I came home from working out of town to a new iPad Air. Unfortunately, after a long couple of days on the road, it didn’t make it out of the box. However, after a good and long night’s sleep, I got the new Air out this morning and got started.
I’m still waiting for the last of the applications from my iPad Pro’s backup to make their over as I start writing, but I’ve spent enough time with the new hardware to form some initial impressions.
If you like the look of the iPad Pro, then you should be very pleased with the new iPad Air. Other than the bezel around the screen being a little larger and the lack of a True Depth camera array for Face ID, It looks like a dead ringer for the 11” iPad Pro.
For $200 less, that’s going to bring this design within the reach of a lot more buyers.
The new color options are also a smart move on Apple’s part. This fits with the same strategy they are pursuing in offering additional colors for the iPhone 12, in contrast with the more neutral tones available for the Pro models.
Even though I usually prefer a gold finish when I can get it, I got the Air in the new Sky Blue color and I’m pretty happy with it. The light shade of blue is quite subtle, but it’s still nice to have an option besides Silver, Space Gray and Gold.
A better class of accessories
The main dividing lines between the iPad Pro and the rest of the iPad lineup were originally the larger size, the processor and the Apple Pencil. Then Apple began to slowly make the Pencil compatible with the iPad, the Mini, and the revived 3rd gen Air last year. Then the Pros got their current design, Face ID, a upgraded Apple Pencil and USB-C in 2018. That status quo has held until now.
The iPad Air is the first device since 2018 to benefit from Pro features trickling down the lineup. The new Air 4 is first non-Pro iPad to have a magnetic charger for the Apple Pencil 2 and compatibility with this device. As good as the original Pencil was, the magnetic charging alone is a huge improvement. Charging the older model via Lightning, sticking far off the side of the device, was always less than ideal.
Also, the biggest issue I always had with the first gen Pencil was picking it up to use it only to find the battery dead. That never happens with the second gen model, which lives on its charger, insuring that it’s always ready to go. That makes the Pencil much more practical as an accessory.
As big as compatibility with the newer Pencil is, the inclusion of USB-C is a far bigger addition in my opinion. This port is so much more capable than Lightning since the improvements that came with iPadOS 13 last year. While it was possible to connect thumb drives and hard drives, it was more difficult and often required separate power cables. You could also connect HDMI or VGA cables, but it required another adapter. Now, all of this can be done with a single USB-C hub while your iPad is also connected to power. This adds so much more flexibility to the iPad Air and makes it a great option for customers looking for more flexibility.
The new Smart Connector is another smart addition to the iPad Air. This makes the Magic Keyboard for the 11” iPad Pro an option for anyone who wants to go high end. Buying a keyboard that costs over 50% of the iPad Air’s starting price tag is a tough ask, but it’s good to see Apple add compatibility for anyone who wants it.
I already have the Magic Keyboard for my 12.9” iPad Pro, so I wasn’t looking to get another one. However, Apple’s Magic Keyboards and Smart Keyboard Folio aren’t the only game in town for Apple’s rear-mounted Smart Connector anymore. I picked up a Logitech Folio Touch for the 11” iPad Pro at BestBuy a few days ago so I could try it out with the new Air.
I’m typing this review with it right now and I really like what I see so far. It isn’t quite as versatile as the Logitech Slim Combo I had for my 2017 Pro, as the keyboard section on that model was removable. However, it is a nice case with a great backlit keyboard and trackpad. I expect nothing less from Logitech.
The bottom line is that the newer Smart Connector opens the door to using a higher class of keyboard cases with the new Air. That is more important now that iPadOS has touchpad compatibility. Having the touchpad built into your case is huge convenience, and like the USB-C port, adds flexibility. I will write a separate review of this accessory later, but so far, so good.
Something to be aware of
Even though the new iPad Air has the same footprint as the 11” 2018 and 2020 iPad Pros, not all cases for those devices are going to be ideal. I found this out the hard way today. I should have thought about this before buying, but I didn’t consider the design or look at any pictures when I purchased the Logitech Folio Touch when I purchased the Logitech Folio Touch. Like many iPad cases, it covers the Power button with a pressable section built into the case.
Yeah, that doesn’t work so well with TouchID. Oops. It’s been so long since I’ve used a device with TouchID that I didn’t even consider this. Thankfully, Logitech has already released a slightly modified version of this keyboard case with a cutout for the Power button, making unlocking the Air with TouchID possible. I ordered today, so I should have it next week.
The same issue also bit me with my UAG Metropolis case for the 2018 iPad Pro. Just like with the Logitech keyboard case, it covers the Power button, taking TouchID off the table. I do have one older case that works, though. I still have a Pad and Quill Contega case for the 11” Pro that leaves the top and sides open. So if you have an older case for an 11” Pro around or have an opportunity to pick one up cheap, make sure you get one that won’t cover the Power button.
That’s it for today. So far, I like the new iPad Air as much as I thought I would. No real surprises yet, but considering my high expectations, that’s a good thing. I will be reporting on all aspects of the device in the coming days, including TouchID performance, battery life and processing horsepower. If you have any questions or anything specific you would like me to talk about, let me know in the Comments section below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.