Of course this is the iPad to get

I never considered getting a 13-inch iPad Pro. Besides the high price, I find it difficult to use such a large and heavy iPad by hand. The keyboard is great when it’s in the dock because the larger screen is better suited for multitasking, but I also want the iPad to be easy to store for casual tasks, playing games, watching movies, and all the other tablet-friendly essentials.

My current personal iPad is an 11-inch Pro from 2020, so I’m a clear cut for the new iPad Air. And after testing the 13-inch Air, I’m thinking about jumping into the big tablet market for the first time. Part of my reasoning is that the 13-inch iPad Air is smaller than the previous-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro on which it’s based. These tablets typically weighed around 1.5 pounds, but the Air comes in at 1.36 pounds.

That doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but it was enough for me to use the Air as a tablet rather than just placing it in a keyboard case. It’s still a bit more cumbersome than I’d like, and heavier and thicker than the new 13-inch iPad Pro. However, the iPad Air is $500 cheaper; at this price, I am willing to compromise a little.

Photos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad AirPhotos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad Air

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The new 11-inch model does not differ from the 10.9-inch model it replaces in terms of dimensions, weight and screen size. Don’t let Apple fool you into thinking the screen is .1 inch bigger this year, because it’s not—the company is just rounding up. (The same goes for the 13-inch Air; it has the same 12.9-inch screen size and resolution as the older iPad Pro.)

The M2 chip is a big selling point for the iPad Air, but keep in mind that if you have a 2022 model with an M1, you won’t get a huge performance boost here. Geekbench 6 tests show that the M2’s GPU is about 30 percent faster than the M1’s, with smaller gains in single-core and multi-core performance. But compared to the 2020 iPad Pro with an A12Z processor, the M2 is more than twice as fast. So if there’s no iPad with an M-series chip, the new Air will be a big step forward.

This camera is basically the same as the one on the last iPad Air, but now that it’s on the landscape edge, it’s better for video calling when using it with a keyboard. I was actually thinking about taking business calls with the iPad now, something that wasn’t the case before.

I’m also glad that the base iPad Air comes with 128GB of storage instead of the stingy 64GB it was last stuck with. It is now very easy to advise people to choose the cheapest configuration. And if you need it, you can get up to 1 TB of storage on Air for the first time.

Photos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad AirPhotos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad Air

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Air is stuck with the old Magic Keyboard, which is heavier and thicker than the new model and lacks a row of useful function keys. The Magic Keyboard remains very expensive — $299 for the 11-inch and $349 for the 13-inch — but it’s still my favorite iPad keyboard. Well, it’s my favorite after the updated version for iPad Pro. It’s comfortable, quiet and responsive, especially considering how thin it is, and I have no problem writing stories about it for hours at a time.

If you’re a fan of the Apple Pencil, the good news is that the iPad Air supports it the all-new Pencil Pro. I cover it in more detail in my iPad Pro review, but it does everything the older second-generation Apple Pencil can do, while adding new features like haptic feedback, find my support, a pinch gesture to open menus, and the ability to roll the Pencil. At hand to change the width of the brush thanks to the built-in gyroscopes. It costs $129, the same price as the second-generation Pen. The only bad news is that the old Pencil isn’t compatible with the iPad Air due to a redesigned charging and pairing system that accommodates the landscape front-facing camera.

Photos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad AirPhotos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad Air

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

That’s everything new about the iPad Air this year. The display remains the same standard Apple LCD, which looks great for everything I use this iPad for. It’s certainly not in the same league as the new tandem OLED display on the iPad Pro, or even the mini-LED display that came before it. I definitely noticed the relatively poor brightness and contrast on the Air’s screen when doing a side-by-side comparison with the Pro. But the good news is that I don’t spend my whole life comparing screens, and the iPad Air is still a strong selling point for a tablet. Unlike the screen on the original iPad, it’s laminated to the front glass and is bright enough for indoor use.

All I wanted was a higher frame rate. The iPad Pro’s “ProMotion” feature adjusts the frame rate between 10-120 Hz, while the Air goes up to 60 Hz. Over time, I stop noticing that the UI is relatively jerky in animations and don’t think too much about it. But whenever I go back to the iPad Pro, I quickly appreciate how much smoother and more fluid everything is.

The rear camera is the same as the previous iPad Air, which is good. It will take a decent picture in good lighting and you can shoot video in 4K at various frame rates. But you can’t record in ProRes—Apple limits it to the iPad Pro. But that probably won’t be an issue for anyone considering an iPad Air. Similarly, the iPad Air’s USB-C port doesn’t support the faster Thunderbolt 4 speeds, but in my tests it was fine for capturing RAW photos from my camera. If your workflow is such that you’ll use that port a lot and benefit from faster speeds, I’d strongly recommend checking out the Pro.

I haven’t even had the iPad Air for a week, so I haven’t run our time-consuming battery test yet. But from my daily use, it usually meets Apple’s 10-hour rating for light tasks like browsing the web or watching videos. Running more processor-intensive tasks will certainly wear it down faster, and I noticed a slight decrease in battery life when using the Magic Keyboard. But, as with most iPads, you won’t need to reach for the charger very often.

Photos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad AirPhotos of Apple's 2024 13-inch iPad Air

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Jump back and forth in between iPad Air and Pro emphasized what a great value Air is. I can’t deny that there are a number of tweaks to make the iPad Pro experience better. Face ID is clearly superior to Touch ID, for example, I quickly got tired of pressing the power button to unlock weather. The iPad Pro’s display is the definition of luxury, and the improved keyboard case offers a slightly better experience. It’s also lighter and easier to hold with better speakers. And of course there’s the new M4 chip.

These are all important and useful, but once I get used to Air again, I don’t miss it too much. The M2 is powerful enough for my needs, the Apple Pencil Pro experience is the same, the old Magic Keyboard is still great for typing, the screen is bright and colorful, and perhaps most importantly, it’s $500 cheaper than a comparable iPad Pro.

For some, that extra money may be worth it. There are some things the Pro can’t do that the Air-in can’t, like capture ProRes video or access Apple’s Reference mode for improved color accuracy and consistency against multiple color standards. And the M4 will save time on processor-intensive tasks like rendering video. And some people will simply want to buy the best iPad, money be damned.

But for the rest of us, the iPad Air is still here, offering 80 percent of the iPad Pro experience for less money. And for the first time, there’s a large-screen iPad at a more affordable price. My heart may want the iPad Pro, but my head (and wallet) agree that the iPad Air is a more reasonable choice.

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