iPad Air (2019) review: Apple's newest tablet combines productivity with affordability

ipad-air-2019-3.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding
  • $499.00

Pros

  • Affordably priced
  • Solid performance and battery life
  • Smart Keyboard support

Cons

  • No Face ID
  • Needs more speakers

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For the past few years, there's been a giant void left in Apple's iPad lineup. On the low end, the base iPad model has retained the traditional form factor, with a spec bump here and there, and most recently gained Apple Pencil support. The iPad Pro line, however, has taken advantage of the fastest processors, modest display improvements, and Apple's Smart Connector tech for keyboards and sat comfortably at the high-end of the lineup.

Also: Apple unveils new 10.5-inch iPad Air and iPad Mini

The price difference was stark, as well. The iPad starts at $329. The newest iPad Pro models start at $799. There wasn't a device priced in-between the two.

Then, last month, Apple somewhat quietly released a new iPad Mini and a revamped iPad Air. It's the first iPad Air since the iPad Air 2 was released in 2014 and then discontinued in 2017. The third-generation iPad Air mixes some of the high-end iPad Pro features while retaining some of the core iPad features and looks, at a $499 price point.

ZDNet's Matthew Miller recently reviewed the iPad Mini and found it to be outstanding. And for the past two weeks or so, I've been using the new iPad Air. 

Instead of complicating Apple's tablet line, the new iPad Air provides some clarity. 

Design

ipad-air-2019-2.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

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The new iPad Air comes with Apple's A12 Bionic processor, Bluetooth 5.0, 802.11ac WiFi, and 64GB or 256GB of storage. The latter of which carries a $150 over the $499 starting price. If you want to add LTE connectivity to the iPad Air, the price increases by $129 for either storage model.

Color options include silver, space gray, and gold. In lieu of Face ID, the iPad Air uses Apple's tried-and-true home button with Touch ID. An 8-megapixel camera is found on the rear, with a 7-megapixel camera on the front for selfies and FaceTime calls.

Also: Would a cheaper iPad encourage you to upgrade?

Apple Pencil support is now a standard feature across the entire iPad lineup, including the new iPad Mini. Only the iPad Pro supports the newest Apple Pencil with wireless charging. With the Air, you'll still need to stick one end of the Apple Pencil into the Lightning port for initial pairing and charging the Pencil. There's a headphone jack on the top of the housing. 

Apple's Smart Connector is located on the side of the iPad Air, providing connectivity and power to the Smart Keyboard; a new accessory for the iPad Air line. Previously, the Smart Connector and associated peripherals had been reserved for the iPad Pro line. A Lightning port on the bottom is used for charging. Without the keyboard, the new Air weighs right at one pound.

The iPad Air looks very much like older iPad Air models, only instead of a 9.7-inch display, the new iPad Air has a 10.5-inch 2224x1668 display. That's the same size panel that Apple used in a previous generation of the iPad Pro. It's just enough extra screen real estate to ease the cramped feel of using multiple apps at the same time.

Performance

ipad-air-2019-1.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

When using the iPad Air, as opposed to the iPad Pro that I've used daily for the last few months, it quickly became apparent there are two features I sorely miss. The first is Face ID. Sitting down at my desk and double-tapping the spacebar and watching as the iPad Pro unlocks and goes back to the app I was in last has become a task I didn't even think about. Unlocking the iPad Pro with Face ID is done the moment the iPad wakes up and requires zero thinking on my part.

With the iPad Air, I have to either enter my pin code or place a finger on the Touch ID home button. Double-pressing the space bar does nothing more than wake the iPad Air, and I'm left staring at it, waiting for it to unlock.

The other feature I miss is the sound quality of the speakers. The iPad Pro has four speakers: Two on the top and another two on the bottom when holding it vertically. The iPad Air, however, only has two speakers, both of which are on the same end as the home button.

Also: Apple just can't stop insisting iPad Pro is a computer 

Outside of those two areas, the iPad Air is every bit as capable as the iPad Pro in my work routine. A routine that consists of text documents, triaging my inbox, photo editing, and occasional video editing. At no point during my time using the iPad Air in place of the iPad Pro did I feel like it was underpowered or lacking in performance.

Battery life has been more than enough to get through a normal workday, with power to spare. Apple estimates 10 hours of use, and my experience has mirrored that expectation. 

Writing or drawing with the Apple Pencil is smooth and the iPad Air's display is responsive. I've made it clear before, I'm no artist, but I do like to use an iPad and Apple Pencil to jot notes during a meeting or when brainstorming story ideas. 

One area that all iPads fall short in is software. I complained about with the iPad Pro and iOS 12; the iPad Air runs the same software and suffers from the same shortfalls. Specifically, the lack of a desktop-class browser. Despite the reach of the App Store and the number of companies with apps available for every sort of task, some tasks rely on using a full web browser. Hopefully, iOS 13, which Apple should reveal in early June at this year's Worldwide Developer Conference, will include a heavy emphasis on improving the iPad's computing experience.

Which model do you go with?

ipad-air-2019-4.jpg

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

With different iPad models of various sizes, capabilities, and price points, there's bound to be some debate on which model to purchase.

I'd imagine that for most users -- including those in the enterprise -- the new iPad Air is the right choice. It's not overly expensive, and the recent updates provide modest performance improvements over the iPad. The addition of the Smart Keyboard helps the iPad Air toe the line between a tablet built for productivity, and one that's better suited for binging on Netflix shows and checking an occasional email.

Also: A Best Buy salesman told me it's iPad or don't bother 

Unless you absolutely have to have the best of Apple's best, or a 12.9-inch display, the iPad Pro is too much tablet and has a price point to match. The Air nearly matches the Pro in performance, and at that, I doubt most users would notice the minor differences. And it does it for a few hundred dollars less.

Specifications

Display
Resolution 2224 x 1668 (264 ppi)
Touchscreen Multi-Touch
Multi-Touch Display Yes
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Technology TFT active matrix
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size 10.5 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 26.7 cm
Native Resolution 2224 x 1668
Pixel Density (ppi) 264
Miscellaneous
Features AirPlay, AssistiveTouch, Dictation, VoiceOver screen reader, charging via USB, iBeacon microlocation
Color silver
Color Category silver
General
Operating System Apple iOS 12
Processor
Processor Apple A12 Bionic
64-bit Computing Yes
Manufacturer Apple
Memory
Storage 64 GB
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0
Camera
Camera Light Source Retina Flash
HD Video Recording 1080p
Features 5-element lens, Auto image stabilization, Burst mode, Exposure control, FaceTime HD camera, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Hybrid IR filter, Live Photo, Panorama, Slow motion video, Time-lapse mode, Timer mode, autofocus, backside illumination sensor, photo and video geotagging, tap to focus, video stabilizer
EBook Reader
Supported Text Formats DOC, DOCX, HTM, HTML, PDF, PPT, RTF, TXT, XLS, XLSX
Supported Still Image Formats GIF, PPTX, TIFF
Networking
Wireless Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Input Device
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Environmental Parameters
Min Operating Temperature 32 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Humidity Range Operating 5 - 95% (non-condensing)
Min Storage Temperature -4 °F
Max Storage Temperature 113 °F
Max Altitude Operating 9840 ft
Multimedia
Audio Two microphones, stereo speakers
Battery
Run Time (Up To) 10 hour(s)
Technology lithium polymer
Capacity 30.2 Wh
Header
Brand Apple
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Expansion and Connectivity
Interfaces 1 x headphones mini jack (3.5mm)
1 x Lightning
1 x Smart Connector
System
Platform Apple iOS
Handheld Type tablet
IPad Generation 3
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Flash Memory
Installed Size 64 GB
Digital Camera
Cameras (for SD) rear camera + front camera
Rear-facing Camera Yes
Lens Aperture f/2.4
Front-facing Lens Aperture f/2.2
Camera Light Source Retina Flash
HD Video Recording 1080p
Features 5-element lens, Auto image stabilization, Burst mode, Exposure control, FaceTime HD camera, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Hybrid IR filter, Live Photo, Panorama, Slow motion video, Time-lapse mode, Timer mode, autofocus, backside illumination sensor, photo and video geotagging, tap to focus, video stabilizer
Audio Output
Type stereo speakers
Audio Input
Type two microphones
Interface Provided
Interface Lightning, Smart Connector, headphones mini jack (3.5mm)
Qty 1
Cable Details
Type Lightning to USB cable
PDA Software
Type App Store, Apple Pay, Apple TV App, Books, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Contacts, FaceTime, Files, Find My Friends, Find My iPhone, Home, Mail, Maps, Messages, Music, News, Notes, Photo Booth, Photos, Podcasts, Reminders, Safari, Settings, Siri, Stocks, Voice Memos, iTunes Store
Power Device
Type power adapter
Battery Life Details
Usage Mode audio playback, video playback, web browsing over Wi-Fi
Run Time (Up To) 10 hour(s)
System Requirements
OS Required Apple MacOS X 10.11.6 El Capitan or later, Microsoft Windows 7 or later
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty, technical support
Service Included phone consulting
Full Contract Period 1 year, 90 days
Dimensions & Weight
Width 6.9 in
Depth 0.2 in
Height 9.9 in
Weight 16.08 oz

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Where To Buy

Apple iPad Air 2019 (silver, 64GB)

Part Number: MUUK2LL/A
Price
$499.00