Apple iPad Air Review

by Reads (30,859)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Usability
      • 10
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 10
      • Features
      • 9
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 9
      • Total Score:
      • 9.40
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Smaller and lighter than predecessors
    • Significantly faster than earlier iPads
    • Beautiful display
    • Long battery life
  • Cons

    • Barely adequate RAM
    • Non-standard data/power port
    • No memory card slot
    • No active touchscreen

Quick Take

Although not without its limitations, the iPad Air is among the best tablets available for professionals who don't specifically need a Windows device.

The Apple iPad Air is the fifth full-size tablet from this company. Although it retains the 9.7-inch Retina screen of its predecessors, it’s smaller and lighter than they were, with a new 64-bit processor.

We gave this computer a thorough testing…here’s what we found.

Build and Design

Ever since the launch of the first iPad, there has been pressure on Apple to reduce the overall size of each successive generation. What people who couldn’t understand the need for the large bezels on either side of their screens didn’t realize was that all that that “excess” space made room for very large batteries. And the iPad’s ability to go a full workday without needing a charge is one of its hallmarks.

Apple iPad Air in Portrait ModeWith the iPad Air, Apple was finally able to trim down the screen bezel and reduce the overall thickness of the device, with a corresponding decrease in weight. Doing so required making the processor and the screen use much less power — without reducing the quality of these components. That’s how the company was able to produce a computer that’s 0.3 inches thick and just a pound in weight.

While any reduction in size and weight is welcome, regular users of previous-generation iPads won’t find themselves astonished by how light it is. Although after using it for a while, they might be surprised by how heavy their old iPad is in comparison.

The change in shape does make it a bit more difficult to use this device in portrait mode, as there’s less room on the sides to hold it without accidentally touching the screen. Even though it isn’t as wide as its predecessors, only those with very large hands will be able to palm it.

Display

The iPad Air’s screen is the same size and resolution as its predecessors: 9.7 inches and 2048 x1536 pixels, putting it at 264 ppi. That makes each pixel so small that there’s absolutely no pixillation; everything looks smooth.

As was already mentioned, Apple’s goal with this screen wasn’t to make it look better — the displays on the third- and fourth-generation iPads were amazing — but to have it use less power. Apple did so by building in less than half the number of LED backlights and including optical film layers to spread the existing light around.

The result is a screen that looks just as good as its predecessors while putting less strain on the battery. Even with far fewer backlights, this tablet is plenty bright enough to be used outdoors, and even in full Sun.

But keep in mind, this is a simple capacitive touchscreen, so it lacks pressure sensitivity. This somewhat limits its usefulness for apps that involve drawing on the screen.

Other Buttons, Ports, and Controls

Apple’s head of design Jony Ive believes in simplicity, which is why the iPad series has always had a minimal set of buttons. Just about everything on the Air is controlled with the Home button or on-screen gestures. Aside from that that, there’s a Power button, a pair of Volume Up/Down buttons, and a switch that can either lock the screen in one orientation or put the device on Mute.

Apple iPad Air Power and Volume Buttons Apple iPad Air Lightning Port and Speakers

Like its predecessors, this tablet has no memory card slot, forcing those who would like to access files on SD cards or USB drives to use an accessory like the Kingston MobileLite Wireless or Apotop Wi-Reader Pro.

Unfortunately, it uses Apple’s own Lightning port for data and charging, not the industry standard micro-USB port.

Accessories

Apple offers a selection of semi-protective covers for the Air. The Smart Cover clips to the front with magnets, and can be folded into a stand.

It’s possible that Apple’s own weak selection of accessories has actually helped to foster a strong market for third-parties to make their own. Several companies like OtterBox and Belkin are making external keyboards, cases, styli, external memory card readers, and more for this newly-released tablet.

Dont stop now… Page 2 discusses the performance of the iPad Air.

One of the highlights of the iPad Air is the Apple A7 processor, the first time the company has used a 64-bit CPU in one of its tablets. This has the potential to bring desktop-quality software to the iOS. However, this exists primarily as potential right now, as there’s only a handful of 64-bit, third-party software for this platform available.

Apple iPad Air in the HandAll that aside, the 1.4 GHz, dual-core A7 is a very speedy chip. The benchmarking app Geekbench 3 indicates that Apple‘s latest processor offers 80% faster performance than the one in the iPad 4. It’s five times faster than the processor in the iPad 3.

And the iPad Air maxed out 3DMark, showing that it is capable of rendering animation faster than its screen can display it.

The iPad 3 was occasionally criticized for heating up when put under strain to the point where the case could get warm. This doesn’t happen to the A7 even when playing video or running high-end, graphics-intensive games.

Despite giving the iPad Air a very capable processor, Apple mysteriously decided to hobble it with just 1GB of RAM, the same amount included in the last two iPads. While this is generally adequate for most tasks, it brings some limitations, like the number of web pages that can be open simultaneously without needing a reload.

The amount of internal storage varies by model. A 16GB, Wi-Fi-ony one is $500, while each jump to 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB adds $100.

Software

Like all Apple’s recently released tablets and smartphones, the Air runs iOS 7. Released this summer, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system has a new look, and new features were added.

Although occassionly criticised for its lack of features compared to Microsoft Windows or even Google Android, Apple’s mobile operating system is also lauded for being easy to learn and simple to use.

Learn more in our Apple iOS 7 for iPad Review

The iOS has always come with a very functional bundle of software, like a version of the Safari web browser, an email app than supports Exchange, video and music players, and much more.

But Apple upped its game this summer by making its iWork and iLife suites available free for those who get an iPad Air or other new model. This means businesspeople can freely download the Office-compatible Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps, while consumers can grab iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand.

Communications

All versions of this tablet come with dual-channel Wi-Fi a/b/g/n. It was built with MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) so it has multiple internal antennas to increase its data throughput — in this case up to 300Mbps. Bluetooth 4.0 is included as well.

Apple iPad Air Side ViewIn addition, there are versions capable of connecting to cellular-wireless networks to provide a ubiquitous internet connection. Adding this feature adds $130 to the price of the tablet.

Those in the United States should consider buying their iPad Air from T-Mobile, as this comes with 200MB of free wireless Internet for the lifetime of the device. Even those planning to use the tablet with another carrier might consider getting this version — they get the free 200MB from T-Mobile and can then switch SIMs to their preferred telecom without a problem, as the iPad Air can connect to the LTE networks of all the top U.S. carriers as well as many others around the world.

Camera

“Tablet photography” is almost an oxymoron, which is probably why, when Apple was designing the Air, it didn’t see a need to improve on the 5MP rear-facing camera that was in the iPad 4. This is best described as adequate, capable of taking decent pictures in good lighting but somewhat grainy ones indoors — there is no flash.

Apple iPad Air Sample Picture Taken Indoors Apple iPad Air Sample Picture Taken Outside

Air users are more likely to use the front-facing camera, as video conferencing on tablets is relatively common. The 1.2MP one on this model is more than sufficient for this purpose, as many apps will likely reduce is resolution to save on bandwidth.

Battery Life

In our tests, the iPad Air averaged roughly 11.5 hours on a single charge, doing Web browsing and ebook reading with a constant Wi-Fi connection. That’s longer than Apple’s promise of 10 hours.

This is more than adequate for a full day, including both business tasks at the office and personal uses at home. For many it would get them through a weekend trip without needing a recharge.

Using a cellular-wireless connection instead of Wi-Fi cut about an hour of of the total.

You’re not quite done… Page 3 offers our final conclusions on the iPad Air.

The iPad Air is Apple‘s offering for those who want a tablet to get things done — creating content rather than just consuming it. The changes incorporated in this fifth-generation model are designed to make it more appealing to this group: it’s faster but also more portable, with the same high-quality display and long battery life as its predecessors.

Apple iPad Air in Portrait ModeThe addition of the free iWork and iLife suites help make it more interesting to serious tablet users as well.

Which isn’t to say the iPad Air is without flaw. More RAM would have been welcome, as well a micro-USB port and a removable memory card slot.

Pros:

  • Smaller and lighter than predecessors
  • Significantly faster than earlier iPads
  • Beautiful display
  • Long battery life

Cons:

  • Barely adequate RAM
  • Non-standard data/power port
  • No memory card slot
  • No active touchscreen

Although not without its limitations, the iPad Air is among the best tablets available for professionals who don’t specifically need a Windows device.



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