iPad Air 2022 review: Pro performance for hundreds less

There’s a new iPad Air in town, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from looks alone — or the fact that it still starts at $599. The latest mid-range tablet from Apple keeps the same sleek design but seeks to improve things with a better processor, a fancy front-facing camera and 5G support.

I’ve spent the last few days with the latest iPad Air, and it’s been a familiar experience with more speed. But given the price point, the iPad Air now feels destined for work-from-home — let’s unpack why.

iPad Air 2022

The M1 chip and a Center Stage-capable front camera give the iPad Air the unique ability to be a masterful device for work-from-home. Paired with the right accessories, it can be a primary work machine for some.

Starting at $599 at AmazonStarting at $599 at BestBuyStarting at $599 at Apple

The who, what and how

Who this is for: The iPad Air is a fit for casual users and creators alike, but the latter, along with WFHers, will benefit from improved performance, a great camera setup and an ultra-portable design.

What you need to know: The iPad Air sports a 10.9-inch display and Apple’s zippy M1 Chip that leaves us with no concerns about performance. For $599 though, you’re only getting 64GB of storage and it might be worth it to spend more for 256GB. Additionally, core accessories like a Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil will cost you extra.

How this compares: The $599 (starting) iPad Air might be in the middle of Apple’s lineup when it comes to screen size, but just as powerful as the most expensive iPad Pro. It leapfrogs over both the 9th Gen iPad and iPad Mini in terms of overall performance and its ability to handle larger creative projects. The only things it’s missing in comparison to a Pro are a higher refresh rate for smooth scrolling, a larger screen and better speakers. If those aren’t dealbreakers for you, the iPad Air fits the bill.

The same build with a new paint job

After a full facelift in 2020, Apple isn’t changing much with the iPad Air for 2022. It’s still a fairly large-sized tablet with a 10.9-inch display, but portability isn’t a concern. It’s super light at just over a pound and can be easily tossed into a backpack or carried by hand. I was able to comfortably use it on a train and in a backseat of a car (though the latter led to some stomach grumblings).

The size is ideal for both either landscape or vertical orientation — meaning you could hold it with a single hand horizontally to watch a TV show, play a game or navigate between apps. Holding it vertically and using it to take notes with an Apple Pencil is really comfortable.

Rather than offer Face ID on the $599 model, Apple is still sticking with Touch ID built into the power button. It gets the job done and it’s just as fast as previous models for unlocking the iPad with your fingerprint, authenticating a purchase or auto-filling a password.

The iPad Air retains the same Liquid Retina LCD display with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 from previous models. It doesn’t support a buttery-smooth 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate like the 11-inch iPad Pro, but for most people — and I mean if you’re not using the device for movie making or pro-grade creative projects — this will be just fine. It’s vibrant, vivid and really enjoyable to use. But I would have loved to see ProMotion come down to this price point, which would put the Air on a more level playing field with the $699 Galaxy Tab S8.

Another key difference is stereo speakers which aren’t as powerful as those on the iPad Pro. It still can pump out strong audio, but it’s not as room-filling and pushes out less bass. And like the iPad Pro, there’s no headphone jack here — you’ll need to opt for a 9th Gen iPad If you want that. This version of the iPad Air sticks with a USB-C port for charging (you get a charging cable and a 20-watt wall plug in the box), but it can handle more throughput with support up to 10GBps of data transfers. This way if you plug in an external hard drive like an SSD, you’ll be able to quickly move files.

And last but not least, you can now get the iPad Air in a new Blue color. It’s quite nice and is a flowy light blue that’s not nearly as dark as Pacific Blue on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Essentially it’s like the purple iPad Mini but blue. The iPad Air is also available in Space Gray, starlight, pink or purple.

A huge camera upgrade for working from home

Like the previous model, the latest iPad Air sticks with a 12-megapixel wide lens in the rear. It takes good photos with accurate colors and no noise introduction — though I’m not sure who would really take photos with a large iPad.

iPad Air 2022 review: Pro performance for hundreds less

Tucked into the left side bezel is a much-improved 12-megapixel Ultra-Wide camera, which brings support for CenterS tage. This smart tool for video calls — which always keeps you in the frame — is finally available on every iPad currently in the lineup.

It’s supported in FaceTime, WebEx, Zoom, Skype and countless others and really works on its own. With the help of some software tricks, the iPad’s front camera will automatically pan and zoom to keep you in the shot. This way if you stand up, it will move up to keep you in the frame — same if you go side to side or even jump up and down. Feel free to rock out to “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen with some improvised choreography; you’ll stay in the frame.

In a more everyday use case, it’ll keep you from having to spend time making sure you’re in frame on calls and is really a boon for working-from-home (or a coffee space or coworking space). It aids in the iPad Air’s capabilities for being a work-from-home device as well — this camera paired with fast performance makes it ideal if you can move your workload to an iPad.

Simply smooth performance that rivals the iPad Pro

The biggest change with the iPad Air is the arrival of Apple’s M1 chip — yes, the same one that powers the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and the iPad Pro 11-inch or 12-inch. It’s a pretty big value play to get it in a $599 tablet. Similar to when it arrived in the iPad Pro last Spring, iPadOS is at its most smooth and fluid on this device.

In fact, head to head against an 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the iPad Air delivers the same speed when navigating iOS, multitasking between apps, video editing in Luma Fusion or iMovie and gaming in an intense title like Final Fantasy. The M1 chip inside is the same 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine — the main difference is that the iPad Air only has 8GB of RAM in comparison to the 16GB found in the Pros. More crazy is that for $599, you’re getting the same performance as the $799 or $1,099 iPad Pro.

The iPad Air is fit to be a productivity machine, a play machine or both at the same time. And in our qualitative benchmarking, the results matched up with what I experienced in everyday use. Apple’s latest iPad Air scored 1,700 on single-core and 7,625 on multi-core on the Geekbench general performance test — that’s just shy of the iPad Pro’s scores. It’s a significant leap over the previous iPad Air which was a bit slower with an A14 Bionic inside.

Processor GeekBench 5 Single-Core GeekBench 5 Multi-Core
iPad Air fifth-generationApple M1 Chip1,7007,625
iPad Air fourth-generationApple A14 Bionic1,5783,981
iPad Pro (2021)Apple M1 Chip1,7477,280
Galaxy Tab S8 PlusQualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 11,2193,219
Galaxy Tab S8 UltraQualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 11,1763,336

This mid-range tablet is faster than the 9th Gen iPad and iPad Mini, especially with multitasking and more intense apps. I’ve been using the iPad Air for a full workday complete with web browsing, Slack messages, tons of emails in Outlook, calls in WebEx, some photo editing and a lot of word processing. The iPad Air handled those with ease, opening apps nearly instantly and handling any command swiftly.

You also have the ability to multitask with two apps side by side — for instance Notes or a PDF with a word processing doc open — or use two apps with a third floating. The improvements in iPadOS 15 make it easier to navigate the different potential window setups for using the iPad.

Can the iPad Air be your main device?

As is the case with most iPads, you get more out of the device by using an accessory. The Apple Pencil still costs extra — $129.99 — and is still the best way to take notes or stretch your creative skills. Apps like ProCreate, Notability, Affinity Suite and Photoshop take advantage of the stylus. And I noticed minimal latency here and it feels like pen or pencil to actual paper. The second-gen Pencil still magnetically attaches to the side and wirelessly charges. It’s a versatile tool, but you’ll need to weigh it.

Similarly, now that the iPad supports trackpad input, I’m a big fan of using a keyboard case like the Magic Keyboard ($299.99) or a third-party one from the likes of Logitech. It gives the iPad Air a laptop feel, allowing you to navigate it with a physical keyboard and a trackpad. It’s a different way of working, but an area that the iPad shines in. And the iPad Air has more than enough performance to make this setup run like butter.

But this all comes down to individual use-cases — in my role as a writer and editor, I can complete my full workflow on an iPad. I like the additional power and larger screen the Air provides since I can dabble with photo editing, video editing and just multitask with a range of apps. But you’ll need to make sure that your apps can run on iPad, or have an equivalent on iPadOS.

It also begs the question that with all this power, what will iPadOS 16 bring to the table. iPad super users have been craving an updated interface, real extended monitor support and the potential for a “desktop” like experience. I’d love to see all three of those but there’s a chance for Apple to craft a really unique user experience here and I hope Apple is working on something big here.

Good battery life and 5G support

On the subject of battery life, Apple is still promising up to 10 hours of video playback from the 28.6 watt-hour battery. And unlike the iPhone line, a wall plug and cable come in the box! It’s been easy to get a full day of use. And in our battery test — in which we loop a 4K video — the latest iPad Air lasted for seven hours and 15 minutes, which is more than the previous gen at six hours and 45 minutes. It’s still behind that of the 9th Gen iPad, which stretches to nearly 10 hours.

And like the latest iPad Mini and iPad Pro, the iPad Air now has 5G. Similar to the new iPhone SE though, it’s only two bands and that’s not a bad thing. You’re missing the super fast one (mmWave), but Sub-6 being included means you’ll likely experience 5G in your neighborhood since it’s nearly nationwide across carriers. You’ll get speeds closer to 4G LTE but find more bandwidth for data to travel — the best comparison is a three-lane highway to a six-lane one. C-Band is faster speeds and like Sub-6, is easier to roll out than say mmWave, as of now Verizon and AT&T have begun introducing the network. 5G is only just starting to come to fruition, but it really stands as an act of future-proofing here.

Bottom line

Apple didn’t change much with the 2022 iPad Air, but the M1 chip and a Center Stage-capable front camera give it the unique ability to be a masterful device for work-from-home. Paired with the right accessories, the iPad Air can be a primary work machine for some. The fact that you’re paying $599 for crazy performance in a sizable tablet that can handle any iPadOS task is a big value.

If you need a better screen with a fast refresh rate or a larger screen, the iPad Pro deserves a look. And if you’re only using the iPad for more basic tasks or even just less intensive creative ones, the 9th Gen iPad plus a keyboard and a pencil will get the job done — and costs less. If you want a smaller tablet, go for the iPad Mini.

In my eyes though, the iPad Air is going through an evolution this year — it’s not a revolution like the original iPad, but Apple isn’t limiting the best chip to the most expensive iPad and I think that is telling. So if you want iPad Pro-level performance and can live without some of the Pro’s other bells and whistles, this is the model to get.

Apple’s fifth-generation iPad Air is up for preorder now starting at $599 and will begin arriving to those who’ve ordered (as well as arrive in-store) on March 18.