- Very light
- Robust and premium design
- Excellent screen
- Solid battery life
- Consummate all-rounder
- Storage comes at a premium
- No Touch ID
iPad Air review
What is the iPad Air?Numbers are boring. Apple’s latest full-sized iPad forgoes them and opts for the ethereal 'Air' moniker instead. There’s a clear reason for this, aside from the fact that Apple want to reinvigorate the iPad franchise. Previous models were essentially iterative improvements, but the iPad Air is a totally redesigned tablet and Apple wants to emphasise how slim and light it really is. It uses a similar, but boosted, version of the brilliant 64-bit Apple A7 processor on the iPhone 5S and comes with Apple’s trademark Retina screen, but it's the weight and lack thereof that's the star here.
iPad Air - Video Review
Get a closer look at the iPad Air for yourself in our video review, below
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iPad Air Design – The Power Of LightnessAs taglines go "The Power of Lightness" is only slightly less grating than Samsung’s Galaxy S4 "Designed for Humans". Unlike Samsung’s marketing gumpf, though, at least it makes one thing immediately apparent – Apple is making a big deal about how little the iPad Air weighs, and with good reason.
The iPad Air is much lighter than the iPad 4 before it, in fact it’s lighter than all other tablets in its class at just 469g. That’s a drop of almost 200g, or 29%, on the porky iPad 4. That's a huge generational leap.
iPad 3 on the left next to the iPad Air
It’s the first thing you’ll notice when picking it up and it really makes a big difference when using the iPad Air for long periods of time. It’s perfectly balanced. You can hold it to read or watch a movie for hours simply by cupping a corner in your palm.
Attempt the same with an iPad 4 and you’ll quickly succumb to shaky arm fatigue. The rest of the design is taken straight from the iPad mini 2’s drawer. A tough aluminium shell encases the entire back and sides of the Air, unless you opt for a 4G model which has a small plastic panel at the top to house the antennas. The edges where the screen meets the aluminium are diamond cut, providing a sleek, shiny surface.
While the iPad 4 also has an aluminium shell, the iPad Air’s is grippier and the sides rounder – both useful for keeping a comfortable hold of it.
The plastic buttons on the previous iPads were slightly at odds with the otherwise high-quality design aesthetic. Thankfully, Apple has replaced them with the metal equivalents found on the iPad mini 2. It’s a small touch, but the metal buttons add to the premium feel of the Air.
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It’s not just the weight that has been reduced. The iPad Air is also much thinner and narrower than the iPad 4, while keeping the same screen size. At just 7.5mm thin it really shouldn’t feel as solid as it does, only the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is thinner at this screen size.
The screen bezels have also slimmed down significantly, which makes the iPad Air 16mm narrower than before. Slim bezels are sometimes a mixed blessing. Yes, they make the tablet more compact, but an accidental thumb on a corner of the screen can hit a link or cause the screen to be inoperable. We’ve experienced it plenty of times on phones and tablets, but the iPad Air’s screen is designed to ignore offending thumbs and we didn’t experience a single issue while testing.
SEE ALSO: 10 best Windows 8 laptops and tablets
The iPad Air's bezels are much thinner than the iPads before it
iPad Air Screen – Retina displayThe iPad Air is one of the most comfortable and premium 10-inch tablets we’ve ever used, but a great screen is just as important for a good user experience.
On paper the iPad Air’s Retina screen is the same as the one on the iPad 4. It has a 2,048 x 1,536 IPS panel offering 264 PPI (pixels per inch) with scratch-proof and oleophobic protective glass that's resistant, though not impervious, to greasy fingerprints.
If there was one thing the iPad Air could take from the previous versions without getting too much stick it’s the screen, but Apple has made some subtle improvements to it nonetheless.
Look at the screen straight on and the colours on the iPad 4 and iPad Air match almost exactly. Tilt the screen, however, and you’ll notice that the Air maintains its excellent colour accuracy at impressive angles. Text is also more legible from acute angles.
The screen on the iPad 4 was great, but we did find that it have a slight pinkish tinge to white backgrounds, particularly noticeable when browsing the net. The iPad Air has clearly been given a dose of Daz and manages to provide cleaner whites. Turn the brightness up to eleven and the screen is noticeably brighter, too.
The 4:3 aspect ratio on the iPad Air is one we prefer on a tablet this size. It makes it easier to browse the internet, but you do get bigger black bars when watching a film than you would on a 16:9 or 16:10 tablet. It's one of those trade-offs you just have to live with, but we can't think of a good reason for Apple to change this aspect.
It’s the best screen on a 10-inch tablet, only the Nexus 10 even comes close, but if there’s one thing we’d like Apple to improve it is the reflectiveness. Use it outdoors on a sunny day and you’ll find yourself looking for the best angle to minimise the mirror effect. The brightness means you can still see what’s happening on-screen but an anti-reflective coating would improve matters.
SEE ALSO: 10 best Android tablets you can buy
iPad Air: Sound QualityStereo speakers come as standard on the iPad Air. It’s a step up from the mono speaker on the iPad 4 and brings it in line with the iPad mini. Unfortunately the stereo effect isn’t that impressive, primarily because both drivers are located next to each other at the bottom of the tablet, something the Nexus 7 2 avoids by placing its speakers at either end when held in landscape.
The compact size of the iPad Air means we shouldn’t expect greatness from the speakers, but they are very good for a tablet. Audio is crisp and clear and doesn’t suffer from the tinny treble that affected dialogue on previous iPads. The speakers also offer a mite more bass, which means voices are deeper and more accurately portrayed.
They're reasonably loud too, enough so that you can happily watch a film with company, although, as with any tablet, you’ll want a separate speaker set-up to listen to music. A 3.5mm jack is included so you can plug-in your favourite set of headphones.
So it looks good, the display is solid, but how does it perform?
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