Apple iPad Air 1 full review
Update, 12th April 2016: Apple has discontinued the iPad 4 and iPad Air 1, and launched the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. (The iPad Air 2 is still on sale.) For the latest advice on which iPad to buy, see our updated iPad buying guide for 2016.
In March 2014, Apple killed off the iPad 2 and replaced it with the iPad 4 (also known simply as 'iPad with Retina display'), leaving that and the iPad Air as its surviving full-size iPad line-up. In this comparison review, we consider the pros and cons of the iPad 4 and iPad Air, and help you decide which full-size iPad is right for your needs.
However, if you'd like to compare the two full-size iPad models with Apple's iPad minis, take a look at our iPad buying guide for spring 2014, which compares the full range:
iPad Air vs iPad 4: Price
The first thing to mention is price.
The Wi-Fi models of the iPad Air cost £399 (16GB), £479 (32GB), £559 (64GB) and £639 (128GB). If you want to add 3G/cellular, the prices go up to £499 (16GB), £579 (32GB), £659 (64GB) and £739 (128GB).
The iPad 4 is £70 cheaper at each equivalent version, but it's also available in fewer configurations - its storage is capped at 16GB. If you need more storage than that, you need to either buy a refurbished/second-hand model, or go for one of the latest generation of iPads.
...and the iPad 4
iPad Air vs iPad 4: Dimensions
The iPad Air is thinner and lighter than the iPad 4 - significantly so. The iPad Air is thinner than the previous iPad, at 7.5mm compared to 9.4mm on the iPad 4, and it's quite a bit lighter: the bulk decrease from 652g to 469g (for the non-3G version). That's a weight loss of about 28 percent.
iPad Air: thin
iPad 4: not quite as thin
We'd guess that this will be noticeable in medium to long-term use; as svelte and portable as the iPad 4 is, it can tire the arm when used one-handed. We must have got lazy from all that iPad mini use.
iPad Air vs iPad 4: Processor
Despite being a lightweight in literal terms, the iPad Air is packing some heavy firepower inside. It features the A7 processor also used by the hard-hitting iPhone 5s, along with the M7 'motion coprocessor', which gives a big boost to graphical welly.
Apple claims the iPad Air is twice the speed of the iPad 4 - both in general processing and graphics - and the Air has clearly got some muscle under the hood.
Whether you'll see a difference on today's apps is another matter, however. The iPad 4 is comfortably powerful enough to cope with virtually all apps on the market right now; only the most graphically ambitious 3G games, video editing suites and so on will test its processor.
In the years to come, of course, more processor-intensive apps will be released to take advantage of the iPad Air's power, and the iPad 4 will start to fall off in performance then, and on those apps. So you should consider the sorts of app you're likely to be using, and how long you plan to use your iPad for.
iPad Air vs iPad 4: Verdict
The iPad Air is a noticeable improvement over the iPad 4 in essentially two ways: it's slimmer, and it's faster. The former is appealing (the iPad 4 can tire the arm when used for long periods of time, particularly for reading) but the latter won't make much difference for most users, since the iPad 4 is already more than powerful enough to deal with current apps.
Where the iPad Air's A7 processor and M7 graphical booster will come into their own is for future-proofing: apps are only going to get more advanced and demanding, and whatever the equivalent of Infinity Blade 3 is in two years' time may well be too much for the iPad 4.
Infinity Blade 3 is fine for the iPad 4, but how will it handle Infinity Blade 5? (Or whatever the equivalent is)
If you're on the iPad 3 or earlier, the iPad Air is a highly appealing buy, and a bit of a bargain, we'd say. But paying the same price all over again a year (or less) after shelling out for the iPad 4 may be less clear-cut, unless you're flush with cash.
Do you find your arm aching after using your iPad 4? If you find this annoying, the iPad Air is the answer to your prayers. But for us - and, we'd guess, for most users - arm ache is only an occasional annoyance, and not really worth spending upwards of 400 quid all over again.
iPad Air vs iPad 4: Video reviews
We've shot video reviews for each of the iPad models. Here's our video review of the iPad Air:
And here's our video review of the iPad 4:
Finally, 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!)
Apple iPad Air 1: Specs
- 1.39 GHz Apple A7 processor (ARMv8-A, dual-core) with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor
- 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
- 469g (Wi-Fi only model) or 478g (Wi-Fi plus cellular model)