Artist Review: iPad Air 4 (2020)

The new Apple iPad Air 4 has a new design, A14 chip and 4GB RAM.

Since the "new" design is actually the 11-inch iPad Pro design, here's a table for your quick comparison.

iPad Air 4 11-inch iPad Pro (2020)
Price US $599, $749 for 64GB and 256GB US $799, $899 for 128GB and 256GB
Processor A14 A12Z
RAM 4GB 6GB
Dimensions 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm
Weight (Wifi) 458g 471g
Speakers Two-way stereo Four-way stereo
Resolution 2360 x 1640, 264 PPI 2388 x 1668, 264 PPI
Display refresh rate 60Hz 120Hz
Brightness 500 nits 600 nits
Apple Pencil support Gen 2 Gen 2
Unlock Fingerprint scanner on power button Face unlock
Port USB-C USB-C
Microphones Two Five
Battery life Up to 10hrs Up to 10hrs


This design is almost identical to the iPad Pro 11-inch from 2018.


While the iPad Pro 12.9 has a larger display, the iPad Air is significantly more portable even with a case added.


So now you get to use Apple Pencil 2 which you can attach to the flat side of the tablet for charging.


iPad Air 4 is available in five colours, namely Space Gray, Silver, Green, Rose Gold and Sky Blue. I bought the Sky Blue version and the colour is very subtle to the point that I won't know it's blue until I look at the label on the box.


There's still the single camera back there, a wide angle f/1.8 with electronic image stabilisation. There's a larger microphone but no flash light that's on the iPad Pro.


All the iPad Pro 11 accessories can be used with the iPad Air 4 since they share the same design.


The fingerprint sensor built into the power button is convenient and works effectively.


The iPad Air now gets the more versatile USB-C. You can get a cheap non-Apple USB-C hub and connect external display, microSD card, USB devices such as microphones, external storage and more.

Battery life is great. I got around 9hr+ of battery life using it at home. You can expect shorter battery life if you use this outdoors under bright conditions as the auto-brightness will max out the brightness.

Battery charging speed is quite slow though so it's best to charge it overnight. The 20W charger included is not considered a fast charger.

There are four sets of speaker grills but audio only comes out from two, the bottom two when the tablet is in landscape format. Audio quality is loud and clear.


One slight difference between the iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro 11 is the screen size which is 10.9-inch vs 11-inch and the resolution 2360 x 1640 and 2388 x 1668.

iPad Air 4 has 28 pixels fewer from the length and width.

Physical dimensions is 247.6 x 178.5 x 6.1mm vs 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mm. The iPad Pro 11 is 0.2mm thinner. iPad Air 4 (wifi) weighs 458g, 13g lighter.

Specifications

The processor has been upgraded to the A14 chip and there is 4GB of RAM. In real world, there's no speed difference between the iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro 2018, or even the iPad Air 3 (2019).

The new processor is not going to make you draw better or faster. The iPad Air 2018 by today's standard is still an incredibly powerful tablet.


The main selling points for the iPad Air 4 are the laminated display and compact design that makes it so portable, and it's cheaper than the iPad Pro. Without the fingerprint sensor from the previous model, the bezels can now be shrunk so effectively you are getting a larger display (up for 10.5inch) in a smaller body with the same fantastic battery life.

The tablet is relatively lightweight and even with a case, using with one hand doesn't get too tiring that easily. The lighter weight allows you to stand and sketch while holding the tablet in one hand.

How much storage do you need


I bought the model with 64GB of storage. The system files and updates took up 16.5GB of storage.


Thankfully can be uninstalled to free up more storage.


I go it down to 12.8GB after uninstalling unwanted apps and installing all the apps I use and importing some files over, I used around 25GB, which means I'm only left with 39GB of storage left.

64GB for drawing should be sufficient. The upgrade to 256GB is an extra US $150 (SGD $220).

The alternative to getting more storage is to get the 200GB iCloud plan which cost US $3 per month. With the $150 you saved from not upgrading, you can get at least 4 years worth of iCloud.

iCloud serves two functions, as a backup and as online storage. You will probably want to get iCloud anyway since it provides online backup for your iPad and the 50GB plan (US $1/month) is certainly not enough to backup a 64GB tablet.

Downside to getting the 64GB model and 200GB iCloud is when you run out of space on the iPad Air, you have to manually transfer the files over to iCloud. It's a minor inconvenience unless you churn out 20-30GB worth of files often.

Display


Colours on the LCD display look great out of the box. Many prefer the extra vibrant colours of AMOLED but personally I still prefer the more "natural" colours of LCD.


Pixel density is 264 PPI so all the user interface, text, fonts, icons, visual look sharp and detailed.


There's no gap between the pen tip and the line beneath due to the laminated display. So when you're writing or drawing, the line will look like it's coming from directly beneath the pen tip.


The display is glossy and will attract fingerprints easily. When drawing, the pen tip is slightly slippery on the glass surface which can affect control. It's probably a 4 out of 5 where 5 is extremely slippery.


Getting a matte screen protector will provide a more tactile experience when drawing and give you more control. But the downside is at certain angles, the anti-glare on the matte screen protector will create a white haze and affect the contrast of the display significantly. The anti-glare makes working on a matte screen protector incredibly frustrating when you're outdoors because light is everywhere to reflect off the display.

If you do want to get a matte screen protector, I recommend SuperShieldz which is cheap and good. If you don't like using a matte screen protector, you remove it without feeling like you wasted too much money.


The canvas area for drawing is smaller compared to a 12.9-inch iPad Pro but you still get a good amount of space to draw on. It's basically likely drawing on an A5-sized sketchbook. I actually find the canvas size still very useable.


Here's how much space the user interface elements in Procreate take up.

Latency


The display is 60Hz which is unlike the 120Hz you get with the iPad Pro.

Animation on the iPad Air 4 will appear more choppy, relatively speaking. I'm talking about animation effects like scrolling of webpages, zooming in and out, writing and drawing.

When drawing, the latency is actually not as noticeable compared to say, scrolling a webpage or have the apps zoom out back into the small icons. Reason being you don't draw long sweeping lines all the time while drawing. But yes, you will notice slightly choppier animation.


Overall drawing experience is satisfying. Apple Pencil is accurate and very sensitive, especially when drawing with really low pressure. You can get a line as long as the tip is touching the glass even if you don't apply pressure.


I highly recommend getting a tablet to prop up the tablet to draw so that it's better for your posture. The stand I'm using here is the Parblo PR 100 which can be deployed at various angles and has fantastic grip on the table.

Issues


Both iPad Air 4 and iPad Pro 2018 has 4GB of RAM but in Procreate, you can't get to create as many layers on the iPad Air 4.

These are the number of layers you get with an 300DPI A4 file in Procreate compared to other iPads

Model RAM No of layers
iPad Air 3 (2019) 3GB 19 (26 after update)
iPad Air 4 (2020) 4GB 19 (57 after update)
iPad mini 5 (2019) 3GB 19
iPad Pro 2018 4GB 57
iPad Pro 2020 6GB 57 (73 after update)

I am not sure if the limitation is from the iPadOS or from Procreate.

Conclusion

Design of the iPad Air 4 looks great. Drawing performance is fantastic.

Price of the 64GB iPad Air 4 is $599, which is $100 more than the previous model. Since the drawing performance is the same, that extra $100 is just for the change in design. So I don't really recommend upgrading from iPad Air 3 (that's like making a loss on selling and paying extra to buy again).

iPad Air 4 is a good product. Having said that, in terms of value for money, I recommend getting a refurbished iPad Pro 11-inch (2020) instead.

I always recommend refurbished Apple products because they are usually 15% off retail price and still comes with 1 year warranty. Refurbished products usually come out 6 months after official launch date. iPad Pro 2020 was launched in March 2020 and I've already seen refurbished units appear on Apple's website (which they have since delisted coincidentally during the iPad Air 4 launch period, but they will be back).

So here's my recommendation breakdown depending on your budget. BN = Brand new, Refurbished = RF

  • US $429 - BN 128GB iPad 10.2-inch (2020)
  • $509 - RF 64GB iPad Air 4
  • $599 - BN 64GB iPad Air 4
  • $636 - RF 256GB iPad Air 4
  • $679 - RF 128GB 11-inch iPad Pro (2020)
  • $749 - BN 256GB iPad Air 4
  • $764 - RF 256GB 11-inch iPad Pro (2020)
  • $799 - BN 128GB 11-inch iPad Pro (2020)

If you are a beginner who wants to learn digital art, go for the 128GB iPad 10.2-inch (2020) which is US $429. I've seen the 2019 model being discounted $100 during Christmas shopping season on Amazon so chances are the 2020 may also get that discount in December.

If you have more budget and want a nicer looking tablet today, then the next model to consider is the 64GB iPad Air 4.

I do recommend the refurbished 11-inch iPad Pro (2020) though because for $80 more you get extra 64GB storage, 120Hz ProMotion, and 4 way speakers.

Ultimately, you will still need to spend $99-129 for the Apple Pencil (1/2) and $3/month for the 200GB iCloud. Everything adds up.

Main selling point of the iPad for drawing is the large number of well designed drawing and graphic design apps available. If you're not that big into drawing, consider the Samsung Tab S7 instead which I think is more worth the money at US $640 because you get 128GB storage, microSD card slot, 120Hz display, S Pen included and Samsung Dex is very useful. It's not like you can't draw on the Samsung Tab S7 because there is Clip Studio Paint which is an awesome illustration app. Still cheaper than the refurbished 11-inch iPad Pro (2020) with Apple Pencil 2 by $160+. Do check out my Samsung Tab S7+ review.

Let me know in the comments section if you have any questions.

Update 25 Oct 2020: Procreate will check on the layer limit

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