updated 08:34 pm EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Apple iPad Air, dramatically lighter, more powerful than ever
The fifth-generation Apple iPad has officially gone on sale in New Zealand and Australia, the first of multiple product rollouts around the globe. It is the latest salvo from Apple in an increasingly-competitive tablet market with its once-dominant tablet lineup under increasing pressure from budget tablets running Android while the Google Nexus 7 and 10, and the Samsung Galaxy line of premium tablets also threaten its market share. The Apple formula is to make the best possible products it can, that offer the best user experience possible in order to attract buyers to its high-end devices. Early reviews of the iPad Air have been overwhelmingly positive, but will that be enough to keep customers coming back for more?
The Apple slogan for the iPad Air is 'the power of lightness' which, along with its name, indicates that Apple is putting a great deal of emphasis on its slimmed down design and weight. The emphasis is entirely justified. Apple has sliced the iPad Air down from a depth of 0.34-inches (8.8 mm) to just 0.29-inches (7.5 mm). It has also made it much narrower and slightly shorter while also shedding a whopping 132 grams in the process, taking the iPad Air down to just 469g from 613g. The iPad Air feels dramatically thinner and lighter than its predecessor, so much so that it feels like it has jumped a couple of generations ahead of its natural evolution. If it were not for the fact that it retains the same stunning 9.7-inch Retina display, you would think that it was designed to slot in between the iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad in the iPad range, not replace the previous flagship altogether.
The design of the iPad Air is very reminiscent of the approach that Apple adopted with the iPad mini, which many customers opted for simply because it was a more compact and light iPad -- the iPad Air may have some of those customers re-evaluating their choice moving forward. The fit and finish of the iPad Air is also probably the best we have ever seen from Apple. Our Space Gray unit is immaculately constructed, while its anodized aluminum finish feels great in the hand and conveys a sense of quality, but also an assurance that it will not chip or scratch too easily. The rounded edges are much more comfortable in the hand than the previous tapered edge, particularly when the iPad Air is held in one hand at the bottom corner of the device in either portrait or landscape modes. This, more ergonomic design, along with its 28 percent weight reduction makes the iPad Air the much more comfortable for one-handed use.
Yet, as is often the Apple way, it has managed to sculpt a new product that is not only thinner and lighter, but preserves battery life while also delivering the most powerful iPad yet. In fact, the Apple claim that its iPad Air will deliver up to 10 hours of battery life may be conservative -- some independent tests put it as high as 14 hours. The new Apple-designed, 64-bit A7 chip did not get the "X" treatment this time around, quite likely because it is already more than powerful enough. Geekbench 3 shows that Apple has slightly tweaked the A7 chip in the iPad Air by clocking it at 1.4GHz, up slightly from the 1.3GHz clock speed of the A7 chip in the iPhone 5s. RAM remains the same at 1GB.
While we will run the iPad Air through a complete suite of benchmarks for our full review, it is worth noting that Apple claims the iPad Air is up to twice as fast in processing performance as the fourth-generation iPad, and delivers up to twice the graphics performance as well. Our informal testing does not indicate otherwise at this stage, with webpages loading quickly, multitasking working seamlessly and processor intensive iOS-exclusive apps like Infinity Blade III looking simply incredible. Rounding out the package is the brilliant new iOS 7 operating system, and an extensive suite of built-in and free apps including Pages, Numbers, and the superb GarageBand.
When you weigh up the sheer quality of the iPad Air, the fact that it is the lightest full-size tablet on the market and the first with a 64-bit processor, 64-bit operating system and 64-bit built-in applications, it is a very compelling product with a user experience second to none. Throw in a bevy of free apps as well that will more than get you started with productivity and creativity as well, and the overall value proposition looks pretty hard to beat. Coupled with this is the expansive Apple iTunes ecosystem, the power of iCloud and the renowned Apple customer care -- it is hard to see how you can possibly go wrong with making the investment in an Apple iPad Air.
We will take a deeper dive into the iPad Air in our upcoming review. Make sure to drop back in on the weekend to see why we think the iPad Air is not only the best iPad yet, but also leaves the competition trailing in its wake.
By Sanjiv Sathiah