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Apple’s iPad Pro line of tablets has been deemed by many to be the undisputed king of tablet technology. That still rings true: nobody makes a tablet quite like Apple. However, as far as competitors go, the 2020 iPad Air (4th Gen) is one of the best opponents to the company’s Pro hardware.
As far as looks go, the 2020 iPad Air looks extremely similar to that of Apple’s current and prior generation of iPad Pros. Bezels are slimmer and the device is hosted inside a thin and flat aluminium chassis complete with smooth curved corners. The only perceptible differences are minor: the iPad Air is available in a single size, 10.9”, compared to the multiple options available on the Pro. Then there’s the single camera on the back, creating a far smaller camera bump.
Apple’s modern design philosophy still makes for a stunning device that would rest perfectly alongside a new iPhone 12 device, a bonus for those who dare to be fully integrated into the iOS ecosystem.
The iPad Air’s cohesion into the more modern family of iPad devices brings more benefits than a nicer visual design. Just like the newer iPad Pros, this more-budget device features a USB-C port for charging, accessories and peripherals as well as a magnetic smart connector to attach the Apple Pencil 2 instead of the last-gen original that was compatible with the prior Air devices. The new 2020 iPad Air can even connect to the Pro tablets’ 11-inch Smart Folio and Magic Keyboard.
Some design decisions do leave something to be desired. Unlike the Pro, Apple’s smaller tablet doesn’t feature Face ID, instead opting for a physical fingerprint sensor on the power button. As a fan of physical fingerprint sensors, this was a fantastic addition, but the iPad Air 4th Gen’s interpretation is less accurate than the home button fingerprint readers on old Air devices.
Another downgrade from the Pro rests with the display. While the 10.9 inch screen looks fantastic for video consumption and visual work, it does see a halved framerate from the gorgeous flowmotion 120fps down to 60fps. It’s a noticeable drop in fluidity, but it rarely affects most activities.
The heart of the new iPad Air is the A14 Bionic SoC. As the same chip that’s inside the new iPhone 12 devices, the A14 is one beast of a chip. The new iPad Air easily outperforms the old 2017 iPad Pro; rendering 1080p or 4K videos in LumaFusion is a breeze and the solid optimization of iOS meant that the lower 4GB of system RAM never saw the device slow down despite having dozens of apps in the background.
As far as sound goes, the iPad Air 4th gen interpretation uses just two speakers in stereo compared to the four speakers that have populated Pro devices for the past few generations. Sound is still sharp and crisp, but they do lack the same punch that Pro iPads do.
The only true issue with grabbing a new 2020 iPad Air 4th gen is dependent on how you feel about the Apple ecosystem. While Apple’s locked devices have led to far better optimisation for software, easily allowing for high-end software like LumaFusion or XCOM 2 to run effortlessly, the recent blunders with protecting that ecosystem has led to certain popular software becoming unavailable on iPad.
The lack of Fortnite is one thing, but the lack of video game streaming services like Google Stadia and Project xCloud that’s available on Android devices does limit the potential of the 2020 iPad Air. Of course, with the locked-down ecosystem, even emulation is off the table despite the impressive power on the system. With its gorgeous display, this could be a fantastic mobile gaming system, especially with iPadOS’ multiple controller capabilities.
The 2020 iPad Air 4th Gen is the perfect option for those who can’t quite get together the cash for a Pro device. In fact, with only minor caveats compared to Apple’s more expensive offering, there’s very little reason not to get the Air, unless you crave a larger screen. It’s perfect for drawing, great for editing, even fantastic for day-to-day work. It’s a shame that Apple’s ecosystem feels even more limited than ever due to the lack of streaming products. However, if those services don’t matter to you, you should definitely pick up Apple’s newest tablet.