Apple's 5th generation iPad Air fixes the one thing we disliked about the outgoing iPad with Retina display: the old iPad was too darned bulky and heavy. Android tablets and even some Windows 8 tablets bested Cupertino's 9.7" tablet with slimmer designs and lighter weight, making the iPad seem a tad behind the times. Now Apple has reset the bar with a 10" tablet that weighs just 1 pound and is 0.29" thick, making it the lightest tablet in the 10" space. Sweet. That translates into less hand and arm fatigue when reading for extended periods of time and when playing accelerometer based games, you no longer feel like you're waving a brick around.
Inside, as per usual for new generation consumer tech and computers, things are faster. The iPad gets the same extremely fast Apple A7 dual core CPU with Power VR SGX graphics and M7 motion co-processor as the iPhone 5s, but clocked 100MHz higher at 1.4GHz. I doubt anyone thought the iPad 4 was slow, but everyone loves a specs jump and the new 64 bit CPU will handle whatever demanding 3D games you throw at it for at least a few years to come. It's a remarkably power-friendly chip, so battery life remains at the same 10 hours of quoted use time even though the battery went on a diet to achieve the new slim and light design.
The iPad Air runs iOS 7, Apple's new OS with a flatter user interface and usability enhancements that make it quick to get to frequently used settings, notifications and the camera. Apple's iWork (MS Office compatible suite) and iLife (Garage Band and iMovie) are included as a free download from the app store. Starting with the iPad Air and iPhone 5s and 5c, these two software suites are included gratis with every new iOS model. The iPad Air is compatible with the 475,000 tablet optimized apps in the app store, that still puts it significantly ahead of Android and Windows Metro apps. From music production apps to Amazon Prime video, you'll find them for the iPad.
In terms of design, Apple took the lovely and fresh iPad mini design and enlarged it to make the 9.7" iPad Air. The tablet is available in Space Gray with a black face and silver with a white bezel, as are the iPhone 5s and iPad mini with Retina display. Either way, you get a slim and classy looking product with Apple's signature aluminum unibody design and metal buttons that are tactile and easy to operate. Controls are in the same basic location with the power button and headphone jack up top, volume buttons and rotation lock/silence slider on the right and the Lightning port on the bottom. This is the first full size iPad with stereo speakers and they surround the Lightning port. Sound quality isn't noticeably better or louder than the last gen iPad with Retina Display (aka iPad 4).
The display is bright, color accurate and has a very wide color gamut. Apple uses the same IPS technology and 2048 x 1536 resolution as on the iPad 3 and iPad 4, and it's still one of the best tablet displays on the market. Colors pop, brightness is high and at 264 PPI text and graphics are very sharp.
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iPad Air Video Review
Pricing remains unchanged, with the base 16 gig WiFi-only model selling for $499. Each storage increment increase raises the price a painful $100, and 4G LTE (also supporting 3G) costs $130 more. The iPad Air is available on all major US carriers without contract commitment. The iPad mini with Retina display is $100 less, and for that relatively small price difference, we suggest you buy based on preferred size rather than price. Either way you'll get the same resolution Retina display and Apple A7 processor for similar performance. The iPad Air has dual band 802.11n WiFi with MIMO (including LTE models), Bluetooth 4.0 and 4G LTE models have a GPS. As always with iOS devices, there's no microSD card slot, and your best alternative for storage expansion are cloud services like iCloud and DropBox.
As with the iPhone 5s and iPad mini with Retina display, the iPad Air has a front 720p FaceTime HD camera with an upgraded sensor that has larger pixels for brighter and noticeably sharper video chats over FaceTime and Skype. It has face detection, a backside illuminated sensor and geotagging. The rear 5MP iSight camera is largely the same as the outgoing model. It features a 5 element f/2.4 lens, BSI, HDR for photos and it can shoot 1080p video. Settings are minimal but the tablet manages to take clear and colorful photos and video that might not be as good as the 8MP iPhone 5s camera, but they're very good by tablet standards. Somehow, Apple manages to get the most out of a camera thanks to excellent software and image processing. For those who want to edit their photos, iPhoto for iOS is a free download from the App Store. Likewise if you want to get creative with 1080p footage you've captured, iMovie for iOS is also a free download.
Like we said in our iPad mini with Retina display review, if you're an iPerson, go for it. The iPad Air is delightfully light to hold, has a fantastic display, a superb display and there are a wealth of apps, from games to productivity to music creation and business apps. The same drawbacks are here, including no SD card slot, a locked down file system and a UI that's not customizable, but for millions of folks the ease of use, quality, friendly and capable Apple support staff , huge selection of accessories and app selection are more than enough to counter those points.
Price: starting at $499 for 16 gig WiFi-only model. 4G LTE adds $130, each storage increment adds $100
Display: 9.7” LED blacklit glossy IPS with multi-touch. 2048 x 1536 resolution (264 ppi). Fingerprint resistant coating. Has an accelerometer, ambient light sensor and 3-axis gyroscopic sensor.
Processor: 1.4 GHz Apple A7 dual core CPU with M7 motion co-processor. 1 gig RAM.
Network: Wi-Fi model: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n with MIMO; AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon models add 3G and 4G LTE for data. All models have Bluetooth 4.0 and use Apple's new Lightning 8 pin connector for USB.
GPS: Cellular models have GPS with GLONASS as well as digital compass. WiFi models use WiFi-based location triangulation.
Cameras: Front and rear cameras. Back 5MP camera can record up to 1080p 30fps video and front 1.2MP camera can record 720p video. Both cameras have a BSI and face detection. Rear camera has HDR for photos.
Storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 128 gigs internal flash storage.
Audio: Built-in mic and stereo speakers, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Audio formats supported: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.
Size: 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches. Weight: 1.05 pounds (478 grams).
Battery: Rechargeable 32.4-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Not user replaceable. Claimed usage time: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using 3G/4G data network. Ships with 10 watt charger.