Apple’s 2024 iPads come in powerful, and much too powerful


However, chances are you’re not upgrading from a two-year-old M1 tablet, and going from an older iPad to this model is a massive leap.

Put side-by-side with the 10th Generation iPad, which uses the iPhone 12’s A14 Bionic chip, the new iPad Air is an absolute beast.

The M2 contains a 10-core desktop-class graphics processor that puts the Air in a totally different category to any iPad with an A-series chip when it comes to games, design, photos or video.

The iPad Air is an excellent Apple Arcade machine.

The iPad Air is an excellent Apple Arcade machine.Credit: Tim Biggs

I’ve been playing Sonic Dream Team with my kids on the Air, and it’s running at a resolution and frame rate comparable to a powerful laptop. Which makes sense, since this is the same chip you would get in a $1900 MacBook Air.

Processing power, RAM and memory bandwidth are also far beyond any iPad with an A-series chip, which translates to quicker everything, from file transfers to rendering iMovie projects.

Though Apple also makes an explicitly “Pro” iPad, there is nothing stopping the Air from being a productivity powerhouse. Office software, music production, art creation or splitting the screen between two supported apps all work great, even with a video call running in the corner. The tablet can sit on the existing Magic Keyboard accessory when you need a laptop-like layout.

Multi-tasking creative or productivity tasks is no issue for the M2.

Multi-tasking creative or productivity tasks is no issue for the M2.

As for the 13-inch model, which starts at $1300, it’s the same device in every respect – except for the screen. As with the two iPad Pro sizes, Apple has expanded the resolution of the display by a precise integer so that you still get the same number of pixels per square centimetre, regardless of which Air you choose. What this means is that many productivity apps will display elements the same size on both tablets (text, for example, or images, spreadsheets, tools, pages), but you’ll be able to see more. It’s like having a bigger canvas or desktop.

Apple said half of all iPad Pro owners choose the larger screen, and I can see that being the case for the Air as well. It seems simple, but having a screen this big in a 4:3 ratio is outstanding for viewing and editing photographs, and having more room for tools in Logic Pro or Procreate makes a big difference.

So, given the Air works fine as a work machine, how does the $1700 iPad Pro make itself stand out? Frankly, by cramming in more power and high-end features than almost anybody will need, which developers may take a while to employ.

Apple has been keen to point out that this is the thinnest device it’s ever made, and it is remarkable to pick it up for the first time and feel like you’re holding a sturdy bit of glass.

At 5.3 millimetres thick and 444 grams for the 11-inch model, or 5.1mm and 479 grams for the 13-inch, it’s by far the slightest full-size iPad we’ve seen, which takes the wind out of the Air’s sails.

Despite its thinness, the Pro doesn’t feel fragile, and you could argue there’s a utility in being narrow for stashing the device in a shoulder bag, or carrying it around one-handed, especially if you’re comparing it to a laptop.

The thinnest MacBook Air is more than twice as thick and heavy as the 13-inch iPad Pro.

The thinnest MacBook Air is more than twice as thick and heavy as the 13-inch iPad Pro.Credit: Tim Biggs

The Pro only comes in black or silver and maintains the iPhone-style camera square on the back, even though it has only one lens and a LiDAR Scanner; the ultra-wide lens from the previous Pro has been dropped.

Around the front, the camera and Face ID array have been moved to the long side of the device, which again only makes sense, but the biggest aesthetic upgrade is the screen. Like the previous iPad Pro, it’s a sharp and smooth 120Hz panel with support for HDR, but for the first time, Apple’s using an OLED rather than an LCD. And by some technical wizardry that I only really understand by way of a series of Apple-invented marketing terms and abbreviations, it’s an OLED that’s just as bright as the LCD Pro, making it far brighter than any OLED tablet I’ve seen.

With some accessories, the iPad Pro can become a workstation suited to many creative tasks.

With some accessories, the iPad Pro can become a workstation suited to many creative tasks.Credit: Tim Biggs

The result is images that can contain absolute pitch black as well as very bright colours right next to each other, and in HDR videos and photos, you can get what feels like a torch of brightness shining from the highlights or streaking across the screen.

Obviously, this is excellent news for anyone watching Netflix or Disney Plus on an iPad Pro, but it also helps for work applications, assuming you’re doing high-end stuff.

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The panels have been individually checked and calibrated, and the iPad can be locked into a “reference mode” that guarantees colour accuracy and consistency, meaning it can stand in for professional monitors that photographers and cinematographers might otherwise need to use.

Since the iPad Pro can also film in 4K and Pro Res and has a Thunderbolt USB 4 port for connecting to monitors and other devices, it can function as an all-in-one studio for many creative tasks.

Screen aside, the big change here is the M4, a new chip debuting in the Pro. Though not necessarily more powerful than some of the M3 chips powering the current Macs, the M4 is noticeably faster than the M2 iPads and is yet again a significant leap in graphics.

Complex 3D animations can render four times faster on the M4, and while I said the iPad Air runs Sonic Dream Team like a powerful laptop, the Pro runs it like my fully stacked Mac Studio, flawlessly at maximum settings. Of course, cartoon-like Apple Arcade games aren’t necessarily the target of an expensive tablet like this (and it’s worth noting that my review unit is a 10-core CPU version, which you only get if you spend at least $2750).

The M4 brings support for high-end graphical features, such as real-time ray-tracing and mesh shading, to the iPad, making it possible to not only run console-like games but also develop those games or other professional-grade computer renders on the tablet.

Unfortunately, users will have to wait for most apps to catch up. For example, at the reveal earlier this month, we saw Diablo Immortal running with full ray tracing, but the current version doesn’t yet support it. In fact, the game won’t even run at full resolution because it doesn’t seem to recognise the M4 at all.

Pro rendering app Octane X was also shown at the reveal, but again has not been updated to take full advantage of the M4. So far, I haven’t found an app that does.

Apple is also heralding the M4 as its most powerful AI chip, but again, this currently manifests in making existing tasks quicker rather than enabling anything new. Like analysing a scene in Final Cut Pro to remove the background or a song in Logic Pro to split it into distinct tracks, either of which you can do in half a minute here. Or analysing a paper document and taking multiple photos with flash to remove all shadows and produce a nice scan, which takes about two seconds.

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