However, the iPad Air's screen is missing one key feature that the 10.5-inch iPad Pro had: Apple's ProMotion technology. That enables dynamically adjusting refresh rates up to 120Hz, double the 60Hz found on most other screens. It's a great feature, but using an iPad without it isn't a huge downgrade -- it's a corner Apple cut to differentiate the Air from the Pro and to save money, and it's a trade-off that was worth it.
Apple cut a few other corners on the iPad Air to keep its price down. The Air only has two speakers positioned at the bottom, down near the home button. Every iPad Pro model (including the 10.5-inch model this tablet is based on) has four speakers instead, two on each side. While the speakers sound fine, this means that there's no stereo separation when watching a video. The four-speaker iPad Pro setup provides much more immersive audio, so stepping back in this way is a disappointment. It's a bummer, but it's another trade-off to make the Air more affordable.
But if we're being honest, no one is watching movies on an iPad and expecting cinema-quality audio. Chances are good that most people watching videos longer than a few minutes are popping in headphones (yes, there's a headphone jack here!), which completely mitigates this issue.
Apple also downgraded the back camera, but let's be clear: It's not a big deal. The eight-megapixel shooter takes decent photos, but it's likely that the phone in your pocket does a better job. So please, do that instead. The iPad's camera does the trick for document scanning and augmented reality, and if you really need to take a picture it'll get the job done if the lighting is good. This concession that Apple made to keep costs down is totally worth it in my mind. There's even a benefit: no camera bump on the back!
The seven-megapixel, front-facing camera is a big step up over the one on the basic iPad too. That iPad only has a 1.2-megapixel camera up front, far too low for a quality selfie these days. More practically, this camera can do 1080p video calls, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good things looked when doing a few Google Hangouts with my co-workers. Of course, it doesn't support Face ID, portrait mode or Animoji; those are all reserved for the iPad Pro or one of Apple's newer iPhones. But again, as a tablet camera, this does the job.
Enough about what Apple changed to meet that $499 price point. Let's talk more about the good stuff. As I said, Apple nailed the screen here, and it also didn't skimp on processing power. The iPad Air features Apple's A12 Bionic chip, the same processor powering the latest iPhones (though it's a step behind the A12X found in the iPad Pro). While the A10 found in the entry-level iPad is no slouch, having the latest processor means the Air is much less susceptible to inevitable slowdowns as it ages. Most people aren't going to push this new iPad to its limits anytime soon, but the extra headroom should hopefully keep the Air feeling snappy for years to come.
Thankfully, Apple also didn't skimp on storage: The base model comes with 64GB of storage, double what you get in the entry-level iPad. (For the record, the model Apple provided us has 256GB of storage and LTE connectivity, which bumps the price to $779.) Between the extra storage capacity and better display, it's easy to see exactly where the extra $170 goes if you buy an Air instead of the basic iPad.