My time with the iPad Air 4 yesterday was about getting set up and started with it. Today was about leaning into a few specific features to see how they work, as well as how they stack up with the iPad Pro. Specifically, I tested the new TouchID sensor, and did some real-world testing on the processor and the speakers.
Getting in touch
It’s so far, so good for me using the new, smaller TouchID sensor on the iPad Air. I’ll be honest and say that I prefer having Face ID on the iPad Pro to going back to using a fingerprint sensor. That’s especially true since, unlike the iPhone, the iPad Pro’s True Depth cameras work in both portrait and landscape orientations. As soon as I open my Pro, it reads my face quickly and I’m good to go. That said, the new Air is only a half-step behind and the move to TouchID makes sense from a pricing perspective. It was also integral to shifting the Air’s design from having a Home button to the Pro-like edge-to-edge screen. This is the right middle ground for Apple.
I actually prefer having the TouchID sensor on the smaller Power button to the old Home button layout. This works well when holding the tablet in either orientation, so it’s more versatile, in my opinion. The initial setup of the Air 4 even encourages you to rotate it and set up a second finger to cover both orientations, which was a smart add on Apple’s part.
It’s also easy to trigger TouchID properly when your Air 4 is in a case, regardless of position. However, I would recommend that you set up your fingerprints with the tablet in the case if you have any issues. I had to adjust this today because I was having difficulty using my right index finger in portrait orientation. The back of my Pad’s case made my finger hit the sensor at a bit of an angle. However, after setting up the finger again, it worked the first time from there on out.
The A14 is a-ok
I’m sure there are apps available today that will push Apple’s latest processor to the limits when using a larger screen than an iPhone and engaging more cores. However, nothing I did today seemed to make the Air 4 even break a sweat. I played games like Madden and Asphalt 8 that are graphically intensive from a mobile gaming perspective. I watched lots of streaming video while doing other things. I used multitasking a god bit. I opened some larger files. I never even noticed a dropped frame or a single stutter.
What I found is that, in typical use, the Air 4 will be perfect for most iPad users. I’m sure if you push hard enough, you can make the Air 4’s A14 bog down a bit. However, the fact that it’s not easy to means that Apple nailed what it was going for. Anyone who is really concerned with pushing the limits and using the iPad for tasks that are going to be processor intensive will likely be looking at the iPad Pro for that reason.
Conversely, anyone who doesn’t consistently need the highest level of performance is going to be perfectly fine using the Air 4. Working with documents, taking notes, drawing with the Apple Pencil, editing photos or basic video content, streaming media and playing games are all right in this tablet’s wheelhouse. And the A14 should give the Air 4 a sold few years of runway before the processor is challenged by everyday tasks.
It seems like Apple made the right call going with a standard A14 processor in the Air. It delivers the performance that’s needed in a mid-tier tablet without pushing the bill of material or the price tag higher.
Sounds good, just not as good
The iPad Air 4’s speakers are interesting. I spent some time watching action movies on the tablet today to get a feel for how they compared to the iPad Pro’s impressive four speaker directional stereo setup. What I found is that the Air 4 sounds good, and is an improvement over last year’s Air, the Mini and the iPad. However, it doesn’t have the oomph or the surround effect that the iPad Pro’s four speakers can manage.
While the specs for the Air 4 say it has stereo speakers, nothing else is really made clear. That should mean there are two speakers, and I’m 9% certain that’s correct. What’s interesting is that there are still four speaker grills on the Air 4, just like the 11” iPad Pro. It seems that the speakers are actually located at the bottom of the device in landscape mode, but that the sound is still able to emanate from both the top and bottom grills.
When holding the device up and physically blocking each grill, I found that the lower ones on each side definitely put out more volume. However, there is also sound coming from the top grills, as well. This does not provide the same channel separation that the Pro models do, but it does give you stereo sound that you don’t get with previous iPad models. Again, it seems that Apple struck a nice middle ground with this new tablet.
As for the quality of sound, it’s also good, especially in the treble range. However, the Air 4’s speakers definitely lack the mid and bass range of my 2018 iPad Pro. The depth and richness isn’t there. This was quite evident watching action movie sequences with intense soundtracks and explosions, car chases or gunfire going off. One more time, this should be an improvement over any lower-end iPad. It’s just a notch below the Pros The Air 4 is solidly in the middle in sound quality as well, and that’s right where it belongs.
That’s all for today. I will be back later this week with more observations on the iPad Air 4, as well as the Logitech Folio Touch, once the correct model for the new Air arrives. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.