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Apple iPad Air

Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: A superb tablet and laptop alternative

Jonathan Bray
24 Mar 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
569
inc VAT (64GB tablet only)

The iPad Air (2022) is a wonderfully powerful and compact productivity tablet but a tad overpowered for media consumption

Pros 
Fast performance
Beautiful design
Good battery life
Cons 
Keyboard and stylus cost extra
Overpowered for regular tablet tasks
Base model has only 64GB storage
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Two years ago, I dubbed the Apple iPad Air (2022)’s predecessor an “iPad Pro in all but name”, and it’s a comment I still stand by today. At the time, there wasn’t much to separate the iPad Air from the smallest 11in iPad Pro; it did much the same stuff, with only a few inconsequential features missing.

Two years on and it’s very much the same story, except that the latest iteration – the 5th generation iPad Air – is arguably closer in specifications and capabilities to the 11in iPad Pro than ever before.

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Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: What you need to know

That’s not due to any new feature or advancement – the 2022 iPad Air uses technology you’ll have seen on other products before – but the deployment of the M1 processor in such an affordable tablet means this is now the cheapest way to access Apple’s much-lauded new silicon.

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That’s the big change, but look hard and you’ll see that there are other updates. There’s a natty new Blue colour (pictured), to add to the Space Grey, Pink, Purple and Starlight (white) options you had before. This looks lovely, although if you’re sensible, you’ll be covering it with a folio or keyboard case anyway.

The webcam has been upgraded to a 12MP unit with support for Apple’s canny Center Stage technology that zooms and pans the view to keep you in the middle of the shot. The USB-C connector supports faster speeds than before and, if you want to pay the premium, you can have the tablet with 5G cellular connectivity, which is an improvement on the 4G of the previous iPad Air.

Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: Price and competition

The iPad Air (2022) is available in four different variants: two are Wi-Fi only models and come with either 64GB or 256GB of storage; the other pair additionally have 5G and either 64GB or 256GB. Prices for the Wi-Fi only models start at £569 and rise to £719, while adding 5G increases the price by £150.

If that sounds reasonable, bear in mind that to turn the iPad Air into the ultraportable, do-it-all laptop it deserves to be, you need to budget extra for a keyboard case and, if you want an official Apple keyboard, you’re going to have to be prepared to fork out a fair amount.

Apple’s Magic Keyboard, lovely though it is, will set you back another £279, while the standard Smart Keyboard Folio, which comes without a touchpad, is £179. You can save a bit by opting for a third-party keyboard case such as Logitech’s Folio Touch, but that still adds more than £100 to the price.

The obvious competitors to the iPad Air are the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 and Apple’s own 11in iPad Pro. Of these two, the Tab S8 is the closest in price at £649, although it comes with a stylus in the box and has double the storage at 128GB.

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The 11in iPad Pro, meanwhile, starts at £749. This comes with a more capable LiDAR-equipped camera setup at the rear and also benefits from Apple’s 120Hz ProMotion adaptive refresh rate technology on the display.

Alternatively, you could go down the Windows tablet/laptop route and pick up a Microsoft Surface Go 3. For £569, you get a 10.5in, 1,920 x 1,280 display and a Core i3 processor, but although it has 128GB of storage, it’s far less powerful than the new iPad Air.

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READ NEXT: The best iPad to buy today

Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: Design and key features

Not to labour a point, but the 2022 iPad Air is, to all intents and purposes, physically identical to its predecessor. It weighs 461g for the Wi-Fi model and 462g for the cellular model, while adding the Magic Keyboard raises the overall weight to around 1.2kg. That’s a bit porky for a device with a 10.9in screen but, if you’re concerned about weight, then the iPad Air with the Smart Keyboard Folio works out much lighter at a total 758g.

It’s very slim, measuring 6.1mm from back to front, has a footprint that’s 179 x 248mm in size, and the overall design will be familiar to anyone who’s come across a recent-edition iPhone or iPad Pro, with squared-off edges and a slab-flat rear. An “edge-to-edge” display sits on the front with a narrow, even bezel running all around its circumference.

It’s certainly an elegant-looking device, and the fact that it’s constructed from 100% recycled aluminium might make you feel better about buying one as well. I wouldn’t worry too much about the stories doing the rounds that the iPad Air isn’t built very solidly, either. Despite reports of creaks being heard when manhandled, I gave my review sample a good, solid twist and while I did hear a tiny bit of “creak”, if you can call it that, the tablet as a whole feels stiff, solid and unyielding.

As with the last iPad Air, biometric login is achieved via a Touch ID fingerprint reader that’s built right into the power button. This is located on the top edge on the right when held in portrait orientation, or the left edge at the top when used in landscape orientation or docked in the keyboard case.

It works reliably and effectively, although you’ll need to register a couple of fingers or you’ll end up fumbling with the wrong hand to log in when you’re holding the tablet the wrong way around. The good news is this only takes an extra minute or so when setting things up.

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Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: Display

In appearance, the iPad Air might look just like an iPad Pro, but there are several ways in which it doesn’t match up and the display is the main one.

On paper, it doesn’t look all that different. At 10.9in across the diagonal it’s a mere 0.1in smaller than the 11in iPad Pro, and its resolution of 2,360 x 1,640 means it’s perfectly sharp from normal viewing distances. Apple also says the display will reproduce the whole of the P3 colour space.

The first thing you’ll notice, however, is that if you’re coming to it from a modern smartphone with a 90Hz or 120Hz display, the iPad Air’s 60Hz refresh rate feels a little sluggish. You won’t notice it while you’re typing or watching Netflix but while swiping from screen to screen and scrolling through menus and web pages, the difference is immediately obvious. You’re also not getting the Mini LED display of the 12.9in iPad Pro here, so the black level isn’t as deep and dark and HDR content doesn’t look quite so impactful.

What you do get, though, is a colour-accurate IPS panel with a measured peak brightness of 489cd/m² (Apple quotes 500 nits) and a contrast ratio of 1,356:1. There’s also full lamination so there are no internal reflections to wash out the display in bright conditions, and it has a highly effective anti-reflective coating.

So no, it isn’t the pinnacle of display perfection, but for the money this is still a very impressive display.

READ NEXT: The best Android, iOS and Windows tablets

Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: Performance

With the Apple M1 chip inside, the performance of the iPad Air (2022) is significantly better than the previous model across both graphics and productivity tasks.

There’s double the RAM this time, too, at 8GB, and USB speeds have risen as well to a theoretical maximum of 10Gbits/sec. However, I only recorded read speeds of around 2.3Gbits/sec when transferring large files from external storage. That’s still quick enough for most purposes but disappointingly nowhere near what it could be.

The one issue I have is that the 64GB base storage is rather mean. It won’t take long to fill that up, especially if you’re a gamer or work with large files, so I’d recommend upgrading to the 128GB model if you can afford it.

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Still, if you need the performance, there’s loads on tap here. Below is a selection of benchmark results, all of which show the iPad Air 5 ahead of both its predecessor and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 by a significant margin. It’s also not far behind the M1 12.9in iPad Pro and the M1 Mac mini.

I’m yet to receive the Tab S8 in for review, so can’t yet put up comparison benchmarks but, based on results we’ve seen from other Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 devices, I don’t expect the speeds to overhaul those of the iPad Air (2022).

Essentially, what this means is that the iPad Air is just as good a laptop replacement as its more powerful siblings. If you can find the software to replace your Mac/Windows apps in the App Store, it’s a great do-it-all machine and it eats 4K video-editing tasks for breakfast.

Even battery life is improved. Apple quotes the usual 10 hours of web browsing or video playback as usual, and in our tests it exceeded those claims, lasting 10hrs 25mins. That’s a full hour longer than the previous iPad Air though still behind the M1 iPad Pro 12.9in and a long way behind the likes of the M1 Apple MacBook Air, which lasted an impressive 14hrs 41mins in the same test.

Apple iPad Air 5 (2022) review: Verdict

I’ve seen others wondering where the iPad Air 5 (2022) fits into the iPad range, especially since the iPad Pro 11in is so similar and more capable. I think, however, that it’s more appropriate to flip that question and ask what the point of the smaller iPad Pro is, now that the Air has inherited its M1 processor.

If you don’t mind missing out on the Pro’s 120Hz display, its Face ID camera and its slightly superior audio system, the iPad Air delivers a very similar overall experience and performance for a lot less cash.

Moreover, what you’re getting here is a laptop alternative that’s as powerful as a MacBook Air but one that costs as much as £300 less. The smaller screen and 64GB base storage might give you pause, but there’s no denying that 2022’s iPad Air packs in an awful lot in for your money.

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