Why you (probably) don’t need an iPad Air 2022
This will likely be the best iPad for new users but its power-throttling operating system makes me wonder… why not just buy an older model?
iPads are one of my favourite devices to use for tablet-based tasks. In fact, after over 2 months using the new Air model almost every day for both work and play it has earned a permanent spot in my daily carry.
However, I mean it when I say "tablet-based tasks". Even with the addition of 5G and the powerful M1 chip, the iPad Air is held back by its operating system. This makes it a hard sell over older and cheaper models, especially when paired with Apple's excellent Magic keyboard.
To see the iPad Air (5th Gen) in action watch the video below.
The design is basically the same as last year's air: It's an ultra thin slab of glass with a 10.9-inch screen and a chassis made out of 100% recycled aluminium. The only major additions are under the hood: It gains 5G connectivity, the M1 chip and the new centre-stage camera feature. That's pretty much it.
This is a good thing. That design consistency means the air will comfortably fit all of your older 11-inch accessories and the Apple Pencil 2. Any reason not to buy new accessories when upgrading is a huge plus in my book.
Prices start at $929 Aussie dollars, which is a pretty good deal for such a powerful little machine. However, before you get too excited, that price is for the 64GB Wi-Fi version. If you want 256GB of storage and 5G network access, the price goes up to $1,389.
For most users, 64 gigabytes isn't a lot of storage. Once you factor in iPad OS system files and pre-installed apps you're left with closer to 50 gigabytes all up. Unless you're planning on using it solely for cloud based activities like streaming, google docs or web browsing, you'll want to pick up the 256GB model.
My favourite thing about the iPad Air is the same thing I've liked about the iPad Pro for years: It just works. You can open whatever you want and it will run perfectly. I've never experienced crashes, and switching between multiple apps or multitasking is an absolute breeze.
Additionally, the battery life on this is as amazing as ever, lasting about 10 hours.
This isn't a huge difference from pretty much every other iPad from the past few years, but you'll always be guaranteed a full day's use out of one of these, making it a very reliable device to carry around.
Unfortunately, all of this M1 power and snappy performance is held back by the device's operating system which is kind of stuck in this weird not-quite-a-laptop-but-wants-to-be identity crisis. Managing files and folders on iPad seems almost maliciously obtuse when compared to desktop experiences and many popular programs are seriously stripped back in their iPad OS form.
Also, fun fact: There still isn't an iPad native Instagram app in 2022. It just runs the iPhone app. Wild!
So why does this need the M1 chip at all? Thanks to iPadOS it's often barely noticeable just how much extra power that chip provides, especially when you compare it to older models.
iPad Pro 2018 (A12X Bionic chip)
For example, when compared with my 11-inch iPad Pro from 2018, the actual speed that apps load and run is almost exactly the same. It's not until I tried exporting large photos that the Air clearly outperformed the 4-year-old device. Even then it was only a few seconds ahead.
For a clearer idea of how similar these 2 tablets perform you can watch me trying different apps side-by-side in the video above.
iPad Pro 2021 (M1 chip)
I had this same gripe with last year's iPad Pro, so it's not at all surprising to find their software performance is basically the same.
There are some hardware features you miss out on if you buy the Air.
You lose Pro Motion display, thunderbolt USB-C, lidar, the ultra wide camera, the quad speakers and a few other minor bits and pieces. Honestly, because I only use the iPad for tablet-based tasks, I didn't really miss any of these features. The average tablet user likely won't either.
The thing that I actually miss the most is Face ID to unlock with the Air using a fingerprint reader instead. It's not a huge loss but fingering the top of the tablet just never feels as smooth as giving it a quick cheeky grin.
M1 MacBook Air 2020 (M1 Chip)
I also think it's worth noting for just a couple of hundred dollars extra (about the price of a magic keyboard), you're able to purchase the MacBook Air. Sure, you miss out on the cleaner tablet form factor but this laptop actually makes good use of the M1 chip, and can run most of the software an iPad can plus much more.
If you're looking for a device for work or school, the Macbook Air isn't much heavier, has a better battery life and a larger screen, all for about the same price. If you don't need the Lidar or cameras of the iPad Pro it's likely a better choice for you than either tablet.
If you're looking for a tablet that will last you a long time you don't really need to look much further than the M1 iPad Air. The M1 chip means it should perform at a high standard for many years to come and it's just a very smooth and seamless experience no matter what you're doing. It's also the best choice if you need one with a mobile-network, thanks to the addition of 5G.
But here's where you can save some cash: If you just want a tablet for basic browsing or streaming, you can find older models for a cheaper price and be just as happy. iPads just don't need M1 power all that often, and older models still work just fine.
Buy cheap iPads
If you're keen to save a few bucks on your iPad purchase, a pre-2022 model is a good way to go about it. As we explained above, you only really need the M1 chip if you regularly multitask with graphically demanding applications. For everyone else, an older iPad should be more than sufficient.
Here are a few deals you can get right now.
How we tested
I used the iPad Air almost daily as both a travel companion and at home. It was used for everything from photo editing to writing, web browsing, messaging and of course, gaming. The iPad was provided on loan by Apple for the purposes of this review.
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