Ah, the iPad. The thing that sparked the entire tablet scene, way back in 2010. Since then, it’s remained to be the best tablet money can buy, every year. But the competition has been fierce, with an entire horde of Android tablets throughout, and the introduction of Windows tablets this year.
The iPad Air is Apple’s latest update to the 9.7 inch tablet, boasting powerful specs in a lightweight package. Still the best tablet you can get? Read on for our review.
The Retail Package:-
The iPad Air’s retail box includes the usual contents.
There’s a lightning-to-USB cable, wall charger, and user manual.
No headset or earpods included unfortunately. More info in our iPad Air Unboxing.
It took a while but the iPad finally gets a (minor) facelight with it’s design this year. The last three versions all had the same design, so the look of this 5th generation model is long overdue.
That being said, it seems like they’ve employed the same design introduced by the iPad Mini last year, still including elements of the previous designs.
Construction is just as solid as ever, with no compromises made in terms of quality thanks to it’s brushed aluminium casing.
Apple attached the “Air” moniker to this model, and as such it means it is incredibly thin and lightweight, just as you’d expect from the company.
The iPad Air has 0.07 inches shaved off it’s profile, resulting in it being just 0.3 inches thin vs last year’s iPad which was 0.37 inches thin.
Weight is also down, to just one pound (469 grams) from last year’s 1.44 lbs (652 grams).
That might not seem very dramatic on paper, but you’ll definitely feel it if you’re a previous iPad owner, when you pick up the iPad Air.
The main attraction, is at the front of the iPad Air, and it’s the 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD based Retina Display. It’s the same one used since the 3rd generation iPad, and while we’d have liked Apple to push an even higher resolution screen, I have to admit that it is one sharp looking display. There’s plenty of details, and the IPS LCD technology means wide viewing angles, punchy colors and great outdoor visibility.
A pixel count of 264 ppi might not sound like much, but one look at the iPad Air’s display and you’ll pretty much fall in love with it.
I’m also thankful that Apple shaved off some of the bezel at the sides.
Above the display, there’s a 1.2 megapixel front facing camera right in the center.
And below the display, there’s the usual Apple home button. Unfortunately, Apple chose not to use the biometric Touch ID fingerprint sensor from the iPhone 5s here, which is a little strange. The omission is a bummer, but the iPad still works just fine without it.
Coming to the rest of the tablet, the iPad Air has the same ports and buttons around, as before.
At the top, you’ll find the power button towards the right side, and the headphone jack on the left side, with a tiny pinhole for the microphone towards the center.
While at the bottom, you’ll find the speaker grills on either side of the lightning dock port.
On the right side, there’s the mute switch and volume controls, while on the left side there are no ports or keys at all.
Coming to the back, there’s a 5 Megapixel “iSight” camera towards the upper left side, with a huge Apple logo towards the center.
This time around, Apple chose to use a reflective, mirror-like finish for the Apple logo instead of the blacked-out logo used on previous iPads. I’m not entirely sure why, as it is a huge fingerprint magnet, which ultimately makes the iPad look a little cheap-ish. Below that, is the usual “iPad” branding.
All in all, Apple made incremental improvements here since the last iPad, but they’ve still managed to make it thinner, lighter, just as solid as ever, and give it a bit of a redesign. While the omission of Touch ID is questionable, there’s nothing to not like about the new iPad’s design.
The iPad Air uses the same 64-bit based dual-core Apple A7 chip that powers the iPhone 5s. This time around though, it’s clocked a little higher, at 1.4 Ghz vs the iPhone’s 1.3 Ghz.
As you’d expect, the iPad Air soars through all tasks and operations quickly and smoothly, without the slightest bit of lag or slowdowns anywhere. It remains fast, even with processor intensive tasks like playing a 3D game.
Right now, there are very few apps or games optimized to use that 64 bit processor though, so for the time being it’s not being utilized at all.
In terms of memory, Apple stubbornly sticks to the usual storage capacities, even in this 5th generation. You can get the iPad Air in 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB capacities, which cost about $500, $600, or $700 respectively for the Wi-Fi versions. I was hoping that Apple would have doubled that space to 32GB, 64GB and 128GB versions for the same cost, but nada.
As always, you can buy the iPad Air in Wifi-Only or Wifi+LTE versions, and there’s support for 14 LTE bands. There’s also aGPS, Bluetooth 4.0, and dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. No NFC, unfortch.
The iPad Air runs iOS7, which is no suprise. By now Apple’s latest OS update has made it’s way over to many of their devices, so there really isnt anything new to talk about since iOS7 on the iPhone 5, except for updated visuals to complement the new iPad. Let’s see what’s new in respect to the iPad Air, eh?
When you first take the iPad Air out of it’s box, you have to guide it through a quick activation process (which requires an internet connection), after which you’re treated to iOS7 in all it’s glory. The interface all looks very familiar, with a grid-style layout of icons and the use of gestures for navigation, like the 5 finger pinch to “minimize” an app, or the 5 finger swipe left or right to switch between any open apps. It’s all still there, but with more animations in some cases. You’d be forgiven for thinking just the visuals have changed here.
Coming to messaging, there’s once again nothing much new with the iPad Air. It’s far easier to type in landscape than in portrait mode, thanks to the spacious layout that lets you use it like a full sized keyboard.
In portrait mode, you can always use the split keyboard to type, which works out better for your thumbs.
There’s iMessaging built-in as always, and the same ol’ default email app. It pretty much has and does what you’d expect out of an email client but lacks the amount of functionality that Gmail has on Android. That being said, there is an official Gmail for iOS app that works great on the iPad.
Moving on, there’s the usual amount of organizer apps on the iPad Air. Once again, it’s just the visuals that are new here. There’s a built-in Clock app (which now also has an alarm thanks to iOS7), notes, reminders, calendar, newsstand, and ofcourse Siri onboard to help you through it all. They’re all optimized to make use of the display’s real estate.
iOS7 brings along a new feature called iCloud Keychain which lets you share various passwords or credit card information, between iOS7 devices. It works well enough if you have multiple iOS devices that you use, for example an iPhone, iPad and iPad Mini, etc.
Coming to web browsing, Safari on the iPad Air works just like we’ve seen previously. Websites look great on the Retina Display, and browsing is all smooth and quick. There’s also a new ability to swipe with one finger from the left/right edge to go back/forward.
Page loads are quick, page rendering is instant, no complains here y’all. The iPad has always been great for web browsing.
Coming to multimedia, the iPad Air has the same iOS7 photo app that we’ve seen before on the iPhone 5s. In this case it makes better use of the larger screen real estate, organizing your photos and videos and breaking it down by date and location. Location-wise sorting is pretty cool because it shows you where you took your photos, on a map.
There’s a couple editing features as well, so that you can crop, enhance, remove red eye, or add different filters to your images. Since the iPad Air’s camera app doesnt have any cool shooting modes, this can come in pretty handy.
Videos look great on the iPad Air’s screen, with rich colors and details. You can playback upto 1080p HD resolution video, though only H.264 video in .m4v, .mp4, or .mov file formats are recognized. You can always download an app like CineXplayer to playback more file formats though.
Coming to music, iOS7 brings a lot of visual changes to the music player on the iPad Air. I’m not a huge fan of the changes, but there’s no iTunes Radio built-in, which is Apple’s own streaming music service (similar to Pandora or Spotify).
The loudspeaker of the iPad Air is pretty good, with punchy, robust tones. It doesnt sound strained, even at the loudest volume setting.
The iPad Air features a 5 megapixel camera at the back, which has a backside illuminated senor and f2.4 aperture lens, that is able to take some pretty decent looking photos for a tablet.
Sadly the camera app on iOS7 for the iPad is pretty barren in terms of features. There’s no cool Slo-Mo mode, and all you have is the ability to turn on HDR, or take pictures in a square aspect ratio. On one hand, it’s simple and no-frills so it’s easy to use, but on the other hand, most Android tablets out there, have a variety of shooting modes. Then again, this is taking pictures on a tablet, that we’re talking about.
In terms of camera quality, outdoor situations with good lighting produce the best photos, with warm colors, balanced exposure and average details. In low light scenarios, there tends to be a lot of noise that creeps in, which softens image quality substantially.
The front facing 1.2 megapixel camera is decent enough for FaceTime video calls, but dont rely on it for image quality, at all.
Here’s a couple camera samples from the iPad Air, to give you a better idea:
Coming to video, the iPad Air can record up to 1080p HD video, and quality is decent enough for a tablet.
Just like with images, scenes with plenty of lighting result in pleasant looking videos, but that degrades massively in low light situations, with a lot of noise and artifacting that occurs.
Here’s a video camera sample from the iPad Air, to give you better idea:
The Battery Life:-
Even with that slimmer body, the iPad Air still managed to provide the same amount of battery life, as it’s predecessor.
You can easily get about one solid day of heavy usage, which is what you’d expect from a tablet nowadays. I was able to get 8 hours and 30 minutes of continuous video playback from the iPad Air before the battery gave up. By comparison the Xperia Tablet Z lasted about 5 hours 30 minutes.
The Video Overview:-
Here’s a detailed video overview of the iPad Air. Just to give you a better idea:
So here’s the thing: if you buy the iPad Air, you definitely wont be disappointed. It follows along the same footsteps as previous iPads, and while it might not do anything dramatically new over the last iPad, it’s still commendable that Apple has managed to make it thinner, and lighter, while still solid, making it faster and keeping the same solid battery life. What’s not to love?
The only real competition out there is the Surface 2 (which isnt as sleek and doesnt have any many apps), or the Google Nexus 10 (which is slightly outdated right now and on the verge of a hardware refresh). Both are cheaper and have their pros and cons.
Granted, I’d be lying if I didnt say I wish Apple pushed the envelope even more with the new iPad. I’m puzzled as to why they didnt include the little Touch ID fingerprint sensor. But they’re all minor annoyances with what is otherwise a really great tablet. Definitely recommended.