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Apple Redesigns iPad Air, Updates Base-Model iPad

The iPad lineup has been something of a puzzle for the past few years. At the top end are the thin-bezeled iPad Pro models, which have USB-C and are targeted at replacing laptops (see “Hell Freezes Over: Apple’s New iPad Pro Supports Trackpads,” 18 March 2020). The base-model iPad sat comfortably at the bottom with its bargain $329 price, and in recent years, it gained support for the first-generation Apple Pencil and other accessories. In the middle, the iPad Air, with its old-school design, support for only the first-generation Apple Pencil, and higher price tag, was something of an enigma. And of course, there’s the popular if often ignored iPad mini, which Apple at long last revised last year (see “Apple Quietly Releases New iPad mini and iPad Air,” 18 March 2019).

The new iPad Air and base iPad

Now Apple has reworked the fourth-generation iPad Air to more closely resemble the 11-inch iPad Pro, and the lineup suddenly makes more sense. If you want more screen and less Home button, either a new iPad Air or an iPad Pro will meet your needs. That’s also the case if you want a second-generation Apple Pencil that won’t roll off your desk. The key is that, for many people, the new iPad Air will give them everything they like about the iPad Pro for $200 less.

Apple also updated the base-model iPad with a new processor. It’s nothing to write home about, but it remains an affordable and capable iPad that gets the job done.

You’ll be able to buy a new iPad Air sometime in October. Apple said that the eighth-generation iPad is available to order immediately and will be in stores on 18 September 2020. Both models will come with iPadOS 14.

Fourth-Generation iPad Air

Much of what’s new with the iPad Air is old news in the iPad Pro world, including the switch to a squared-off industrial design. There is one feature that’s completely new to Apple devices: a sapphire crystal Touch ID sensor in the top button. Apple has traditionally embedded Touch ID in the Home button, and later iPhones and iPads shifted to Face ID, except for a handful of budget models. But in the COVID-19 era, when many people are wearing face masks on a regular basis, Face ID has quickly become a significant liability. The addition of Touch ID to the top button is an interesting shift, and it might offer a clue to what Apple has in store for the iPhone 12.

The components of the new Touch ID button

The new iPad Air features a 10.9-inch fully laminated Liquid Retina display at a resolution of 2360-by-1640. That’s up from the 10.5-inch screen in the previous model, which had a resolution of 2224-by-1668. The pixel density remains at 264 pixels per inch, as do the other screen specs of P3 wide color, True Tone support, full lamination, and an antireflective coating.

The new iPad Air screen

The new iPad Air is 9.74 inches (247.6 mm) tall, 7 inches (178.5 mm) wide, and 0.24 inches (6.1 mm) thick. It’s just a few millimeters shorter and wider than the previous model. The Wi-Fi model weighs in at exactly one pound (458 grams) while the cellular model weighs 1.01 pounds (460 grams), just a few grams heavier than before. It’s extremely comparable to the 11-inch iPad Pro.

The iPad Air is powered by Apple’s new 6-core A14 Bionic chip, which is interesting because iPad models usually get either leftover iPhone chips or updated versions like the A12X. We’ll probably see the A14 Bionic in some of Apple’s next batch of iPhones. Apple claims a 40% increase in overall performance and power efficiency compared to the previous iPad Air. It also includes a 4-core graphics processor that Apple claims offers a 30% graphics improvement over the previous model. The A14 Bionic builds in a 16-core Neural Engine for improved artificial intelligence processing.

The rear camera is a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture that can record 4K video at 60 frames per second. The front-facing camera features a 7-megapixel lens with an f/2.0 aperture that can record 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second.

The fourth-generation iPad Air features a 28.6 watt-hour battery that offers up to 10 hours of Web surfing or video watching. As with the iPad Pro models, the new iPad Air swaps Lightning for USB-C for both charging and peripherals.

Like the previous model, the new iPad Air produces stereo sound, with left and right speakers (in landscape mode). It also continues to offer dual microphones for noise cancellation and greater call clarity.

The fourth-generation iPad Air comes in five colors: space gray, silver, rose gold, green, and sky blue. It starts at $599 for the 64 GB Wi-Fi model. A 256 GB Wi-Fi model is available for $749. Cellular models cost $729 for 64 GB of storage or $879 for 256 GB. A USB-C charging cable and 20-watt USB-C power adapter are included. AppleCare+ for the iPad Air is $69 for 2 years of coverage or $3.49 per month indefinitely.

iPad Air colors

Eighth-Generation iPad

Apple has also updated the base-model iPad, with the only change being the move to the 6-core A12 Bionic from last year’s 4-core A10 Fusion processor. Otherwise, it’s identical to the seventh-generation model, with the same 10.2-inch Retina display and Smart Connector. The new model remains compatible with only the first-generation Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard, so it doesn’t work with the second-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard.

The eighth-generation iPad starts at $329 for the 32 GB Wi-Fi model, with education pricing for a broadly defined set of individuals at $309 and education pricing for institutions at $299. The 128 GB Wi-Fi model costs $429. Add $130 for cellular capability. It comes in space gray, silver, and gold.

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Comments About Apple Redesigns iPad Air, Updates Base-Model iPad

Notable Replies

  1. I was comparing specs between the iPad Pro (2020) 11 inch and the new iPad Air 10.9 inch and except for the camera and FaceId vs TouchId, and the cameras, there didn’t seem to be much difference. The CPU on the new iPad Air 10.9 inch actually is newer. Is it faster?

    Which makes me wonder - how close in specs is the new iPad Air 10.9 inch to the 2018 iPad Pro 11 inch?

    I have a 12.9 inch 2018 iPad Pro. If I were using it instead of a computer the size seems nice, with the smart keyboard case.

    But I use a Mac for my work, and find the 12.9 inch iPad Pro too large. 11 inch would have been better because I find it hard to use the 12.9 inch as a tablet, or carry around. It’s awkward to use, for example, on a train. Even as just a tablet sitting in my lap reading news I find it too large to hold comfortably.

    Like I said, if it were instead of a computer I would go for it. But as a tablet, I find it too large.

    I was thinking of maybe selling it and going for the 11 inch model iPad Pro but now wonder if the iPad Air 10.9 inch isn’t pretty much the same thing? I also wonder with the introduction of the iPad Air 10.9 inch what has happened to the resale value of my iPad Pro 2018.

    Any thoughts?

  2. Ray

    I was really looking forward to the update as I have a 12.5 in iPad and a 9.5 in iPad Pro and would like to combine the screen sizes to compromise in a 11 in or so. I would go for the iPad Air as I much prefer the Touch ID to the face scan, but I would really like more storage than 256 GB max for the Air.

  3. On the Apple website, you can easily run a comparison chart of up to 3 current iPad models at once. See here.

  4. Yes, I did that. That’s what prompted my question.

  5. If you don’t care about the better display and cameras on the pro, the new iPad Air is definitely a great buy.

  6. Thanks, Josh. I hope you’re right. I’d love to see TouchID come to the power button on the iPhone 12. Not instead of FaceID, but in addition to it. :slight_smile: Not sure I’d bet a lot of money on that wager though. :wink:

  7. I don’t think we’ll know until we see reviews. FWIW, the A12Z in the Pro is an 8 core CPU, 8 core GPU, while the A14 is a 6 core CPU and 4 core GPU. It’ll be interesting to see if the 5nm vs 7nm process and more transistors yields similar performance from fewer cores.

    I also wonder if the iPad Pro will get a processor bump in the near future.

  8. If it does, I’ll be buying it.

  9. I will buy the new iPad Air (I cancelled an order for an Air 2 weeks ago when the rumors of a new one appeared). I am unhappy about one aspect of the iPad Air, storage. 64GB is too little for me and the only option is to jump to 256GB for $150. This was the case with the iPhone 11 Pro but the 64GB was enough for me for a phone. So now the iPad Air is almost up to iPad Pro pricing.

  10. I agree. My current iPad is an Air 2 with 128 GB, which is enough, but 64 would be too little. Still, the new Air seems to be a better value than the Pro.

    One thing that I would have liked to see Apple change is the position of the front facing camera. If Apple really wants an iPad to be a laptop replacement, they should move that camera to the long side.

  11. Meh. They are all too large. Where is an iPad Mini 6?

  12. Our friend Jason Snell has now posted a review of the fourth-generation iPad Air at Six Colors.

  13. The fourth-generation iPad Air is now available for ordering online.

  14. And John Gruber has a review up at Daring Fireball too. He’s a little down on the lack of ProMotion and the use of TouchID when the iPad is using a keyboard.

  15. I think the new iPad Air is particularly awesome if you can get by with just 64 GB. Then it’s a great deal.

    If OTOH you need more storage than 64 GB, you might as well get the 128GB 11" Pro. For $50 more than the 256 GB Air you get brighter ProMotion display, FaceID, better camera, better speakers, and it’s A12Z will still outperform the Air’s A14 for multicore and GPU tasks.

  16. I got the iPad Air 4 with 256GB. I kept wondering if I should get the iPad Pro instead since just a $50 difference. I replaced my 9.7" iPad Pro due to terrible battery performance (perhaps plugging it in all of the time wasn’t such a good idea). If I knew the iPad Air 4 pricing and storage options and difference in RAM two months earlier I wouldn’t have waited and bought the 11" Pro back then.

    I am quite happy with the Air 4. It is the best Touch ID I’ve encountered. Very responsive and the screen will remind me of the button’s location. I used my Pro with a Brydge keyboard most of the time, I have switched to mostly using a keyboard less case. Even when I use the keyboard pressing the Touch ID is no big deal, but Face ID would be nicer.

  17. I’m shortly going to be in the market for one of these machines but I am leaning Air over Pro. I don’t need the extra cameras, I’m fine with the 60 Hz display, and I can get by just fine with Touch ID on the power button. I really won’t be doing “Pro” things on the iPad but I’ll appreciate the extra power in the Air over the standard iPad, plus I’ll be getting the cellular model, so the price difference is $70 for 256 GB vs 128 GB on the Pro, not $50 like on the WiFi models.

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