I’ve never owned an iPad before. It’s just something I’ve never been able to justify paying Apple’s premium for as I often find myself comfortably nestled on my couch with a laptop or my smartphone. A tablet just didn’t seem to offer much that’s new in terms of functionality not provided by either of these other devices.
Enter the new iPad Air. I was fairly skeptical going in especially after all those reviews just a few months ago about how the iPad Pro just had all that A12 Bionic horsepower only to be dumbed down by the practical limitations of iOS, but the Air didn’t demand a price tag like its Pro brethren and neither did it market itself as a premium consumer device, which, according to Apple is what makes a device deserving of a USB-C port. The iPad Air found itself stuck somewhere between a Surface Go, Chromebook and a budget ultrabook and that’s probably why I found myself buying it without as much of a doubt the day it hit the shelves.
I bought the tablet to serve a very particular purpose which is to be my personal casual computer as I’d given away my Asus Ultrabook from last year to dad who needed it more than I did. While I’m extremely happy with my ThinkPad T480s, it’s still a work machine and I needed something of my own for those weekends and evenings when I try to disconnect. Giving up on MacBooks for their terrible excuse for a keyboard and listening to ATP regularly meant that I’m vying for more Apple in my life and that is precisely how I ended up here.
If you’ve ever wondered about the usefulness of a tablet, I can assure you that you won’t feel let down by this purchase. However, as with all things Apple, it’s easy to end up buying into features you won’t need for a pretty hefty premium, so here are a few tips to help you make a decision if you’re ready to take the plunge.
Get the Smart Keyboard
My intention was to spend as little as possible while not sacrificing too much on power and this is where the iPad Air excels. The A12 Bionic processor means I don’t particularly have to worry about hitting the ceiling in a couple of years while coming in a very mid-range body without an OLED display and other bells and whistles to keep the price tag down. I bought the Space Grey 64 GB version and paid extra for the Smart Keyboard which is probably the best decision I’ve made in awhile.
The keyboard doesn’t need charging (unlike the Pencil) and works perfectly as long as it’s connected to your iPad. While it’s not the most ergonomic keyboard in the world, it’s very satisfying to type on and it probably won’t give up on you in the presence of any debris. That being said, if you just plan on using this in your home and already have a Magic Keyboard of some sort lying around, you might be better off with a tablet stand and pairing the keyboard with your iPad instead.
Get the 64 GB variant, unless you’re sure it won’t do
Time for an unpopular opinion. I went with the 64 GB version and I’m pretty sure this is going to be fine, at least for users like me. I’m barely taking up 40% of storage on my similarly sized iPhone 8 and constantly find myself in the presence of great Wi-Fi and/or my trusty AT&T Wi-Fi Hotspot from Netgear, so paying a premium for storage didn’t seem very wise.
In this day of Google Photos and the myriad of free backup alternatives, it’s not impossible to live with limited local storage unless you’re planning to play games or regularly download streaming video from Netflix, for instance. Aftermarket storage is also cheaper if you don’t mind having to deal with plugging in a thumb drive into the lightning port like some prehistoric human, which I totally don’t mind by the way.
To Wi-Fi + Cellular or to Wi-Fi
Personally, this wasn’t a difficult choice. I use an external Wi-Fi hotspot when I’m on the road and I very much prefer it but the convenience of a Cellular iPad is something you can’t quite match with alternatives like having to tether using your phone. If you live in an area with lots of public Wi-Fi and subscribe to a decent VPN service, getting the Cellular version makes even less sense, but on the contrary, most users that live far away from urban centers or in countries without a meaningful amount of Wi-Fi coverage, you should consider going Cellular. I still don’t understand why MacBooks don’t come with this option, but then I’d image they have bigger fish to fry like building a working keyboard.
Apple Pencil — it depends
This was a little disappointing, but I get it. While the new Apple Pencils that work with the Pro models are so much easier to use, getting them to work on the Air would’ve required an overhaul of its hardware which probably would’ve increased the price point even further. I’m not the most creative guy by any measure, so shelling that $100 for an out-of-date Pencil with its awkward charging didn’t seem very appealing. Even those who might genuinely find this useful might do well to consider the Logitech Crayon first before going the Apple route. You might be pleasantly surprised.
In conclusion, if you want a tablet and need a display that’s almost the size of an ultra book but not quite the iPhone XS Max, there aren’t many options other than the iPad Air. Android tablets are basically non-existent and Microsoft isn’t really winning any awards with Windows 10 and its one-size-fits-all approach, although I love what they’ve done with their Surface line.
The question, in my view, isn’t whether you should buy the iPad Air, but is about what kind of storage, color, connectivity options, and other accessories you should get since your choices within the scope of this product is going to end up costing you more than anything else you might end up buying.
Oh, and I wrote this thing almost entirely on the iPad.