iPad Air Review: Bigger Gets So Much Better
It's hard to imagine that it's been only three years since the original
Why It Matters
The iPad has been the dominant large tablet since its inception. There are competitors, sure. Surfaces, Fires, Tabs, and Nexii have come and gone, but none has been able to unseat the iPad as a go-to 10-inch slab. Which explains, in part, why the iPad made it through four generations largely unchanged. It wasn't broke, so
The iPad's real competition, it turns out, has come from a cadre of smaller tablets-including Apple's own mini. Every member of the 7-inch contingent is smaller, lighter, and more affordable than the iPad. It's that portability and design that the
Up until now, the iPad's greatest
The iPad Air acts as one massive corrective to those three years of stagnation. With sleek, skinny side bezels, and shiny silver chamfers like those we've come to love on the
The sharper-but still rounded-angles on the iPad Air's back feel more deliberate, almost higher
As its name suggests, the iPad Air is light. Very, very light. Almost magically light. At just one pound it is half a pound lighter than previous iPads or the Surface 2, and a third of a pound lighter than the Nexus 10. That's a relatively small difference on paper, but a world of it in real life. Consider this: The iPad Air is closer in weight to an iPad mini than it is the 4th gen iPad.
The iPad Air is also incredibly small, at least for something so big. It's thin. Phone thin, a mere tenth of a millimeter thicker than the iPhone 5S. And with the monster bezel of iPads past trimmed down to the same skinny remainder you'll find on an iPad mini, it manages to be impressively small and impressively big at the same time. That, in and of itself, makes the iPad Air an absolute pleasure to hold, to use, to admire. It's a delightful contradiction that's unobtrusive enough to fade away into the background until you feel like admiring it.
It's absolutely stunning.
But the iPad Air is more than just a pretty face. While its svelte design is an accomplishment in its own right, it also serves to make using the iPad better in just about every conceivable scenario.
You pick up the iPad Air and you think "that's it?" It's not the first time Apple has managed to pull this trick off
Holding the iPad Air for long periods of time-in one hand, if you're into that-is way more practical than it's ever been before. Trying to grasp it landscape with one grubby paw is still going to give you balance issues, duh, but if you want to pinch the bezel and walk around with it like a touchscreen magazine, your wrist will be able to take it.
I found myself strolling around to the kitchen, checking on dinner and coming back to the couch, all without having to put down the Lovecraft anthology I was plowing through on the Kindle app. That's something I do with a Nexus 7 all the time, but on a full-sized iPad it's a whole new kind of luxury, and so natural that you don't even notice you did it until after the fact. When you will notice, however, is if you take a step outside. It's possible to read on the iPad Air's screen in moderate to bright sunlight if your brightness is maxed out, but it's not advisable. It can be hard to concentrate on a description of indescribable horror when it's competing with a reflection of your stupid hair.
Pinching on that tiny bezel is easier than it seems; like the iPad mini before it, the iPad Air (with
What doesn't feel weird-finally!-is typing with two thumbs in landscape mode. With the reduced fat on the Air's sides, it's not only feasible but comfortable. That goes a long when when you're trying to get some stupid Facebooking done.
All that would be impressive enough if the iPad Air managed to just
the performance of its predecessors, but no; the A7-powered iPad Air is screamingly fast, even with a giant screenful of pixels to push. Apps load up in a snap. Swiping between homescreens is a pleasure. Multi-task swiping from Twitter to
All things considered, you probably don't even need the kind of processing power the tabs A7 chip provides (yet, anyway) but the kind of zippy performance the iPad Air provides is a nice little luxury, even if it's one you wouldn't necessarily miss if it were gone.
And somehow, amid all the slimming down and speeding up, the iPad's battery life has managed to stay strong. We were able to
Beyond the slimlightness, the iPad Air offers stereo speakers, a first for the full-sized table. Unfortunately they are about as close as stereo speakers could possibly be, separated only by the lighting port.
They offer up a little better sound than the earlier iPads did, but not by much. They're no slouch, but also no comparison to the "wait, where is that coming from" kind of pseudo-surround sound afforded by the Kindle Fire HDX
For all the changes in the iPad Air, there are some holdovers. The screen is very pretty for instance, but you knew that already; it's the same 2048x1526, 264 PPI display that's shown up in iPads for nearly two years at this point. That's not to say it's aged-it's still a beautiful and more than enough for watching Bob's Burgers or trying to read Gravity's Rainbow
FOR REAL THIS TIME
-but it's not quite the leader in mind-blowing pixel density that it used to be. Even more budget options like the upcoming Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 are starting to beat it out
Speaking of ecosystem, iOS 7 is, well, iOS 7
The iPad is finally beautiful in a way it never has been before. Its screen is (still) lovely to look at, and its body is lovely to hold. The iPad Air is lighter, faster, and smaller-a lot lighter, faster, and smaller-than any iPad that came before it, but almost miraculously without compromise. The iPad Air is just better , in every single way that matters and many more that don't.
The iPad Air is by far the most lovely iPad to hold and the most lovely iPad to use. But duh .
The iPad Air's almost absurd thinness is not without its drawbacks. It's far from fragile or delicate, but the Air does exude a certain
Part of that is on me, sure, but those fears are not entirely baseless. The iPad Air gives small indications of its comparative fragility. Unlike its heftier predecessors, the iPad Air will vibrate rather wildly from the power of its own speakers. And tapping the iPad Air's screen sounds different than any other tablet. There's almost a sort of hollowness to it. From an engineering perspective it's incredible that this thing could feel like anything other than jam-packed full of guts. But from a practical one, there's a slight bit of unease you have to get used to. A finger on one side of the screen can feel the vibrations of another finger that's tapping on the far side. It's a uniquely unnerving sensation.
At the iPad Air's best moments you think Goddamn, how did they fit a whole tablet in there? And at its worst moments you realize they barely did.
Should You Buy It?
If you're in the market for a new 10-inch tablet and you like you some iOS, then
The only question-and it's an important one-is if you even
a 10-inch tablet. The retina iPad mini will be a hundred bucks cheaper, with otherwise comparable specs. Yes, it has a smaller screen, but in a lot of ways that's
. A discount
a bonus feature. Not to mention the world of fantastic $230
Likewise, if you've already got an iPad 4, or an
The iPad Air is a marvel of technology. It's thinner, lighter, and better than any tablet of its size. More importantly, it shows that the iPad is capable of improving more than just its guts. It just happens to come at a time when you've never had more choices, from Apple and elsewhere-a lot of them cheaper, smaller, and with every bit as much zip.
iPad Air Specs
CPU: A7 processor
Screen: 9.7-inch, 2048 x 1526, 264 PPI
Storage: 16 GB
Camera: 1.2 MP 720p HD front, 5.0 MP rear
Battery: 8,827 mAh