Review: Apple's M2 iPad Air is more than a mere spec bump

ipad air 2024 review uk
iPad Air (2024) reviewSimon Cocks

Most people after an iPad probably want the iPad Air. That was true of the 2022 version and it’s still true of the freshly-launched 2024 version.

The iPad Pro is too expensive and overpowered to recommend to normal users. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a stunner. But it’s one best left to the actual professionals. What about the standard 10th-gen iPad then? That’s particularly attractive with its recent price cut but it lacks support for some key accessories, starts with much less storage and is excluded from certain handy multitasking features.

Where does that bring you? Back to the iPad Air. The new one is speedier (hello, M2 chip), supports the existing Magic Keyboard and the newest Apple Pencil Pro, and has a higher base storage. And, in some of the best news for entertainment fans, a new 13-inch screen size. That’s the one I’ve been testing, and trust me, you’ll notice the 30% size increase.

Apple iPad Air (2024): Design

No shock here, but the iPad Air continues to look like an iPad. It’s a flat plane of glass with rounded edges and black bezels around the display (about the same size as on other iPads) and a handy USB-C port for charging and connecting peripherals at the bottom.

You get volume controls and a main button that’s also a sensor for Touch ID. Sadly, there’s no Face ID on board here. While I love the security and simplicity of the fingerprint reader, I’ve got to say that it’s a noticeable difference when you don’t have Apple’s lightning-fast face recognition tech.

I noticed a minor lag when authenticating payments, password autofill and when unlocking the device – so will anyone used to any iPhone released in the last seven years.

ipad air 2024 review uk
Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Display

There’s not a lot to say here because Apple has stuck with the exact same LCD it put in the last iPad Air – on the 11-inch that’s at a 2360 x 1640 resolution, which goes up to 2732 x 2048 on the 13-inch variant.

You are not getting the “Tandem OLED Ultra Retina XDR” tech of the latest iPad Pro which looks absolutely astonishing, but it’s still a good screen. I sometimes wish it was one with a higher refresh rate for smoother animations, but most of the time you won’t notice the difference.

What you will feel is the sheer size of that 13-inch version. It’s much bigger without adding too much extra heft to the weight. The 11-inch is 462g, while the 13-inch is 618g. It’s a brilliant display for watching movies and shows.

I used this to watch the first episodes of the new season of Doctor Who on iPlayer, as well as most of Star Wars: Tales of the Empire on the Disney+ app. For anyone using streaming services all the time, the bigger version is well worth considering.

ipad air 2024 review uk
Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Processor

It’s getting a bit overshadowed because the iPad Pro is ridiculously overpowered, but the new iPad Air is a seriously capable computer. In fact, I think it’s more powerful than most of its users are ever going to need.

It now features Apple’s M2 chip as the brains of the tablet, and this delivers a 50% increase in speed compared to the M1 iPad Air. It’s quick – we’ve used it for a lot of emailing, Slack messaging, FaceTime calls, multitasking and writing this whole review. But, it can do so much more – we haven’t tried any rendering, animation or editing that would really push this to its limit.

It’s worth remembering just how good that M1 processor is too – it’s the one I use in my work laptop every single day when I’m juggling 50 different tabs for research, and it’s the one in the 2022 iPad Air that I’ve used for everything from holiday planning, writing articles, processing and editing photos and watching most of Masters of the Air and X-Men ‘97.

The M2 is a pro-level chip present in the Vision Pro headset and previous MacBook Pro and iPad Pro models. It’s more than fast enough for most work you’ll ever want to do, and better at AI tasks with its upgraded “Neural Engine” – I should be clear, though, that the last generation was already more than good enough. This is an excellent chip, but you won’t notice the difference in normal use.

ipad air 2024 review uk
Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Cameras

I know you’re not using your iPad camera for actual photography (you’re not, are you?) but the sensors on these tablets are excellent for what most of us will use them for most of the time: video calls.

Yes, the technical specifications of the iPad Air cameras and the iPad Pro cameras are about the same, although the iPad Pro does have a handful of extra optimisations including a LiDAR scanner for understanding depth and distance (and removing shadows from document scans) in addition to a “TrueDepth” front camera for FaceID and the ability to shoot 4K or ProRes footage.

In practical use, though, these are good cameras for your video calls and receipt scans. They’re maybe not the best for taking loads of photos, but that’s not what they’re for. The front camera is now placed where it should’ve always been on the landscape edge and supports “Centre Stage” to keep you in the frame at all times. I used it for FaceTime calls. It works well and you’re not going to feel like it’s missing anything.

ipad air 2024 review uk
Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Battery life

This is another area where there’s not a lot to say. Look at almost any iPad spec sheet – whether it’s for the current models or ones dating back to 2018 – and you’ll see the same claim. Namely, that the battery will keep going for “up to 10 hours” of web browsing on WiFi or watching videos. It’ll also get you up to nine hours of web use when you’re on a mobile data network.

In reality, this always feels about right. These tablets aren’t quite designed to rival something like the M3 MacBook Air on battery life, but they’ll deliver something that feels like almost all-day use in normal conditions.

This is a bit “inside baseball” but works as a real-life example – to travel light at Apple Park, I used an M1 iPad Air instead of a laptop while covering the iPhone launch last September, and it got me through most of the day before needing a recharge at around the time I was finishing processing the hands-on photos from the event. On that day, I was carrying a 10K power bank, something I recommend everyone keep in their backpack.

ipad air 2024 review uk
Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Drawbacks

None of the “downsides” to the iPad Air are actual dealbreakers, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t hoped for just a few more upgrades. This is more than a basic spec bump, especially with its support for the artist-ready fancy new Apple Pencil Pro.

However, it is notable that this doesn’t feature Face ID. I wish it did. It’s so much more seamless than the fingerprint reader. I wouldn’t mind it if this had a high refresh-rate screen too for those super smooth animations all around the interface, but that’s not a disaster that it’s missing.

It’s also a shame that while this supports the Magic Keyboard, it’s the existing version rather than the one that’s been fully revamped for the iPad Pro. That one has aluminium wrist rests, a larger trackpad, function keys above the number row. It feels so premium and I’d have loved a version of it that supports this iPad Air.

Arguably, a lot has stayed the same compared to its predecessor too. I think the addition of the 13-inch size and the M2 chip make this more than a minor refresh, but if you’ve got this and the M1 iPad Air side-by-side, there’s not a massive difference. Because of that, I’d highly recommend trying to find deals on that iPad as the price will have dropped with this one’s arrival.

ipad air 2024 review uk
Simon Cocks

Apple iPad Air (2024): Verdict

Let me simplify your iPad buying experience. If you want a versatile Apple tablet with a great display, simple design, a chip that can handle anything you can throw at it and supports the latest Apple Pencil and existing Magic Keyboard, just pick the iPad Air. Need it to be more compact for travel. Go for the 11-inch Air. Need one that’s bigger for better multitasking, entertainment and photo editing? You’re after the 13-inch Air.

The 11-inch starts at the same price as the old version while both come with a minor but significant upgrade I haven’t mentioned much so far – the base storage is up to 128GB from 64GB. That’s something I appreciate.

The new M2 iPad Air is the best iPad for most people now, while the 13-inch Air is the best big iPad for most of us. If you’re sure you don’t need multitasking features, accessory support, additional storage or a better screen, that’s when you should look at the most affordable 10th-gen iPad, now starting at £349 in the UK.

Apple iPad Air (2024): Other products to consider

The most important product I’d consider instead of this new iPad Air is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the iPad Air. I do mean the one from 2022, of course. If you can find it, that one still supports my most essential accessory for productivity (the Magic Keyboard) while also having the power of the M1 chip (as mentioned, more than enough) and support for the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil. For most users, this is probably still more than you’ll need.

I can’t recommend going for the iPad Pro unless you’re an actual professional or just want to overspend on an iPad with more power than you’ll ever need. If that sounds like you, then go for it. The 10th-gen iPad is worth considering for beginners, but I would argue that the Air is the better buy overall.

Meanwhile, Android users probably won’t be considering the iPad at all. If you’re looking for a Google-powered tablet, we’d suggest picking up the Google Pixel tablet – it’s now also on sale without the speaker dock and at a lower price, if you were never going to use it as a home hub anyway. Samsung instead? The Galaxy Tab S9 is the best tablet for most Samsung users.

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