There was a time when anyone wanting to dip their toes in Mac waters without busting the bank would inevitably go for a MacBook Air. Until about a few years ago, you could get a slightly older edition of the MacBook Air for about Rs 65,000. It would work quite superbly and keep getting updates for quite a while—great value for money.
That fine equation, however, has got a little unbalanced of late, with MacBook Air prices rising steeply. So much so that even a reasonably older variant will set you back by close to Rs 80,000. Fortunately, there is an alternative around. Several weeks of using the iPad Air (5th generation, and hereafter referred to simply as ‘iPad Air’) have given us ample reason to believe that unless you are looking to really throw yourself at heavy-duty desktop apps (which most of us would not anyway even on a MacBook Air – that’s why the Pros exist!) and want an Apple experience, the iPad Air is perhaps the perfect starting point for you.
iPad Air as MacBook Air: The economics kinda work
Before that claim brings forth gasps of outrage and disbelief, let’s explain the math behind our claim. The iPad Air’s base model (64 GB, Wi-Fi only) starts at Rs 54,900 officially, and you can get the 256 GB, Wi-Fi only variant for Rs 68,900. But these are official prices. You can get them for 10-15 percent less at some retailers, bringing the base Wi-Fi model below Rs 50,000 and its 256 GB sibling below Rs 60,000. Now, even if you combine that with a Smart Keyboard Folio (around Rs 15,900) or just a Smart Keyboard (Rs 13,900), you would end up with a device with a great and not too small display) the MacBook Air once sported an 11-inch display, remember) and a very usable keyboard.
With a keyboard, the iPad Air literally becomes one of those 2-in-1 devices where you can detach the keyboard and use the display as a standalone tablet. In fact, if you just went with the base model of the iPad Air and added a Smart Keyboard and an Apple Pencil (available for about Rs 10,000), you would end up getting all of this for about Rs 70,000, which is quite a staggering deal when you think in terms of what you are getting. Which, of course, takes us to the next point. Come to think of it, the base iPad Air with even the mighty Magic Keyboard (available for around Rs 25,000) would set you back by a little more than Rs 70,000 and will add a trackpad to your experience.
For the record, we used the iPad Air with the Logitech Pop Keys mechanical keyboard (Rs 8,999), and it was a terrific experience, although those who want to use the device on the move might like something lighter. Of course, you need not invest this much in a keyboard – you can get a very good Bluetooth keyboard for as little as Rs 2,000 these days. Rest assured, any Bluetooth keyboard will work with the iPad Air – we tried the Rs 999 Targus keyboard and it worked just fine. You could use the money saved to get a higher storage variant or maybe add an Apple Pencil 2 to the mix.
iPad Air as MacBook Air: The specs and looks kind of work, too
Of course, the cynics will say that the price of some high-end iPads (especially the Pros) was always in the vicinity of the MacBook Air, so what is so special about the iPad Air this time. Well, just this – the iPad Air has the same processor as the 2021 MacBook Air: Apple’s own M1 processor. It also comes with 8 GB RAM, which given Apple’s great hardware and software integration, makes it capable of a fair bit.
The iPad Air has a 10.9-inch display, which definitely is better than the 9.7 and 10.5-inch displays we used to see on iPads earlier, although not quite in the league of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in terms of being notebook-friendly. It is quite a superb display, that said, with a 2360 x 1640 px resolution, 500 nits brightness, and is a True Tone display as well. The aspect ratio also makes it slightly more rectangular than the 3:2 ratio on the base iPad.
The straight sides, relatively slim bezels, 6.1-inch slim form, and 461-gram weight (yes, it is actually lighter than the smaller base iPad) make the iPad Air easy to use and carry around (do slap a case on it, though). The aluminum back with its clean finish gives it a very premium look, and you get five color options (we love our Blue!). That super-lightweight means that even if you pair it with a relatively heavy keyboard (like Apple’s own Magic Keyboard, which weighs 601 grams), you will still end up with an overall package that is not too heavy (the Smart Keyboard is a mere 297 grams).
As it has a USB Type-C port, you can connect a number of other devices to it, and of course, you also have the magnetic strip on the side to attach and charge the Apple Pencil 2. There also are a very good pair of 12-megapixel cameras – one in front and one at the back – which are way better than the ones you would find on most notebooks. There are also two very good stereo speakers and a fingerprint scanner (the iPad Air has no FaceID!).
There are catches, though – only a single port (which also has to be used for charging), no 3.5 mm audio jack, no expandable memory (unless you plug in a card reader into that USB Type-C port, and of course, the fact that the device runs on iPad OS, which is closer to iOS than to macOS you would get on Apple desktops and notebooks. We also found ourselves missing Face ID, although the fingerprint scanner works well once you get used to reaching out to tap it (we would have liked it to be a little more accessible than right on top of the device). Finally, there is only one viewing angle when you use it with most keyboard covers.
iPad Air as MacBook Air: The performance definitely works to a large extent
Those specs and features result in an extremely high-end performance. Yes, you might not be able to run desktop versions of software on the iPad Air 2022, but the device has some very powerful alternatives up its tablet-y sleeves. You get Apple’s very powerful office suite preinstalled as well as the Movies app for editing videos. And video editing at times actually seems more fluent on the iPad Air than on a notebook, simply because of the touchscreen factor. Of course, those looking to run some enterprise-level apps on the device will have issues as many of them have not been designed for Apple’s tablet. But if you, like many users, are
Games simply fly on the device, and the speakers make multimedia very immersive. We played Diablo Immortal on the tablet, and the experience was superb. You could hear weapons swishing amid the eerie music, and the display showed an impressive amount of detail even though the game has a distinctly “dark” ambiance.
We had reviewed the entry-level iPad earlier, and we can safely say that there is a discernible difference in performance between that device and the iPad Air. Things just happened significantly faster on the iPad Air, and this difference became more stark as you did more on the device. Add the Apple Pencil and a keyboard, and productivity increases a few notches. The Apple Pencil 2 works very smoothly with the iPad Air, and Bluetooth keyboards play nice, too – even the budget ones from Logitech and Targus worked very well. The display is great for editing and viewing copy, and with iPad OS 16’s improved multi-tasking (Stage Manager, which works a treat with M1 chip devices), switching between tasks is easier too.
The icing on the cake is the battery life of the iPad Air 5. You get the legendary 10 hours plus battery life of iPads. Even with the slightly draining Magic Keyboard, we got past eight hours, which is extremely good by tablet standards and exceptional by notebook ones.
iPad as MacBook Air: It fits!
The iPad Air works so well in its notebook avatar that we would suggest it mainly for those who actually want to get a notebook-like workload out of a super portable and light device. In fact, we would go so far as to say that the iPad Air is the device for those who want a tablet that can be used as a notebook.
If you want a tablet just for viewing content and the odd spot of work, then the iPad (9th generation) is more than enough. If you are looking for something with more muscle but which is very compact and easy to carry, then the iPad mini (6th generation) fits the bill. But with the iPad Air 5, you get into the “powerful tablet which can also be a powerful notebook” territory. Using the M1 chip in the iPad Air removes a big barrier between the tablet and the MacBook Air and Pro series in performance terms. However, the interfaces and operating systems remain different.
Of course, there will be those who will point out that many desktop apps do not run on the iPad Air 5 and that even their iPad alternatives are not really up to scratch. We accept that point and would like to state upfront that you must check app availability and compatibility before considering investing in the iPad Air as a full-throttle notebook.
That said, we have used the tablet as our primary device for over a month in place of our M1 MacBook Air. We used it to compose articles (like this one), edit images and videos, play some very high-end games, and do pretty much what we normally did in our notebook. Yes, there were differences in the manner of usage – many things work differently on the iPad Air as compared to the Air-y MacBook.
The point to keep in mind, however, is that we could pretty much do everything we could on the notebook on the tablet as well. We are not sure if the iPad Air fits the needs of professional web developers, accountants, or enterprise solution developers. Still, it more than meets the needs of most mainstream users looking for a powerful notebook.
In fact, the addition of the touch interface (good luck finding that on a MacBook Air or Pro) and Apple Pencil support brings its own set of benefits to power users, including general ease of use on the move and better stylus support – benefits which many notebooks at this price will struggle to match. Round that off with supreme portability, great design, and extraordinary battery life, and we think we can go out on a limb and say that if you are in the market for a powerful notebook that you can carry around, and are not tied down to specific desktop or platform apps, then the iPad Air (5th generation) is perhaps one of the best options you can get for around Rs 50,000.
Now, that sounds a bit like the base MacBook Air of a few years ago, doesn’t it?
- Sleek and light design
- Support for Apple Pencil 2
- Lots of processing power
- Plenty of apps
- Superb UI
- Good speakers
- No face ID
- No 3.5 mm audio jack
- Only one USB Type C port
|Design & Build|
|Display & Sound|
Its combination of processing power and performance makes us think that the iPad Air 5 (2022) could well be the equivalent of the affordable MacBook Air of yesteryears. In fact, we would say that this is the iPad for those who actually want to use the tablet as a notebook!