One missing feature almost ruined the new iPad Air for me

A person holding the iPad Air M2.
Andy Boxall / Digital trends

I’m a few days into using the new 11-inch iPad Air (2024), and a single feature decision has me so annoyed that I’m wondering why it even exists.

In Apple’s current iPad range, the iPad Pro (2024) is certainly the choice of the professional, while the regular iPad is the choice for the bargain hunter. The iPad Air sits awkwardly in between. While it seems to offer all the power and capabilities you could want without paying the high price of the iPad Pro, it doesn’t have the ProMotion display with a 120Hz refresh rate – and that’s a serious drawback.

Does this missing feature destroy the M2 iPad Air, as it almost did the M1-powered iPad Air (2022)?

My problem with the iPad Air screen

Andy Boxall / Digital trends

What’s the screen situation like for those not used to perusing the iPad spec sheets? The M2 iPad Air (2024) has a Liquid Retina IPS display with a 60Hz refresh rate, just like the cheaper regular iPad, and both have the same 2360 x 1640 pixel resolution. To get a 120Hz display, a technology Apple calls ProMotion, you’ll have to splurge on the iPad Pro with its Ultra Retina XDR display, and this has the potential to be a very expensive device.

It’s a very similar situation on the iPhone, where you need the iPhone 15 Pro or iPhone 15 Pro Max to get a 120Hz ProMotion display, as the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus both have a 60Hz display. But I can accept that decision more easily because Apple doesn’t have an intermediate model in its iPhone 15 lineup like it does with the iPad, and it makes the purchasing decision much easier.

This isn’t a new problem either, as the M1 iPad Air released in 2023 also had the Liquid Retina IPS 60Hz display. At the time, the tablet’s large screen, in my eyes, amplified the downside of a 60Hz refresh rate screen, and it almost ruined the M1 iPad for me. It was less smooth when scrolling and during animations, making the experience cheaper compared to a ProMotion-equipped iPad model. Has anything changed with the M2 iPad Air, or is this still a tablet with a smaller screen?

60Hz vs 120Hz

Andy Boxall / Digital trends

I’ve been using the iPad Air with the M2 processor for a few days now and it has replaced the duties of both my 2020 iPad Pro and the M1 iPad Air, meaning it springs into action for video, web browsing and usage from apps like Reddit, Amazon and Autotrader, plus reading books via the Kindle app. Something very encouraging happened when I started using the tablet, as in some conditions the screen seemed a tiny bit smoother than I expected. Not much, but enough that I could tell something was different.

Was it all in my mind? To find out, I revived the M1 iPad Air and my 2020 iPad Pro for a direct side-by-side comparison. The whole time I was doing this, I remembered that when I tested the iPhone 15 Plus, I noticed that the screen was also a tiny bit smoother than expected, which was an improvement over the less eye-friendly experience I had with the iPhone 14 Plus . Like the two iPhone models, the two iPad Air models have the same screens, but different processors.

I’ve spent far too long swiping, opening apps, and scrolling through web pages and menus on the three different iPad models I own, and have come to the conclusion that the M2 iPad Air is smoother at times, but it could all be in my possession too. It’s such a minuscule change, if any, and perhaps only noticeable when you put all the tablets side by side. I found it very difficult to even show on video. Don’t be surprised if it isn’t noticeable until you see it in person.

Has anything really improved?

Andy Boxall / Digital trends

Specifically, I think the M2 iPad Air makes the animations between opening and closing the app less clear than on the M1 iPad Air and also slightly smoother when scrolling through text. It may not sound like much, but I found it less distracting and less visually demanding. Elsewhere, however, there are no changes, and unfortunately both seem to have the same degree of blurriness when scrolling through menus, between home screens and in the app library.

The 2020 iPad Air is smoother everywhere, no matter what you’re doing on the screen. But there’s a chance you won’t see any difference at all, regardless of the tablet, because the effect of 60Hz and 120Hz refresh rates isn’t always seen by everyone. I can really tell, though, and while I welcome even the slightest improvement in the smoothness of the system, the fact that I have to scrutinize these tablets at all really annoys me. For the price, the iPad Air should actually have the 120Hz ProMotion screen as standard.

Remember, the M2 iPad Air starts at $600, and the iPad starts at $450, but to get the ProMotion screen you’ll have to pay at least $1,000 for the iPad Pro. That’s a big jump in price, and with it comes a lot of features that many people may not need. I definitely find the new M4 iPad Pro far too capable for my needs, but the iPad Air would be perfect if only it had the ProMotion screen.

What Apple should have done

iPad Pro (M4) Nadeem Sarwar / Digital trends

Apple has been very tight on upgrades to the M2 iPad Air over its predecessor, with the chip being pretty much the only one of all notes, but still the iPad Pro has a wide range of improvements and additional features, including the new M4 processor, Face ID, four speakers, a 2TB storage model and the option of nano-textured glare glass. It’s this last item that should have made the distinction between the Pro’s and the Air’s screen.

Instead of charging extra for the nano-textured glass – it costs an extra $100 – it should have been standard on the Pro and the iPad Air, given the 120Hz ProMotion screen. This would give the iPad Air a reason to exist and convince people to spend more on it than on the much cheaper 10th generation iPad. The slight difference I saw between the smoothness of the M1 iPad Air and the M2 iPad Air (which isn’t determined by the screen hardware) isn’t enough to warrant any kind of upgrade.

I see enough difference between the 60Hz and 120Hz refresh rates that I want the better screen on my iPad, but since I don’t need the Pro’s M4 processor (I’m not sure anyone does) and other spec updates, it’s very frustrating that I’m forced to pay for the Pro to get it. I’m very pleased with the M2 iPad Air so far, but every time I look at it I’m reminded that it doesn’t have the only feature I really want. And to get it, I would have to pay at least another $400. That, in my opinion, is poor product planning and not a good way to encourage sales of new iPads or, more importantly, iPad upgrades.

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