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iPad Air 4 vs. iPad Air 5: Should you upgrade?

There are plenty of reasons to upgrade to the latest iPad Air, including its M1 processor and 5G compatibility, but you may want to consider the one argument for sticking with the 2020 model first.
Written by June Wan, Technology Editor on
ipad-air-2020-vs-2022.jpg
Image: Apple

The latest iPad Air represents the fifth generation of Apple's lightweight and ultra-portable tablet lineup. From the outside, the 2022 entry looks and feels a lot like its 2020 predecessor: the iPad Air 4. From the thin, symmetrical bezels to the 10.9-inch display to the cool-to-the-touch aluminum body, I wouldn't blame you if you mistook one generation for the other. 

But in the newest iPad Air lives the company's tried-and-true M1 processor, a wider front-facing camera, and the hottest buzzword in tech: 5G. Theoretically, all three upgrades should make a difference in the day-to-day iPad experience. 

Whether you're an existing iPad Air user who's considering an upgrade or a first-timer who's split between the two latest models, I've listed the key arguments for each iPad below to help you make the perfect buying decision. For further research on Apple's tablet lineup, take a look at our extensive research on the best iPads

Specifications


iPad Air 4 (2020) 

iPad Air 5 (2022) 

Display 

10.9-inch Liquid Retina LED

10.9-inch Liquid Retina LED

Brightness 

500 nits 

500 nits 

Apple Pencil compatibility 

Second-generation Apple Pencil 

Second-generation Apple Pencil 

Processor

A14 Bionic

M1 

Connectivity

USB-C, magnetic pins

USB-C, magnetic pins

Storage options 

64GB, 256GB 

64GB, 256GB 

Camera 

12MP rear camera; 7MP front camera 

12MP rear camera; 12MP ultra-wide front camera 

Colors 

Space gray, silver, rose gold, green, and blue 

Space gray, starlight, pink, purple, and blue 

Battery 

10 hours of web browsing 

10 hours of web browsing 

Price

$499 

$599


You should buy the iPad Air 5 (2022) if...

apple-ipad-air-2022-stylus
Image: Apple

1. You're ready to embrace Apple's M1 supremacy

The saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks doesn't really apply to the iPad Air 5 (2022). In fact, underneath the familiar glass and aluminum exterior is Apple's ARM-based, eight-core CPU, M1 processor. Trickling down from MacBooks and iMacs, Apple's M1 chip is expected to be up to 60% faster and more powerful than its A-series counterpart -- like the A14 found in the 2020 iPad Air. That's a significant step up, considering both iPads start on equal footing with 8GB of RAM. While the 2022 iPad Air didn't get Apple's newer M2 chip, the M1 is still a powerhouse for graphics-intensive apps, such as video editors, 3D racing games, augmented reality, and general multitasking.

More: iPad Air (2022) vs iPad Pro (2021): What's the difference?

2. You want a better front camera and FaceTime experience

Camera performance isn't typically the key selling point for tablets, let alone iPads. But with this year's iPad Air, Apple does emphasize its new and improved front-facing camera.

While the 12MP rear camera remains untouched, the front now houses a 12MP ultra-wide camera. With a wider field of view than the previous generation's 7MP FaceTime HD lens, the new iPad can take advantage of Center Stage, Apple's webcam feature that tracks and follows your face as you move around. This is particularly useful for presentations and FaceTime calls with friends and family.

3. You thrive on 5G

Apple didn't leave the possibility of 5G up in the air with the latest iPad model. Though not mmWave 5G, the sub-6 GHz bands on the iPad Air (2022) allow you to dial into the 5th generation network and access faster download speeds than the 4G LTE of the iPad Air (2020). You will, of course, need to be under a 5G data plan, have the appropriate nano-SIM card (or eSIM), and purchase the more expensive, cellular version of the iPad, to reap the benefits of the faster network. If you meet the prerequisites and frequently work from outside, then the 5G-enabled iPad is the one to buy. 

Also: eSIM vs. SIM: What's the difference?

You should buy the iPad Air 4 (2020) if...

ipad-air-4-stylus.jpg
Image: Apple

1. Price comes before anything else

With the release of the new iPad Air, most third-party retailers have since marked down the 2020 model as a means to clear out inventory. The winner of this sequence is you, the consumer. At the time of writing, the iPad Air 4 (2020) can be had for just $469, less if you opt for an open-market retailer like eBay. That's more than a $100 difference compared to the new iPad Air 5 (2022) which, in a snapshot, only wins out on 5G, the front-facing camera, and processing power. If one, two, or even all three of those aspects are not on your priority list of features, then opting for the older iPad Air may be the best play here. 

Also: Apple's worst product has now become one of its best

Alternatives to consider

Still on the fence? Consider these other ZDNET-recommended tablets:

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