Apple's new iPad Air is smaller, lighter, and faster than ever before.
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Over the past 5 years, Apple has become a powerhouse in the mobile market and the introduction of their original iPad revolutionized the tech world to become what it is today. The Cupertino-based company has just released their 5th generation iPad and resulted in their second redesign of the popular device. Since the iPad Air launched just a few days ago (November 1st) the quantities available for sale are limited at this time, but we were lucky enough to snag one from a local Best Buy where they only had a few white/silver models in stock.
The new Air is priced traditionally, starting at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi models and they can range all the way up to $929 for the 128GB LTE model. It is important to note that this review is based on our hands on use of the 16GB Wi-Fi model so we won't be able to test out the Air's LTE performance.
Design & Build Quality
As I stated earlier, this year Apple redesigned the device for the second time which resulted in the larger cosmetic change than the first redesign. Offered in both black/space gray and white/silver color combinations, the new iPad Air is smaller, thinner, and lighter than ever before. According to Apple's website, the tablet weighs in at a single pound which is a significant drop when compared to the 4th generation iPad's hefty 1.46lb weight. Measuring in at 7.5mm thick, the new model is also a great deal thinner than the 9.4mm thickness of the 4th generation iPad model.
From a user standpoint, the change in size is easily noticeable especially when you are used to an older generation iPad. The light, smaller design feels more comfortable in your hands making it easier to hold for extended periods of time. Due to this, the need for an aftermarket case with a built-in stand has decreased dramatically. The screen remains sized at 9.7″, but it no longer has the oversized bevel on the sides of the screen. Instead, new Air sports a smaller, cleaner bezel that reflects that mimics their iPad Mini's design resulting in a look that is far more appealing to the eye.
Some smaller changes include the volume buttons as they are now two separate buttons similar on the newer iPhone models instead of one long conjoined button. The built-in microphone also got a revamp, now offering two microphones which help to capture better sound and suppress the background noise during FaceTime calls and Siri commands. Additionally, the built-in speaker is redesigned to include two separate speakers, one on each side of the lightning port.
The quality of the new Air is on par with any other Apple product so rest-assured, you will not be spending your money on a cheaply made product. The Air feels substantial in your hands, yet light enough to comfortably carry around on a regular basis. The build materials are what you would expect and similar to the previous models so I won't go into anymore detail about them.
Size Comparison: iPad Air vs. iPad 2
Apple not only revamped the exterior of the iPad Air, but they also changed a few of the internals:
|Specification||iPad Air||iPad 4th Gen|
|Display & Resolution||9.7″ LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS (2048 x 1536)||9.7″ LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS (2048 x 1536)|
|Chip||A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor (1.4GHz)||Dual-core A6X with quad-core graphics|
|RAM||1024 MB LPDDR3||1024 MB LPDDR2-1066|
|Wireless Technology||802.11a/b/g/n 2.4GHz and 5GHz and MIMO, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/b/g/n (802.11n 2.4GHz and 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0|
|FaceTime HD Camera||1.2 MP||1.2 MP|
|iSight Camera||5 MP||5 MP|
|Video Capabilities||720P HD (front), 1080P HD (back)||720P HD (front), 1080P HD (back)|
|Battery Capabilities||32.4Wh – 10 hours of active use||42.5Wh – 10 hours of active use|
The most significant improvement with the iPad Air is the upgrade to the 64-bit A7 chip and M7 motion coprocessor. It is the same chip that you'll find in the new iPhone 5S, which is a good thing since the iPhone 5S and iPad Air are both incredibly fast. A useful advantage of buying the new device is that it comes with free access to premium Apple apps like Keynote, Pages, Numbers, iMovie, iPhoto, and Garage band.
However, I was a bit disappointed to see there were a few features that did not get changed or added to the device. Considering the iPad Air's release took place more than a month after the new iPhones, it was a reasonable assumption that the next-gen tablet would harness the same TouchID technology that is found on the iPhone 5S. I would have also liked to have seen a higher megapixel rear camera considering the much older iPhone 5 packs an 8MP iSight camera in comparison to the Air's 5MP camera. In addition, it would have been great to be able to shoot 720P, 120fps video so Air owners could create those epic slo-motion videos that the iPhone 5S does so beautifully.
One of the major disappointments was that the iPad Air did not receive any increase in the amount of RAM. While 1 GB is adequate for today's standards, it has potential to hinder the device when more advanced applications or resource-heavy firmware updates are released a year or two down the road. At the very least, I think Apple should be throwing in a set of their new EarPods with every new iPad as consumers are dishing out their hard-earned cash at a premium price tag and not all consumers own a pair of their signature white headphones that have become synonymous with iOS owners.
Coming from an iPad 2 as my regular daily-use tablet, the increase in performance is very noticeable. Everything from turning the device on, opening apps, playing games, streaming video, and multi-tasking is accomplished significantly faster than I was previously used to. Navigating throughout iOS 7 is as smooth as butter and looks stunning on the advanced 9.7″ Retina display. When surfing the web and utilizing the tablet for advanced tasks such utilizing the backend of this website, the experience feels less like a tablet and more like my Macbook. This is a huge improvement as I had always felt throttled (as if it could never keep up) when trying to carry out advanced tasks on my iPad 2. Since making the transition, I have been able to utilize the tablet for real work-related tasks and it has never felt as smooth sailing as it does with the iPad Air.
Since I have been used to a model which is a few generations old, this performance increase will likely be less noticeable if you have currently own the 3rd or 4th gen iPad so it might not be enough to warrant the upgrade. The battery life has been excellent so far thus making it a great match for those someone who wants to use this tablet while traveling or is expecting to be away from a power source for extended periods of time.
iPad Air vs. iPad 2 Camera Comparison
GeekBench 3 Comparison
Apple's new iPad Air is an all around winner due to its strong performance, competitive features, and beautiful new redesign. While there are a few components that I think could have been upgraded or added, the iPad Air is still a top contender in the 2013 tablet market and will be a tough one to beat. From a consumer standpoint, it is an excellent buy for anyone looking to purchase their first iPad or upgrade from an older iPad 1 or 2. However, those of you who are currently own an 3rd or 4th generation iPad might want to hold off until next year as the increase in technical specs is not all that drastic and likely doesn't warrant the price to upgrade. Overall, we are satisfied with the iPad Air and would recommend it to any prospective consumers.
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