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Apple iPad Air 4 vs iPad Air 3 Comparison: A Massive Upgrade

Wondering if you should get the new Apple iPad Air 4 or save some cash with the iPad Air 3? Let’s put them side by side in this comparison and find out which one makes more sense.

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Until now, Apple has made a clear distinction between its Pro and non-Pro iPads in nearly every sphere. While the Pros maintained a separate ecosystem of accessories and features, other models were left stuck with a design that was closer to the very first iPad. With the 2018 iPad Pros, Apple gave the iPad line its first major redesign in years, and it’s now finally trickling down to cheaper models, starting with the all-new iPad Air 4.

Apple iPad Air 4 on* Amazon

If you put the iPad Air 4 and Air 3 side by side, you’ll notice that they look nothing alike. It wouldn’t be an overstatement if I said that they’re as different as day and night. With so many things that have changed, it’s hard to keep track of everything. We’ve put together a handy comparison between the 2019 iPad Air and the latest 2020 model to see exactly what’s new.

Let’s get started with our iPad Air 4 vs. iPad Air 3 comparison.

Read: iPad Air 2019 Review: An Almost Perfect Tablet With Keyboard & Stylus

Design

The iPad Air has shed its older, worn-out cloak completely to adopt the new iPad Pro-like design, making the fourth-gen model stand out from the rest of the lineup. You’re getting a similar flat design, both on the sides and the back. In fact, the new Air is so close to the first iPad Pro 11-inch that they’re almost indistinguishable. This doesn’t seem to be a coincidence as Apple has clearly recycled the Pro’s design, but we aren’t complaining. This is perhaps that one redesign many of us have been wanting for the entire iPad line.

Alongside that facelift, Apple has also given the Air 4 a couple of interesting shades, other than the standard (and boring) silver and gray colorway available for the iPad Air 3. These pastel shades could be a nifty way to personalize your new tablet with the color you prefer. Meanwhile, the iPad Air 3 has the recognizable iPad design that hasn’t changed in years and still exists on cheaper models.

Display

A big part of this visual refresh is the new display, which actually gives the iPad Air 4 its new character. You get a larger 10.9-inch screen, which stretches from one corner to another and isn’t anything like the Air 3. It’s a major step up from the 2019 Air’s screen that was surrounded by thick bezels. However, the panel quality itself doesn’t seem to have changed one bit. You’re getting the same Retina pixel density of 264 PPI and 500 nits of peak brightness, along with a 60Hz refresh rate, so there’s no ProMotion on the new Air either.

Hardware & Performance

While the outside changes are definitely more noticeable, Apple has made brought some significant improvements on the inside too. The iPad Air 4 comes powered by a new A14 Bionic chip. It’s the same processor that will come installed inside the upcoming iPhone 12 range. This should be a big deal since it’s currently the latest and greatest Apple has to offer, and you can expect it to perform exceptionally well even at more taxing things like gaming and video rendering.

iPad Air 2019 keyboard cover

The A12 Bionic processor used inside the Air 3 is now two generations old, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad performer. The chip still holds up pretty well for all kinds of tasks, and it’d frankly hard for anyone to find a difference in performance while using the Air 3 and 4 next to each other. If anything, the longevity of these processors and the tablets they power should bother you. The iPad Air 4 with its newer SoC is definitely going to last you longer than the Air 3 with its A12 Bionic, which is already two years old.

As for their RAM capacities, we don’t have any information for the Air 4, but the Air 3 came with 3 gigs of RAM. We’ll have to wait for Air 4’s teardowns to get some scoop on its RAM. What we do know is that the latest model will let you choose between 64GB and 256GB of storage — exactly what the 2019 Air 3 had to offer.

Read: The Best iPads In 2020: Which Apple Tablet Should You Get?

Software

The benefit of getting an iPad is that the general interface and software experience remain unchanged across the range. Both the iPad Air versions run the same iteration of iPadOS, but their different form factors bring in some changes for the Air 4. Since the 2020 model now follows the design precedent set by the Pro, it lacks a home button. In place of that, you need to use a host of gestures to navigate around the OS. These gestures aren’t entirely new as some of them already work on the Air 3, but they don’t get similar prominence on iPad models that are still stuck with the older design.

In terms of software functionality, there isn’t much of a difference. The new iPad Air 4 will come preinstalled with the latest iPadOS 14, which Apple has already released to all its recent tablets, including the Air 3. If the company’s track record is anything to go by, the older model will continue receiving parallel updates for a few more years. The latest iPadOS build comes packed with a bunch of improvements for the Apple Pencil, which is getting a new Scribble feature, while the company has also made certain notifications pop-ups and Siri’s presence less intrusive when you’re doing something on the screen.

Speakers

When it first came out, the iPad Air 3 wasn’t particularly cheap, but it still lacked a stereo speaker setup — one of our biggest gripes with the tablet. The audio came out only from one side of the device, and, while the quality wasn’t compromised, we were left wanting for a fuller, more immersive sound. Thankfully, the Air 4 changes that for good and gets a stereo pair, with speakers on both its sides, when you hold the device in landscape mode.

The Air 4 has two grills on each side, just like the iPad Pro does. However, Apple doesn’t call them a quad-speaker setup, possibly because only one of these two grills on each side works as a speaker, while the other one was added just for symmetry’s sake. We’ll have to confirm that once we have the Air 4 in for our review. But at least, you won’t be missing out on stereo sound anymore.

iPad Air 2019 gaming test

Cameras

Except for the latest iPad Pro models, all other iPads get a single rear camera, which is also true for the Air 4. However, Apple has upgraded the older 8MP sensor on the Air 3 to a 12MP one. It’s the same camera used on the first iPad Pro 11, which comes with a wider aperture and has got stabilization for Live Photos. The higher resolution also helps record 4K videos, up from 1080p supported on the 2019 iPad Air.

As for the front-facing FaceTime camera, nothing seems to have changed. You get the same 7MP sensor that is capable of taking 1080p videos. That kind of resolution is more than enough for video calls or even taking selfies if you don’t mind holding a big tablet close to your face.

Read: Top 10: The Best Tablets With Keyboards | 2020 Edition

Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard

Thanks to the upgraded design, the iPad Air 4 is much closer to the Pro than the Air 3, making it compatible with the second-gen Apple Pencil, which so far only worked with the Pro line. This is such a long-standing demand from consumers on older models as with the first Pencil, you have to put up with the awkward charging mechanism where the stylus would stick out from the tablet’s Lightning port. That part is finally solved with the Air 4, which supports wireless charging for the second-gen Pencil.

Other than that, since the Air 4 also shares its dimensions with the iPad Pro 11, it is also compatible with the new Magic Keyboard. You can get the same super-expensive keyboard accessory that sticks to the device magnetically and holds it in place, sort of levitating it in the air (pun not intended), allowing you to set the screen at any preferred angle. The keyboard also comes with a touchpad, which should make use of the pointer support on iPadOS and give you a computer-like feel.

Touch ID

With the changed design, you’d expect the iPad Air 4 to also include the Face ID sensors along with its front-facing camera. Apple decided against it and kept the Touch ID, albeit in a new avatar. The Air 3 gets its fingerprint reader embedded in the home button on the front. With that iconic circular button now history, the iPad Air 4 has its Touch ID sensor baked into its power key on the top. Granted, it isn’t the most convenient place for a fingerprint reader, Touch ID should still be able to compensate for the shortcomings of Face ID, like the fact that it fails to work when you’re wearing a mask — something unavoidable in the current scenario.

Ports

Among the whole host of things that Apple has changed on the Air 4, its port situation is one of them — perhaps even a more important one. The aging Lightning port is now gone and has been replaced with a USB Type-C port. The new port is much more versatile, letting you attach a host of accessories, storage devices, and even connect to an external monitor. On top of that, USB-C also allows you to carry a single charger and cable for all your devices that support the universal port.

iPad Air 2019 speakers

Connectivity & Battery

Both iPad Air models offer rich connectivity options, which won’t disappoint you any possible way. They get the same Bluetooth 5.0, but the Air 4 comes with a slightly improved Wi-Fi 6 option. For the cellular model, the 2020 Air supports just a couple of extra bands, which will come handy only to a specific user group. But for the rest of us, things should be pretty identical on either device.

In the endurance department, Apple has actually reduced the battery size by about 2Wh compared to the Air 3. Nevertheless, the company still rates the Air 4’s battery to last for up to 10 hours on a single charge. This could be a result of the A14 Bionic chip being much better at power management, though, we’ll have to take a closer look at the device in our review to give our final word.

Read: iPad Pro 11” Review: The Best Tablet Ever – But Crazy Expensive

Price

With all the new features, Apple has also decided to raise the Air’s prices by $100. When it first came out last year, the Air 3 started at $499 in the US for its base 64GB model, and you were required to pay $649 for the upgraded 256GB of storage. For the same storage options on the iPad Air 4, you’ll have to shell out $599 and $729, respectively. This price rise surely pushes the new iPad Air further into the premium category, much closer to the Pro lineup, just like its design does.

Specifications: A Comparison

TabletApple iPad Air 4Apple iPad Air 3
Operating systemiPadOS 14iPadOS 14
Display10.9-inch IPS (2360 x 1640), 264 PPI, 500 nits10.5-inch IPS (2224 x 1668), 264 PPI, 500 nits
ProcessorA14 BionicA12 Bionic
Storage64/256GB64/256GB
ExpandableNANA
RAMUnknown3GB
Main camera12 Megapixels, 4K video8 Megapixels, 1080p video
Front camera7 Megapixels7 Megapixels
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, optional Gigabit-class LTEWi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, optional Gigabit-class LTE
PortsUSB Type-CLightning port, 3.5mm headphone jack
Battery28.6Wh, up to 10 hours30.2Wh, up to 10 hours
SpeakersDual stereo speakersMono speaker
SecurityTouch ID, power button mountedTouch ID, home button mounted
Dimensions247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1 mm250.6 x 174.1 x 6.1 mm
Weight460g464g

Apple iPad Air 4 vs. iPad Air 3: Final Verdict

The Apple iPad Air 4 isn’t out yet, so our verdict here will be based on the preliminary information that Apple has publicly shared and our extensive experience with other iPads, including the Air 3 and the 11-inch Pro. But the gist of it all is that the iPad Air 4 and the Air 3 are two polarly different tablets in nearly every sense. The 2020 Air is a breath of fresh air (again, pun not intended) with all the visual changes that it brings to the table by adopting the Pro’s layout. In some sense, the latest Air even trumps the first-gen iPad Pro 11 by using a cutting-edge processor.

Read: Top 10: Best Premium Tablets In 2020 (Windows, iOS, and Android)

The Air 4, for sure, seems like a big upgrade over its predecessor, bringing in some serious improvements, both internally and physically. It gets a lot of things right, at least on paper, while we’ll have to see for ourselves if it actually stands up to all the claims. Apple’s 2020 Air is clearly one of the better packages the company has produced in recent times that strikes the right balance between Pro-grade features and price. This new machine from Apple is an easy recommendation if you’re in the market looking for a slate around the $500 price point. The best time to get this device would be during the upcoming holiday season when retailers will offer heavy discounts, even on newer models.

However, even if you go for the Air 3 right now, you wouldn’t be disappointed as it packs a decent processor on the inside that should keep things smooth for at least a couple of more years. Plus, with Apple’s excellent software support, there shouldn’t be much to complain about. This is particularly true since, now that the new Air is out, the Air 3 should retail at a discounted price until stocks dry up. It’s still a much better device than even the new iPad 8, despite them both using the same processor.

Apple iPad Air 4

After years of sticking to the conventional design, Apple has finally moved to its new design language for the cheaper iPad Air as well. The iPad Air 4 looks like a breath of fresh air with its new looks and the support for the second-gen Apple Pencil. If that wasn't enough, you're also getting a much more capable USB-C port along with a quad speaker setup straight from the Pro. Touch ID has stayed, but it's been moved under the power button. And not to forget, the tablet comes powered by the improved A14 chip.
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