When I’m not writing for TechRadar I’m running a film production company and the iPad Pro 12.9 I use for that is an essential resource. It’s perfect for all steps of the creative process, from writing documents and scripts to annotating PDFs, taking notes, and sketching storyboards. I’m actually just the kind of user that Apple has in mind for this type of slate.
However, the new iPad Air 4 has prompted me to rethink that last stance – it actually has all the features a creative person could want from a tablet, but without the unnecessary extras, and without that hefty price tag that many artists can’t afford $ 2000 + buy tablets).
iPad Airs hasn’t had this effect on me before – in fact, I’ve ignored them completely in the past. They used to be Apple’s awkward middle kid, not as big or powerful as the Pro line, not as portable or affordable as the entry-level models, but the iPad Air 4 is very different from this.
The iPad Air is an iPad Pro Lite
All the best of the iPad Pro models is in the iPad Air 4.
Probably the most useful is peripheral compatibility. The iPad Air 4 works with the second-generation Apple Pencil, also known as ‘the only version of the Apple Pencil you should be using’, and Apple’s sturdy keyboard folios and Magic Keyboard, offering a lot more versatility than the comes around the corner of the screen. Using both of these turns an iPad from a big phone into a productivity powerhouse.
The iPad Air’s edge-to-edge display is also great, allowing you to maximize the screen area without sloshing. You used to have to buy an iPad Pro for this screen, but not anymore.
I can’t stress how useful a USB-C port is – iPad Pros were the only Apple tablets with this kind of port. USB-C allows for much faster charging than Apple’s own Lightning cable, as well as faster data transfers.
When you move 100 GB of video footage from an external hard drive to an iPad for editing, this kind of port makes a huge difference in how long it takes.
No more unnecessary features
Not only does the iPad Air now have all the major features of the iPad Pro, but it also omits some of the glaring extras that few people are willing to pay for.
There is no LiDAR scanner on the back – the one used for AR tools, but how many professionals or creatives actually need AR for their work? Some, certainly, but not many.
The iPad Air doesn’t have a variable refresh rate like the iPad Pro, and I’ll likely miss this feature. This will move the screen refresh rate between 120Hz and 60Hz depending on what you’re doing.
At 120Hz, the screen refreshes 120 times per second (making for smoother motion), but only a few apps support 120Hz, so I’ll rarely notice the difference.
The iPad Air 4 is smaller than an iPad Pro, which you can get in 11-inch or 12.9-inch versions. I use the latter, and while I appreciate the extra screen real estate, I honestly hardly use it.
Documents never fit on the edge of the page, especially when looking at scripts, as they are usually a narrow column. I could probably switch to the 10.9-inch iPad Air without noticing much of a difference.
You might imagine an ‘iPad Pro’ would have more processing power than an ‘iPad Air’, given that the latter is the best kind of slate, but since the iPad Air was later launched with a newer chipset, this is not that is not the case.
The iPad Air 4 is now Apple’s most powerful tablet and will likely remain until a newer Pro version launches in 2021.
Finally, Face ID – can’t say how much I hate Face ID, which I have on my iPad Pro but isn’t used in the iPad Air (that slate has Touch ID on the power button instead) .
I’ve found Face ID rarely work easily, and I often have to move myself to a different position for it to work, or just type in my password – it’s a real inconvenience. This feature works for some people, and I’ve heard it’s not that bad on iPhones, but it just doesn’t work for me on iPads. I’ll be happy to see Touch ID make a comeback for these top-of-the-line slates.
Apple doesn’t mind
It’s curious to think for whom iPad Pros are now the ideal target audience (me), realizing that the more affordable iPad Air is now a much better proposition.
There will probably be a few power users who need LiDAR, or a higher refresh rate, or whatever extras the iPad Pro 2021 brings, but it won’t be many, and I can see the iPad Air finding its place in the hearts of people.
Apple doesn’t mind at all – when people buy an iPad, they still make money, and as much as I’m a fan of Android phones, I’ll admit that there are just no Android tablets holding a candle right now at the top iPads (or whichever iPads, frankly).
Perhaps this is the first step in Apple’s plan to sort out its tablets and make the distinction between the four different lines (entry-level, Mini, Air and Pro) a bit clearer – maybe the next Pro will be a super-premium tablet, and the next Mini really affordable. All I know is that as a creative professional, the iPad Pro is probably not the best tablet for me anymore.