The New iPad Air Is A Powerful Little Graphics-Rich Gaming Device

The New iPad Air Is A Powerful Little Graphics-Rich Gaming Device

This week I was given Apple’s 5th-gen iPad Air to review – it was also the week I was finally struck by COVID-19. Apple’s latest kick-ass tablet was the perfect companion while I wasted away the days on the lounge.

While the 5th-gen iPad Air was perfect while sick, obviously I will soon not be sick, so this device needs to offer something that will keep making me pick it up (to do more than just waste away the days).

There are a few reasons you might be in the market for a tablet. You might want something that does phone stuff, just bigger, or does laptop stuff, just nowhere near as big (or heavy). But you also might just want to sit on the lounge and doodle or play some games while Netflix drowns out the background sound. I hate to say it, but the new iPad Air is a pretty good option to fill all these needs.

Why do I hate to say it? Because I have never been sold on tablets. They’re so limiting with what they can do, and as someone who does a lot of typing, I find a tablet (even with a keyboard) hard to type on with the speed I can on a laptop. But Apple kind-of convinced me there was a tablet-sized hole in my life last year when I reviewed both the entry-level iPad and iPad mini shortly after their release. At the time, I said I wasn’t sure anyone needed a new iPad until I tried them. The 5th-gen iPad Air adds another compelling reason backing up that claim – it’s one powerful gaming device.

Apple 5th-gen iPad Air

The iPad Air is the fastest and thinnest tablet Apple has released to-date. Announced just last week, the 5th iteration of the iPad Air packs the same M1 processor that is found in the company’s laptops, features a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display, with 3.8 million pixels and promising 500 nits of brightness, full lamination, a P3 wide colour gamut, True Tone and an antireflective screen coating.

The iPad Air weighs just 460 grams and measures 247.6 mm x 178.5 mm x 6.1 mm – it’s super thin and super light. It comes in space grey, starlight, pink, purple and a new blue tone and is available in 64GB and 256GB models.

5th-gen ipad air
Image: Apple

Standard Apple setup

Talking about setting up a new iOS device is all but pointless these days. Of course it works, perfectly, every time. Setup takes as long as Apple dictates it takes and you can either bring all of your existing iOS settings (including photos, apps, etc) with you or start fresh. Setup is always frustrating on a new device, especially if you have the attention span I do, but once you start using a new iOS device you start to wish it pulled more info over, such as logins to different apps.

The power’s in your fingerpint, not ya face

The 5th-gen iPad Air uses fingerprint biometrics for all the security stuff. On a phone, I will maintain my love for Face ID (yes, even with the whole mask thing preventing me from using it during most of the pandemic),but on a tablet, Touch ID on the unlock button is preferred. And the iPad Air does this perfectly and very, very quickly. The unlock button is right where I’d be resting my finger, anyway, so it’s super seamless.

The 5th-gen Air Looks just like another iPad

The problem with an Apple device such as an iPad is there isn’t much room to play around when it comes to aesthetics. The last version of the iPad Air arrived with a complete redesign that made the tablet look a lot more like Apple’s iPad Pro with a flat-edged design that facilitated support for accessories like the second-generation Apple Pencil. This year’s Air has the same 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display the 4th-gen device had and is exactly the same size. It weighs absolutely stuff all more (4 grams) and keeps the Touch ID button that was returned in that model, too. Looks wise, it’s basically the same device, just in some different colours. Comparing it to the latest iterations of the Pro, the entry-level iPad and the mini, it’s very clear it’s an iPad, just the newest one. If you don’t like Apple-designed stuff, you won’t like the look and feel of the 5th-gen iPad Air.

Last remark on the design – the 5th-gen device is quite big to hold, but if that’s an issue for you, Apple’s iPad mini exists.

Camera & video

The iPad Air 5 got a beefy camera upgrade from its predecessor – a 12 MP ultra-wide in fact, also boasting Center Stage (a feature that automatically keeps users centred in the frame as they move around for even more ‘engaging’ video call). A 12 MP Wide camera is also featured on the back of the iPad Air. The camera system is fine, although it’s nothing to write home about. And look, this is fine. You don’t exactly want to walk around using your iPad Air as a camera, do you?

Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

As for the selfie cam? It’s also fine. I’m definitely not posting a picture of what I look like mid-COVID, so here’s my cat again on selfie mode.

Image: Boston/Gizmodo Australia

I feel a tablet only needs to have a good enough camera for video calls. Video calling was great on the 5th-gen iPad Air – my team could see me fine, they actually didn’t realise I wasn’t on my MacBook until I pointed it out. Center Stage is a little creepy, you’re actually being watched and it’s too much when you want to duck off screen to blow your nose. I could also hear my entire team on the video call clearly and my audio at their end was also reported as crystal clear.

That brings me to sound.

That sweet 5th-gen iPad Air sound

Listening to a high-quality streaming copy of a song through the iPad Air doesn’t annoy me – which is probably the best compliment I can give to a device that is doing speaker things without being a speaker. It’s clear and up full volume doesn’t get too distorted. It’s a little tinny, but it’s not meant to be a speaker, it just has to work and work fine. Streaming Netflix is one example of it working fine – the sound is clear and the stream is gorgeous. A perfect segue to that whole graphics thing.

Killer graphics

The 4th-gen device was powered by the A14 bionic chip which has since been replaced with the A15 in Apple’s latest generation iPhones. As I said above – the 5th-gen tablet now boasts the M1 chip, which is the same found in Apple’s laptops. With it, Apple is promising a 60 per cent performance increase over the last generation iPad Air, and twice the graphics performance. Apple’s promise is correct. This thing absolutely slaps.

5th-gen ipad air
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

Is it overkill for the iPad that isn’t meant to be the top-of-the-range device? Probably, but I don’t care. Drawing on this thing is super fun. Even with a number of layers in ProCreate, the device didn’t once lag and was perfectly responsive when using the Apple Pencil (even with the ridiculous way I use a pencil, and the unnecessary pressure I place on it). Playing around with video editing was also smooth, and I actually made my very first TikTok (no, I won’t be posting it). Apple is marketing the 5th-gen iPad Air towards creators – be it graphic artists or wannabe viral video stars – and they’ve created a great device for people who are interested in that. But they’ve also created a great device for people who want to play some games.

The surprisingly good gaming device

There’s a tonne of graphics-rich games you could choose to showcase the capability of the 5th-gen iPad Air, but I opted for a cozy little farming game by an Aussie studio, Wylde Flowers. This game is gorgeous and the iPad Air handles the graphics beautifully. Take a look for yourself:

‘Wylde Flowers’ by Studio Drydock. Screenshot: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

While this tablet isn’t anywhere near as good as let’s say your Alienware setup, it packs one hell of a punch for a handheld device that isn’t meant just for gaming. I played Wylde Flowers for hours and while the quality is clear in the screenshots, the smoothness and flow of the game isn’t something I can convey – but no lag, battery survived really well and returning to my iPhone 13 Pro Max I was somehow disappointed in the graphics on-screen.

All-day battery, kinda

Apple says the 5th-gen iPad Air will get you ‘all-day battery life’. By this, they mean up to 10 hours surfing the internet or watching a video on Wi-Fi and an hour less on cellular. After 10 hours of playing Wylde Flowers and drawing that wonderful* Gizmodo logo you saw above, I had 13 per cent battery.

Still not good for working

I still firmly believe there is no space for a tablet in my work life. I couldn’t possibly write anything with as much ease as a laptop keyboard (I’ll delve into the Magic Keyboard in a review coming in the next few days) and having two devices (laptop and tablet) is just so incredibly inefficient I’m not even going to bother. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that a work machine needs a good keyboard, and a mouse is also useful, but a decent-sized screen is hella crucial. And any of the iPads fail to offer a replacement for a work computer.

Apple’s 5th-gen iPad Air, the verdict

With the 5th-generation iPad Air, Apple has delivered a compelling reason to not bother splashing the cash on the iPad Pro. The latest Air is fast, has a great battery life, graphics are gorgeous and certainly fills that tablet-sized hole in my daily routine. It’s not good for work, but it’s great for leisure – providing you have the $929 to justify another screen to use while your small screen sits beside you and the big screen plays in the background, after you’ve shut your medium screen for the day.