a tiny bit thicker and it weighs 458g.
Apple is selling it in silver, space grey, rose gold, green, and sky blue. I wanted to get the later one but it was sold out, so I settled for the green. These colors are not that saturated, so they don’t stand out as much as you would expect from photos.
I love that they finally ditched the Lightning port and opted for USB C instead. That means you can connect the same accessories that work with the iPad Pro including USB C hubs, external SSDs, monitors, and so on. On a negative note, the headphone jack has been removed.
The Touch ID fingerprint scanner has not been removed, though. But they relocated it to the power button that sits on one of the shorter sides. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 has a fingerprint sensor built into the power button too, and in both cases, I think that’s a great solution. Yes, that also means we don’t get Face ID.
Since the additional depth-sensor for Face ID is missing, that also means that you can’t use the portrait mode with the 7-megapixel webcam. But besides that, the photo quality is very good for a tablet. And that’s what I can say about the 12-megapixel main camera on the back too. Videos and photos look great. If you want an LED flash, the LiDAR sensor, or a wide-angle camera, you’ll have to get the iPad Pro. But I think most people don’t need these features on a tablet.
Even though the iPad Air 4 has four speaker grills just as the Pro has, they’re not the same. In fact, the sound quality is noticeably worse. Now, compared to most, the sound is good, just not as good as the Pro. It’s on a similar level as Samsung’s S7 speakers that I already mentioned.
Two Official Keyboards
Since the iPad Air 4 has the same basic design as the new Pro generation, that also means that you can use all the different keyboard covers. That includes the fantastic Apple Magic Keyboard with its touchpad which I love even though it’s crazy expensive. Now, the camera cutout of that keyboard cover is bigger than is needed for the Air 4, but that doesn’t matter much, of course. The keyboard continues to be fantastic.
You can use the Apple Smart Keyboard Folios as well. In fact, here you could get the one made for the 2018 iPad Pro which has a smaller camera cutout. Both generations will work, but you might be abler to get the older one cheaper. The Keyboard Folio covers are a better choice if you just need to type a bit while traveling and want a lighter design.
Display: 10.9-Inch Liquid Retina
The Apple iPad Air 4 has a new 10.9-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels. It has the same 264ppi pixel density as all current iPads. Apple calls this a Liquid Retina Display and it’s a fantastic one. Viewing angles are very wide and with 500 nits it’s not as bright as the Pro but brighter than most Android tablets.
I like that the screen is fully laminated. That’s one of the biggest reasons why you would get the Air instead of the iPad 8 which does not have a laminated screen. It also supports Apple’s True Tone technology which adjusts the white balance of the screen according to its surroundings. You can turn that off if you want.
Now, this is a standard 60Hz screen. If you want to have the 120Hz ProMotion, you’ll have to spend more money.
This is one of the best tablet screens out there. Only the iPad Pro and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ have a better screen. Both cost much more.
Apple Pencil 2
If you like to work with an active stylus, I’ve got bad and good news for you. The bad one is, that the first-generation Apple Pencil from the iPad Air 3 does not work with the Air 4. The good one is, that it works with the Apple Pencil 2. So, you might have to get a new pen which is very disappointing. With Samsung and Microsoft, you can always use the same ones. But well, at least you can charge it inductively on top of the tablet.
The Apple Pencil 2 is a fantastic pen. It’s pressure-sensitive, it can recognize if you tilt it, and there’s a touch-sensitive area which you can use to switch tools in drawing apps. Since the screen is fully laminated here, you have the feeling of touching the screen directly with the pen. Again, that’s a huge selling point over the iPad 8.
On the software side, the pen is well supported in iPadOS 14. The official notes app supports handwriting recognition now and with the new Scribble feature, you can use handwriting in almost any text field. With gestures, you can quickly start a new note or take screenshots. And many apps like Adobe Photoshop support the stylus well.
I only have one bad thing to say about the Pencil 2 on the iPad Air 4. Since this is a 60Hz screen, it means that the pen does not seem to react as fast as it does on 120Hz screens. So, if you draw fast, the drawing can lag behind the pen a bit. If you’ve never used a 120Hz screen before, you might not notice that. But if you want the fastest response, you’ll have to get the premium tablets from Apple or Samsung.
Hardware & Performance
Inside the Apple iPad Air 4 sits the brand new Apple A14 Bionic processor that also powers the new iPhone 12 lineup. We get 4GB of RAM and you can choose between 64GB and 256GB of internal storage. As usual, LTE is an option too.
Regarding the storage options: The 64GB should be fine as long as you mostly surf the web, install standard apps, and even play a couple of games. But on my 2018 iPad Pro, I constantly filled up the 64GB because I was editing photos. So, think about how much storage you need first since we don’t get a microSD card slot here. But if you need to, you can attach external storage to the USB C port for data but certainly not for apps.
The Geekbench 5 results are very interesting. Let’s get one thing out of the way first: The Air 4 is faster than every Android tablet. And it’s faster than the iPad 8 too. Compared to the iPad Pro, it has a faster single-core and faster graphics performance. The multi-core score is not as good but it comes close.
When rendering a 9-minute 4K video in Adobe Premiere Rush, the iPad Air 4 needed 5.5 minutes which is a bit slower than the 4.5 minutes of the Pro. I’m not sure if that’s because of the different multi-core performance, the smaller RAM compared to the Pro or a software reason. But it’s certainly faster than the iPad 8 and much faster than every Android tablet.
I did a lot of office work, surfed the web, and edited photos with the Air 4 and did not notice any difference in real-life compared to the Pro. Everything performs super smooth and fast. It might be that with some applications, you’ll get better results with the Pro because of its 6GB RAM. Especially with heavy multitasking. But I wasn’t able to measure a difference besides in the Premiere Rush render test.
As the graphics benchmark suggested, gaming performance is fantastic. This is one of the best tablets you can get for gaming. Because this A14 chip is so powerful, you should be able to play almost all games with the highest graphics for at least a couple of years. That includes PUBG Mobile which you can play with Ultra HD graphic settings.
I played a couple of other games like Silver Tower, Shadow Fight 3, and Call of Duty. They all perform great. Now, a couple of games support 120Hz screens but here, you obviously can’t make use of that.
Software: iPadOS 14
Apple ships the iPad Air 4 with iPadOS 14 which is available for all current iPads. What updates are concerned, Apple is much better than all Android brands. To be fair, Windows tablets usually get updated longer, though, since it’s Windows.
For a pure tablet, I think that iPadOS is the best operating system now. I used to be a huge Android fan and I still like it a lot. But Apple has fixed almost every problem I had with iOS in the past. You can connect generic USB C accessories now, including external storage, and there’s even a proper files app.
Multitasking works great and the Apple Pencil is well supported too. By now, you can even connect a generic mouse or a touchpad.
In addition to that, you get a huge selection of apps and games. Sure, many like Microsoft Word, YouTube, most games, and so on exist for Android too. But in addition to those you also can get professional apps like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, great video editing apps, that all don’t exist like this for Android.
The battery life is good, but not as good as of some competitors. When streaming an HD video at maximum brightness on YouTube, it lasted 6 hours. That’s better than the iPad 8 and on the same level as the 11-inch Pro.
Apple iPad Air 4 Review: Final Words
The final verdict of my Apple iPad Air 4 review is very clear: I think it’s a fantastic tablet and for many, it’ll be the best choice this year. With a price tag of 600 dollars, the value is excellent. The Air 4 offers a premium design, lots of great accessories, a fantastic screen, and an amazing performance that’s much better than any Android tablet can offer. For most, it makes no sense to buy an iPad Pro instead and for many, it’ll be worth it to get the Air instead of the simple iPad.
Not everything is perfect, of course. If you want a 120Hz screen, facial recognition, a wide-angle camera, and better speakers, then you can check out one of the following alternatives.
The first alternative that I mentioned along the way already is the Apple iPad Pro. It’s much pricier but here you do get a brighter 120Hz screen, better speakers, Face ID, a wide-angle camera, and the LiDAR sensor. The 120Hz screen is fantastic if you’ll work with the pen a lot. But for most, I think it’s not worth it to pay that much more unless you can justify it because you need it for work or so.
If you want to save some money, you should get the Apple iPad 8. The screen is not laminated and you’ll have to live with the old design and the Lightning connector. But unless you really want to edit videos or so, you probably will never notice a performance difference. The A12 of the iPad 8 is very fast too.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 is the best alternative if you want an Android tablet. Most aspects of the screens are very similar but here you do get 120Hz. I also like that the S Pen is included at no extra charge, so if you care about the pen, it’s a bit cheaper. The S7 got a great score in my review too and I like it in combination with the Samsung DeX desktop mode and the keyboard cover. But the performance is not as good, and you don’t get apps like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
- Fantastic built quality
- Great 10.9-inch screen
- Super-fast Apple A14 SoC
- Fingerprint scanner
- Apple Pencil 2 support
- Two keyboard choices
- Huge app ecosystem
- No 120Hz screen
- Pricey with accessories
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