The new MacBook Air provides a better keyboard and more storage than its predecessor, while the latest iPad Pro adds a LIDAR scanner and trackpad support.
In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Apple gave us a break from all the bad news to offer a bit of possible cheer for consumers. The company has updated its MacBook Air and iPad Pro with new features designed to appeal to a range of customers, both personally and professionally. But whether or not you already own a MacBook Air or iPad Pro, are the 2020 flavors worth buying to take advantage of the latest features? Let's take a look.
SEE: Mobile device security policy (TechRepublic Premium)
2020 MacBook Air
Apple has tweaked the MacBook Air with a lower starting price, more storage, quicker performance, and faster graphics from the 2019 model. Now starting at $999, or $899 for educational users, the Air comes with 256GB of storage (upgradeable to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB), the latest 10th-generation Intel Core processors, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics. The new Air also kicks in support for connecting to 6K external monitors, better stereo speakers, and a three-microphone array for improved voice capture.
On the downside, the webcam is still stuck at 720p, which seems outdated these days, especially with more people working from home and increasingly dependent on web conferencing and virtual meetings. Plus, the wireless technology remains at Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac Wi-Fi), instead of the newer Wi-Fi 6, which did make it to the 2020 iPad Pro.
A cheaper price and faster performance are always welcome. But the main reason you'd want to buy or upgrade to the latest Air is the new scissor-based Magic Keyboard. Older MacBook Airs were saddled with a butterfly keyboard, much maligned due to its poor responsiveness, sensitivity to dust, and typing-unfriendly construction.
The new Magic Keyboard, which Apple added to the 16-inch 2019 MacBook Pro, corrects many of the flaws of the butterfly flavor. How far the keys travel can make a huge difference in how they feel and react as you press them. The key travel distance on the Magic Keyboard is 1 millimeter. That may not sound like a lot, but it's double the distance on the butterfly keyboard. With its superior design, the new keyboard should help you avoid the missed keystrokes, sticky keys, and other issues that plagued the butterfly version.
I own a 2019 MacBook Air. As someone who types a lot, I truly dislike the butterfly keyboard. And the 2019 butterfly keyboard is actually an improvement over the ones in older generation Airs. If you type a lot as well and have been frustrated with the keyboard on your MacBook Air, that alone is reason to upgrade to the new model.
The downside, for now, is that you may not be able to try the new MacBook Air and keyboard as Apple has temporarily closed all its retail stores outside greater China in the wake of the coronavirus. Best Buy and other retailers still maintaining store hours will likely have models you can check. I always prefer to try a laptop before buying, so I'll likely wait until I can test one of them in a store.
2020 iPad Pro
The last iPad Pro upgrade occurred in 2018. For 2020, Apple improved its Pro tablet with a faster performance, better camera and microphone options, enhanced Wi-Fi, trackpad support, and an optional Magic Keyboard cover.
The 2020 iPad Pro is outfitted with an 8-core A12Z Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture and a Neural Engine, which Apple touts as delivering the highest performance ever in an iPad. The new tablet adds a 10-megapixel Ultra Wide camera in back for a dual-camera setup. You can now record 4K video, which may be of interest if you shoot professional videos for your organization. Audio has also been improved with four audio speakers and five studio-quality microphones.
On the wireless front, the new iPad Pro delivers Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, which is starting to gain more traction in routers and other networking devices. The cellular variant of the new tablet still uses 4G LTE for connectivity rather than 5G.
One intriguing feature in the 2020 iPad Pro is the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scanner. LiDAR more accurately measures the distance to nearby objects and is seen as a boon to augmented reality (AR) apps and tools. If you develop or work with AR apps at your organization, the LiDAR scanner alone may be worth the price of the new tablet. Otherwise, this isn't a must-have feature for the average business user, at least not yet.
Another interesting new option is trackpad support. With the release of iPadOS 13.4, you'll be able to use an external Bluetooth or USB trackpad with any recent iPad--not just the new Pro. Apple said that it reimagined trackpad support for the iPad rather than just copying the experience from macOS. The trackpad will also allow multi-touch gestures for specific features and controls.
Don't have an external trackpad? You can gain a trackpad and more with the new Magic Keyboard cover for the iPad Pro. Beyond adding a trackpad, the new cover offers a backlit keyboard, a USB-C port, and a smoother angle adjustment to better tilt your tablet for viewing. Selling at $299 for the 11-inch, or $349 for the 12.9-inch variant, the Magic Keyboard will available for purchase starting in May.
The 2020 iPad Pro starts at $999 for the 11-inch model and $1,299 for the 12.9-inch version. Is the new iPad Pro worth the investment? That depends. If you're looking to grab an iPad for the first time and want the cream of the crop, this model is a good place to dive in. I own an 2018 iPad Pro and have been very happy with it. If you already own an iPad, especially an iPad Pro, and don't need the enhanced camera or LiDAR setup, you can wait until the next model arrives. But given Apple's recent iPad upgrade history, that likely won't happen until late 2021.
The 2020 MacBook Air and iPad Pro are both now up for sale at Apple's online store. You should also be able to find them at Best Buy, Staples, Amazon, and other retailers.
- Wi-Fi 6: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (TechRepublic download)
- VPN usage policy (TechRepublic Premium)
- The 10 best smartphones you can buy right now (ZDNet)
- Best wireless car chargers and mounts of 2020 (CNET)
- The 10 most important iPhone apps of all time (Download.com)
- Smartphones and mobile tech: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)