Apple iPad Air (5th generation) review: Mild upgrades, still uncontested

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Apple iPad Air (5th generation)

The iPad Air (5th generation) is a mild upgrade over its previous generation, but remains uncontested as the best sub-flagship tablet you can buy. If you’re rocking any pre-2020 iPad and don’t want to go Pro, this is the one to get.

Apple’s strategy of slapping powerful chips into affordable hardware isn’t a new one, but it’s really kicked it up a notch with the iPad Air (5th generation). Adding laptop-tier silicon to the iPad Pro line was one thing, but a beefy M1 processor in Apple’s lightweight, sub-flagship tablet surely makes it a no-brainer, right? Yes, but as is often the case with any piece of fancy tech, it’s not quite that simple. Let’s break it down in this Apple iPad Air (5th generation) review.

2022 Apple iPad Air

10.9-inch Liquid Retina display • M1 chip • Great battery life

$559.00 at Amazon

What you need to know about the Apple iPad Air (5th generation)

The iPad Air rear logo and Smart Connector up close

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

  • iPad Air (Wi-Fi only, 64GB): $599/£569/€679
  • iPad Air (Wi-Fi only, 256GB): $749/£719/€849
  • iPad Air (Wi-Fi + Cellular, 64GB): $749/£719/€849
  • iPad Air (Wi-Fi + Cellular, 256GB): $899/£869/€1,019

The Apple iPad Air (5th gen) — commonly referred to as the iPad Air 5 — replaces the outgoing Air (4th gen), just seventeen months after the latter’s launch in late October 2020. The iPad Air 5 debuted at Apple’s Peek Performance event on March 8, 2022, alongside the iPhone SE (2022) and the Mac Studio.

If the previous iPad Air was a long-overdue “tick,” this is definitively the inevitable “tock” model. Put the two side by side and nobody but the most die-hard Apple fan will be able to tell the difference. It’s a smidgen heavier (1-2g depending on the model) and the color options have changed, but the size, ports/buttons, display, rear camera, and speakers are all identical to the iPad Air (4th generation) — check out our in-depth look at the iPad Air 4 for more on those features, as we’ll be skipping over some of the familiar stuff in this review. It’s also compatible with the Apple Pencil (2nd generation) and the Magic Keyboard case, as well as other existing iPad Air accessories.

The iPad Air (5th generation) shares a lot of DNA with its predecessor, but packs all the M1-power of the iPad Pro.

The two biggest changes are under the hood: the M1 processor and 5G support. The game-changing M1 chipset should require no introduction at this point, but the trickle-down effect of Apple’s silicon strategy means that the 2022 iPad Air — just like the iPad Pro (5th generation) before it — packs MacBook-caliber power, albeit with some subtle architecture tweaks. Apple has also doubled the RAM on all models to 8GB and upgraded the selfie camera.

These minor upgrades are accompanied by a minor price hike — but only if you’ve got your eyes on the cellular model. The Wi-Fi version matches its predecessor, but the freshly 5G-enabled variant will cost you an extra $20.

The iPad Air (5th generation) went on sale on March 11, with shipping beginning a week later on March 18, 2022. You can buy the iPad Air (5th generation) direct from the Apple Store, as well as major third-party retailers like Amazon and Best Buy. The iPad Air (5th generation) color options are Space Gray, Pink, Purple, Blue, and Starlight.

What’s good?

apple ipad air 5th gen 2022 rear 3

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

While it’s not always the case, especially with Apple products, this is one time where a rehashed design is a net positive. All of the good stuff from the iPad Air (4th generation) applies here: the quality construction from glass and recycled aluminum, reasonably-sized bezels that give you just enough room to grip it without obscuring the edges of the display, and Touch ID for biometrics. The fingerprint reader is baked into the power button, and while the two-step unlock (rest finger and push down) is cumbersome, it’s rapid and accurate.

The iPad Air (5th generation) has a USB-C port for external storage access and accessory support. This might sound like a given for a modern tablet, but hey, this is Apple. There’s a minor upgrade hidden away here too. The USB-C 3.1 spec is a “Gen 2” version that increases data transfer speeds to a maximum of 10Gbit/s (was 5Gbit/s). This also enables support for hooking the iPad Air up to Apple’s Studio Display monitor, something you can’t do with other Air models.

Let’s talk about the other semi-notable upgrades before we get to the big one. First, 5G support. It’s predictable and not all that exciting, but it’s nice to have for those that want data on the go. The more interesting change is the front camera with its wider aperture and increased megapixel count. This is the same camera found on the iPad Pro (5th generation). It’s a solid little shooter, delivering pleasing color accuracy and enough detail in decent lighting, though it struggles in dim conditions. What’s perhaps more exciting is the addition of Center Stage — another “Pro” feature trickling down that follows faces around the room, zooming and panning to keep them in shot. It’s a neat trick and is compatible with FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Meet.

Check out: The best iPads you can buy

Of course, the headline upgrade to the iPad Air (5th generation) is that brawny M1 chip. It’s the full-fat version too — the one with eight CPU cores and eight GPU cores. That’s a lot of power, perhaps too much for what the iPad Air can actually do (but more on that later). Nevertheless, there’s just no competition here: this is the most powerful tablet you can buy for this price.

The iPad Air handily dealt with intensive games like Genshin Impact, with the frame rate hovering around the 50-55 mark on average at max settings. Benchmarks only cement how much of a beast this thing is, with numbers that trounce the Tab S8 series’ Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 implementation and handily best Windows hybrids too. While multitasking was never an issue on the last model, the doubled RAM count will also help future-proof the tablet for years to come — and that’s a good thing, because Apple typically supports its tablets with software updates for up to five years or more.

The chip’s efficiency is a boon for battery life, though the iPad Air (5th generation) largely sticks to the ~10-hour mark we saw on its predecessor when drained from 100% to zero. It’ll drop faster with heavy use, but this is always an all-day tablet and then some. Apple also snuck faster charging into the latest model, though the included charger only hits 20W of power. If you’ve got a 30W USB PD PPS charger, you can refill from empty to full in just over two hours as opposed to two and a half. Check out our guide here for the best charger options.

The M1 iPad Air offers the most bang for your buck of any tablet.

iPadOS still awkwardly straddles the line between iOS and macOS, landing much closer to its walled-off, mobile roots than the more open Mac software platform, but for all its quirks (seriously, why aren’t the widgets interactive?) and omissions (desktop mode and multi-user support, please!), the app ecosystem is unparalleled in both optimization and breadth. You can safely assume that most apps will adapt to the screen dimensions with custom UI tweaks, something you don’t get with even the most basic apps on Android or Windows tablets.

Props to Apple for continuing to make tablets funky, too. The iPad Air’s pastel shades are a breath of fresh air (ha) in a market swamped by dull black/gray/silver slabs. That said, the more muted Starlight color pictured in this review is there if you’re not feeling spicy. I do miss the green colorway from the previous generation, though.

What’s not so good

apple ipad air 2022 5th gen front

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

We’ve griped about this at length, but it bears repeating: 64GB is not enough storage for a tech product anymore, especially when just over 10GB of it is taken up by system storage. Yes, you could stick within those means if you only use a few apps and are fastidious with your iCloud management (or by regularly plugging in an external drive), but the point is you shouldn’t have to. 128GB is the standard for any other tablet maker operating in this price bracket, and there’s no excuse for Apple not to have solved a problem that was already well overdue a fix with the previous generation iPad Air.

What compounds the issue is the price of the 256GB model. At $749 for the Wi-Fi iPad Air with 256GB storage, you’re just $50 away from the iPad Pro’s $799 asking price. The $100 delta for the cellular model is a little steeper, but even in spite of their growing similarities, the Pro is still Pro for a reason.

Every significant criticism of the previous iPad Air is equally valid of the newer model.

And one of those “Pro” features you don’t get on the Air is “ProMotion” — a.k.a. Apple’s fancy name for a high refresh rate display. This is a great tablet display, no question. It’s colorful without being oversaturated, pixel-rich, and, while rated at ~500 nits vs the ~600 nits of the 11-inch Pro, it gets bright enough for use in anything but direct sunlight. That 60Hz cap, though, is a real downer. Again, other tablets in this price tier are shifting to 90Hz or above. It was already silly that Apple restricts its vanilla iPhones to 60Hz, but a device with laptop-grade internals? It might be running at Goku-esque power levels, but the lagging animations mean it doesn’t look or feel as smooth as it should when flitting between apps and navigating the UI.

apple ipad air 2022 5th gen with apple pencil

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

If you’re a newcomer to Apple’s ecosystem, be ready to balk at those accessory prices. The Magic Keyboard ($299) and Apple Pencil (2nd generation) ($129) really unlock the iPad Air’s potential, but you’re looking at an extra $400+ being taken out of your bank account.

Center Stage is one of the fifth-gen iPad Air’s key upgrades, but it’s not unique (the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 series has an identical feature), and Apple’s insistence on placing the front camera on the portrait bezel still makes it look like you’re staring off into space during video calls. Unlike the rear shooter, the front camera also lacks a 4K capture option.

Apple iPad Air (5th generation) specs

Apple iPad Air (5th gen)

Display

10.9-inch Liquid Retina LCD
2,360 x 1,640 pixels
264ppi
500nits

Processor

Apple M1

RAM

8GB

Storage

64GB
256GB

Camera

Main:
12MP camera
ƒ/1.8 aperture

Front:
12MP
ƒ/2.4 aperture

Battery

28.9Wh
Rated for 10 hours

Headphone jack

No

Dimensions

247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm

Weight

Wi-Fi: 461g
LTE: 462g

Ports

Smart Connector
USB-C

Colors

Space Gray, Pink, Purple, Blue, Starlight

Apple iPad Air (5th generation) review: The verdict

The iPad Air 5 on a windowsill

Oliver Cragg / Android Authority

The iPad Air (5th generation) gives you the most bang for your buck of any tablet to date. Apple’s software support is guaranteed to keep it fresh and stable, but it’s the overkill M1 chip and healthy supply of RAM that ensures it’s future-proofed for many, many years to come.

Of course, aside from 5G support, this was fundamentally true of the last-gen iPad Air. Sure, it didn’t have an M1 chip, but the A14 Bionic was already far ahead of the pack in 2020, and remains competitive with the very best mobile silicon today. Meanwhile, the same gripes we had with the 2nd generation Air are all present and accounted for, and the grumbles over the 64GB base storage and 60Hz refresh rate have only gotten louder with the passage of time.

The iPad Air is in a weird spot, then. It’s still a fantastic gateway into the iPad ecosystem that offers just enough flexibility to function as an “iPad Pro Lite” for work and play. Likewise, if you only want to stream movies and play a handful of games, the base model is a steal, and its screen, design, and feature set are enough of a bump over the regular iPad to justify the extra spend. But even with all that bleeding edge raw power, the iPad Air (5th gen) feels oddly outdated at times — a tablet that received a massive boost in an area it already excelled in, while neglecting its legacy flaws.

The iPad Air is still possibly the easiest product to recommend from Apple’s entire, behemoth ecosystem.

The real question is: should you buy the iPad Air (5th generation) or the 11-inch iPad Pro ($749)? If you can live with or work around the paltry storage, the price differences between the base models (either Wi-Fi or cellular) will save you a nice chunk of change. However, if you’re considering the iPad Air with 256GB storage, we’d absolutely recommend you stump up the extra cash.

For $50 more you’re getting Face ID biometrics, a rear ultrawide camera, and quad speakers. The real kicker is that 120Hz display though. Once you’ve tried an iPad with lusciously fluid animations, it’s hard to go back to a stodgy 60Hz. Sure, you’re getting half the storage with the Pro compared to the maxed-out Air, but 128GB is a nice sweet spot.

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Elsewhere in Apple’s ecosystem, you’ve got the iPad Mini ($499) for those that want something a little more portable and the vanilla iPad ($329) for all the basics on a budget. We’d also recommend looking out for a renewed iPad Air (4th generation) as almost everything great about the latest generation was inherited from its predecessor.

As far as direct competition goes, the iPad Air (5th generation) slots in behind the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 ($699) and Lenovo Tab P12 Pro ($699), but ahead of the Galaxy Tab S7 FE ($529), unless you’re looking at the underpowered 5G model of the latter (which we don’t recommend). The Galaxy Tab S8 gets closer than ever to challenging Apple’s tablet dominance with faster charging, but it’s hampered by Android’s poor optimization for larger screens, not-so-stellar battery life, and is eons behind on raw performance.

The iPad Air (5th generation) is still uncontested as the best sub-flagship tablet you can buy, and possibly the easiest product to recommend from Apple’s entire, behemoth ecosystem. If you’re rocking any pre-2020 iPad and don’t want to go Pro, this is the one to get. Let’s just hope the next Air gets to “tick” off some of those persistent caveats.

2022 Apple iPad Air

10.9-inch Liquid Retina display • M1 chip • Great battery life

The beautiful 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display of the latest iPad Air delivers an immersive viewing experience, and the inclusion of the Apple M1 chip represents a leap in performance.

Top Apple iPad Air (5th generation) questions and answers

If you bought accessories or a case for the Air (4th generation), those will work just fine, but cases from older models will not fit.

The iPad Air 2 was released in 2014 and has been discontinued. The iPad Air (5th generation) is the latest model iPad Air.

The iPad Air (5th generation) has four speaker grilles but only two stereo speakers (firing from the left). They’re perfectly fine, but sound a little imbalanced when holding the tablet in portrait.

No, the iPad Air (5th generation) does not have Face ID. It has Touch ID biometrics via the power button.

No, the iPad Air (5th gen) does not have a headphone jack. You’ll need to use Bluetooth buds/cans or USB-C audio.

Yes, though it misses out on Wi-Fi 6E, as well as the latest Bluetooth standard (Bluetooth 5.0 only).

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