Big screens are back.
The iPad Air, announced last month, in what used to be the iPod’s launch event, has arrived to bring back the larger screen tablet. A strange statement, yes, but after last year’s double launch of the 3rd and 4th generations and the iPad Mini, there had been some confusion over what apple would do with the larger iPad. With leaks and the iPad Mini being on the scene, it was clear that the 5th generation of iPad (in a little over 3 years) was going to have a major physical redesign.

It has.

It’s quite hard to sum up how important the change in the physical dimensions of the iPad Air are with out actually getting your hands on one. It was like the first time I picked up an iPhone 5. You would expect something of this size to be heavier. Like the iPhone 5 though, it doesn’t feel flimsy at all. The reassuring build quality you expect from an Apple product is here and it feels great.

The hands on time I’ve had was with a Wi-Fi only 64GB unit in Space Grey. I make special mention to the Space Grey. Like the iPhone 5s, this new colour option is preferable over the pure ‘Slate’ from last year, which was prone to showing marks as soon as you breathed on it. Aside: I’d really like to see a MacBook with this colour option.

The new iPad Air is as thin as an iPad mini. To which, means it’s ludicrously thin! Seriously, in the next generations of iPads, we’re going to reach a point where they can be no thinner. In fact, I’d venture a bet that by the time there’s a major refresh again in a couple of years, we could be looking at a 5mm deep iPad. Which will be fine if they feel like this. I put all tablets I touch through a twist test. Grab the two furthest points of the tablet and try and ring it out like a towel. If it’s not made of metal, be very careful. There are some plastic tablets that have been quite expensive that have almost popped completely apart from this test. The iPad Air remains rigid.

It’s funny the things you miss: The Retina Display.

I have an iPad Mini as my tablet these days. I feel in love with how light it was and how easy it is to use in one hand. There’s only every been one issue. The screen. Coming from a 3rd gen iPad, the first with the Retina Screen, to the iPad Mini has been a bit of a disappointment. Using the iPad Air as reminded me just how lovely a retina screen on a tablet can be. The pixels are almost indistinguishable and the colours bright and clear. It’s the best tablet screen I’ve ever seen and there’s nothing on the immediate horizon to beat it. I’d expect 4k and 8k resolution screens at some point in the future, but we’re still 3/4 years from those being made at this size for mainstream adoption.

The camera on the iPad 2 was a joke. The camera on the iPad Air is comparable to that of the iPhone 4. It can sometimes be unnerving having a 9.7 inch viewfinder but as you can see in the sample gallery, the images are acceptable for a quick snap. Unfortunately, this means there will still be plenty of people walking around taking pictures with it.

Performance wise, It’s quick. That’s a given, considering that the new A7 64 Bit processor is in there, running slightly faster than the iPhone 5s’s version. That’s mostly down to the extra power from the vastly larger battery and better heat dissipation achieved with having a lot more space in the casing. Talking about performance on the iPad Air though seems like a thankless task. There are plenty of reviews on the net, where they have benchmarked the Air against the competition but for the vast majority of users, they may not notice. Current apps run really well and fast. If you’ve been using any of the first 3 generations of iPad (including the Mini) you’ll see this thing shoot along and be impressed. If you’ve spent a lot of time with a 4th gen though, at this point you’d be hard pressed to see much difference. This seems to be the case with the A7. It’s 64 Bit muscles will be flexed with some impressive apps in time, but today, you’ll just have to amaze yourself with how fast Real Racing and Infinity Blade load.

Round Up

As you can tell, this is a short impressions, rather than a full review of the Air. There’s enough of those online and the all really say the same thing; The best just got better.

For me, this rings true. If I was in the market for a tablet right now, there are only two options. An iPad and everything else. If you have any iPad from the first 3 versions, the Air is a good upgrade. if you have a 4th gen, then the upgrade is harder to justify.

If you have a Mini, remember that the exact same specifications from the Air will be in the Retina Mini. For me, that’s a really tempting upgrade.

All said and done, try and get your hands on an iPad Air, if anything, just to feel how light and strong it is. You may also be amazed at how much it looks like Captain Picard’s PADD.