It has arrived, Apple's fifth-generation iPad Air has not only been given a new light-sounding name but also an agile redesign that replaces the original bulky picture frame-like bezel design we are all familiar with ever since the inception of the first iPad, and those palm-digging tapered edges for a more utilitarian design. It weighs a single pound (0.45kg) and is 20% slimmer than its predecessor, comes in the new Space Gray color replacing the darker slate black supposedly due to enhanced exterior finish durability, and it's the best and most powerful 9.7-inch iPad the fruity company has ever made. But is that really a surprise? By now you must know everything there is to know about the iPad Air including Apple's refreshing new iOS 7 mobile operating system. So here's our Lightning Review of the $499 16GB iPad Air model in Space Gray.
The new iPad Air features the same 9.7-inch IPS Retina Display as before, but comes with a few other new internal hardware improvements like a 64-bit dual-core A7 processor clocked at 1.4GHz with 1GB of RAM, an M7 motion co-processor and Open GL ES version 3.0 support for enhanced graphics making the iPad Air twice as fast as its predecessor, advanced MIMO WiFi technology enabling faster data rates nearly doubling the WiFi performance, and an improved rear facing 5-megapixel camera with better low-light performance plus a new dual-microphone array. Disappointingly, Touch ID remains to be an iPhone 5s exclusive for now.
Pricing and storage capacities have remained unchanged, and the iPad Air is available in 16GB, 32GB 64GB and 128GB model configurations for $499, $599, $699 and $799, respectively. WIFI + LTE iPad Air models start at $629, which is $129 more than any WiFi-only iPad Air model.
In order to level the playing field, Apple is competing with Microsoft's Surface 2 tablet offering which comes with Office 2013 app suite by offering its own series of productivity apps with every iPad. When you fire up your iPad Air for the first time and open up the App Store, you'll be automatically greeted with a page listing all of Apple's productivity apps which you'll be able to pick and download for free including apps like Pages, Numbers, Keynote, GarageBand, iMovie and iPhoto.
Picking up an iPad Air is like choosing the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro over the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, albeit with an equal set of internal specs. Do you favor the comfort of a large beautiful display that’s most legible, or do you feel like the portable form factor of a smaller sized iPad mini display better suits your needs as it can literally fit into your pants pocket - that is if you’re wearing cargo shorts. For some, the mini will be too small while the iPad Air will feel a lot like using a 27-inch iMac except one that fits into a solid slim slab of aluminum and glass which you can easily hold in your hands. Do you really need an iPad Air when you can essentially get the same exact thing in a smaller package for less? Not at all. But you know you want one and you wouldn’t be disappointed in the slightest if you do pick one up.
Web pages in Safari load and render in lightning speed, including the ones with rich content of course. Scrolling though iOS 7 using multi-touch gestures and opening up apps couldn’t have been any more silky smooth. It’s a really fast-paced and fulfilling experience, and one that is expected out of such a powerful full-sized tablet. Generally the iPad Air runs like melting butter sliding down a luge track leaving behind a trail of burning fire. As Steve Jobs used to say - “it’s a screamer”. I also noticed that the iPad Air would load the iTunes Store and a handful of other stock iOS 7 apps quicker than the iPhone 5s which is a testament to its powerful hardware backing up that gorgeous, 9.7-inch Retina display which requires a. And in fact the iPad Air is the fastest iOS 7 device in existence, well that is it right up until the Retina iPad mini is released which as we mentioned earlier will mirror the iPad Air’s firepower. And then there's that awe-inspiring battery life. You'll get the same 10 long hours of battery usage out of the iPad Air as before.
That 64-bit A7 processor flies through graphic intensive games like Real Racing 3, which looks stunning nearing console quality in both graphics and in pure gaming experience. And when you're holding the iPad Air horizontally, its thicker top and bottom bezels become a comfortable-to-hold controller grips and offer plenty of room to grab hold of the device when playing landscape-oriented games. Now that the side bezels are narrower, you can also type on the vertical keyboard using both of your thumbs without having to reach more than your natural typing orientation as if you were using a large smartphone or the iPad mini.
Even though specs aren't always competitive with Android tablets, the iPad Air scores handsomely under Geekbench with a multi-core score of 2694 points, just shy over the iPhone 5s' multi-core score of 2563 points. Most importantly however, thanks to iOS 7 the iPad Air beats some of its most powerful tablet rivals in overall real world user experience.
How slim is the iPad Air you ask? Unbelievably thin. It's nearly as thick as a pencil and when you come to hold it, it still feels like a single solid piece of tight tolerances and concrete goodness as far as build quality is concerned. If a concrete slab was really this light. If you're coming from an iPad 2, 3 or 4, then this will be hugely noticeably and a welcome improvement which will make holding it finally enjoyable. But if you're coming from an iPad mini, the iPad Air will feel eerily familiar to you. Probably the most significant and welcome difference between the iPad Air and previous models is that using the iPad Air feels a lot like you're holding more display real estate rather than holding a tablet with a confined touchscreen.
Another significant change made to the iPad Air is that it now features stereo speakers. And instead of a single back-facing speaker, the two speakers on the iPad Air have been positioned at the bottom flanking the Lightning connector. As a result, the sound quality has improved greatly thanks to these two speakers. But the positioning still isn't perfect, and we think Apple should have spent more time focusing on positioning the speakers towards the front of the device rather then placing them off to the side, and one side alone. That being said, you'll still need an external portable wireless speaker or plug in a pair of headphones if you find yourself in a noisy and crowded environment. We've got a number or recommendations on how you can do just that, so check out our Gadget Hub for more iPad-enhancing accessories.
The iPad Air is simply a larger iPad mini with a Retina display. That's all there really is to it. They're even identical when it comes to thickness and of course internal hardware specifications as well as sharing the same exact type of refined quality. You can argue that the iPad mini is more portable, easier to hold and $100 cheaper, which it is. That is why you should ask yourself whether you want a larger 9.7-inch Retina display or a smaller 7.9-inch Retina display. Because everything else is identical.
But what about the iPad mini without the Retina display? In that case, the iPad Air still feels like an enlarged carbon copy of the iPad mini, albeit considerably faster and a lot more powerful.
The iPad Air is the most impressive, best 9.7-inch iPad Apple has ever made. Thousands upon thousands of quality apps built specifically for the iPad Air, check. Incredible aluminum unibody design and slim lightweight form factor for a 9.7-inch tablet, double check. Did we mention that it...just works - as you'd expect? With that said however, it doesn't necessarily make it any better than the cheaper Retina iPad mini. For most people, the smaller iPad mini will be a more compelling option solely because it has the same amazingly clear and sharp Retina display but in a much more manageable package that will be perfect as a general usage tablet you can hold more easily with one hand. And if you're asking which full-sized iPad is better, the iPad Air vs its iPad 4 predecessor, without a doubt the iPad Air is a much more practical tablet as it's noticeably snappier in terms of software performance, lighter and more comfortable to hold which is what you'll be doing most of the time. Although we think $500 for only 16GB of storage leaves a little to be desired, the iPad Air is one of the best performing tablets your money can buy.