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- The $330 iPad remains the choice for a simple tablet that can effectively do just about anything basic.
- The iPad Air comes recommended, but it costs about twice that price and is mostly for power users.
- If you need PC-level performance, the iPad Air will serve you well at an unbeatable value.
If Apple’s iPad Pro models are clearly too expensive for your needs, that leaves the standard iPad and iPad Air. Specifically, that means your choice is between the 2021 iPad and the 2022 iPad Air.
The standard iPad starts at $330, while the iPad Air is about double its $600 price tag.
In short, I recommend the standard iPad to most people who want a simple and effective tablet to use on the couch or in bed for video
And running basic, regular, and even light productivity apps, like writing emails.
This does not mean that the iPad Air is a bad tablet. Instead, the iPad Air’s place among Apple’s lineup of tablets is closer to the iPad Pro than to the standard iPad. That’s because it offers the same internal processor as the iPad Pro models, but it doesn’t come with frivolous features that some creative professionals might not need, like the dual-lens camera system or Apple’s ultra-smooth ProMotion display technology. Not to mention that the price of the iPad Air is closer to the iPad Pro than to the standard iPad.
The iPad Air may look like a more premium version of the standard iPad, and it can be. But spending an extra $270 on the iPad Air provides rapidly diminishing returns, as regular iPad users don’t necessarily need the power from the M1 processor. I would also argue that the screen and design upgrades offered by the iPad Air aren’t “$270” better for regular users either.
Apple 2021 iPad specs vs 2022 iPad Air
Design and display
The standard iPad uses Apple’s classic iPad design with rounded edges and large bezels on the top and bottom. iPad Air has a sleeker, more modern look with sharper, squared edges and a flat back, which looks almost identical to the iPad Pro design.
The most obvious difference between the standard iPad display and the iPad Air display is the size. The iPad Air’s 10.9-inch screen is slightly larger than the iPad’s 10.2-inch display, which you might appreciate. After switching between both iPads, this wouldn’t make much difference to me.
Other than the size, the iPad has an Apple Retina display, while the iPad Air has a Liquid Retina display. This means that the iPad Air mainly features richer colors. Other than that, both iPads have basically the same sharpness for their screen size.
The iPad Air doesn’t come with Apple’s ProMotion display technology, which powers the screen at a refresh rate of 120Hz, refreshing the screen 120 times per second and resulting in super-smooth animations. Both the iPad and iPad Air screens run at 60Hz, which still looks good.
Performance and battery life
This is where the iPad Air sets itself apart. The 2022 iPad Air is powered by Apple’s computer-grade M1 processor, and has the same power as the 2021 iPad Pro, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini.
This is a huge amount of power for a tablet, but average users are unlikely to notice it with regular apps, or even with graphics-heavy games. I played “Call of Duty Mobile” quite a bit on both devices, and the experience was practically identical.
Meanwhile, the standard A13 Bionic processor for the iPhone 11 series iPad provides less power, but is still fully capable of running regular apps, games, and video streaming.
Future proof is one of the advantages of buying a device that is beyond capacity for your needs now, like the iPad Air. In fact, the iPad Air has the ability to run apps and games smoothly for longer than the standard iPad due to its extra power. However, it is still unclear how long Apple’s M1 processor will remain powerful and relevant, as it is still a relatively recent one.
The 2021 iPad and 2022 iPad Air have similar battery life.
The standard iPad lasted five hours and 25 minutes on our battery test, as we’re constantly streaming a YouTube video at full brightness and at the closest resolution matching the iPad’s screen.
The iPad Air, on the other hand, lasted four hours and 53 minutes.
While the battery results aren’t particularly good, I can attest that every iPad lasts longer in actual use, as the screen isn’t set to max. However, if you’re out of battery life as a main concern, a standard iPad generally lasts longer due to its smaller screen.
The standard iPad is compatible with the standard first generation Apple Pencil, while the iPad Air is compatible with the second generation Apple Pencil. For note-taking and doodling, the standard Apple Pencil works well. For a more accurate and responsive experience, the second generation Apple Pencil is the way to go.
Both the iPad and iPad Air support mouse input, which is a very useful feature for productivity. In fact, if you move around iOS and apps a lot and quickly, raising your arm and tapping on the screen can be surprisingly tiring — more than just using your mouse.
With mouse input in mind, you can get keyboard/trackpad cases for both iPads. Apple doesn’t make a keyboard/trackpad combo case for the standard iPad, so you’ll have to look at third-party cases, such as the Logitech Combo Touch Keyboard Case with Trackpad.
For the iPad Air, Apple’s premium and expensive Magic Keyboard adds keyboard and trackpad functionality. As always, there are cheaper options for getting a keyboard/trackpad combo for the iPad Air, such as the Logitech Folio Touch Keyboard Case with Trackpad and Smart Connector for the iPad Air.
One of the great things about both tablets is that they are identical to their predecessors in terms of size and dimensions, so accessories designed for the 2020 iPad and 2020 iPad Air will fit comfortably in the 2021 iPad and 2022 iPad Air.
A standard iPad is really impressive for its price, and spending twice that amount on an iPad Air doesn’t seem necessary for casual users or even gamers. You can certainly get an iPad Air if you want to, but the benefits aren’t immediately obvious outside of its sleeker and larger design.
Sure, the iPad Air will likely outlast the standard iPad before it goes obsolete, but whether it will last twice as long to match its price is still up for debate.
But if you’re a creative pro and looking for a portable powerhouse, the iPad Air is your best bet not only for its power now, but for its potentially longer life over a standard iPad for tasks like editing photos and especially videos.
Plus, these creative professionals can take advantage of the iPad Air’s 10Gbps (gigabits per second) speed.
Port to quickly transfer work files and data from an external file
A drive that can support 10Gbps.
You can read my 2021 iPad review here, meanwhile you can check out my 2022 iPad Air review here.