iPad Air 2022 is amazing — but it can't replace your laptop

iPad Air 5
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Apple iPad Air 2022 is one of the highest-rated tablets on Tom’s Guide. Like its predecessor, the iPad Air 4, the new slate contains a lot of power within its slim, elegant frame. This is due in no small part to it packing the M1 chip, which helps the tablet zip between multiple open windows, watch streaming content and play games without a hitch. Put simply, the new iPad Air is a small wonder.

In my Apple iPad Air 2022 review, I said that the optional Magic Keyboard attachment turns the new iPad Air into a small laptop. My colleague Henry Casey shared a similar sentiment in his review of the previous model. Having a Magic Keyboard is what makes this seem like a good idea: Though I maintain that the Magic Keyboard is very expensive at $349, it’s a crucial peripheral for those who want to get more use out of the iPad Air beyond its touch capabilities.

The iPad Air is certainly a fantastic tablet, but how well can it function as a laptop replacement? Our own Kelly Woo tried to use the iPad Air 4 for work while at the airport last year and found it lacking. But now there's a new iPad Air in town, and you might be wondering: Is this the iPad that will replace your laptop? Should it?

The short answer is, no. Though it makes a halfway decent laptop in a pinch, the new iPad Air still isn't as capable as the best Windows laptops or best MacBooks. Here's why.

The Magic Keyboard is good but not great

As I said in my iPad Air 2022 review, the Magic Keyboard is a solid peripheral. I think it’s superior to the Book Cover Keyboard that you can purchase for the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra for $349. While not a full keyboard, Apple's Magic Keyboard has enough space to let most people comfortably type on. The keys themselves also have a satisfying amount of resistance when you press them. 

iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review

The Magic Keyboard is a great peripheral but it's not as spacious as a full keyboard. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Despite its strengths, the Magic Keyboard won’t suit everyone. It works well for short typing sessions, but its small size becomes a factor if you try to use it for longer periods of time. My hands felt cramped after about an hour’s worth of use. For comparison's sake, I think the Book Cover Keyboard is flimsy compared to the Magic Keyboard but I never had problems using its keyboard for long stretches. And obviously, neither pseudo-keyboard can match the effectiveness of the keyboards on laptops like the Alienware x14 or MacBook Pro 14-inch.

iPadOS can't compete with Windows or macOS

Writers don’t need many specialized applications to get work done. So long as I have access to Google and its suite of apps (Google Docs, Gmail and Drive), along with Slack and a photo editor like Photoshop, I’m good to go. All of these apps are on the Apple App Store and can be used on the iPad Air.

Using these apps efficiently on an iPad takes some getting used to, especially if you’re a Windows user like me. That isn’t to say switching between apps and tabs is difficult. I didn’t have major problems locating or opening the tabs I needed. I prefer an arrow cursor over the grey circle that pops up when using the Magic Keyboard's touchpad, but the circle works well enough. The pointer can feel slow at times, but when it does you can simply use the touch screen to scroll through pages. Working on an iPad takes some getting used to, but once you do it's a bit like working on a small, cramped touchscreen laptop running iPadOS.

iPad Air 5

iPadOS is ideal for tablets, not for laptops. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

However, there are a lot of minor hassles that get in the way of working comfortably on an iPad Air. As Kelly said in her op-ed, not having access to Chrome extensions or bookmarks can considerably slow down your workflow. Another impediment is the small screen size. 10.9 inches is great for watching videos, but it’s far too small if you want to have multiple windows on the display – even if you have perfect vision. Instead of having half the screen dedicated to Chrome and the other to Slack as I normally do, I opted to run Chrome in fullscreen mode and check Slack messages on my phone because of the small screen size.

Photo editing is cumbersome at best. The Magic Keyboard’s trackpad is fairly accurate, but using it for photo manipulation isn’t as precise as using a mouse cursor. However, if you get an Apple Pencil 2 ($99) it's not a bad option for editing photos, even if you aren’t artistically inclined. Still, if you’re used to cropping photos on a Windows laptop or desktop, you’ll find trying to do the same job on the iPad Air less than ideal.

Can the iPad Air 2022 replace your laptop? 

Apple's new iPad Air is one of the best iPads we’ve ever had the pleasure of testing. I love its vibrant screen, snappy touch controls and overall sleek, slender design. The iPad Air (2022) has earned a spot on our best tablets list for a reason: The tablet is just that good.

But even with all its strengths, the iPad Air won’t replace your laptop. Though apps like Chrome and Photoshop technically function on the slate, these mobile iterations are awkward to work with compared to their Windows/macOS counterparts. The iPad Air’s screen is also too small to accommodate multiple windows. And while the Magic Keyboard is a good (if expensive) peripheral, a proper keyboard is easier and more ergonomic to use for extended work sessions. There’s also the fact that you can buy laptops (such as the best Chromebooks) for far less than $950, which is the minimum you'll pay for an iPad Air (2022) and Magic Keyboard together.

At best, the iPad Air can do double duty as a spare laptop when you don’t have access to your primary notebook. But it won’t replace your laptop anytime soon.

As an aside, a redesigned standard iPad has been tipped to arrive in 2022.

Tony Polanco
Computing Writer

Tony is a computing writer at Tom’s Guide covering laptops, tablets, Windows, and iOS. During his off-hours, Tony enjoys reading comic books, playing video games, reading speculative fiction novels, and spending too much time on X/Twitter. His non-nerdy pursuits involve attending Hard Rock/Heavy Metal concerts and going to NYC bars with friends and colleagues. His work has appeared in publications such as Laptop Mag, PC Mag, and various independent gaming sites.