iPad Air 4
Apple introduced the iPad Air 4 in September 2020 as the next evolution of the non-pro tablet line. It has a 10.9-inch edge-to-edge display, Touch ID in the power button, and powerful A14 Bionic processor. It also adds support for the Magic Keyboard, second-generation Apple Pencil, and USB-C.
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iPad Air 4 Features
Design and Display
The iPad Air 4 ditches the dated design of the iPad Air 3, moving to a 10.9-inch, nearly edge-to-edge screen design that takes on the same design as the iPad Pro. The case appears to be the same size as the 11-inch iPad Pro, but the bezels are slightly thicker due to display technology differences.
This fourth-generation model has a Liquid Retina LED display like the current iPad Pro, but it lacks the iPad Pro's 120Hz ProMotion display. It is capped at 60Hz like previous generations, but most users may not notice unless they come from the iPad Pro or use the Apple Pencil extensively.
The display has a 2360 x 1640 resolution, with 3.8 million pixels. It also has full lamination, p3 wide color, True Tone, and an anti-reflective coating. The laminated display means that content appears close to the screen, so it feels more natural when writing with the Pencil.
The iPad Air now has flat edges, a design paradigm Apple introduced in the third-generation iPad Pro and used in the iPhone 12 series.
With the move to a nearly edgeless display, it was inevitable the iPad Air would need to transition from the old home-button Touch ID sensor. Perhaps to keep the bill of materials down, Apple skipped Face ID and instead opted for a Touch ID sensor in the tablet's power button.
The Touch ID sensor sits on the top-right edge of the device while in portrait mode. The smaller sensor is just as accurate and secure as the original Touch ID, and Apple claims it was a feat of engineering to get it to work within the top button.
One advantage of the new Touch ID over Face ID is that you don't have to enter a passcode if you're using the iPad while wearing a face mask. Some speculation suggests this new Touch ID sensor could appear in a future iPhone model alongside Face ID to aid in the new normal of wearing masks.
The updated model moves to an A14 Bionic processor, the same chip that powers the iPhone 12. It is a big step up from the A13 and another proof-of-concept of Apple's ability to push Apple Silicon forward each year.
The A14 Bionic uses a 5nm architecture. Apple says it has up to double the graphics performance of the A12. The chip has a six-core CPU and 11.8 billion transistors, 40% more than A12. Early benchmarks indicate the new chipset is approximately 20% faster than the A13.
The A14 has a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine. Its performance gains make it the fastest processor Apple makes when tested on single-core, though the A12Z Bionic still scores better at multi-core performance.
The updated iPad Air also moves closer to the iPad Pro by switching from Lightning to USB-C. It is limited to 5Gbps — compared to the iPad Pro's 10Gbps — but supports the same peripherals. It can only output video up to 1080p when connected to an external monitor.
USB-C support allows the new tablet to connect a wider variety of external desktop accessories, such as drives, displays, cameras, and multi-port adapters. Users can even use large USB-C hubs to connect to many devices and a monitor simultaneously, all through a single connection.
Apple has moved most of its products to USB-C, though the iPhone and 10.2-inch iPad still use Lightning. The versatile USB-C allows users to carry fewer cables and easily move accessories between devices.
- Support for the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio
- Support for the Apple Pencil 2
- 64GB and 256GB storage options
- A single 12MP camera with f/1.8 aperture
- Stereo Speakers
- Available in green, sky blue, rose gold, silver, and space gray color variants
iPad Pro vs. iPad Air
The tablet has an edge-to-edge display but lacks ProMotion, which gives the iPad Pro a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. ProMotion allows for more responsive Apple Pencil drawing, low latency, and a variable refresh rate for smoother content viewing and lower power consumption.
With the switch to USB-C, both the iPad Pro and iPad Air use the same port. That leaves the budget iPad and iPad mini as the only tablets still using Lightning. USB-C is a more versatile connection, opening the door to many desktop and power-user accessories.
The new model's A14 Bionic chip is two generations newer than the A12Z found in the iPad Pro. Despite graphical advances in the A14, the iPad Air still has less graphical power than the pro series. The A12Z has eight dedicated GPU cores, giving it a significant edge in graphically-intensive tasks.
The latest iPad Air has a single-lens camera setup. The iPad Pro has the same standard lens while adding an ultra-wide lens and a LiDAR Scanner for augmented-reality (AR) apps.
The iPad Air has stereo speakers, one on each side. The iPad Pro has a four-speaker setup for richer audio.
iPad Air 4 Review
We like the updated design with its flat edges and larger display. Apple has made the iPad Air 4 feel much more modern by borrowing elements from the iPad Pro.
The screen goes nearly edge-to-edge with a Liquid Retina display, complete with curved corners. It has smaller bezels than the iPad Air before it. The previous generation had a 10.5-inch 2224-by-1668 display with 264 pixels per inch. The new model measures 10.9 inches and has a 2360-by-1640-pixel resolution, still at 264 PPI.
Even though the screen is larger, the tablet still maintains its compact feel. The bezels do the most work with increasing usable area as they are narrower.
Introducing the A14 to the iPad Air made for a fast and efficient tablet. It feels much quicker than its previous generation, and we managed to zip around the UI and our favorite apps without issue.
For a more standardized test, we turned to Geekbench. In version 5.2.5, our iPad Air scored a 1588 and a 4120 on the single and multi-core tests. That compares very well to the 2020 iPad Pro, which scored 1117 and 4690 on its own single and multi-core benchmarks.
That is a roughly 30 percent higher single-core score, and it only lags in the multi-core test by around 12 percent. The A14 Bionic processor is a six-core chip with a base clock speed of 2.99GHz with 4GB of RAM. The 2018 iPad Pros have the A12Z Bionic processor with eight cores at 2.49GHz and 6GB of RAM.
So the device has fewer functional cores than the 2018 iPad Pro, but it makes up for it with a faster clock speed. Hence the more impressive single-core results and falling only slightly behind in multi-core.
Most tasks are only single-core operations, so this iPad Air should feel faster day-to-day. It will suffer slightly on multi-core intensive tasks, such as editing massive 40MP RAW photos or exporting a Dolby Vision HDR movie in iMovie.
Deciding whether an iPad Air is or isn't productive is subjective, as it depends on what you are using it for. What we love about the latest model is how well-rounded it is. It feels like the best tablet available right now. Of course, it still lags behind the 2020 iPad Pro line in a few places, but that doesn't take away from how great the iPad Air is.
If you are looking for a tablet primarily for work and higher grades of school or college, we'd suggest this tablet over any other. It isn't as expensive as the iPad Pro line, but it has a newer processor and supports the much-improved second-generation Apple Pencil. It also has USB-C. If you're looking to connect flash drives or other external storage, this is the cheapest iPad with that feature.
Comparison to iPad Pro
The biggest elephant in the room when it comes to the new iPad Air is the decision between it and the 2018 iPad Pro. The 2018 11-inch iPad Pro makes an excellent case for itself despite the fact it has been discontinued.
Apple replaced the 2018 iPad Pro in early 2020 with new models. However, the 2018 11-inch iPad Pro can still be found through authorized resellers and is a tempting alternative to the iPad Air 4.
If you choose the older iPad Pro, you get a slightly larger display, Face ID, and a 120Hz ProMotion display. Its A12X Bionic processor still wins in multi-core performance and graphics power over this model. That A12X Bionic processor gets the same Geekbench single and multi-core scores since it is the same processor. Still, it lags slightly behind on the Metal graphics test due to the additional graphics core in the A12Z Bionic processor.
Since the A12Z and A12X Bionic processors are so similar, buying a two-year-old tablet with an "old" processor may be acceptable. You will only notice a wall on graphics-heavy tasks, which may not be an issue for some users.
When you compare directly, the old 11-inch iPad Pro with 256GB of storage runs $749, the same price as the upper-tier 128GB 2020 iPad Air.
By choosing the old iPad Pro, you lose out on the colors of the iPad Air as well as a bit of additional storage. Depending on your use-case, it may be more worth it to lose those features and a tiny bit of performance for those extra benefits."
iPad Air 4 Pricing and Availability
Here is the pricing breakdown for the new iPad Air:
- 64GB WiFi - $599
- 64GB WiFi + cellular - $729
- 256GB WiFi - $749
- 256GB WiFi + cellular - $879
The tablet released on October 23, 2020.
10.9-inch iPad Air 4 Prices (Late 2020)