The first round of iPad Air 5 reviews are out, and it appears that Apple has made a terrific tablet that knocks the competition out cold at that $599 asking price. Ever since its official introduction, the fifth-generation iPad Air has drawn a lot of interest from potential buyers looking for a tablet that can last them for a good four or five years without nuking their wallets. The iPad Air 5 sounds like a perfect fit, and the reviews lend credibility to that claim. Let's start with the most obvious upgrade, the M1 chip.
The last-gen iPad Air was plenty powerful already, but the M1 chip takes things to a whole new level. Will every buyer be able to use all that raw firepower? Unlikely. But it's great to have, especially for folks who just want to be on the safe side and seek to avoid any performance bottlenecks in the years to come. CNBC classifies the M1 chip as future-proofing more than anything else, as it offers enough power to crush the latest apps for years to come. For those looking at the Android competition, ZDNet's benchmark tests confirm the M1's superiority over the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 inside Samsung's Galaxy Tab S8.
The folks over at iMore likened the M1 chip inside iPad Air 5 to putting a Ferrari engine inside a Toyota Prius. And it makes sense. Despite packing in a desktop-class processor and accessories that turn it into a laptop, iPadOS is still nowhere near the experience offered by macOS to warrant turning the iPad Air into one's primary computer. Yes, tricks like Universal Control are a step in the right direction, but there's a lot more to be done here.
MacStories had a similar story to share. The $599 iPad is about as fast as the $999 MacBook Air, but the former is stuck with basic display mirroring tricks and only two apps in split view mode, while the latter is vastly superior at multitasking, extended display capabilities, and running utilities that are not available for iPadOS. WIRED also points out the non-uniformity between iPadOS and macOS as something that prevents it from replacing a real computer, despite having all the ingredients at its disposal. The lack of Thunderbolt capability for the USB-C port is another disadvantage for 'Pro' users with a ton of accessories and gadgets to drive.
Another minor caveat is the battery life, which TechRadar found to be just average, and nothing like the M1 Macs which blow the competition out of the water. The upgraded 12-megapixel ultrawide camera with support for Center Stage tech is also a neat improvement generation-over-generation. However, The Verge's review highlights an odd tilting problem and an aggressive zooming issue when Center Stage was enabled during video calls.
Despite the aforementioned drawbacks — most of which are not really dealbreakers — the iPad Air 5 is a lot of tablet for that price. Or as Engadget puts it, the iPad Air 5 is the best iPad for most people. A lot of experts said the same for the 2020 model as well, but this time around, the addition of 5G, a better selfie cam, and a desktop-class processor without a price hike makes it the best tablet option out there. And by a fair margin, that is.
At the end of the day, it boils down to the final cart value, something tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee aka MKBHD broke down in his review video. At $599, the base 64GB of storage is definitely stingy, and upgrading to the next storage tier pushes the price to $750, right into iPad Pro territory: there, you find yourself getting a faster 120Hz screen, a more versatile port, two cameras, Face ID, and mmWave 5G support. Similar economics apply if one aims to get the cellular variant, which now supports 5G. Adding in the accessories pushes the final price close to a thousand dollars, which is where the iPad Pro or even the MacBook Air emerges as the better investment.
So, here's the final takeaway. If you're in the market with a $600 budget for a tablet, there is no better deal than the iPad Air 5. For folks who seek a future-proof tablet without incinerating their savings, Apple's latest offering is just about the best option. Yes, there are caveats, but the pros far outweigh the cons here, and that's what ultimately matters.