Our Verdict

The new iPad Air (2019) has serious horsepower hidden behind its laminated screen and uses Apple’s excellent Smart Keyboard for proper 2-in-1 for productivity. Its traditional design and first-gen Apple Pencil compatibility make it look dated, but it doubles the performance of the entry-level iPad 9.7. The ‘Air’ revival is a potential Back to School winner this year.

For

  • Brilliant-looking laminated screen
  • Cheapest Smart Keyboard iPad
  • Fast charges via Lightning-to-USB-C

Against

  • Uses the 1st Gen Apple Pencil
  • Traditional design doesn't wow
  • Two speakers instead of four

Please welcome back the iPad Air, now the awkward, destined-to-be-underrated middle child of Apple’s tablet lineup. It took us a few days of testing to realize why it’s still important in 2019.

Basically, what we have here is the Jan Brady of iPads. No, it’s not as cute as the new baby, the 7.9-inch iPad mini (2019), and its traditional looks make it a wallflower compared to the head-turning redesigned iPad Pro 11 and iPad Pro 12.9 (aka Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!).

Over time, we found it’s the iPad for people who want a little more than what the entry-level iPad 9.7 offers. It has a superior 10.5-inch display with thinner bezels, a faster chipset that matches the power in the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, and a higher-resolution front-facing camera.

You also have new options for an Air: it has larger internal storage configurations, compatibility with the excellent Apple Smart Keyboard cover, and performance numbers double those of the iPad 9.7. It’s a wholly better 2-in-1 productivity tool. That’ll make it a winner for some Back to School tablet shoppers in a few months.

We’re still left with wanting more in some areas. iOS 12 remains fairly limiting for Apple’s post-PC ‘computer’ pitch, a problem that exists even if you pay for the top-shelf iPad Pro 12.9. The software supports multitasking, sure, but too often we found a MacBook better for our handling moderately complex workflows.

It also only works with the first-generation Apple Pencil, not the magnetic second-gen Pencil, and that optional Smart Keyboard doesn’t light up like a MacBook keyboard. That makes it hard to type in the dark. We had some of these same complaints when we reviewed the iPad Pro 9.7.

More than anything, the iPad Air (2019) is a repackaged version of the iPad Pro (2017) that Apple has stopped selling. Only it has a serious internal specs bump and addresses one of our main reservations of the otherwise likable Pro from two years ago: it has a palatable price.

Jan Brady, notable middle child of the Brady Bunch, often complained about being ‘invisible’. If this new iPad Air could talk, it might have the same gripe, but it’s the cheapest iPad with real power and 2-in-1 functionality. Meaning, come Back to School season, it may have the last laugh.

Price and release date

The iPad Air (2019) release date is Monday March 25, when the first pre-orders will ship. This follows a subdued announcement via an Apple press release on Monday, March 18.

Its price is the complicated selling point that Apple doesn’t hype up enough other than to say ‘Power isn’t just for the pros.’ It costs $499 (£479, AU$779) for this new iPad Air, which makes it cheaper than the relatively similar iPad Pro 10.5 (2017) launch price of $649 (£619, AU$979).

Its price is extremely convincing, but we’ve seen the iPad Pro 10.5 price drop over the last two years, so while Apple doesn’t sell it anymore, retailers now have it down to iPad Air (2019) levels. Is there any difference between the two? Kind of. The Air has better internal specs and has eSIM support, but only two speakers compared to the old Pro’s four.

The real competition is the iPad 9.7 (2018) – still on sale everywhere. It costs $329 (£319, AU$469), and we saw it drop to $229 during last year’s Black Friday. It was such a good deal, I bought two for my parents, though I find it to be more of a read, not write-focused tablet. The same applies to the new pint-sized iPad mini (2019), starting at $399 (£399, AU$599).

The iPad Pro 11 and 12.9, on the other end of the spectrum, start at $799 (£779, AU$1,129) for the 11-inch size. They’re the only Air alternative with reliable 2-in-1 productivity chops. The iPad Air (2019) ends up being your cheapest answer to Apple Smart Keyboard cover support.

Display

  • 10.5-inch display with thinner bezels is a nice upgrade over 9.7-inch iPads
  • Laminated screen makes a difference when drawing with the Apple Pencil

This is the first iPad Air with a 10.5-inch Retina display and thinner bezels, and we found it to be a big upgrade over all of Apple’s 9.7-inch non-Pro tablets we’ve used in the past. This is mostly down to the fully laminated screen and use of the wide color (P3) palette.

Its laminated display means there’s almost no gap between the thinner glass on top and LCD panel underneath. The screen is pressed right up against the glass and really lets the colors pop. It’s hard to unsee the difference next to a cheaper iPad, and it’s a big deal when drawing directly on the screen with the Apple Pencil.

We noticed more yellow from this iPad Air screen, and that’s because it uses Apple’s True Tone display technology to better adapt to our environment. Without this setting enabled, the screen looked very blue compared to TechRadar’s office lighting, for example. Outside, we appreciated the screen’s anti-reflective coating that’s exclusive to this new Air and all Pro models.

The new iPad Air’s thinner bezels, laminated screen, wider color palette, True Tone display and anti-reflective coating may be enough to convince people to pick up this iPad over the iPad 9.7, which has none of these features.

Design

  • Dated design, but you get relics: Touch ID and a headphone jack
  • It's the thinnest non-Pro iPad sold today
  • Colors: silver, gold and Space Gray

“This is the new iPad Air,” I exclaimed to my coworkers this week. Their reaction? “Really? It doesn’t look any different.” I walked away in shame (but agreeing). Don’t go into this purchase expecting big changes from this traditional-looking iPad. It won’t wow anyone like the all-screen iPad Pro 11 and iPad Pro 12.9.

But it does have fan-favorite features you won’t find on the new Pros: a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the equally-reliable Touch ID button. And the size, while subtly different from 9.7-inch iPads, allows for the fully-sized 10.5-inch Apple Smart Keyboard to be attached (the same one used by the iPad Pro 10.5).

It’s Apple’s thinnest non-Pro iPad at 6.1mm (the Pro is 5.9mm and the iPad 9.7 is 7.5mm), and also weighs just 1lb (456g). Its ‘Air’ moniker actually means something – only iPad mini (2019) is lighter at 0.66lbs (300.5g) among iPads currently on sale.

The bottom of this iPad frame sticks with the traditional lightning port (newer Pros use USB-C). That’s an okay design choice for people with tons of lightning cables already, but newer MacBook owners may be ready for the USB-C future. We feel like the bigger omission is lack of the quad speakers that are found on the iPad Pro 10.5 (2017). There are just two speakers here at the bottom of the tablet.  

New iPad Air colors consist of silver, gold and Space Gray – the latter has a black front, while the others are white. Our review unit is gold, but like the 9.7-inch iPad, it looks a bit like Rose Gold or copper. Oddly enough, Rose Gold isn’t an option on this new iPad. In fact, Rose Gold isn’t an option on any iPad that Apple currently sells.