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Wednesday November 6, 2013 10:05 pm

iPad Air review

iPad Air review

Thinner. Lighter. Anyone familiar with Apple keynote events knows that these two words mean a lot to the company. In essence, Apple aims to reduce the bulks of its products, stripping away any unnecessary heft while simultaneously packing in as much power as possible. It's quite a task, really. The company has backed itself into a corner where it's now expected that anything that's a newer version of a previous thing will be smaller, thinner, and lighter.

Back in 2008, Apple did this with the jaw-dropping MacBook Air. Fully a Mac, but so thin you could slid it into a manila envelope. It was hard to believe that a Mac that thin, with a full-sized keyboard and display, was possible when PC makers were all focusing on grossly underpowered netbooks with cramped keyboards.

Now, Apple has done the same with its tablet lineup. Three-and-a-half years after releasing the original and iconic iPad, Apple has now made it almost impossibly thinner and lighter with the iPad Air. Sporting a new, slim design that borrows heavily from that of the iPad mini, the iPad Air bezel has been reduced by over 40%. Thickness has been reduced as well--20% thinner than the iPad 4 at 7.5mm. Perhaps most importantly, the iPad Air sheds almost half a pound of weight when compared against the two iPads that preceded it, all while maintaining the same impressive 9.7-inch Retina display.

So, the question now is, is the new iPad Air worth your time, attention, and hard-earned cash? Read on for our full iPad Air review as we explore Apple's latest flagship tablet.


In the box:

  • iPad Air
  • Lightning Cable
  • AC Adapter
  • Quick Start Guide

Typically, when reviewing a product, the initial impression is just that--a first thought on the device prior to putting it to use, even before turning it on. With the iPad Air, though, that first impression is very telling. In fact, by name alone, it's possibly the biggest part of the story. You see, when you open up the iPad Air and lift it out of the box for the first time, it's striking if you've ever held any of the previous models. For me, those same words popped right into my head.

Thinner. Lighter.

It's like a larger iPad mini. In fact, it's a larger iPad mini with Retina display, being that the upcoming Retina iPad mini packs in the exact same innards as the iPad Air. In other words, they're the same device, save for different screen sizes and a $100 price difference as well. That's a good thing, as the design of the iPad mini looks and feels better than the previous full-sized iPad design language.

For the past year or so, I've relied on the iPad mini as my main tablet of choice. The convenience of portability along with the unmatched App Store ecosystem was a wonderful combination. When Apple announced the iPad Air, I'd already expected that it would look like a larger version of the mini. What I wasn't sure about was just what it would mean to go from 1.4 pounds down to 1 pound. Well, the fact is, it's pretty meaningful, but not in all scenarios. Let me explain.

Holding the iPad Air for the first time is eye-opening. If you have a previous-generation iPad 4 and compare how the two feel side-by-side, the difference is even more apparent. In fact, it's not long before you hold the device in your hands and marvel at how Apple was able to do it. You have a 9.7-inch Retina display, a ridiculously fast processor in the A7 chip, the M7 coprocessor on board, and a battery that keeps the tablet running well past its 10-hour best-in-class rating.

I found the iPad Air to be comfortable in just about every use case that I tested it in. Walking, sitting on an airplane, sitting on the couch, propped up on my desk. It all worked great. However, the one place that I thought the slate was still a bit uncomfortable was when laying in bed. I'd use my iPad mini nightly while reading through and answering emails, catching up on RSS, and browsing through Reddit with Alien Blue, all without really noticing that I had a tablet in my hands. Doing the same activity with the iPad Air did result in some discomfort. Now, I did do the same with the third-generation iPad with Retina display, and that was an exercise in patience. The iPad Air is certainly much more of a pleasure to use than any other previous full-sized model, but holding it above your head and face while laying in bed isn't where it excels, and the iPad mini (or another similarly-sized tablet) would be the better option for those who wanna use it while dozing off.

Also, interestingly enough, my wife picked it up and the first thing she had to say was "I thought it would be lighter," and she's coming off of a 3rd-generation model.


Let's talk about the power, because there's a lot of it. The Apple A7 processor is more than up to the task of crunching through anything you throw at it, and it's at the heart of the iPad Air. This is the same chip found in the iPhone 5s, but it's up-clocked a bit for faster performance--and it's performance that you can feel. This makes the iPad Air the first 64-bit model, and the first 64-bit tablet based on a mobile operation system, and it's twice as fast as the A6X processor that was found in the previous-generation model. Switching between apps, launching apps, invoking Siri, and all the iOS 7 animations and everything else that's happening onscreen happens quickly and efficiently. It's impressive. There's no other currently-available tablet that matches this behavior in our tests.

We're splitting battery life into its own section because we think it's important enough to cover. Apple has always billed the iPad as a tablet that has 10 hours of battery life. This has remained the same beginning with the original iPad, all the way through the new iPad Air, and even including the iPad mini. We've always found the iPad to always meet that 10-hour rating, typically beating it by a few minutes. However, with the iPad Air, it blew it away. I played Wreck It Ralph repeatedly with Wi-Fi enabled, Verizon LTE connected, and both emails and notifications flowing in, and the iPad Air lasted a whopping 12 hours and 4 minutes. Put another way, you won't find another tablet that lasts as long on a single charge as the iPad Air, regardless of size.


iPad Air in box

With the fifth iteration of the 9.7-inch iPad, Apple needed to offer something different. The first iPad was, well, the first. The iPad 2 brought a refined svelteness to the platform (and remains available for purchase from Apple for $399.) The New iPad (3rd generation) was the first to introduce a Retina display on Apple's tablet. However, the iPad 4 didn't bring much change from the 3rd generation model. It had the same form factor, would get warm to the touch, and was generally more bulky than the iPad 2. We're happy to see that Apple rethought the iPad, renaming it iPad Air because of the stark difference in size and weight.

One thing about the iPad Air that isn't lighter is the price--it still starts at the familiar $499 for a 16GB Wi-Fi model, which doubles in storage space up to 128GB in $100 increments. The Wi-Fi + LTE models begin at $629 for 16GB and follow the same pattern.

Apple CEO Tim Cook went on record during the last earnings call, saying he thought it would "be an iPad Christmas" what with the Air and the new Retina mini, and Apple really outdid themselves with the redesign of its full-sized tablet. We think there'll be plenty of people who find the iPad Air under the tree this holiday season, and they'll be absolutely amazed and astounded by the amount of power that the new, more compact slate packs.

You can pick up the iPad Air from Apple for $499, or you may be able to buy it tax-free from MacMall.

Thinner. Lighter. Indeed.

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