Computers and Technology

Apple iPad Air 4 in review: Fast tablet with a great display

With the CPU power of the iPhone 12, the iPad Air 4 offers powerful performance in a slim body. We tested Apple’s all-rounder tablet.

The fourth generation of the iPad Air is now on the market. It closes the gap between the high-priced models in the iPad Pro series and the iPad 10.2. Compared to the “ordinary” Apple tablet, the new iPad Air is thinner, lighter and faster. It features the powerful Apple A14 Bionic from the iPhone 12 Pro (review) .

Apple is thus targeting buyers for whom the iPad Pro 11 and the iPad Pro 12.9 are too expensive, but who are looking for more performance and a slimmer case. We have tested the iPad Air 4 extensively and show how good it is in the test report.

You can find more alternatives from inexpensive to high-priced, even apart from Apple devices, in our purchase advice: How much should a good tablet cost?

The exterior of the iPad Air 4 is based on the iPad Pro 11. The dimensions of both Apple devices are almost the same. With a height of 6.1 millimeters, the Apple iPad Air 2020 is significantly slimmer than the iPad 10.2. However, it is not one of the thinnest devices on the market. The iPad Pro 11 is 5.9 millimeters thick, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 5.7 millimeters and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e only 5.5 millimeters. With a weight of 460 grams, the new Apple iPad Air is not exactly lightweight. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e, for example, weighs just under 400 grams.

By doing without the home button, the iPad Air 4 offers more display area in relation to the case size. The “screen-to-body ratio” is now 81 percent compared to 74 percent with the “classic” iPad. The screen with a diagonal of 10.9 inches (approx. 28 centimeters) uses the format of 4.3:3 known from the Pro models – the iPad 10.2 is 4:3. This offers advantages when working and using in portrait format, but has disadvantages when consuming films and series as well as games. More on that later.

The design is also inspired by the iPad Pro. The transition from the display to the side edge of the aluminum housing is no longer as rounded as on the iPad 10.2, but very angular – almost rectangular. That gives the Apple iPad Air a solid seriousness. The camera is housed in the edge of the display. The lens of the main camera protrudes by 2 millimeters on the back.

The power button with a fingerprint scanner for Touch ID is located at the top right on the short side. Instead of a rocker switch, the iPad Air has two buttons for louder and quieter. The workmanship is absolutely flawless – but you wouldn’t expect anything else from Apple. The pressure point of the buttons is solid and stable, the gaps are minimal.

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The iPad Air 4 relies on an IPS display with LC technology and a diagonal of 10.9 inches (approx. 28 centimeters). That’s 0.7 inches (1.78 centimeters) more than the iPad 10.2. So far, OLED displays have not been found in Apple devices in this category; the models in the Pro series use mini-LED technology. The screen of the iPad Air 2020 offers pronounced contrasts and rich colors with excellent viewing angle stability. The iPad Air covers the DCI-P3 color space, which ensures a strong color display.

With a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels, it achieves a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi). Only the Huawei MatePad 11 with 276 ppi and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 are even sharper with 288 ppi each. At first glance, this is little compared to a smartphone. The iPhone 12 Pro (Review)offers 475 ppi here. The pixel density puts the resolution and display size in relation to each other. With the same resolution, the pixel density is lower on a larger screen. Therefore, the viewing distance also plays a major role. On average, users hold the tablet further away from their eyes because of its size. Therefore, the lower pixel density compared to a mobile phone is less noticeable.

The playback of content from Netflix in Full HD works perfectly, thanks to the Widevine Level 1 certificate present on all iOS devices. We explain more on the subject in the streaming guide: The best tablets for Netflix and Co. from 100 euros . The screen format of 4.3:3 reveals its strengths when working or surfing the web. This means that the iPad Air can also be used in portrait format, for example for reading an e-book. Anyone who has ever used an Android device with 16:9 upright should be familiar with the problem. On the other hand, this format has disadvantages when watching movies or series. Here, a black border restricts the widescreen format. Games also look a bit “depressed” at 4.3:3.

According to our measurements, the maximum brightness is high at 490 cd/m². This means that you can still read it perfectly outdoors in daylight. Only the iPad Pro 11 and iPad Pro 12.9 are even brighter with almost 600 cd/m². However, the display of the iPad Air 4 also tends to reflect. When the sun hits it directly, it limits readability. This is particularly noticeable in video clips with a dark background, less so in text. Hardly any other device does it better.

However, the refresh rate of the iPad Air is only 60 Hz. Displays with a higher frequency offer a smoother picture when scrolling or playing games. 120 Hz are reserved for the iPad Pro devices and the Huawei MatePad 11 or Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+.

Why someone should take photos with an Apple iPad of all things is not entirely clear to us. With the iPad Air, however, this works better than with almost any other device in this class.

The main camera has a wide-angle lens with 12 megapixels and f/1.8 aperture as well as autofocus and automatic image stabilization. This ensures successful photos with rich colors and good contrasts. The image details could be a bit higher – top smartphones are ahead in comparison here. Video recordings are possible with up to 4K at 60 fps and thanks to image stabilization there is no annoying wobbling. But there is no flashlight.

The front camera offers a resolution of 7 megapixels and an f/2.2 aperture. Selfies look perfect with it. Video chats via FaceTime, Skype or Teams are possible in Full HD and also offer excellent picture quality. There is no facial recognition on the iPad Air 4.

The A14 Bionic with integrated GPU in the Apple iPad Air 4 provides sufficient computing power. The bionic chip comes from the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Mini, the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The CPU ensures extremely impressive performance. The Antutu score is over 640,000 points. Only the models in the Pro series with an M1 processor are 40 percent faster. Among the Android tablets, only the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and the expensive Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ (review) can keep up in terms of performance. In the 3Dmark “Wildlife” benchmark test, we achieved over 8900 points – that’s a strong value. The equally powerful Huawei MatePad 11 (review)On the other hand, it only achieves 3800 points in this benchmark. This makes the iPad Air a full-fledged gaming machine. Games like Asphalt 9 Legends run smoothly and without stuttering.

At 4 GB, the RAM is manageable compared to Android tablets in this price range. However, Apple’s iPadOS – the tablet version of iOS – is precisely tailored to the hardware. As a result, the operating system runs efficiently and extremely smoothly. Depending on the version, the internal memory is 64 or 256 GB. One of the biggest innovations: The Touch ID sensor for fingerprints in the on/off switch. In times of FFP2 masks much more practical than face recognition via Face ID. Using Touch ID, users unlock the iPad Air or authenticate app purchases in the App Store.

The four loudspeakers offer an impressive stereo sound with balanced bass, middle and treble. Due to the design, there is a lack of volume when listening to music. However, the stereo speakers are more than sufficient for films, series or games. However, you tend to cover the speakers with your hands when holding them. Fortunately, the new iPad Air has a USB-C connection with USB 3.2 (Gen 1) and thus dispenses with proprietary Apple standards such as the Lightning connection on the iPad 10.2. If you have forgotten your charger, you can charge it with any other type-C power supply. However, there is no jack plug for headphones – nor is there an adapter for the USB-C connection.

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The integrated Smart Connector allows the use of keyboards. The device also supports the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, which is not included in the scope of delivery. For wireless connections, the iPad model works with the latest standards such as WiFi-6 or Bluetooth 5.0. The iPad Air 4 is also available in a version for LTE via a nano-SIM or eSIM. In addition, GPS and an acceleration sensor are integrated.

Apple delivers the Apple iPad Air 2020 with iPadOS 14.2 – an update to the current version iPadOS 14.7.1 is available for direct download. Experience has shown that the company from Cupertino provides timely and regular system and security updates.

The lithium polymer battery in the iPad Air 4 has a capacity of 28.6 Wh. This corresponds to around 7600 mAh. Apple claims a battery life of around 10 hours. That’s a good rate, but it doesn’t set new standards compared to the Android competition.

The Apple iPad Air was able to play a 10-hour YouTube video at an average brightness of 200 cd/m² with one battery charge. How long the iPad Air really lasts in everyday life depends on how it is used. With a high screen brightness, high load and permanent Internet use, it is over after a few hours. In stand-by mode with occasional use, it lasts almost a week before it has to be connected to the network again. The loading process is quite fast. The 20-watt USB-C power adapter charges the iPad Air in just over 2 hours.

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