I never considered buying a 13-inch iPad Pro. Besides the high price, I find such a large and heavy iPad difficult to use by hand. It’s great when docked with a keyboard, as the larger screen is much better for multitasking, but I also want my iPad to be easy to grab for casual tasks, playing games, watching movies, and all that basic things that tablets are good for.

My current personal iPad is a 2020 11-inch Pro, so I’m an obvious brand for the new iPad Air. And after testing the 13-inch Air, I’m thinking of getting on the big tablet for the first time. Part of my reasoning is that the 13-inch iPad Air weighs less than the previous-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro on which it’s based. These tablets typically weighed around 1.5 pounds, but the Air comes in at 1.36 pounds.

That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it was enough for me to feel more comfortable using the Air as a tablet rather than just strapped into a keyboard case. It’s still a little bulkier than I’d like, and it’s still heavier and thicker than the new 13-inch iPad Pro. But the iPad Air is $500 cheaper; at this price I am willing to accept a small compromise.

Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The new 11-inch model is indistinguishable from the 10.9-inch it replaces in size, weight and screen size. Don’t let Apple fool you into thinking the screen is a whopping 0.1 inches bigger this year, because it’s not—the company is just rounding up. (The same goes for the 13-inch Air; it has the same 12.9-inch screen size and resolution as the old iPad Pro.)

The M2 chip is a big selling point for the iPad Air, but keep in mind that if you have the 2022 model with the M1, you won’t feel a huge performance boost here. Geekbench 6 tests show that the M2’s GPU is about 30 percent faster than the M1, with smaller improvements in single- and multi-core performance. But compared to my iPad Pro 2020 with an A12Z processor, the M2 is more than twice as fast. So if you don’t have an iPad with an M-series chip, the new Air will be a big step up.

This camera is basically the same as the one on the last iPad Air, but now that it’s in landscape mode, it’s much better for video calls when using it with a keyboard. I would actually consider taking business calls with an iPad now, something that wasn’t the case before.

I’m also very happy that the base iPad Air comes with 128GB of storage rather than the stingy 64GB it was stuck with last time. Now it is much easier to recommend people to go for the cheapest configuration. Plus, you can get up to 1TB of over-the-air storage the first time you need it.

Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

The Air is stuck with the old Magic Keyboard, which is heavier and thicker than the new model and lacks the useful row of function keys. The Magic Keyboard remains insanely expensive—$299 for the 11-inch and $349 for the 13-inch—but it’s still my favorite iPad keyboard. Well, my favorite is after the updated version for iPad Pro. It’s comfortable, quiet and responsive, especially considering how thin it is, and I have no problem telling stories about it for hours.

However, if you’re a fan of the Apple Pencil, the good news is that the iPad Air supports the brand new Pencil Pro. I cover it in more detail in my iPad Pro review, but it does everything the older second-generation Apple Pencil can while adding new features like haptic feedback, Find My support, a pinch gesture to bring up menus, and ability to rotate the pencil in your hand to change the width of the brush thanks to the built-in gyroscopes. It’s priced at $129, which is the same as the second-generation pencil. The only bad news is that the old Pencil isn’t compatible with the iPad Air due to a redesigned charging and pairing system that accommodates the landscape front-facing camera.

Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

That’s actually all new for the iPad Air this year. The display remains the same standard Apple LCD, which looks very good for everything I use the iPad for. It’s definitely not in the same league as the new tandem OLED screen in the iPad Pro, or even the mini-LED display that came before it. I definitely noticed the relatively poorer brightness and contrast of the Air’s screen when comparing it side-by-side with the Pro. But the good news is that I don’t spend my whole life comparing screens, and the iPad Air is still a strong selling point for the tablet. It’s laminated to the front glass, unlike the screen on the basic iPad, and is more than bright enough for indoor use.

The only thing I wish it had was a higher frame rate. The iPad Pro’s “ProMotion” feature adjusts the frame rate from 10-120 Hz, while the Air maxes out at 60 Hz. Over time I stop noticing that the UI feels relatively choppy in animations and I don’t think too much about it. But every time I switch back to the iPad Pro, I quickly appreciate how much smoother and fluid everything feels.

The rear camera is identical to that of the previous iPad Air, which is good. It will take a decent snapshot in good lighting and you can shoot 4K video at a variety of frame rates. But you can’t record in ProRes format – Apple limits this to the iPad Pro. But that probably won’t be a problem for anyone considering an iPad Air. Likewise, the iPad Air’s USB-C port doesn’t support the higher speed of Thunderbolt 4, but in my testing it was fine for downloading RAW photos from my camera. If your workflow is such that you’ll use this port a lot and benefit from higher speeds, I’d shockingly recommend checking out the Pro.

I haven’t even had the iPad Air for a week, so I’ve yet to run our intense battery test. But from the daily use I’ve put it through, it generally meets Apple’s 10-hour rating for light tasks like web browsing or watching videos. Running CPU-intensive tasks will certainly wear it down faster, and I’ve noticed that battery life tends to drop a bit when I’m using the Magic Keyboard. But, as with most iPads, you won’t need to reach for the charger too often.

Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024Pictures of Apple's 13-inch iPad Air coming in 2024

Photo by Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Jump back and forth between iPad Air and Pro highlighted how great the value of the Air is. I can’t deny that there are a number of nice things being added to make the iPad Pro experience better. Face ID is clearly superior to Touch ID, for example—I quickly got tired of reaching for the power button to unlock the Air. The iPad Pro’s screen is the definition of luxury, and the upgraded keyboard case makes for a slightly better experience. It’s also lighter and easier to hold, with better speakers. And of course there’s that new M4 chip.

All of these things are important and useful, but after getting used to the Air again, I don’t miss them much. The M2 is plenty powerful for my needs, the Apple Pencil Pro experience is identical, the old Magic Keyboard is still great to type on, the screen is bright and colorful, and—perhaps most importantly—it’s $500 cheaper than a comparable iPad Pro.

For some, that extra money may be worth it. There are some things the Pro can do that the Air can’t, like capture ProRes video or enter Apple’s reference mode for improved color accuracy and consistency against a bunch of color standards. And the M4 will save time when working with intensive processors, such as video rendering. And some people will just want to get the best iPad they can, money be damned.

But for the rest of us, the iPad Air is still here, offering 80 percent of the iPad Pro experience for a lot less money. And for the first time, there’s a big-screen iPad at a much more affordable price. My heart may want the iPad Pro, but my head (and wallet) agree that the iPad Air is a much more reasonable option.