Apple iPad Air Review: Through the Eyes of a First-Time iPad Owner

The pros and cons of my new iPad Air: what I loved (and didn't!) and how this newest iPad generation fit into my lifestyle.

I've always had a hard time seeing where a tablet fits into my technology landscape. I have a laptop, I have a phone, why would I need a hybrid? But the 2020 iPad Air’s portability and processing power (not to mention the fun iPad Air colors) caught my attention, and I finally crossed the threshold into iPad ownership. I have to say: I like it.

Easy to Use... Ish

While the setup was so easy I almost wanted to cry (hello, just holding my phone near the iPad and letting iCloud do the rest), I quickly became aware of the extreme limitations of the iPad Air if you don’t have accessories. If you want to use it as anything more than an oversized iPhone, you need at minimum a keyboard and a stylus. I’d anticipated this and ordered an Apple Pencil 2 to go along with my new iPad, but it has since stopped working and while I wait for repairs, I can really only scroll through websites and play match-three games, just as I would do on my iPhone. The on-screen keyboard is such an awkward size that whether you’re in portrait or landscape mode, even typing in a web address is cumbersome. There’s also no headphone jack, so you’ll have to have some wireless earphones if you want to watch or listen to anything on it in public.

That being said, if you get the right iPad Air accessories (which will be easy if you are already set up with iPad Pro accessories), it’s easy and intuitive to use, even for a first-time iPad owner. It’s light and easy to hold, move, and charge, the design is gorgeous, and the screen is bright and responsive.

The Sleep/Wake button equipped with Touch ID—a function new with this generation—makes for easy and secure unlocking without having to type in your passcode on the massive (compared to an iPhone) screen. Apple’s user-friendly design does not disappoint, and anyone already familiar with iOS or iPadOS will have no trouble navigating it.

The 2020 Crowd Pleaser?

Almost everyone agrees that the 2020 iPad Air is the best option for most people if you can afford the $599 price tag. The iPad Air price is up $100 from the 3rd-gen iPad Air, but in exchange it offers some strong new features, even though the 64 GB of storage remains the same. The A14 Bionic chip brings much faster processing speeds (Apple is promising a 40-percent boost in speed over its predecessor), bringing the iPad Air much closer to the iPad Pro in terms of performance, making it a solid choice for anyone looking for a step up from the base model. It’s lighter and has better resolution as well, though the battery life remains the same as that of the past model’s battery, promising a fairly unimpressive “up to” ten hours. The speakers aren’t anything too impressive either, but generally no one is looking for amazing sound quality out of their iPad. I could comfortably watch a YouTube interview and FaceTime a friend using just the iPad’s speakers, and didn’t even have to use them at full volume.

Speaking of FaceTime, the iPad Air’s camera is worlds better than my laptop’s built-in camera. Though it’s still not a perfect solution for Zoom calls since the camera goes off to the side when you’re in landscape mode (creating a somewhat uncomfortable shifty-eye situation) it’s much better for my ego to see myself on my iPad camera than my laptop or even my iPhone.

The iPad Air Lifestyle

My biggest question when considering buying an Apple tablet has been: What will I use it for? But since I’ve gotten my iPad Air, its role in my life has quickly become clear. While the fact that it doesn’t handle multitasking well keeps it from being a contender for my main work computer, I can easily slip it into a bag and take it somewhere to write—provided I get a keyboard. At night, I can comfortably read on my Kindle app, thanks to its large and beautiful screen. Games are easier to play and more immersive, plus I got a free three-month trial of Apple Arcade with my purchase, which I’ve been exploring maybe even a little too much.

I imagine that once travel resumes, this little guy will have a big place in my life. It’ll be easier to bring on a plane than my whole laptop, and its screen will be much better for movies than anything an airline provides. Even just going out to spend an afternoon writing at a coffee shop will be improved by how light the iPad Air is and how easy it is to open. No more making sure caps lock isn’t on as I type in my password. All I have to do is rest my finger on the button and I’m good to go. 

That being said, I sometimes forget I even have an iPad for days at a time. I do my work on my laptop, I play my games on my phone. I don’t need to go anywhere besides upstairs or downstairs, and my Apple Pencil is broken and I don’t yet have a keyboard. For people already in the iPad life, I think the iPad Air is a wonderful culmination of everything that makes an iPad worthwhile and could be a great upgrade if it’s time. As a first-time user, though, I need to keep reminding myself that my e-books look much better on its screen.

Pros:

  • Lightweight & portable
  • Excellent user interface
  • Fast processor
  • Touch ID
  • Good camera
  • Many iPad Pro features for nearly half the price

Cons:

  • Unimpressive battery life
  • Doesn’t multitask well
  • Needs a lot of accessories to compete with a laptop
  • $100 price increase over previous generation

The Final Verdict

As far as iPads go, this is a good one. I would feel confident recommending it to anyone looking to buy an iPad right now, as long as they understood how many accessories they’ll need in order to get it to the level of functionality they are looking for. It’s great for anyone with a more mobile lifestyle or anyone looking for a step up from the base model but who isn’t interested in going full-on Pro. Its performance is smooth, and it really does anything you ask of it, provided you have all the right gear. What more could you need?

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Author Details

Amy Spitzfaden–Both's picture

Author Details

Amy Spitzfaden–Both

Amy Spitzfaden Both is a Feature Writer at iPhone Life, an award-winning novelist, and an iPhone enthusiast. Over the past decade, her work in the publishing industry has included live coverage of industry events including the Yale Publishing Course and Magazine Innovation’s ACT 9 Experience, providing editing services for several start-up publishing houses, and acting as newsstand consultant for magazines such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac and The New York Review of Books. She graduated from M.I.U. with a Bachelor’s in Literature and Writing, and has gone on to publish two novels and two short stories. Her debut novel Untold won the 2014 Chelson Award for Fiction.
Writing everything from book reviews to skincare tips, Amy discovered a passion for bringing exciting and useful information to even the most casual researcher. The mix of usability and endless possibilities is what drew her to Apple products originally, and the more she learns, the more she loves.
Amy lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter. When she’s not writing or glued to her iPhone, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and creating her own tea blends.