Apple iPad Air (5th gen) Review: The everyday person’s iPad

Similar to how the upgrades of the iPhone SE (3rd gen) [see review here] are in the inside, the latest fifth-generation iPad Air’s major improvements are all in its innards.

Unlike the Bionic A14 chip found in its predecessor, this new tablet uses the same M1 chip found in last year’s iPad Pro. In addition, the new iPad Air supports 5G for faster cellular connectivity.

The iPad Air (5th gen). (Photo: Trevor Tan)

PRICE: From S$879 (Wi-Fi, 64GB) to S$1,319 (Wi-Fi + Celluar, 256GB; version reviewed), available in Apple Store, Lazada and Shopee on Mar 18
PROCESSOR: Apple M1 (8-core CPU/8-core GPU)
DISPLAY: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display, 2,360 x 1,046 pixels
CAMERAS: 12MP wide-angle camera (rear); 12MP Ultra Wide camera (front-facing)
STORAGE: From 64GB to 256GB
WEIGHT: 461g (Wi-Fi), 462g (Wi-Fi + Cellular)

The other major upgrade is its new 12-megapixel (MP) Ultra Wide front-facing camera. It supports Centre Stage that ensures you are always in frame during your video calls. This means all the current iPads support Centre Stage.

Apart from these internal upgrades, the new iPad Air retains the same design as the fourth-generation iPad Air. Both iPad Airs are a dead ringer for the 11-inch iPad Pro, whether you view them from the front or back.

Spot the difference: iPad Air (4th gen) and iPad Air (5th gen)? The one with iPad Air written is the new iPad Air. (Photo: Trevor Tan)

This is not exactly a bad thing, as the design remains sleek. It is essentially a minimalistic aluminium slab that is available in five colours of space grey, starlight, pink, purple and blue (version reviewed).

You can find the volume buttons on the right side of the tablet with unlock button on the top right. This button doubles as the Touch ID button for you to unlock the iPad Air.

The iPad Air (5th gen) is available in five colours. (Photo: Apple)

The new iPad Air also retains its predecessor’s 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display, which means there is no ProMotion technology found in the iPad. In other words, its display does not have a dynamic refresh rate that can go up to 120Hz.

Apart from its rather thick bezels, the display is still nice to look at with nice vivid colours. It is great for playing games or creating content on it. It also supports the second-generation Apple Pencil for you to create your masterpiece on it.

The iPad Air (5th gen) with Apple Pencil (2nd gen). (Photo: Apple)

Due to its similar physical attributes, you can use your old Magic Keyboard on the new iPad Air. Yes, the same Magic Keyboard – for iPad Air (4th gen) as well as the first-generation to current third-generation 11-inch iPad Pro – will work on this new iPad Air.

Your old Magic Keyboard – for iPad Air (4th gen) and 11-inch iPad Pros – will work with the new iPad Air. (Photo: Apple)

On paper, the new iPad Air’s M1 chip is 70% more powerful than the A14 Bionic chip found in its predecessor.

In the GeekBench 5 benchmarking tests, the iPad Air (5th gen) scored 1,718 (single-core) and 6,890 (multi-core). By comparison, the iPad Air (4th gen) scored 1,595 (single-core) and 4,169 (multi-core), while the 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro has a core of 1,712 (single) and 7,184 (multi-core).

The iPad Air (3rd gen) is a blazing fast tablet. (Photo: Apple)

In other words, you are getting a blazing fast tablet rivalling that of the flagship iPad Pro. Once you start playing games or creating content on it, the tablet’s fluidity and responsiveness are pretty evident.

+ Superb performance at affordable price
+ Sleek design
+ Centre Stage works great
+ Can reuse old accessories

– Display lacks ProMotion technology
– Storage capacity tops at only 256GB
– Shortest battery life among all the iPads

In addition, the front-facing Ultra Wide camera’s Centre Stage feature works as advertised. When I tried to move around, the camera automatically pans to keep me in the shot.

In fact, it is like I cannot get out of the camera’s sight. Furthermore, it does not only work on FaceTime app, it works on most video-conferencing app like WebEx and Zoom.

On the downside, the iPad Air (5th gen) is offered in only two storage sizes of 64GB and 256GB. In modern computing terms, these are really meagre. And you might have to start deleting apps or pictures in the near future to make space.

In our intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi switched on and the display at full brightness), it lasted 4 hours and 12 minutes. This is quite close to its predecessor, but is the shortest battery life among all the iPads.

In comparison, the 2019 third-generation iPad Air lasted 8 hours 30 minutes, while the current-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro clocked 9 hours and 15 minutes in the same battery test.

Of course, mileage will depend on your usage. Personally, using it to check e-mails, type articles like this review, browsing social media and catching up with the news on Safari, I found the tablet to have around 60% battery juice left by the end of the day.

Apart from its lack of ProMotion technology, shorter battery life and limited storage capacity, the iPad Air (5th gen) has all the bells and whistles you need from an iPad. But without the price tag of a iPad Pro.

With a price range from S$879 to S$1,319, the Apple iPad Air (5th gen) might not be exactly cheap. But if you don’t want the smaller iPad mini or the entry-level iPad, this is the best iPad you can afford.

DESIGN: 9/10

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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