M2 iPad Air review: An iPad with everything

The iPad Air has been many things over the past decade. In 2013 and 2014, the first iPad Airs were just iPadand the “Air” label simply indicated how much lighter and more efficient they were than the original iPad from 2010 and the long-lasting iPad 2 from 2011. After that, the iPad Air 2 survived for years as the entry-level model as Apple focused on introducing and developing the iPad For.

The Air then disappeared for a while, but returned in 2019 as an intermediate product to bridge the gap between the $329 iPad (no longer called “Air” despite reusing the first-generation Air design) and the more expensive and increasingly powerful iPad Pros. It definitely made sense to have a hardware offering to bridge the gap between the entry-level iPads and the iPad Pro, but pricing and specs could complicate things. The main gripes of the past few years have been the base Air’s 64GB of storage—not enough that memory swapping didn’t even work on it—and the fact that increasing it to 256GB brought the Air too close to the price of the 11-inch iPad Pro.

Which brings us to the 2024 M2 iPad Air, now available in 11-inch and 13-inch models for $599 and $799, respectively. Apple solved the overlap problem this year in part by increasing the Air’s base storage to a more usable 128GB and in part by making the 11-inch iPad Pro so much more expensive that it almost completely eliminates any price overlap (only the 1TB 11-inch Air, at $1,099, is more expensive than the cheapest 11-inch iPad Pro).

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call the new Airs the “default” iPad for most buyers—the 10th-gen iPad, now at $349, still does everything the iPad does best for less money, and it’s still everything. you really need if you just want a tablet for casual gaming, video streaming and browsing (or a tablet for kids). But tThe M2 Air is the iPad that best covers everything the iPad can do, from its awkward perch stuck halfway between the look and function of an iPhone and a Mac.

Not quite the last generation iPad Pro

The new iPad Airs have a lot in common with the 2022 M2 iPad Pro. They have the same screen sizes and resolutions, the same basic design, work with the same older Magic Keyboard accessory (not the new one with functional rows, metal palm rests, and larger trackpads that are reserved for iPad Pro) and of course have the same Apple M2 chip.

In terms of performance, nothing we saw in the benchmarks we ran was surprising; The M2’s CPU and (especially) its GPU are a solid generational leap over the M1, and the M1 is already generally overkill for the vast majority of iPad applications. The M3 and M4 are both significantly faster than the M2, but the M2 is still undoubtedly powerful enough to do everything people currently use iPads for.

That said, Apple’s decision to use an older chip instead of the M3 or M4 means that the new Airs are coming to the world lacking some of the features that have come in other Apple products announced in the last six months or so. That list includes hardware-accelerated ray-tracing on the GPU, hardware-accelerated AV1 video codec decoding, and most importantly, a faster Neural Engine to help power whatever AI stuff Apple’s products pick up in this fall’s big software updates.

The 13-inch Air screen has the same resolution and pixel density (2732 × 2048, 264 PPI) as the last generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro. And unlike the 13-inch Pro, which is indeed a 13-inch screen, Apple’s spec page says the 13-inch Air still uses a 12.9-inch screen, and Apple is just rounding up to get to 13.

The 13-inch Air display shares some other things with the last-gen iPad Pro screen, including P3 color, 600-nit peak brightness. Its display panel has been laminated to the front glass and has an anti-reflective coating (two of the Air’s subtle but important quality improvements over the $349 10th-gen iPad). But otherwise, it’s not the same panel as the M2 Pro; there’s no mini LED, no HDR support, and no 120Hz ProMotion support.