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iPad Air 4 review: Android tablets will never catch up now

The iPad Air 4 is about 90 percent iPad Pro and it embarrasses every Android tablet that Apple hasn't wiped out yet.

The iPad Air 4 is what happens when you breed a starter iPad with an iPad Pro. It's got the iPad Pro's flat sides, slim bezels, USB-C, and Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil 2 support. But it's also got Touch ID (albeit reimagined in the power button) from the basic iPad.

As a longtime iPad Pro owner, I thought I'd really miss Face ID, ProMotion (the adaptive refresh rate that ramps up to 120Hz for maximum fluidity), the brighter display, and the quad speakers. However, after sidelining my iPad Pro for two months for the iPad Air 4, I can safely say these features are definitely not essential.

For most people, the iPad Air 4 is so much iPad Pro — it's even got the faster A14 Bionic chip versus the A12Z Bionic — that it's just a better value. Instead of getting an 11-inch iPad Pro for $799, you get more bang for your buck with a $599 iPad Air 4 and an Apple Pencil ($129) or Magic Keyboard ($299). Its pricing also puts the squeeze on premium Android tablets that used to undercut the iPad Pro.

Superb display

Compared to the 11-inch iPad Pro, the iPad Air 4 has a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina Display. It's a little smaller and the bezels are just slightly thicker, but the screen's still stunning. I wish Apple would switch to OLED for iPads, but the LCD's colors are vibrant and viewing angles are great.

I'm spoiled by the iPad Pro's 120Hz ProMotion, but just like on phones, high refresh rate displays are a luxury feature for now. The iPad Air 4's 60Hz refresh rate is fine.

The iPad Air 4's virtually identical dimensions to the 11-inch iPad Pro means it works perfectly with the 11-inch Magic Keyboard. This is hands down the best keyboard accessory for the iPad Air 4. It's pricey at $299, but worth every penny if you type a lot.

Despite having equal-sized bezels, the iPad Air 4 doesn't have Face ID. I love Face ID on the iPad Pro since it works in portrait and landscape orientations. You can also tap-to-wake the screen or double-press any button on an attached keyboard to instantly unlock the tablet.

Putting Touch ID in the power button is fine, but constantly reaching up to it gets tiring fast, especially if you're doing it multiple times a day. I recommend registering fingerprints from both hands or else you'll be awkwardly reaching over whenever you switch orientations.

Even with two instead of four speakers, the iPad Air 4 sounds good for a tablet that's only 6.1mm thick. It's still wild that iPads have better speakers than MacBooks.

Meh cameras

The iPad Air 4 has a single 12-megapixel camera on the rear and a 7-megapixel FaceTime camera on the front. They work. Just don't expect iPhone 12-quality photos or you'll be disappointed. For scanning documents and video calls, they do the job. There's also no LiDAR sensor, but I'm okay with that.

The best thing about the iPad Air 4 is that it's not a downgrade from the iPad Pro where it matters: performance. iPad OS 14 runs just as fast (if not smoother because of the A14 Bionic) and battery life is still tops (up to 10 hours). Android tablets (whatever's left of them) don't even compete. And I'm certain it'll remain this way for many updates to come. (If the iPad Air 2, released in 2014, has been updated for six years, I'm confident the iPad Air 4 can last just as long.)

Big bang for buck

With the iPad Air, Apple's iPad family is now neater than it's been in years. The $329 iPad is the "good" iPad, the $599 iPad Air 4 is the "better" iPad, and the $799 iPad Pro is the "best" iPad. Aside from my minor nitpicks and the maximum available storage (iPad Air 4 only comes in 64 or 256GB versus the iPad Pro's 256, 512GB, or 1TB), the iPad Air 4 is every bit as "pro" of an iPad. Just like the iPhone 12 is the new default iPhone for everyone, the iPad Air is the new default tablet.

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