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Apple iPad Air (M2, 13-inch) is more iPad than you expect, and that’s its charm

The iPad Air last got an upgrade a couple of years ago. Time has passed, things have changed, and the iPad Air now defines maturity borne from that passage of time. Whilst it does add a layer of complexity to Apple’s broadest iPad line-up ever, customers probably wouldn’t complain much since its choices aplenty. Once they get past deciding what works best for them. The iPad Air, in its 2024 spec, sits as close as possible to being an ideal go-between an iPad (which is the entry point to the portfolio) and the more expensive iPad Pro, which is currently setting new performance benchmarks.

The new Apple iPad Air. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)

The reason for the belief that the iPad Air is now doing the perfect balancing act, is multi-pronged. First, there are now two screen sizes – an 11-inch (that’s up from 10.9-inch earlier) as well as a larger 13-inch. Secondly, the power upgrade with the M2 chip. Third, the base storage spec is no longer 64GB, but a more manageable 128GB (with other options being 256GB, 512GB and 1TB). However, unlike the iPad Pro’s differential memory and storage spec combinations, the iPad Air makes do with 8GB memory. Prices start around 59,900 for the 11-inch option and 79,900 for the 13-inch screen size.

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Quite a few colour options to choose from (though the pink is gone), but as far as the larger design cues are concerned, not much has changed. Unlike the iPad Pro, which got a significant refresh, complete with significant footprint reduction. That creates a complication which Apple must tackle at some point – the “Air” moniker doesn’t hold the sort of gravitas it did at a point in time. Here’s an illustration – the 13-inch iPad Air (2024) weighs 618 grams, while the 13-inch iPad Pro tips the scales at 582 grams. It’s also 1mm thicker than the iPad Pro. If you’re to not compare, the slate design still holds on rather well, and has backwards compatibility with the Magic Keyboard. As well as the new Apple Pencil Pro, for those who value the ecosystem.

Important to note, much like the new iPad Pro, Apple’s repositioned the FaceTime camera to the centre placement in landscape orientation. That is a better place, because you’ll no longer be looking to one side during video calls. The 13-inch display is quite bright, and though I’m just switching from the absolutely gorgeous and cutting-edge OLED displays on the iPad Pro, this doesn’t feel inferior in terms of sharpness or colour separation. For iPad Air buyers, this display pretty much ticks all the boxes. When using this as a laptop replacement for work, manual adjustment to keep the brightness around 40% is more than ideal for web pages, emails and documents. A notch higher for Netflix streaming, and you’re still left with a lot of headroom for the scenarios where there’s harsh ambient light to tackle.

You could argue that it may have been a better bet to swap this Liquid Retina display (it’s essentially an LCD screen) with the more refined and superior mini-LED panel that did duties in the previous generation of the iPad Pro. And you’d have a point. It’d have given the iPad Air more arsenal against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S9 series, for instance, with deeper blacks, better viewing angles and finer control over screen illumination.

The beating heart of the iPad Air (2024) is the M2 chip, in the 8-core CPU and 9-core GPU configuration. This is familiar territory, also at work in the previous generation MacBook Air, which still goes around dutifully being a top-notch daily work machine. It’s a deployment that comes much later, but it must be noted that the M2 is as much as 50% faster than the M1 it replaced at the time, and that itself was making Intel and AMD struggle to find a response to the new performance benchmark. In the end, it’ll really whittle down to the apps you use, how you’d figure iPadOS to work for you, and multi-tasking. I tried my best with the latter but couldn’t make the iPad Air feel strained. Not even the slightest.

While the iPad may just be the ticket to get first timers within the iPadOS fold, it really is the iPad Air which is a worthy experiential upgrade for a much bigger demographic. The real reason being, longevity promise of the M2, compared with the still very capable A14 Bionic. Particularly if it is the 13-inch screen size that you’re buying, with use-case versatility. It is the ideal balance of a slate that’s comfortable for consuming media, web browsing, reading books, gaming too or maybe try your hand at editing some 4K videos, and seamlessly transitions into a laptop replacement once you dock the keyboard. It is only really missing Face ID (Touch ID is the way to go). It is always a sensible decision to buy something that ticks the longevity question, with less effort. Between the iPad and the iPad Air, for most users, it’s the latter that’ll hold them in better stead. For longer.

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