Stuck at home over the past couple of years, I have been slowly weaned away from my iPad, which otherwise is the device I carry everywhere for everything from recruitment drives to conferences and even international trips. Now, I have the luxury of sitting in front of the MacBook all the time for work. But as me and others slowly stumble back into a routine that has some semblance of the lives we left behind, the need for a portable device that is also powerful and versatile is slowly returning to our lives. This is where the new iPad Air powered by Apple’s M1 processor could make a serious impact.
Apple iPad Air 5th Gen review: What’s good?
On the design front, the new iPad Air holds no surprises. It is a thin slate of computing with trademark Apple design language. The bezel is very visible and the display is not edge-to-edge in that sense. But the 10.9-inch display is rich in colours, crisp and brighter that most others. So if you are watching the latest episode of Slow Horses on Apple TV or just scribbling notes with the Apple Pencil on the Notability app, the experience will be the best you can get on a screen this size.
The stereo speakers make it a great device to consume content on. Recovering from a dental surgery I was on bed for a couple of days, but binging on new shows on Apple TV and Netflix. The fact that I was not using earphones did not bother me at all as the iPad has speakers powerful enough to fill the room.
I am guilty of not really appreciating cameras in iPads and other tablets over the years. But the pandemic has taught me the importance of these cameras, especially when I see my son using a smartphone to click all his assignments for submission to the teacher. This year, he too has to upgrade to an iPad as schools figure out a teaching system that won’t be impacted much in case children have to go back indoors because of the pandemic. The iPad Air has a 12MP wide camera on the rear which is powerful enough to show the pores on plant leaves and even catch a tiny bug making its way on the edges.
The front camera too has been upgraded to take on the challenges of Zoom calls and now comes with Centre Stage which keeps you in focus at all times.
The new iPad Air is powered by the same processor that powers the latest MacBook Air. So you can do everything here, yes everything. Then iPads have been very capable even before the M1 came in. This iPad Air could handle a Google Sheet with 20,000 rows which I copied on to Numbers, adjusted as per new separators and worked on without any lag. This is not something all tablets can handle, but will be something expected out of mobile devices in coming times. And what’s more, I could use the split view to open both these sheets side by side and compare when needed.
However, I did miss a keyboard at times because working on a spreadsheet with your fingers or the Apple Pencil is something my brain was not that happy doing.
What made me very happy was playing Asphalt 8, Real Racing 3 and other games on the iPad Air. From the superb rendition go the graphics, showing the lens flare and other details to the smooth flow around the racing track, the experience was really worthy of something that could pass off as a gaming device.
Also, the iPad Air now is configured as a device that is used along with the Apple Pencil. So as soon as you tap the bottom right corner of the iPad, a quick note pop-up comes up so that you can scribble notes. The Apple Pencil itself has to perch on top of the iPad to charge, but with the new scribble options it is much more natural to use and convert your handwritten notes to text. The feature is now so good that you can use the Pencil even for spotlight search and other internal text fields.
I was expecting some apps to have issues with the M1 processors, but almost everything I have been used to over the years worked seamlessly on the iPad Air.
The battery life is good for you to last a couple of workdays, or even a two-day trip where you are using the iPad for work and even watching shows on the flight. The good thing now is that you don’t have to carry a separate charger as the USB-C charger is something you will have in your backpack anyway.
Apple iPad Air 5th Gen review: What’s not that good?
My only issue was that there was a tinge of warmth when I was gaming. I guess this is because you have a powerful processor inside and not all games are tuned for the M1. But maybe an update might be needed to cool things down a bit.
Also, I do find the fingerprint reader in the power button a bit hard to handle. Having logged in my right index finger, I found that the power button ended up on the left side most of the times I needed to use the authentication. This is where FaceID is such a boon.
If you are going to use this as a replacement for your laptop, please invest in a keyboard, maybe even before you get the Apple Pencil.
Apple iPad Air 5th Gen review: Should you buy?
Yes, if you are looking to upgrade from an earlier iPad. Yes, if you want a powerful iPad but don’t want to spend as much as on the iPad Pro. Yes, if you want a computer that you can carry everywhere and literally do everything with. This is the best mid-range tablet out there and one that can push your expectations of what can be done with this form factor. If you are someone on the go always, I recommend getting the cellular version which is, of course more expensive, but also more productive.