The newest Apple iPad Air — aka the 2022 iPad Air, iPad Air (5th generation) or M1 iPad Air — is similar to the 2020 iPad Air in most ways. It's the same size and has the same display. It has the same rear camera. And it works with the same accessories such as the Magic Keyboard and newest Apple Pencil. Apple essentially took an old design and updated it with new guts...but those new guts make it a fantastic and absurdly capable tablet for 2022.
And, it actually makes a pretty damn-good two-in-one laptop, too.
The biggest thing with the new iPad Air is that it's powered by an M1 chip (a first for an iPad Air), which is the same processor that Apple has decked out in its latest iPad Pros, MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro — and it rips. I've been using the new iPad Air for the better part of a week; it's lightning-fast and runs apps buttery smooth. There's no lag when swiping between home screens, or opening and exiting apps.
You might be thinking that bringing the M1 chip to a mid-level tablet is a touch overkill for Apple, and, to be honest, you're probably right. However, I'm guessing that most people who buy this iPad Air are going to use it much more like a two-in-one laptop than a traditional tablet. And yes, that means also buying a Magic Keyboard ($299), which is fantastic and has the same click-y keys and a similar click-y trackpad as Apple's newest MacBooks. And they'll likely buy an Apple Pencil 2 ($129), too.
There are other improvements that make the new iPad Air feel like a computer fit for this new work-from-home world. It has a new front camera system that supports Center Stage, a feature that tracks your face movements and adjusts focus so that you are always looking your best on video calls — the webcams in all the latest Macs have it. The USB-C port on the new iPad Air transfers data at twice the speed as a Lightning port. And the cellular model supports 5G connectivity, which might not be super-important now but could be in the future, when 5G networks are more widespread.
That said, the new iPad Air faces the same dilemma as the iPad Air from two years ago — it's essentially a more affordable and slightly less-capable version of the newest 11-inch iPad Pro, released in May 2021. The two are basically identical, and powered by the same M1 processor — but for an extra $200 the 11-inch iPad Pro gets you a better and faster display (120Hz versus the Air's 60Hz), a higher-end rear camera system, a front camera that supports Face ID, a Thunderbolt charging port and more base storage — 128GB vs the Air's 64GB.
And these upgrades are really meaningful to real "pros." For artists and illustrators, the high refresh rate display allows you to be way more detailed with the Apple Pencil. (And it's smoother for playing games and watching videos.) For photographers and other creatives, the Thunderbolt port is ideal for transferring large touched-up photos. And the Pro's dual-camera system is better for taking photos and using photo/video apps.
So, the new iPad Air sits in this interesting gray area of both being and not being a pro-level tablet. It looks and feels like a new-age iPad, meaning it has a big screen (no Home button) and supports the coolest keyboard and stylus. In fact, it's the most affordable iPad that Apple makes that works with the Magic Keyboard, which, when paired together, makes the iPad Air really feel like a MacBook. But if you're a serious artist, creative professional or someone who wants the best tablet that Apple has to offer, then it's a no-brainer to spend the extra $200 on an 11-inch iPad Pro.
The 2022 iPad Air is available everywhere this Friday, March 18. You can preorder one now.