Apple created an all new wave of tablets in March of 2010 with the release of the first iPad. Five generations later, the device maintains many of the same attributes, while Apple continues to try to optimize the experience. The iPad Air is really the epitome of the optimizations delivering a thinner, lighter, and faster version of the iPad many have come to know. The iPad Air comes with the obvious sale sheet that it’s 28% lighter, 20% thinner, and 24% less volume which results in an iPad that is 1 pound, 7.5mm thick, and 16mm less width. On the inside, there’s the new 64-bit A7 chip, the same found in the iPhone 5S, and the rest is essentially the same as the last two models. There’s the 9.7” 2048 x 1536 retina display, 5 megapixel/1080P rear camera, and 1.2MP/720P front facing camera. The differences are clearly stated, but the question is if that’s enough to upgrade your existing iPad, or pick one up for the first time.
The iPad Air is all about design, and right off the top it lives up the “Air” monicker. Reading that the iPad Air weighs one pound, and is 0.4 pounds lighter than the previous generation is one thing, picking up the device is a whole other feeling. If you’re even remotely familiar with the iPad 3/4, the difference is instantly identifiable, and extremely significant. It feels like a completely different device in your hand, and it’s especially surprising if your muscle memory is used to picking up any older iPad. Not only is the device lighter, but it takes up less space with the side bezels shaved down, and the front to back thickness sliced off. There’s simply less to hold in every regard, and there’s also a new curvature to the back panel to better fit in your hands in either orientation.
Everything you do with the iPad comes down to holding it, so the feel in your hand is the most important aspect. The iPad Air is a completely new device to hold that you can’t help noticing each time you pick it up. There’s just not much to the iPad Air allowing you to do more with it in different scenarios. The previous iPad’s weight was a distracting aspect that limited how long you could hold the device without noticing the significant heft. You can get much more use out of the iPad Air just sitting around the house holding the device with one hand, or resting it on your lap. Portability has increased, so that it’s easy to just add an iPad Air to your backpack, or other type of carrying case, and not notice the additional weight. The iPad Air can go more places and be used more, and that emphasizes the worthwhile changes Apple has provided.
At times it seems like you’re just holding an interactive touch screen with the smaller surroundings. Also, the 9.7” screen seems even bigger with the smaller border, and the content on screen just seems to float at times. In fact, the 9.7” screen offers such an immersive viewing experience for any content you’re looking at, and that has been taken up several notches with less in your hands, and around the screen. Whether you’re reading the news, watching videos, playing games, editing photos, making homemade videos, or using social networks the thinner and lighter design is always presents, and worth appreciating. I’ve used the device extensively over the weekend, and each time I pick it up, I can’t help a slight grin from appearing based on what a difference this device is in my hand. Apple usually likes to say that you have to really hold their devices in your hands to get an idea of how they work, and that couldn’t be more true than with the iPad Air. The second you pick it up, you can’t go back to a heavier iPad, and you won’t believe what a smaller device it is while maintaining the same beautiful screen.
Not only is the iPad thinner and lighter, but it’s also faster, and not just a little bit. Apple claims the iPad Air is two times faster than the already speedy iPad 4, and while I didn’t have a direct unit to compare, the speed of the iPad Air is also effortless to spot. The most obvious distinctions are launching and closing apps, while using multi-touch gestures. Apps open, and close instantaneously, and switching apps through multi-tasking is just as quick with the apps ready to go as soon as they appear on screen. Even the high end games that are 2GB with no optimizations for the latest chip, cut load times considerably, and all other tasks are easier than that. iMovie is another stand-out, allowing you to scrub through video at high speeds without any hesitations in any of the three windows where videos are displayed.
There are also speed optimizations to Safari drawn from the new A7 chip as well as the new multiple-input multiple-output technology. iPad web browsing has always been relatively quick, but now you can click on a link on a website, and have it ready to read right away. You can then swipe from the left side of the screen to go back to the previous page, and it’s as silky smooth as though you’re reading a book, and not loading web pages. The same ideas are present in news, productivity, and social apps with even live video streaming apps seeing quicker connections. The iPad Air makes every iPad task you could think of as quick as possible to the point that you’re never really waiting to do what you want.
When Apple first revealed iOS 7 in June, it didn’t seem made for the iPad, but that definitely isn’t the case in November on the iPad Air. Since iOS 7 is designed with the 64bit architecture of the A7 chip in mind, everything just runs so smoothly, tying into the speed section above. Swiping left to go back through menus, changing options in Control Center, or activating Notification Center couldn’t be smoother. iOS 7 really does fit on the iPad Air with a great focus on clarity on that big bright 9.7” retina display. For the first time, software has another component for the iPad Air, and that’s the inclusion of Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, and iPhoto for free with the purchase of the new device. All five apps are optimized for 64-bit, the iPad, and iOS 7, giving you speedy versions of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, moving making, and photo editing for free. There is also the iCloud, which isn’t specific to the iPad Air, but makes using these five apps, and a whole lot more a lot more pleasant to use with files in sync from your other Apple devices.
With the good parts of iOS 7, there are still the obvious Apple imposed limitations with no iPad specific features. You can’t run Apple’s stock apps side by side, or have quick actions to notifications.
The battery life is worth noting in a separate section, because Apple claims that the thinner, lighter, and faster device maintains the same great 10 hour battery life for normal usage. Some companies overstate battery life, but Apple may actually be understating if our experience is any indication. The iPad Air was fully charged on Friday when I purchased it, and I used it extensively throughout the weekend running iMovie, Asphalt 8, Anomaly 2, installing apps, reading news, watching videos, using Safari, and just operating the device, and the app didn’t get to the 20% warning until Sunday night. I don’t have professional battery testing, but even with extensive usage the device lasted way longer than ten hours of usage.
Beyond the battery life, it’s disappointing that the cameras remained the same, and no Touch ID fingerprint sensor was included. Both are neat extras, and not all that practical, but they still would have been nice to see. Also, the only way to stand the iPad on a desk is to use your hand, get Apple’s Smart case, or buy a third party case. Another minor drawback is that it seems the iPad Air is even more of a fingerprint magnet than previous generations, but that just may be my imagination. The device does run hot on the right side of the screen when running graphically intensive games, or exporting iMovie projects.
Versus the retina iPad mini:
Both devices are identical outside of screen size, and price. The $100 premium for the iPad Air is definitely worth it, unless you need a pocketable, or purse-able iPad. The 9.7” vs 7.9” screen isn’t just 1.8” different, but instead the 9.7” screen offers 50% more screen real estate which videos, games, news, web, photos, multi-touch gestures, interactive books, and more all benefit from. The iPad mini does have its appeal depending on the user’s preference, but in terms of practicality, and value, there’s no better iPad than the Air.
The iPad Air ($499 & Up) changes the usability of the iPad to make it useful for longer periods of time, and in more scenarios. It’s a whole new experience for every single thing an iPad is capable of making it effortless to carry, hold, and interact with. This is Apple’s most future proof iPad to date as it will be tougher to make the device any thinner and lighter, it’s all running 64-bit architecture, and the only foreseeable additions aren’t that practical.
The iPad Air is Apple’s biggest change to the iPad line to date, that is worthy of being the iPad 5, as it easily earns a five star score.