In recent years, Apple has resurrected the iPad Air tablet range with releases that combine features from the iPad Pro series with a more affordable price tag. This was most apparent with the 3rd-generation iPad Air (2019), launched with a A12 Bionic chip, Apple Pencil support, Smart Connector support, and a large(r) 10.5″ laminated screen.
However, despite the value-for-money offering that the iPad Air 2019 provided, there were still a couple of qualms from users (including this writer): the dated Touch ID-focused design, for one. Which is why the recent Apple announcement was so interesting to me—would Apple launch a new iPad Air to continue the value-for-money legacy of the iPad Air 2019?
In short: yes—and more. Here are a couple of reasons why the iPad Air 2020 is the iPad to buy this year.
1. USB-C… at long, long last
One of the genuinely irritating things about many of Apple’s devices has been the continued use of the Lightning port. As mobile devices continue to move towards USB-C, only the iPad Pro has had the privilege of USB-C among Apple’s tablets—until now.
Yes, the great news is that the iPad Air 2020 can be charged via USB-C. Apple is even bundling in a USB-C to USB-C cable and a 20W charger in the box, so you won’t have to drop any extra cash on additional charging accessories here.
2. Stereo speakers in landscape mode
Unfortunately, quad speakers continue to remain an iPad Pro exclusive. This doesn’t mean that the speakers on the iPad Air 2020 haven’t been improved, however. On the 2019 version, both speakers are placed at the bottom of the iPad when it’s in portrait orientation. This means that when using the older tablet in landscape mode, sound only comes out of one side—which dilutes the “stereo” effect, consequently.
Now, the iPad Air 2020 has a pair of speakers that sit on either side of the tablet when it’s in landscape mode. This is a subtle change, but one that has been called for by users for a long, long time now. Put it this way: most of us use our iPads in landscape orientation when consuming media—your Netflix, YouTube, and so on—and the new speaker placement should certainly improve that experience significantly.
3. The 10-year-old design has been scrapped
Well, for the iPad Air series, at least. Besides the iPad Pro series (2018 and newer), all of Apple’s tablets have looked really similar. They’ve certainly gotten slimmer over the years, and there have been subtle design tweaks, but ultimately, my iPad Air 2019 looks remarkably similar to the original iPad—first launched a decade ago.
Now, the new iPad Air features a refreshed look that finally departs from the classic design. They’ve gotten rid of the dated home button (Touch ID is now integrated into the Power button), and the relatively gigantic forehead and chin bezels, and replaced it with an “all-screen” look that looks a lot like the newer iPad Pros.
Apple has also jazzed things up with five colours to choose from: Space Grey, Silver, Rose Gold, Green, and Sky Gold. All of which adds to the modern look that Apple is going for with the iPad Air 2020—and I can’t deny it: it looks sweet.
4. Apple Pencil 2 support, with magnetic charging
Personally, I don’t use the Apple Pencil all that much. However, for illustrators and artists everywhere, the Apple Pencil is one of the best things about the iPad, and its functionality extends from full-blown illustrations/sketches to simple note-taking. But there has been one major complaint when it comes to the 1st generation Apple Pencil that is supported on the older 2019 iPad Air: the charging mechanism.
Apple has rectified that with a magnetically-charging Apple Pencil 2, although compatibility has been limited to the Pro series up till this point. That’s changing, though, with the iPad Air 2020 now supporting the Apple Pencil 2—awesome. The Apple Pencil 2 also has slightly squarer edges, which prevents it from rolling off tables too easily, which is an often overlooked issue (until it happens to you).
Plus, the iPad Air 2020 is also compatible with the Magic Keyboard. However, I don’t know if many users are going to buy a RM1,349 accessory to use with a tablet that costs RM2,599 (at least). Still, at least the option is there.
5. The A14 Bionic: Apple’s most advanced chip so far
Unlike previous generations, the iPad Air is powered by a chip that hasn’t ever been seen before. Let me clarify: usually, iPads are released with chips that have already been seen in current-generation iPhones, or even modified versions of current-generation chips (such as the A12Z on the 2020 iPad Pro).
On the iPad Air 2020, you get the new 5nm A14 Bionic chip—which will probably be powering the upcoming iPhone 12 series. This, according to Apple, is their “most advanced chip” ever, and features a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU and a 16-core next generation Neural Engine.
Putting all of that technicality aside, it’s clear that this year’s iPad Air model has possibly benefited from a delayed iPhone 12 launch, and as such, you’re getting the latest and greatest from Apple—on a reasonably affordable iPad.
When it comes down to it, iPads are probably the way to go if you’re looking for a tablet today. While Android tablets have some seriously good hardware, iPadOS is the big differentiator here—everything is better-optimised, the apps use the screen real estate more efficiently, and in general, it’s a better experience.
And if you’re looking for a new iPad, the basic iPad might still be the most cost-effective option. The Pro, meanwhile, is obviously the most specced out tablet in the range, and features like Pro Motion (120Hz variable refresh rate) and quad speakers definitely still make a case for the iPad Pro.
However, if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, the iPad Air 2020, to me, hits the sweet spot. They’ve included upgrades that users have asked for, they’ve jazzed up the design, and equipped it with their most advanced chip ever—and it’s still priced at RM900 below the base model 11″ iPad Pro 2020.
So, what about you? What do you think? The iPad Air 2020 will be available in Malaysia soon, with official pricing as follows:
64GB – RM2,599
256GB – RM3,249
WiFi + Cellular
64GB – RM3,149
256GB – RM3,799
Apple Pencil (2nd gen) – RM549
Apple Magic Keyboard – RM1,349