iPad Air (2022) Review: The Power of the Apple M1
After working wonders in macOS devices, Apple’s in-house M1 SoC replaced its A-series processors in the high-end iPad Pro models last year, and they got a big performance bump thanks to that. This year, the same SoC has trickled down to the Apple iPad Air (2022), making it the most affordable iPad with the M1 SoC. In terms of functionality, the iPad Air (2022) is still limited by its software and cannot take on the MacBook Air directly. However, its starting price of Rs. 54,900 compared to the more expensive iPad Pro models does leave room for accessories such as the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard, both of which help improve its versatility. With this in mind, it’s time to find out whether the iPad Air (2022) can double up as an affordable laptop alternative, and whether it offers better value than the iPad Pro 11-inch (2021) with the same set of accessories. Here’s my review.
iPad Air (2022) price in India
The Apple iPad Air (2022), also known as the iPad Air 5th Gen, starts at Rs. 54,900 in India for the 64GB Wi-Fi-only variant. The 256GB version is priced at Rs. 68,900. The 5G cellular-enabled models with the same storage cost Rs. 14,000 more each, which bumps the prices up to Rs. 68,900 and Rs. 82,900 respectively.
What’s pleasantly surprising is that Apple has maintained the prices of the previous iPad Air (2020) (Review).
iPad Air (2022) design
The iPad Air (2022) is identical to its predecessor in terms of dimensions, and it is only when you compare the specs of both models side by side that you’ll find that the new model is marginally heavier. With the two devices placed next to each other, it is impossible to tell them apart unless you get the new model in one of its new colour options. The iPad Air (2022) measures 6.1mm in thickness and has an aluminium body. My unit in the Starlight trim had a matte finish which helped keep fingerprints off the surface.
Since I had a cellular variant, my unit had antenna lines running across its width, at the top and the bottom. It has two sets of speaker grilles at the top and the bottom of the frame, but there are just two speakers for stereo sound only in landscape, just like on the iPad Air (2020). It has a USB Type-C port on the bottom while the top has the power button with an integrated Touch ID fingerprint sensor as well as a microphone. The Touch ID setup process recommends enrolling both index fingers. I found myself unlocking the tablet with my right index finger when using the iPad Air (2022) in portrait orientation, and the left index finger when in landscape mode.
The volume buttons are made from aluminium, just like the body,and feel sturdy. However, their functionality now changes dynamically based on the orientation of the iPad Air (2022) and there’s no way to change this, which can be very annoying. Holding the iPad Air (2022) in landscape orientation inverts the functionality of the volume keys which means the button on the right (which used to be on the bottom) increases the volume instead of decreasing it. Unlike older iPads that received this feature with the iPadOS 15.4 update, this button assignment cannot be disabled on the iPad Air (2022).
The Apple Pencil can snap magnetically on to the right side of the iPad Air (2022) for storage and charging. You can pop in a SIM card or use an eSIM for data connectivity on the cellular model. At the back, the iPad Air (2022) only has a single camera compared to the dual camera setup on the iPad Pro (2021) models. There’s also an iPad Air logo towards the bottom, just above the accessory connector.
iPad Air (2022) specifications
The iPad Air (2022) sports a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display, just like the 2020 iPad Air. It is an IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 1640 x 2360 pixels and a peak brightness of 500 nits. The display supports the P3 colour gamut and has Apple’s True Tone feature that adjusts its colour temperature based on ambient light.
The highlight of all the hardware has to be the Apple M1 SoC that powers the iPad Air (2022). Surprisingly, this isn’t the 7-core GPU variant of the SoC found in the entry-level MacBook Air (M1, 2020). Instead, it’s the 8-core GPU variant, just like what’s used for the 2021 iPad Pros. There is 8GB of RAM in the iPad Air (2022). Apple still does not state the battery capacity of the iPad Air (2022) in its spec sheet, but claims it can deliver up to 10 hours of battery life for Web surfing and watching videos. These claims are similar to what Apple stated for the iPad Air (2020). Apple does include a 20W USB Type-C power adapter and a USB Type-C to Type-C cable in the box.
Apple has upgraded the front camera on the iPad Air (2022) to a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle one. It also supports Centre Stage, and I’ll talk more about this in the performance section. The rear camera is still the same 12-megapixel wide-angle unit as its predecessor. The Apple iPad Air (2022) supports Bluetooth 5 and Wi-Fi 6, and the cellular model additionally supports 5G, 4G LTE, GPS, and Wi-Fi calling.
iPad Air (2022) software
The iPad Air (2022) runs Apple’s iPadOS which is a fork of iOS. My review unit was running iPadOS 15.4.1 and was updated to iPadOS 15.5 during the review period. Apple has a good track record of offering software updates for all its devices for many years, and I expect this iPad Air (2022) to get the same treatment, which should help it age well. Since I was coming from another iPad, setting up the new iPad Air (2022) was easy.
Apple has improved support for multitasking with iPadOS 15. You can use Split View to run two apps or two instances of certain first-party apps side by side. Another feature is Slide Over, which allows you to open multiple apps in a small windowed mode. These features are not brand new, but they are easier to discover and use in iOS 15, which takes the iPad Air (2022) a step closer to functioning as a laptop.
If you own other Apple devices, the iPad Air (2022) can take advantage of the entire ecosystem. For example, your existing Airpods should automatically show up as a paired device on the iPad Air (2022). If you use a relatively recent Mac, you can use this iPad as a second display. Apple’s recently introduced Universal Control feature allows you to control this iPad using the keyboard and trackpad of a Mac as well, letting you multiple devices side by side.
Apple iPad Air (2022) performance
I got to use the iPad Air (2022) for a couple of weeks, during which I also used the optional Magic Keyboard to see if this combination could replace my MacBook Air (Review). When using it as a tablet, I found the display size to be just perfect for media consumption. It isn’t too small like the iPad mini (Review), or too big like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It is slim and the weight is well distributed. It did not cause too much fatigue while holding it in one hand either.
The Touch ID sensor was consistent with authentication for unlocking the iPad Air (2022). iPadOS was smooth and responsive. The screen was crisp and sharp, but the 4:3 aspect ratio caused widescreen video to run letterboxed, with thick black bars above and below most content that I viewed. If you prefer the super-punchy output of AMOLED panels, you might find the colours on this iPad’s display to be slightly muted in comparison. The dual speakers were loud enough to fill a small room and sound wasn’t hollow either. The iPad Air (2022) became my go-to device for watching videos on and surfing the Web when I was away from my laptop.
The Apple M1 SoC is potent and we’ve already talked about its performance in our reviews of the MacBook Air (M1) and iPad Pro (2021), so I won’t go into much detail here as the experience was very similar. I did run a few benchmarks and compared the scores to those of the iPad Air (2020). The results weren’t surprising — in AnTuTu, the iPad Air (2022) scored 1,001,016 points; a nearly 25 percent lead over its predecessor which managed 763,080 points. The iPad Air (2022) scored 20,932 points in Geekbench 5’s Metal test, while the iPad Air (2020) managed 12,496 points.
I played Asphalt 9: Legends on the iPad Air (2022). It was quick to load and ran without any lag or stutter. However, I noticed that the back of this iPad got hot after playing this game for about 20 minutes. I also noticed a 10 percent drop in the battery level, which is on the higher side.
However, when not performing intensive tasks on the iPad Air (2022), I didn’t have any trouble with battery life. This tablet easily lasted for over two days with my casual usage. Apple has managed to keep idle battery drain very low, so it doesn’t need to be charged frequently. In our HD video loop test, the iPad lasted 9 hours and 34 minutes, a little shy of Apple’s 10-hour claim. Charging the iPad with the bundled 20W USB Type-C charger got the battery up from zero to 26 percent in 30 minutes and up to 50 percent in an hour. Charging the iPad Air (2022) completely took about two hours.
The 12-megapixel primary camera on the iPad Air (2022) is good enough for capturing the occasional photo and scanning documents with, but it wouldn’t be my first choice for any serious photography. The selfie camera is a major upgrade compared to the one on the outgoing model. The 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera gets Apple’s Centre Stage feature that automatically pans and zooms in on the subject to keep you and whoever else is with you in the centre of the frame, even if you move slightly or multiple people come and go. I used this feature with FaceTime and it worked as promised. It can also be used with other video calling apps and will benefit those who move around while on a video call.
iPad Air (2022) as a laptop replacement
Things were a little different when I used the iPad Air (2022) as an alternative to my laptop. I used it along with the Magic Keyboard accessory which is quite expensive at Rs. 27,900. Typing aside, this accessory keeps the iPad Air (2022) upright without needing to rest it against something, and makes the whole setup easier to use on your lap. An alternative accessory offered by Apple is the Smart Keyboard Folio case which retails for Rs. 15,900 but it lacks a sturdy base and will need to be used on a table. Third-party options are also available. If you pick the 256GB Wi-Fi-only model of the iPad Air (2022) and pair it with a Magic Keyboard, the total cost would come to Rs. 96,800 which is slightly more than what the base MacBook Air costs.
Considering my line of work, I was able to go about my day easily using just the iPad and the keyboard case, without really needing my laptop. I use Google Docs a lot, and the Apple App Store has all the other apps I normally use. Loading up Slack in Slide Over mode on this iPad made it convenient to check my work messages at a glance. I also wrote a major chunk of my Samsung Galaxy M53 5G review with this hybrid setup. The iPad Air (2022)’s battery still had about 40 percent left at the end of a typical workday. My USB Type-C accessories also worked well, and I could access a 1TB hard drive using the Files app. The Magic Keyboard has an additional USB Type-C port but this is only for charging the iPad.
There are certain things you need to know before you consider the Apple iPad Air (2022) as a laptop replacement. I found the Magic Keyboard slightly cramped compared to the keyboard of my MacBook Air. The lack of Function and Escape keys on the Magic Keyboard was another annoyance. Unlocking the iPad Air (2022) using the Touch ID sensor on the left side in portrait mode when attached to the keyboard stand wasn’t as convenient as using the one on the MacBook Air (2020)’s keyboard either.
The iPad Air (2022) is yet another fantastic Apple device to be powered by the capable M1 SoC. This new iPad has very few changes compared to its predecessor but even these little things make it better to use, at the same price. The iPad Air (2022) is an excellent media consumption device and can also handle some gaming.
With the Apple M1 SoC, the iPad Air (2022) is now on par with the 11-inch iPad Pro (2021) (Review) in terms of performance, while having a significantly lower price. As a result, the iPad Air (2022) will appeal to those who are looking for good performance but who don’t necessarily want to spend a premium for the Pro models. While Apple’s accessories are expensive, some of them such as the Magic Keyboard definitely help improve the capabilities of the iPad Air (2022).
Based on my experience, the iPad Air (2022) might just be able to replace your laptop, as long as you’re okay with adjusting your workflow to iPad apps.