Apple has launched refreshes of both its cheapest iPad and the iPad Air for 2020, packing both with more power, and an updated design in the case of the iPad Air, which follows the look of the 2020 iPad Pro. But with these internal and external changes, if you're looking at the iPad vs iPad Air as your next tablet, which should you choose?
We'll run down everything you need to know about the difference in price, performance and features between the iPad 8th-gen and iPad Air 2020, so you can choose the Apple tablet that does exactly what you need.
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2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Price and release date
The iPad 8th-gen is by far the cheaper of these two tablets, starting from £329/$329/AU$499 for the model with 32GB of storage, or £429/$429/AU$649 for 128GB. You can also get a version with 4G internet connectivity built in (instead of just Wi-Fi) for £459/$459/AU$699 for 32GB or £559/$559/AU$849 for 128GB.
The iPad 8th-gen is available to order now.
The iPad Air 2020 is more expensive (and the price has risen compared to the iPad Air 2019), but then it does have a more advanced feature list, as we'll explain. The iPad Air starts from £579/$599/AU$899 for 64GB of storage, or £729/$749/$AU1,129 for 256GB. Again, it's available with 4G connectivity starting from £709/$729/AU$1,099 for 32GB, or £859/$879/AU$1,329 for 256GB.
For comparison, the 11-inch iPad Pro 2020 (with the same physical design and almost the same screen size as the iPad Air) starts from £769/$799/AU$1,329 for 128GB of storage.
The iPad Air will be released in "October", but isn't yet available to order.
2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Design
The 2020 iPad has the same physical design as the iPad 7th-gen (2019), which is the classic iPad design, basically – a nice big screen with chunky bezels top and bottom (when held in portrait), with a physical Home button that includes Touch ID fingerprint recognition.
It has curved edges, and the rear is available is Space Gray, Silver or Gold finishes. The Silver and Gold options give you a white front bezel around the screen, while the Space Gray option has a black front.
There's not much new to say about this design – it's perfectly ergonomic and easy to hold, and there's no flaws in it other than that it looks relatively old-fashioned, but for the price we expect you can live with that.
The iPad Air 2020 has a design that totally new to the product, but is very familiar to iPad Pro users. The design is effectively identical, brining the 'Liquid Retina' display with rounded corners, and a flat-edge design that harks back to the iPhone 5 era (and, one that the iPhone 12 will follow, supposedly).
The screen his minimal bezels around the edge, which Apple is calling an "all-screen" design, though there's still a visible border – which is fine, since you still need something to hold.
Unlike the iPad Pro, the Air comes in a range of cool finishes on the sides and rear, including Space Gray, Silver, Rose Gold, Green and Sky Blue. They all still have a black bezel on the front.
Unlike the iPad Pro, though, the iPad Air doesn't include Face ID face recognition for security, but instead has Touch ID fingerprint recognition built into the power button.
The design of the iPad Air feels great to use – it's easily handled, and feels compact and light for its screen size.
The flat edge also means that the iPad Air supports Apple's Magic Keyboard case, which adds a keyboard and trackpad combo, as well as the second-generation Apple Pencil, just like the iPad Pros. The 2nd-gen Pencil connects magnetically to the iPad for storage, and charges wirelessly from the iPads battery while it's there.
The iPad 8th-gen supports the original Apple Pencil, which charged by plugging into the iPad's Lightning port, which is much less convenient.
The iPad 8th-gen has a Lightning port for charging and connectivity, while the iPad Air has a USB-C port, which makes it more flexible for connecting USB accessories – for more pro-style use, this can be a big bonus.
However, the iPad 8th-gen has a 3.5mm audio jack, and the iPad Air does not. That Apple has left this connection off the iPad Air and iPad Pros baffles us, given the popularity of the iPad for music making, but here we are – if you want to use wired headphones with the iPad Air, you'll need an adapter.
2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Screen and speakers
The iPad 8th-gen has a 10.2-inch screen, with a resolution of 2160x1620, which is 264 pixels per inch. This makes it lovely and sharp, and it's quite a generous size – easily big enough for running apps side by side, and makes for a nice big video player.
The brightness of 500 nits is similarly strong, and screen quality is great overall. It doesn't support the wider P3 colour gamut of the iPad Air, but we don't mind that overall – this helps photos especially to look more vibrant and realistic, but it's not essential for enjoying your tablet.
However, it's a real shame that Apple True Tone display technology isn't used here. This system automatically shifts the colour balance of the screen to match the ambient lighting of the room you're in, so if you have soft yellow lights at home in the evening, the screen shifts so that white on the iPad matches what a white piece of paper looks like in the room. This is kinder on the eyes than having a blue-tinted screen when everything else you see is yellow-tinted, and is thought to help with making it easier to sleep if you've been using a screen beforehand.
Given that this will be Apple's most popular iPad, particularly with kids, it's disappointing that this isn't included.
As mentioned above, the iPad 8th-gen supports the first-gen Apple Pencil for writing and drawing on the screen.
The iPad Air 2020 has a 10.9-inch screen, with a resolution of 2360x1640, again at 264 pixels per inch, so there's the same level of detail as the cheaper iPad, just in a bigger panel. This is a tiny bit smaller than the 11-inch iPad Pro, which has an 11-inch screen, with just a couple of extra pixels in the resolution, and again is the same sharpness.
The iPad Air's screen also matches the cheaper iPad for brightness, again 500 nits, however with a laminated screen bringing the pixels closer to the surface, and a low reflectivity of just 1.8%, you'll be able to see the screen a little clearer. Combined with the fact that the Air supports the wider P3 colour gamut, you've got a screen that looks richer and clearer, even though its specs are close to the cheaper iPad.
The iPad Air also supports the True Tone tech we mentioned before, which is a big plus in our books. The Air's screen supports the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil for writing and drawing.
Both of these iPads have a 60Hz maximum refresh rate for their screens, which is common, and fine. The iPad Pro supports 120Hz, which means it can update what's on the screen twice as many times per second – it's one of the things that makes it 'pro'. This has the biggest effect for Apple Pencil users, because it means you can see the effect of your drawing more quickly, and so keep as accurate as possible. However, for anything less than the professional of artists, drawing on the iPad 8th-gen and iPad Air will feel perfectly responsive.
The iPad 8th-gen has stereo speakers, technically, but they're at one end of the device, so it's only stereo when in landscape. The basic iPad's speakers have always been perfectly loud enough, but just not hugely high quality.
The iPad Air has stereo speakers at either end when held in landscape, so will be more effective for movie viewing.
2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Specs and performance
The iPad 8th-gen includes Apple's A12 Bionic processor, which is a couple of years old, but actually remains among the most powerful tablet/phone chips on the planet (such is Apple's technical lead in this area).
It's a six-core processor, and is basically in the same power class as light laptops, so there's no lack of power in this iPad. That makes it super-fast for whatever you want to do, whether that's video and image editing, web browsing, general app use, or the million other things people do with their tablets.
This is the same chip that was in the previous iPad Air generation, and we found that to be an extremely capable machine. If you ever have any issues with the iPad 8th-gen, speed won't be one of them.
The storage options of 32GB and 128GB are fine – 32GB isn't very much at all, but if you just want a tablet for streaming videos and light entertainment, it'll work just fine.
If you'll want to have a number of games, or want a big photo/video library downloaded to it and always available (bearing in mind that Apple makes it easy to store your photos in the cloud to only download in full when needed), the 128GB option is the better choice.
The iPad Air 2020 is the first device to include Apple's next-gen A14 Bionic chip, which will no doubt make its way into the iPhone 12, too. Apple says this is 40% faster than the A12 for processor power (though didn't say in exactly what measure), and twice as powerful when it comes to graphics performance.
Again, it's a six-core chip, and we'll need to get our hands on the Air to determine exactly what that means for its speed and memory, but it definitely looks to be extremely capable.
The 64GB of storage in the iPad Air is a good starting point. If you want one for document work and entertainment, it should serve most people nicely. Again, if you plan to keep a lot of games or work with loads of very large files you want to store offline, 256GB should be enough for all but the most extreme users (and the iPad Pro can give you more if needed).
Both iPads promise 10 hours of battery life in standard use, which is Apple's target for these types of devices.
The iPad Air actually has a notably smaller battery capacity than the iPad 8th-gen, interestingly – the Air has a 28.6 watt-hour battery, while the iPad 8th-gen has a 32.4 watt-hour battery. The A14 chip may be lighter on power use, balancing out the lack of power storage.
The Air's battery is same size as the 11-inch iPad Pros, which has no issues with longevity, so there's no need to worry its battery life.
2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Cameras
The iPad 8th-gen has an 8MP rear camera that can record 1080p Full HD video. It's not very up-to-date tech, but it takes serviceable photos, and the neural processing engine in the A12 Bionic processor should be able to help it improve the shots it takes automatically.
On the front is a 720p HD FaceTime camera, capable of 1.2MP still photos – it's very basic as these things go, but it works.
The iPad Air 2020 includes a 12MP rear camera, with 4K video recording at 60fps and image stabilisation, so you can move around and keep smooth video. The front camera takes 7MP photos, and offers 1080p Full HD video at 60fps.
2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Software
Good news – there's no difference here! Both iPads run iPadOS 14, the latest version of Apple's iPad operating system.
They both support split-screen multitasking, the same broad array of apps, widgets, mouse and keyboard support, handwriting recognition, synced services, and everything else.
Apple's iPad software focus is far superior to Android's, where big screens are very much an afterthought – but whatever price level you go for, you'll get the same experience between the iPad 8th-gen and the iPad Air.
2020 iPad vs iPad Air: Verdict
For most people, we expect the decision here will come down to price. The iPad Air starting price is £250/$270 more than the iPad 8th-gen, which is a huge jump – it's nearly doubling the price, in fact.
You do get lots of improvements for that price, so it depends on whether you value what the iPad Air brings. If you just want a tablet for simple family entertainment, the basic iPad fulfils what you need. It has a large, clear screen, it's fast, it's reliable, it's light and usable… it does the job very nicely.
The iPad Air is more capable and future-proof for work: it has an even faster processor, nicer camera, bigger and better screen in the same size body, sleeker design, better 2nd-gen Apple Pencil system, more flexible USB-C connectivity, compatibility with Apple's Magic Keyboard…
If you want the nicer computer, the iPad Air is the one to get – we think all of its upgrades justify the price increase over the basic iPad, it's just that not everyone needs them.