Tue, 19 Nov 2013 iPad Air review: Sleek, fast and almost comically lightweight (Video Review)
iPad Air review: specs, features, speed tests and build quality tested and reviewed. Is it worth upgrading to the iPad Air?
- Manufacturer: Apple
- Pros: The iPad Air is slimmer and lighter than previous iPads; A7 chip makes it the fastest iPad yet; same price as iPad 4 (which is now discontinued); less prone to overheating when charging
- Cons: Extra speed isn't really noticeable in current day-to-day use (although the iPad Air's A7 processor will provide future-proofing); screen feels slightly plasticky, because of 'flex'
- Min specs: 1.39 GHz Apple A7 processor (ARMv8-A, dual-core); PowerVR G6430 graphics; 9.7in (2048 x 1536-pixel) LED-backlit Multi-Touch IPS display, 264ppi; iOS 7; 16/32/64/128 GB flash storage; dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO; Bluetooth 4.0; optional 4G LTE modem and Nano-SIM card slot, with A-GPS; 1.2 Mp FaceTime HD front camera, 720p video; 5 Mp f2.4 iSight rear camera, 1080p video; dual microphones; stereo speakers; Lightning dock connector; three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass; 32.4 Wh fixed lithium-polymer battery; USB power adaptor; 240 x 170 x 7.5 mm; 478 g
- Price: Wi-Fi: £399 (16GB), £479 (32GB), £559 (64GB) and £639 (128GB). Cellular: £499 (16GB), £579 (32GB), £659 (64GB) and £739 (128GB)
- Star rating:
Watch our video reveiw of the iPad Air above.
Welcome to our iPad Air review. Our iPad Air review includes: everything you need to know about the iPad Air, the iPad Air's specs, features and physical design, speed tests, price and buying options. We also answer two questions: should you upgrade from the iPad 3 or 4 to the iPad Air? And should you buy the iPad Air or the iPad 2? Updated, 19th November 2013.
You can say many things about the fifth-generation iPad, but not that it’s more of the same. After three physically near-identical iPads in a row, Apple has come up with a tablet that attempts to redefines the category. And, a few reservations aside, it’s a stunning success.
iPad Air review: light as a feather
Set against the original iPad, the iPad 2, the 'new iPad' and the iPad 4, this year’s Apple iPad Air stands out first and foremost for its lightness. Like its half-namesake the MacBook Air, the iPad Air seems flabbergastingly light when you first pick it up.
According to Apple, the iPad Air weighs just 469g for the Wi-Fi-only model, or 478g for the iPad Air with the cellular 3G/4G option added. We put the 16GB iPad Air, kindly loaned to us by Square Group, on the scales and it truly does weigh just 477g, and it really is only 7.5 mm thick.
How much lighter is that, exactly? The iPad Air sees a 22 percent weight cut from the iPad 2, and about 28 percent from the iPad 3 and 4 (which have heavier batteries to power their Retina displays). A percentage weight reduction in the twenties sounds significant but hardly earth-shattering, yet the difference somehow feels a lot more - it's like the iPad Air has crossed a threshold, and is now simply Light Enough. It's like the iPad mini in that respect.
Apologies for banging on about the weight factor, but we're not so much interested in the numerical, gram-for-gram decrease as in the effect on your everyday experience. That's why I described it as Light Enough - it's light enough, that is, to change the way you use your iPad. This seemingly minor weight cut makes all the difference. The iPad Air is a one-handed device, a portable computing device that really is portable in a way that seemed impossible a few years ago.
The iPad Air still isn't the lightest handheld computing device around - achieving that while offering the same versatile computing experience would be impossible – but the Air is light enough to be a realistic contender in fields where the iPad 4’s weight counted against it. The Air is a trim little e-reader that you can happily tote in one hand for long chapters at a time, challenging Kindles and iPad minis as reading devices. It’s a gaming handheld that doesn’t weigh down a rucksack noticeably. It’s a coffee-table browser that you can pick up absent-mindedly, and a note-taker and presentation device that doesn’t make your briefcase feel like it’s been filled with rocks.
But is it too light for a device with a 9.7in screen? That brings us to our next topic...
iPad Air review: build quality
As well as being a featherweight, the Air is remarkably slender for a 9.7in tablet: it’s only 7.5mm thick. We were therefore more than a little concerned about the issue of robustness. In fact, the Air feels solid enough to set our minds at rest concerning 'snapping accidents'.
One issue we had, however, was with the iPad Air's screen (which we talk about in more detail later). This may simply be down to having less heft behind it, but when you tap or press the screen, it definitely seems to 'flex' more than the screens on the iPad 3 and iPad 4. The result is that the screen feels light and plasticky, rather than the solid glass feeling on the older devices. We found this particularly noticeable on the game Infinity Blade 3, where you frequently have to tap quickly to defeat enemies, but typing also shows up this issue. It's not a major problem, however.
The iPad Air's chassis has the same construction style as the iPad mini, constructed with a thinner bezel along the left and right sides when held in vertical, or portrait, mode. (The iPad 4 is wider and has more finger room to left and right.) It’s therefore difficult to pick the Air up one-handed without touching the screen.
We were slightly concerned about accidentally brushing our fingertips against the screen while holding the iPad Air by the edge, but brief experiments with iBooks proved reassuring: the iPad Air appeared to intelligently ignore touchscreen input near the edges. Apple confirmed that the iPad Air is equipped with thumb rejection technology to handle this. It's the first full-size iPad to feature this, but the first iPad mini was similarly equipped.
If you've got big hands, you may be able to span the iPad Air's back with one hand - it's only 170 mm wide. Holding the tablet in this way reminds you just how light the Air is, helped by the reduced thickness: just 7.5 mm, compared with the previous model’s 9.3 mm. (For a summary of the key differences between the iPad 4 and iPad Air, see 'What's the difference between iPad 4 and iPad Air?' below.)
The 'chamfered' edge around the iPad Air is smarter and more distinct than on older models, with a pleasant shine (that may, admittedly, dull with use). The button layout is familiar - although the volume rocker has been replaced with separate volume up and down - and there’s an additional pin hole on top for a second microphone.
iPad Air review: processor speed and graphics tests
We tried a few benchmarks, although bear in mind that these measurements are of limited use to prospective buyers. In the post-Samsung-caught-'cheating' world, benchmarks don't really mean much any more, especially after nearly all of Google’s hardware partners were found gaming benchmarks for Android devices. However, many readers still ask for them - and they do still have some legitimacy for comparing different devices by a single manufacturer. Namely Apple, whose name remained unsullied throughout the affair.
In Geekbench 3, the Apple iPad Air was shown to have its processor clocked at 1.39 GHz – a tad higher than the Apple A7 in the iPhone 5s, which reads 1.30 GHz – and it returned a score of 2683 points in multi-core mode; and 1480 points for a single core. That compares with 1425 and 780 for the iPad 4 - so yes, it has the potential to be almost twice as fast.
(Will this mean your day-to-day iPad usage is twice as quick? No. On almost all current apps the iPad 4 is comfortably fast enough, and getting a quicker processor won't make a noticeable difference. You may find that general navigation around the iPad's menus and different apps is a shade zippier than on the iPad 4, and we do find the Air very slick indeed in general use. Where you are likely to see a major difference in on the really hardcore, processor-intensive apps - the graphically demanding games, video editing suites, and the apps and games that are going to be released in the next few years. The iPad Air's processor is a future-proofing tool as much as anything.)
For graphics testing, we’ve traditionally used GFXBenchmark with its Egypt HD test. Here the iPad Air could play at an average framerate of 48 fps, capped much of the time by V Sync limiting. In other words, it could potentially run faster if there wasn’t a 50 fps limit during certain parts of the test’s set sequence.
iPad Air review: battery life
Apple has reduced the size of the battery from 42.5Wh to 32.4Wh - presumably to reduce weight and physical sizse of the iPad Air. Yet Apple claims that overall battery life is roughly the same, at its favoured figure of 10 hours of web browsing or video.
How does Apple maintain battery life while using a smaller battery? The new Apple A7 processor may be improving efficiency – that's the same chip found in the iPhone 5s, and (as in that device) is accompanied by the M7 motion processor. The main processor’s clock speed is not quoted - that's Apple policy. But Apple claimed that the iPad Air is around twice as quick - both in terms of overall processing speed and in graphical tasks - as the iPad 4.
We will of course put that to the test in our fearsome labs - check back for the verdict. (We'll update the review after a week or so of heavy use, once we've got a better idea of the iPad Air's strengths and weaknesses.)
One thing we can say at this point is that the iPad Air doesn't seem to overheat as much as its predecessors while charging (and particularly while charging and running processor-intensive apps at the same time). We set up an iPad 3 and the iPad Air side-by-side, both charging up and playing Infinity Blade 3. The iPad Air was warm after 10 or 15 minutes, but in the same time the iPad 3 had worked up a good heat that was starting to get uncomfortable to the touch. This will be a relief to many.
iPad Air review: ports and connections
The iPad Air has the now-familiar layout of iPad buttons: Lightning port central at the bottom, volume buttons and screen lock (or volume mute) on the right, On/Off (or sleep/power) button on the top-right, and a headphone jack at the top left.
As expected, the iPad Air features the now-standard Lightning port for charging and syncing. To either side you can see the iPad Air's speakers
What is visible is an additional pin hole on top, for a new second microphone that should enable improved reduction of ambient noise, as found on the iPhone and various MacBook models now.
The iPad Air's volume up and down, and the orientation/mute button - again, no surprises here
Another difference from the iPad 4 is the iPad Air's dual microphones. We haven't had a chance to test these properly, so check back for full audio test results.
iPad Air review: Retina display
What about the iPad Air's screen quality? The short answer is that it's the same as ever - which is to say, exceptional. The Retina-class screen looks the same as on previous Retina iPads - the iPad 3 and iPad 4 - boasting four times the pixel count of the original iPad’s 1024 x 768. Once again we're looking at 2048 x 1536 pixels, anda pixel density of 264 ppi (pixels per inch).
In theory that's as sharp as you could ever want a screen to be, since at what Apple considers to be normal viewing distance, the average human eye won't be able to pick out individual pixels - a higher pixel density wouldn't be noticeable. But the same could be said of the previous two full-size iPads, and of the new iPad mini 2. (And while the iPad 2 and first iPad mini don't have Retina displays, the screen quality on those devices is still impressive. Don't expect a massive difference.)
The iPad Air has a Retina display, just like the iPad 3, iPad 4 and new iPad mini 2
iPad Air review: Wireless
Wi-Fi performance looks to be improved, now that the iPad Air has a dual-antennae setup to allow multiple in/multiple out (MIMO) connectivity. However, the iPad Air is still using the older 802.11n standard rather than the latest (and even quicker) 11ac that's been rolled out to the MacBook Air, iMac, MacBook Pro with Retina display and Mac Pro.
Unlike the iPhone 5s, the Apple iPad Air hasn't got the Touch ID fingerprint sensor
More LTE networks are supported, and we were told the iPad Air supports more LTE bands than any other tablet; this is specified to cover at least EE and Vodafone’s 4G services in the UK at the moment.
It’s too soon to see how the new 2x2 wireless configuration may improve Wi-Fi performance, but we’ll be checking that soon.
iPad Air review: cameras and graphics
As far as the cameras are concerned, the iPad Air has a full-HD-capable main camera on the back, like the iPad 4, which also takes 5 megapixel still pictures. The front-facing camera is a 720p video model for FaceTime and Skype. This can take 1.2 megapixel stills. In other words, Apple's not really changed anything: as far as we're aware there's no upgrade to slo-mo video, despite the iPad Air including the faster Apple A7 processor. We were told that this chip enabled the slo-mo feature on the iPhone 5s.
Graphics benefit from the Apple A7 upgrade too, and although we couldn’t run any benchmark tests just yet we can say that the interface looked and felt supremely smooth, whether twisting around 3D renders or playing the latest and most graphically demanding games, such as Infinity Blade 3.
iPad Air in silver and white
iPad Air in space grey and black
Want to know how to unbox and set up a new iPad Air? Check out our iPad unboxing video. Many thanks to our friends at Square Group for the loan!
iPad Air review: What's the difference between iPad 4 and iPad Air?
What's the difference between the iPad 4 and the iPad Air, and is it worth upgrading?
First of all, the iPad Air is a lot daintier than the iPad 4. The iPad Air is thinner than the previous iPad, at 7.5mm compared to 9.4mm on the iPad 4. That's a reduction of 20 percent.
It's also a lot lighter, seeing a drop from 652g to 469g (for the non-3G version). That's a weight loss of about 28 percent - not a bad diet the iPad's been on.
What about under the hood? The iPad Air is also signifcantly faster than the iPad 4, although exactly how much of a difference that makes in real-world use remains to be seen - we'll update this review with benchmark testing and long-term use reports as soon as we can. As predicted, the iPad Air has got the A7 chip that features in the iPhone 5s, as well as the M7 'motion coprocessor'. This should produce an Apple tablet of unprecedented processing power.
Apple claims the iPad Air is twice as fast - in terms of both general speed and graphics - as the iPad 4, and our testing backs that up in principle. However, on most computing tasks the iPad 4 isn't the bottleneck, and you won't see anything like that sort of difference. It's only on very processor-intensive apps and games that the iPad Air's faster chip will be able to really unfurl its wings.
For more details about the new iPads, watch our video of an Apple exec demonstrating the iPad Air to us at the Apple Event on 22 October (sorry about the annoying laughter in the background, crowded/busy room!)
All of our iPad Air coverage:
Next page: Our original iPad Air (or iPad 5) preview. Find out how many of our iPad Air predictions came true - other than the name, of course >>
The Complete Guide to the iPhone 5s & 5c is on-sale now. Click here for buying information.
Sat, 02 Nov 2013Reviewed by: elo
Duration of ownership: 1 days
Strengths: works all the apps.. perfect
Weaknesses: screen colour is off purple tint on everything like using photoshop and saturation tint too high...
Overall Evaluation: fantastic but for colour . I carry images of prints and original paintings for clients and most have accurate colours. My iPad 2 worked fine. now a purple/pink tone causing greens and yellow to look horrible.