Blistering-fast performance • Long battery life • Supports Apple Pencil (first-gen) • Large high-res Retina display
Two-year-old design • Average cameras • No Face ID
Despite its name, the new iPad Air (2019) is basically an iPad Pro, only without the expensive price tag.
Buying an iPad is less complicated than it looks.
But if you want the best iPad value — a tablet that strikes just the right balance between size, features, and price — the new iPad Air is the one to get.
I’ll be honest: using the new iPad Air does’t feel very special. In a nutshell, the new iPad Air is basically the body of the discontinued 10.5-inch iPad Pro (2017) — minus the quad speakers, ProMotion display, protruding camera bump — and powered with the A12 Bionic chip that’s at the heart of the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. It also works with the first-generation Apple Pencil.
TL;DR: The new iPad is a mix of old and new. This combination might not be very glamorous, but at $499, it’s a real value.
I know everyone’s idea of value is different. For some people, the $329 9.7-inch iPad is a value because it’s the cheapest iPad. For others, the $799 11-inch iPad Pro is a value because it’s a design worthy of modern times and supports the second-generation Apple Pencil.
For me, value means getting as many features as possible at a reasonable price, which I strongly believe is $499.
Why $499? Because that’s how much the original iPad started at — it set the price bar.
“When we set out to develop the iPad, we not only had very ambitious technical goals and user interface goals, but we had very aggressive price goals,” Steve Jobs said during the original iPad’s unveil event in 2010. “At $499, a lot of people can afford an iPad.”
As someone who’s bought multiple iPads over the years since the original launched in 2010, I can say without question the value you get from an iPad Air is greater than any iPad before.
At $499, the new iPad Air starts at the same price as first-generation iPad. Yet, it does so much more than any previous $499 iPad.
To understand just how much more it does, I broke out my original iPad and compared it to the new iPad Air.
Bigger, sharper screen
Most noticeable between the new iPad Air and my original iPad is the larger screen. Whereas my original iPad’s 9.7-inch display used to be considered large, $499 now gets you a bigger 10.5-inch screen.
And as you’d expect, the screen is excellent. It’s missing the ProMotion feature from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which automatically adjusts the refresh rate based on the type of content displayed. But even without ProMotion, the Retina display is fantastic and I don’t think many people will care that it didn’t make the cut.
Photos and videos look as sharp as they do on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, viewing angles are great, and colors are rich thanks to support for P3 wide color gamut. In comparison, images and text look like garbage on my original iPad — it’s all so fuzzy and pixel-y.
Slimmer bezels, Touch ID, and FaceTime
Back in 2010, the front was merely a screen surrounded by thick black borders with a home button at the bottom.
In 2019, the bezels on the left and right of the iPad are significantly slimmer, but still roomy enough to grab with onto; the screen never bugs out, which is a testament to Apple’s excellent palm-rejection tech.
The home button’s been upgraded to pull double duty as both a home button and a Touch ID fingerprint reader. And embedded in the top bezel is a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera capable of recording 1080p HD video.
Coming from a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I definitely missed Face ID, but Touch ID works well and in some cases, it’s even better.
Huge performance leap
There’s no comparing the new iPad Air’s specs to the previous iPads. With its A12 Bionic chip, the new iPad Air is as powerful as the new iPad mini, iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR.
Want to run three apps (two in Split View and one in Slide Over) without lag? Easy. Play 3D games without performance slowdown? Can do. Edit 4K video? Go for it.
All of these things either weren’t possible or performed poorly on previous $499 iPads. I know for sure my original iPad and even my once cutting-edge iPad Air 2 could only dream of doing these things.
Also, the new iPad Air comes with a minimum of 64GB of storage. My old iPad? A puny 16GB.
Works with Apple Pencil (first-gen)
All iPads now work with Apple Pencil. But not all work with the same Apple Pencil.
Like the new iPad mini and regular 9.7-inch iPad, the new iPad Air works with the first-generation Apple Pencil and not the second-generation Pencil, which only works on the new iPad Pros.
Apple Pencil is as responsive on the new iPad Air as on any other iPad, but it also comes with all of the downsides of the first-gen writing instrument, such as a cap that’s easy to lose and the awful charging design that involves plugging the Pencil into the iPad’s Lightning port.
In 2016, you needed to fork over at least $599 for a 9.7-inch iPad Pro in order to get Apple Pencil support. With the new iPad Air, not only do you pay less, but you also get a larger display to write and draw on.
It’s easy to take for granted that iPads come with cameras (on the front and back), but back in the day $499 got you zero shooters.
The new iPad Air comes with an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.4 aperture on the back. Like any iPad’s cameras, it takes okay photos. The camera works in a pinch if you absolutely must shoot with a tablet, but it’s far more practical for things like scanning documents and augmented reality.
Still has the headphone jack
Anyone disappointed that the new iPad Pros don’t have a headphone jack will be happy to see it on the new iPad Air.
Louder, richer sound
A tablet’s display always gets a lot of love, but rarely does the sound. When the original iPad launched, it came with a single mono speaker. In short, it was good for it’s time, but sounds crappy today.
The new iPad Air has stereo speakers and they get pretty loud. The speakers aren’t nearly as clear or rich-sounding as the quad-speakers on the iPad Pros, but they’re good for a device that’s razor thin.
Thin and light
People these days don’t know how good they have it with the new iPad Air. Weighing 1 pound and measuring 0.24 inches thick, the new iPad Air is one svelte device compared to my 1.5-pound and bulging 0.5-inch original iPad.
No, seriously, compare the two and you can see how hefty the original iPad was. It’s a giant brick in comparison to the new iPad Air.
An iPad Pro by another name
Hopefully after all this, you get a better sense of how $499 gets you way more iPad than it used to. Sure, it took nine years to get here, but if you look at how much the iPad has evolved and how many features Apple’s added without increasing the price, it’s hard to deny that the new iPad Air is a great value.
Perhaps the most impressive thing I realized about the new iPad Air while testing it was just how much of a “pro” iPad it is. The new iPad Air can do nearly everything a pre-2018 iPad Pro could do, and do it better because it’s got a more powerful and faster A12 Bionic chip.
Simply put: The new iPad Air might as well be an iPad Pro.