This review was actually very difficult to write. The iPad Air 4 has been out for about a year already, and there are many reviews out there singing its praises, saying that it’s the iPad for everybody, and that most people should just get this. Well, I have the same conclusion. The iPad Air 4 is everything you want an iPad to do, and it is an iPad. There. That’s the entire review.

Front view of iPad Air 4 on magic keyboard

Just kidding of course. I actually have to thank Apple, because with the release of the new M1 iPad Pro, things get a bit more interesting. So, armed with this new narrative, here’s my review of the iPad Air 4 (base model), and how I think it compares to the M1 iPad Pro.

As Quick as the Wind

Before we dive too deep, I would like to establish what we’re working with. At the heart of the Air, we find Apple’s A14 Bionic, 4GB RAM and 64GB of storage (which can go up to 256GB). These numbers mean that we get blazing-fast performance, with no stuttering during daily use, and even when you push it. When you think about it, the name Air is actually pretty apt. This thing is as light as air, and as fast as the wind.

Source: Apple

My horrible attempts at portraying its speed aside, the Air has excellent levels of power. So much so that I was never waiting for it to catch up to me. In fact, there were instances where I felt uncomfortable – the Air felt like it was anticipating my next move and doing what I needed it to before I realised I wanted it done. So there, the A14 Bionic is more than capable, and it allows the iPad Air to achieve blazingly fast speeds.

The iPad Air has excellent levels of power and speed; more than enough for most people.

Thin as Paper

Apple’s engineering team clearly has something going for them. The Air 4 has one of if not the best feeling hardware in any tablet I have ever used. Full unibody aluminum chassis, gorilla glass, tactile clicky buttons. I can go on and on about the build of this machine, but I’m sure you have heard and seen the rest. The metal chassis is cool to the touch on cold mornings, the thin body sits comfortably in your hand. The boxy design gives you a reassuring nudge when you hold it tight. The screen bezels, while marginally thicker than the iPad Pro’s, provide an excellent place for your finger to hold the tablet. Everything feels good and comfortable like it should. Every time I pick up the Air 4, I just smile. I love it.

Close-up of iPad Air 4 camera

Super comfortable to hold and use everyday.

10.9 Inches of Beauty

The Air 4 has a 10.9 inch “Liquid Retina Display”. There is, unfortunately, no “Pro Motion” high refresh rate, and it is not OLED. While this may seem disappointing at first, it really isn’t. The Air 4 provides an excellent platform for content consumption, and I would gladly watch ungodly amounts of videos and movies on it. Despite being what Apple calls Liquid Retina (we all know it’s LCD Apple), colours are excellent and pleasing to the eyes. Blacks while not inky deep, are dark and satisfying enough. If you haven’t been spoiled by an OLED screen, you will love this.

Side view of iPad Air 4

Actually, I take that back. Even if you have been spoiled by an OLED screen, you will love this. And the same goes for a high refresh rate. I have been spoiled by literally what has been generally agreed to be the best display tech on the market: Samsung’s mobile OLED panels, but I don’t find myself missing them here. Every day, I still get pleasantly surprised with bright colours and snappy responses from this display. This is very high praise, and if anything is a testament to how Apple has managed to make the Air 4‘s screen so good.

Even if you have been spoiled by an OLED screen, you will love the display here.

Going the Distance

The Air 4’s endurance is also something to celebrate. From my use, I have never had once where my time between charges was less than 3 days. With my use (which is relatively normal), I can last for 3.5 days and if I go light, it lasts a week. Granted, this heavily depends on what you do on your iPad (everyone is different), so take it with a pinch of salt. Apple claims “All-Day Battery Life”, and I don’t doubt it for a second. If you are an extremely heavy user, I can imagine killing it in a day, but for the rest of us, endurance is great.

Multi-day endurance means that the iPad Air 4 goes the distance along with you.

One Eye to Capture the World

Perhaps the only mildly disappointing part of the Air 4 is the camera suite. When I say camera suite, I mean camera, and when I say mildly disappointing, I mean average. Apple claims “high quality” video calls, but I disagree. The camera isn’t bad by any means. It still handily beats the average android phone – colours are natural, detail is decent and contrast is fine. But put it in low light and everything crumbles. Videos tell a similar story, and while this still is one of the best mobile video cameras out there (barring flagship android phones and iPhones), just knowing what Apple is capable of hurts because you just know this can be so much better. Well, I guess that’s what the Pro is for, but then again, who is using their iPads to take photos?

Photo taken by iPad Air 4
In good lighting: good colours and detail, good contrast
Photo taken by iPad Air 4
Nice contrast and colours with sunset in the back
Photo taken by iPad Air 4
Lower light levels: Detail lost, looks grainy and soft

Pro vs Air: Civil War

So after covering everything I think you should know about the Air 4, I would like to introduce you to the 2021 M1 iPad Pro. You heard me, M1. Yes. Apple somehow managed to fit their highly praised computer SOC into the iPad. And the results? Unsurprising. Reviews are touting the best performance ever in an iPad, and it even reportedly beats many laptops. So if the Air 4 is like the wind, the M1 Pro is a freaking tornado. Build wise, they’re near identical, and battery life seems similar according to reviews.

Apple M1 iPad Pro 2021 | Source: Apple Singapore

For the screen, the high refresh rate and mini-LED will give the M1 Pro possibly one of the best displays in any tablet. Colours will be punchy, blacks will be near inky deep, and of course high refresh rate gives the display that extra snap. However, the Air 4 is no slouch either, and as I said, the display on the Air 4 is more than capable. Both Air 4 and M1 Pro are also compatible with the Apple Pencil 2 and the new, sexy sexy magic keyboard. And of course the Pro’s cameras will be way better.

So the million dollar (S$1200 dollar) question is: Do you buy the Air 4, or the M1 Pro? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The Decision

If you want a laptop replacement, first of all, you’re insane, and secondly, you get the Pro. If your job revolves around high power computing and you are dead set on using just a tablet (with accessories), get the M1 Pro. The M1 Pro is built for those who frequently edit videos/photos, want a nuclear reactor in their tablet and are dead set on replacing their computer with an iPad.

Apple M1 iPad Pro 2021 with White Magic Keyboard | Source: Apple Singapore

As for the Air 4, well, if you want a nice tablet to consume media and take some notes, if you want something that flies through daily tasks while providing the extra headroom for intense work, get the Air 4. If you are a student wanting a slightly more enjoyable media-consuming/studying experience, get it. If you have a laptop and want something smaller to make some daily tasks more fun and enjoyable, get the Air 4.

Apple iPad Air 4 | Source: Apple Singapore

Apple’s Little Gem

And that is really what I think is the true value of the Air 4 is. It’s not trying to be a laptop replacement. It does not try to hog the spotlight and doesn’t try to take away the joy from using other computing devices. It just sits on your desk, waiting for you to pick it up and answer some emails, or watch some videos. And that’s it.

The build is fantastic, the speed is excellent, the screen is pleasing, the speakers are impressive and the endurance is great. The iPad Air 4 is just a nice computing experience, an excellent complement to your already existing laptop and phone. It is like a fine red wine to your juicy succulent steak. Like Robin to Batman. It is there to make little tasks more fun and bearable. The Apple Pencil 2 is an excellent stylus that makes taking notes a joy, and the smart folio keyboard while having room for improvement, makes typing away on the iPad a bit more fun. And of course, the Magic Keyboard is not only sexy as all hell but provides an even better typing experience.

Sure, it doesn’t have a nuclear reactor at its core, nor does it have the 10000 mini LEDs in its display like the M1 Pro, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not trying to be all that. In our world of obsessive consumption, the Air 4 reminds you that sometimes you don’t need the absolute most to be happy. And I adore it for that.

Flay lay of iPad Air 4

The iPad Air starts at S$879 (S$809 with the education discount). The Apple Pencil 2 costs S$189, and the Smart Folio Keyboard costs S$269. For those who are interested, the M1 iPad Pro starts at S$1199 and the Magic Keyboard (recommended over the Smart Folio if you have cash to spare) costs S$439 (iPad Air 4/11′ iPad Pro).

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