Uncover why the iPad Air 4 is the right combination of price and performance, making it a solid prosumer mobile video editing workstation.
Announced and released in the Fall of 2020, the iPad Air 4th Gen debuted with Apple’s most powerful mobile processor, dwarfing the latest iPad Pro models in some benchmarks.
Using Apple’s latest A14 Bionic chip, the new iPad Air is capable of smooth editing within LumaFusion. For those unfamiliar with the $30 iOS-only app, LumaFusion is a completely capable video editing software that, undoubtedly, provides the best video editing experience on Apple’s mobile devices. Though lacking some features compared to computer-only non-linear editors (NLEs), LumaFusion is fully-featured, capable of producing high-quality videos for YouTube and other platforms.
The iPad Air 4 borrows heavily from the flat edge design of the iPad Pro. Image via Framesira.
Together, the iPad Air and LumaFusion form a perfect pairing, allowing creators to cut, edit, color correct, and more—at home or anywhere else. Though not cheap, the iPad Air’s $600 price point for the base model is far more affordable than Apple’s most competitive laptop. With the ability to export project files to Final Cut Pro, users can begin an edit on LumaFusion and export it to their editing rig to finish on Final Cut Pro.
Newcomers looking for a powerful, yet affordable, video editing machine should also look into the iPad Air, which (in my experience) outpaces my PC when it comes to editing video. LumaFusion has a lot of great features packed into an easy-to-navigate app, but it’s worth looking under the proverbial hood of the iPad Air.
Apple’s Latest Mobile Chip: The A14 Bionic
While the A14 Bionic is found on all the latest iPhone 12 models, no other iPad except the iPad Air 4 has it, which arguably makes it the most advanced tablet in Apple’s lineup.
The A14 Bionic, which Apple designed, isn’t just a processor. It’s a System on a Chip (SoC), which, apart from the CPU cores, also includes the GPU and Neural Engine cores for AI. The A14 has a 6-core 3.0GHz CPU, using two Firestorm and four Icestorm cores for high performance and energy efficiency, respectively. There’s also a 4-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine onboard the A14. Apple claims that the iPad Air 4 CPU is 40% faster than its predecessor and has 30% faster graphics. According to Apple, the new iPad Air is two times faster at machine learning thanks to the onboard Neural Engine cores. The A14 also has new machine learning accelerators in the CPU that improve machine learning calculation speeds by a factor of ten.
For those who just skimmed the entirety of the last paragraph, I’ll put it simply: this thing is a beast, and it has the benchmarks to prove it.
This Geekbench benchmark lists the performance of all of Apple’s mobile devices with three different categories: Single-Core, Multi-Core, and Metal. Without getting too technical, I’ll explain what these three categories mean. The single and multi-core benchmarks are CPU tests, which put the processor through various programs to gauge their effectiveness. Though it makes sense that using the most cores in the processor will lead to the best performance, not all apps use all cores, and some apps use a single core. Higher single-core scores mean that apps that use a single core will perform better, and apps that use multiple cores will fare better with a higher multi-core score. Finally, the Metal category is a compute benchmark that runs the GPU through its paces, with higher Metal scores relating to better performance in apps that rely heavily on the GPU.
When comparing Apples to Apples—meaning to compare Apple devices—the iPad Air is the shiniest Apple of the bunch. In the Single-Core category, the iPad Air has an average score of 1,585. I downloaded and ran Geekbench 5, and I got a Single-Core score of 1,586, so it’s accurate. With that score, the iPad Air leaves the latest iPad Pro 4, sporting the A12Z, in the dust with a score of just 1121.
The iPad Air 4 is fifth on this list, trailing behind the iPhone 12 models, all of which use the A14. You’ll notice the difference in points between all five devices is in the single digits. The latest iPad Pro models are further down the list.
However, in the Multi-Core category things get a bit more complicated. The A12X on the iPad Pro 3rd Gen and the A12Z on the iPad Pro 4th Gen fare much better in Multi-Core workloads, with scores of 4,781 and 4,652, respectively. In comparison, the A14 comes in lower with a score of 4,209.
There’s a considerable difference between the iPad Pro 3 at the top of the list and the iPad Air 4, which sits respectably in fifth place.
In the Metal category, which evaluates GPU performance by running through various graphical workloads, the iPad Air once again tops out the competition with an average score of 12,498—I got a score of 12,400 in my testing. The iPad Pro 4th Gen, in comparison, had a score of 11,851.
The iPad Air 4 is the best device for GPU-heavy workloads, making it a perfect device for video editing.
With the new iPad Pros soon to be announced in the coming months, the iPad Air’s reign is not long for the world. But, its price point will likely remain in that sweet spot for most consumers looking for a portable video editing machine. The A-series chips on the latest iPad Pros do leverage Multi-Core workloads better, but the increase in performance may not justify the price for many, including myself.
Truthfully, the iPad Air 4’s A14 chip can handle 4K footage flawlessly, so when considering the price difference, it just doesn’t make sense to upgrade unless you want the Pro’s better screen refresh rate and more cameras. With a higher Metal score, the iPad Air is also better at handling GPU workloads, making it a better option for editing on LumaFusion and other video or image editing apps.
The most shocking thing about this device, though, isn’t the CPU or GPU power. It’s that it can edit up to 4K video files with just 4GBs of system memory, or RAM. To put that into perspective, Adobe recommends at least 32GBs of RAM for editing 4K video files on Premiere Pro. Through a combination of the A14’s power and LumaFusion’s optimization for iOS devices, the iPad Air 4 effortlessly scrubs through 4K footage, creating the illusion of editing on a computer two or three times the price.
The iPad Air 4’s increased performance comes at the cost of battery life. Image via solar22.
I may be coming off as a huge Apple fanboy. And, while I have really enjoyed my time with the iPad Air 4, there’s trouble in paradise, with my biggest gripe being the lackluster battery life. The battery issue may be exacerbated by editing video since it uses a lot of resources, but I’ve often found myself charging it more than once per day. Online, many users report excessively high battery drain while in standby mode, which I can attest to. It seems that when the device is in standby mode—when the screen is off but the device is still powered—the battery drains by several percentage points per hour. This could be caused by certain apps running in the background, and it’s a problem I’ve had before on other devices. Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth may fix the problem by preventing apps from running in the background, but you’ll miss out on automatic updates, notifications, and instant connectivity when using it again.
Though Apple claims the 28.6-watt/hour battery has up to ten hours of battery life when watching video or surfing the web, that time is dramatically reduced when editing video. Thankfully, Apple included a 20W fast-charging power brick that fully charges the device in a few hours.
But, if you aren’t near an electrical outlet, there’s one alternative. For extended usage, I attached a power bank to the iPad Air when editing video and was able to get a few more hours of use. When you’re in the middle of an edit, having a power bank nearby could be a lifesaver. This Anker PowerCore 13000mAh portable charger has enough juice for a full charge and then some.
The Storage Dilemma
The iPad Air 4 has two models—the $600 64GB version and the $750 256GB version. At that point, you may as well get the $800 11-inch iPad Pro, which is only $50 more than the 256GB iPad Air 4. A 128GB base model iPad Air 4 would’ve been better, but it would’ve increased the cost.
Using an external SSD to get around the storage issue sounds like a good idea, but it’s not. When adding any part of a clip to the timeline, LumaFusion downloads the entire clip to the device’s internal storage, defeating the purpose of an external storage drive. An external SSD is still useful for archiving older projects and storing large files, but editing off an SSD would’ve been such an amazing feature.
It’s possible to edit from an external device without importing media, but LumaFusion is only compatible with two such devices: the Gnarbox 2.0, which starts at $500 for the 256GB model, and WD’s My Passport Wireless SSD, which starts at $140 for 250GB model. Both models are too expensive for the amount of storage they provide, with the former costing almost as much as the iPad Air 4 itself.
Unfortunately, if you’re going to use the iPad Air for serious video editing, it seems the 256GB model is not only the best choice, but the only choice.
LumaFusion: The iPad Air’s Killer App, with the Help of Accessories
I’ve written about how much I love LumaFusion, and you should read that article if you want a more in-depth look. If you’re familiar with other NLEs, you’ll get the hang of LumaFusion in no time, but newcomers should be able to learn the ropes fairly quickly. LumaFusion’s reference guide is a handy resource that I usually keep open in the background.
As I’ve talked about before, I enjoy LumaFusion’s slimmed-down interface, trimming the fat to make the editing experience faster and more intuitive. From cutting the video together to adding titles and effects to color correcting the footage, LumaFusion brings all those tools together in a way that never feels overwhelming. Long-time video editors may find the app lacking, as it does not have many of the advanced features found in full-fledged NLEs, but newcomers will find it easy to work with.
Shortcut for Faster Edits
While LumaFusion is made to fully work with touch controls, using a keyboard and mouse, or trackpad, makes the whole experience smoother and much faster. For things like moving the timeline and dragging clips, I think the touch controls are better, but the keyboard opens up the litany of shortcuts available on the app, and the trackpad adds a precision that those with clumsy fingers will appreciate.
Pro tip: holding the Command key brings up shortcut guide. In my experience, I went ahead and purchased the official third-party keyboard case made by Logitech.
With a tenkeyless design and a decent trackpad, this keyboard case combo is great for the price. The case has a bit of heft, however. Image via Apple.
The Logitech Folio Touch Keyboard Case is excellent, with decent key travel, backlit keys, a big trackpad, and an adjustable kickstand. Logitech’s keyboard is a full $140 less than Apple’s Magic Keyboard which, at $300, is a bit too rich for me—that’s half the price of the base iPad 4. So far, I’ve enjoyed my time with the keyboard, but the trackpad has dead spots in the top corners that sometimes don’t register clicks. It’s not a fatal flaw by any means, but it’s annoying having to find the right spot to click every time. Luckily, Logitech’s Bluetooth Pebble i345 mouse for the iPad fixes this issue. The $30 mouse is small, quiet, pairs quickly, and feels better for editing than a trackpad.
Having a mouse and keyboard isn’t a must to use the app, but I highly recommend it, as it closely resembles the act of editing on a desktop. The extra accessories will add to the overall price of the device, but it’ll make editing a whole lot easier. So, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it for you. If the keyboard and mouse seem like too much of an expense, or you prefer the touch controls, it may be a good idea to look into using a stylus.
Edit in Style-us
Using a stylus to edit provides higher accuracy than using your fingers. The $129 Apple Pencil 2 is a good option, albeit one whose price is higher than its competitors due to neat features that are unnecessary. For editing video on LumaFusion, Logitech’s $70 Crayon is a good option with a fun look. However, I prefer the $70 ZAGG Pro Stylus, which has dual tips and attaches to the device magnetically. But, unlike the Apple Pencil 2, it doesn’t charge when attached.
The iPad Air 4: A Mobile 4K Video Editing Powerhouse
Although the iPad Air 4 doesn’t have amazing battery life or a base model with higher storage, it excels at editing video on LumaFusion. The A14 chip, with its 6-core CPU and 4-core GPU, effectively delivers on performance, able to smoothly edit 4K video files instantly. With just 4GBs of RAM, the iPad Air 4 does what my PC (which has 32GBs of RAM) cannot—quickly load the timeline and edit seamlessly.
I can’t emphasize enough how much better my experience has been on LumaFusion, and how much I prefer editing on my iPad Air 4 than on my PC. Knowing what I know now, I would’ve bought the 256GB model, but there’s no denying how enticing the $600 price tag of the base model is, especially as an entry-level prosumer video editing device.
As the middle child, the iPad Air series has always been stuck between the low-priced and massively popular iPad line and the expensive, professional iPad Pro line. More so than any other iPad Air before it, the iPad Air 4 is the perfect balance of price and performance, recycling the iPad Pro’s flat edge design while upgrading the internals to Apple’s newest, shiniest silicon.
The yet-to-be-announced iPad Pro will undoubtedly regain the throne in regards to performance, but the iPad Air 4 is giving it a run for its money at a fraction of the cost. Apple’s market dominance in the tablet space is so absolute that it’s had to pit its own devices against each other, putting better and faster devices in the hands of consumers year after year. This year, the best portable video editing device for the money is the iPad Air 4.
Cover image via Apple.
For additional video editing tips and advice, check out these articles:
The 5 Essential Phases of Video EditingThe 7 Best Smartphone Video Editing Apps in 2020Things to Consider Before Building a Video Editing ComputerFilmmaking Roundup: The Best Free Video Editing ProgramsThe 10 Best YouTube Channels for Photographers in 2021
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