Review: iPad Air

Is Apple’s new tablet worth upgrading too if you already have an existing iPad?

I already have a Microsoft Surface, but just a few days after getting it delivered to my doorstep, I found myself buying a brand new iPad Air. I know it looks as though I’ve gone tablet crazy, but I use each device for different things, and the fact is, there are enough new features in the iPad Air to warrant a purchase, even if you already own another iPad model.

I ended up with a cellular version of the 32 GB iPad because it has all the radios it needs to work in Europe and the US, making travel abroad that much more enjoyable.

But before you make an impulse purchase, there are some things you should know about the iPad Air. Firstly, its significantly different in terms of size and weight when compared to its predecessors. It’s about two thirds of the thickness of the previous iPad, weighs only slightly more than half as much, and is smaller – although the screen size hasn’t changed.

iPad Air (11)

Different dimensions

Because it’s smaller your old iPad accessories probably won’t work. I asked a member of staff whether my old smart cover would work, who said it should, but it turns out it doesn’t. The difference in thickness means the magnetic hinges on the old cover won’t attach properly, and the difference in width of about a half inch means the cover would stick out on one side anyway.

This is neither pretty nor useful. I ended up going back to the Apple Store the next day to buy the proper cover.

It’s nearly certain that if you have a cover for your existing iPad, it’s not going to work with an iPad Air, although there’s no reason you can’t try. After it all, it could be possible that the Air will slide into one of the portfolio covers that include a keyboard and fit loosely, but still work.

iPad Air (5)

A7 processor

There are less superficial differences once you actually turn on the iPad Air. Apple has included a much faster 64-bit A7 processor in the new iPad and also included its M7 motion coprocessor. The combination makes the parallax effect provided by iOS 7 appear to work more smoothly and appears less likely to induce motion sickness.

For the most part, the faster processor doesn’t have a lot of effect because so much of the iPad’s speed is limited by the speed of the Internet connection. This means that the real delays in what you’re trying to do with the iPad are happening in the cloud.

However there are exceptions. When I tried a couple of weather radar apps that I use for flight planning, I found that the animations started far more quickly and ran more smoothly than they had in my third generation iPad.

Battery improvements

The battery life with the iPad Air seems to be somewhat better, at least when it’s in an environment with strong Wi-Fi and strong LTE signals.

While I haven’t put either machine through an exhaustive test, I noticed that the old iPad ran out of battery power an hour or so before the iPad Air ran out. I should note that the old iPad isn’t that old as Apple replaced it under warranty only a month prior to my buying the Air, so the shorter life on the third generation iPad likely wasn’t due to battery age.

iPad Air (2)

Up in the air

There are other improvements. Apple has finally provided decent cameras for the iPad, for example and the speakers in the iPad Air seem to sound a little better as well, although they still couldn’t be accused of being high-fidelity.

When Apple releases a new device that replaces the previous model, there’s always the question of whether it’s worth spending the money to do the upgrade. In this case I was replacing a third generation iPad with one that had important features that I need, such as the improved cellular radios.

For me, that justified the cost, but it might not have been the same had I had a fourth generation device. The deal was sweetened by the various trade-in programmes offered by mobile carriers, and that made it a no-brainer.

However if you want the faster processor, slimmer design and lengthier battery, then it might be worth an upgrade anyway.

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iPad Air and iPad Mini 2

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iPad Air

Originally published on eWeek.