Who should buy the fifth generation iPad Air?

Apple did a number on us with their Peek Performance event on March 8th. There were plenty of nice things announced — iPhone SE, Mac Studio and a new monitor — but I want to talk about the fifth generation of iPad Air.

Wow, was that surprising.

I mean, it was pretty much what we expected, iPad Air was due an upgrade, and given how the latest (sixth) generation of the iPad mini (review) was performing, it wasn’t far-fetched to believe that was the iPad Air was destined to be. I can attest to the power of the iPad mini 6, I’m using it daily, and prefer it for most games.

But the iPad Air 5, it’s something different, yet similar.

So, the cat’s out of the bag: The iPad Air 5 has an M1 processor. That’s the same Apple silicon (no more capital S here, it seems) chip as the current generation of iPad Pros use. It’s the chip in my iMac, and two Mac minis, as well. To say that the M1 is capable is an understatement.

No, really. The M1 is so capable, it’s ridiculous. I’ve got a 14” MacBook Pro with the M1 Max, and it’s insane, but the only way for me to make the chip stand out compared to my M1 devices (iPads or Macs), is to throw ridiculous things at it. These Apple silicon devices were already things that lasted years, but I’m not even clamoring a Mac Studio with the new M1 Ultra. Honestly, I’m not even pushing what I’ve got. That’s how far they’ve come.

Several colors, yet again

Back to the iPad Air, which was a weird beast to begin with, come the previous generation. It’s got the iPad Pro look and feel, but slightly dumbed down, with that Touch ID power button, rather than Face ID. The screen is 10.9”, rather than the 11” iPad Pro – a size difference you’d have to put them side by side to see. There’s no ProMotion, it’s the same (more or less) screen as in the iPad mini 6, which also has the iPad Pro form factor, but an A15 chip (the one that’s in the iPhone 13).

M1 is more. A lot more, although you might not really notice it. It’ll depend on what you’re doing. For the casual stuff, my iPad mini 6 holds its own against the iPad Pros. I’ll have to push the system to see a difference, which might be seen as tabs in Safari reloading (probably more of a RAM issue), or video rendering times (yeah, that’s the processor). Playing games, reading, light web browsing… let’s be honest, you don’t need an M1.

Let’s talk specs, then. The iPad Air 5 goes up to 256 GB (starting at 64 GB), just like the iPad mini 6. That’s not exactly pro-sized storage, the iPad Pro 11” maxes out at 2 TB, but still ample for most. You get a 12 megapixel wide camera (curiously with a slightly different illustration on the Apple comparison page, which might just be aesthetics, but still), and a 12 megapixel ultra-wide front-facing camera. That means Center Stage support for the iPad Air 5, which is great and expected.

Moving on, the same 5G as in the iPad mini (slightly limited), and there’s still support for the same Magic Keyboard (and Smart Keyboard) as the 11” iPad Pro.

RAM is interesting, and I’m excited to see that Apple didn’t mess about here. The iPad Air 5 has 8 GB of RAM, just like most (but not the larger) 11” iPad Pro models. This is a nice surprise. And yes, the M1 processor is, according to the specs, the same as the 11” iPad Pro.

What’s not the same as the 11” iPad Pro, then? Well, there’s the screen (no ProMotion), and it’s plain USB-C, no Thunderbolt. The camera’s a generation behind (although not the front-facing one), 5G is limited, no LiDAR scanner, and you don’t get Face ID. If you buy the larger 11” iPad Pros, in storage sizes not available on the iPad Air 5, you get double the RAM.

But, comparing the 256 GB models (which is where the 11” iPad Pro and iPad Air 5 are both available), it makes you wonder if those are features you’d miss. I’m adding the iPad mini 6 for comparison, too.

  • iPad Air 5 256 GB starts at $749 ($899 with cellular)
  • iPad Pro 11” 256 GB starts at $899 ($1,099 with cellular)
  • iPad mini 6 256 GB starts at $649 ($799 with cellular)

That’s a lot of money saved, picking up the iPad Air 5 rather than the 11” iPad Pro. You could get a keyboard for your savings, even. And, as a bonus, you get color options – not a small thing, if you ask me. Gadgets should come in more colors.

So, to answer the initial question, who should buy the iPad Air 5? I’d say, it’s people who need a new iPad (a good place to start), and have the money to spend. Looking at it now, as before, it feels like a better deal than the 11” iPad Pro for most. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 11” iPad Pro got phased out in the next refresh because it’s already sitting awkwardly between a similar tablet with limited features, and a superior one due to its size and screen.

Yeah, the fifth generation iPad Air sounds like a winner. At least if you’re shopping for a brand new iPad.

Current iPad lineup