Apple’s 10″ wonder returns
When Apple released iOS 7 last year I was one of many people who tried it, hated it and then got rid of their Apple devices as quickly as possible.
At the time I swapped my “old” iPad 3 for a Google Nexus 7 tablet, but now, 6 months later, I’m back in bed with Apple. To be clear; I’ve not really changed my mind about iOS 7, but I have come to realise that I prefer a 10″ tablet to the 7″ screen on the (still excellent) Nexus 7.
So, being not to keen on the OS that’s running on it, this might be quite a difficult review to remain objective on, lets see how we get on…
The iPad Air represents the biggest change in design to Apple’s tablet since the iPad 2. The width of the device is noticeably narrower than the predecessor, while maintaining the same dimensions on the screen itself.
It’s also thinner and lighter than the previous version of the iPad, which results in it being slightly easier to handle than previous versions.
As with all versions of the iPad, the front of the device is a single piece of Gorilla glass, with the rest of the enclosure being made up from a single piece of machines aluminium. A noticeable difference on this version when compared to previous ones is that the aluminium seam with the glass has been given a highly polished look which looks absolutely fantastic.
To the top of the casing you’ll find the traditional standby button and mic/headphone socket. To the right hand side you’ll find the slide switch for controlling mute or screen lock, as well as individual buttons for volume control.
At the base of the unit you’ll find the Apple Lightening connector and stereo speaker grills.
The new iPad comes in two different colour schemes. You can opt for a black front with a “Space Grey” back, or a white front with a more traditional “Silver” back. As with previous iterations, it comes in 16, 32 and 64GB versions, with or without cellular connectivity.
Overall, I’m quite impressed with the design changes that have been made for the iPad Air. It’s definitely a fine tuning of the previous iPad design as opposed to anything revolutionary, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
This is a difficult part of the review to write, basically because I don’t care for the design of iOS 7, or at least I didn’t when it was released.
Perhaps the 6 months that have lapsed have mellowed me, or else the iPad Air just runs iOS 7 a bit better than my previous devices had done. While I still don’t care too much for some of the design choices that Jony Ive has made, there’s no denying that iOS 7 is a polished OS on the whole.
Having had some time to calm down since its release, I now have to admit that it does have some advantages over its predecessor, and it does in fact seem to be a perfectly usable and even intuitive way of working.
As with anything, you really need to buy in to the product as a whole in order to get the best out of it. By which I mean that you need to make the best use of things like the calender, appointment book and the dreaded Apple Maps for all of the stars to align. If you choose not to include your contacts, calendar, etc. on the iPad then you’ll find Notification Centre noticeably empty for most of the time.
If, however, your iPad becomes the hub of your social life then Notification Centre will be rife with relevant information about appointments, the weather and traffic info. In practice it seems to work about as well as Google Now from the Android platform, although I must admit that I prefer the Now interface to Apple’s iteration.
The big selling point for iOS 7.1 has been the arrival of CarPlay – Apple’s tie-in with a number of car manufacturers to allow for seemless integration of your iOS devices with OEM in car entertainment. Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of cars available that currently make use of this feature, though a whole host of manufacturers are set to start doing so. Whilst it might prove a useful feature, I’d question its relevance for the iPad Air, it just seems more of an iPhone-esque feature to me.
If I’m honest, the main reason for me purchasing a new iPad was that my tiring eyes were having trouble using a 7″ tablet, and as 10″ tablets go the iPad is still the measuring stick by which all other devices are measured.
This version of the iPad continues the lineage of previous versions in that it’s equally as easy to use, slightly better designed, but unfortunately contains many of the shortcomings of previous models.
I’ll start off with overall performance and state that this thing is possibly the fastest tablet device I’ve ever used. Apple’s decision to pair their 64 bit A7 processor with a co-processor for managing the built in sensors ensures that the user experience is about as fluid as could possibly be.
The A7 chip also helps make light work of pretty much any app or game currently in the App Store, as you’d expect from a flagship device. The extra processing power makes light work of Apple’s new and improved productivity apps, allowing you to produce high quality photo, audio and video files with relative ease.
On that note, anyone that purchases an iPad Air will receive a free license to download and use Apple’s entire productivity suite, comprising: Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Garageband, iPhoto and iMovie. There do appear to be a few bugs with downloading the apps, but once you’ve got them they work a treat.
iMovie and iPhoto are of particular interest to me. For the first time, I may actually be able to shoot and produce videos for Tech Made Easy on a mobile device.
One feature that surprised me is Newsstand. This isn’t exactly a new feature, but it’s one that I plan to use intently now that I no longer live in the UK. The ability to subscribe to UK publications, download them and read at my leisure is of excellent benefit for me, and it works really well.
In terms of battery life, Apple claim a 9 hour life on a single charge. Having used the iPad exhaustively over the past couple of weeks I’d have to say that they’re not far off. Obviously more intense usage like gaming or working with HD video will drain your battery quicker, but if you’re just listening to music, browsing the web and chatting with friends on line it’s easy to imagine getting a full days use out of the battery.
When it comes to enjoying media, the better-than-HD screen and stereo speakers make sure that even full HD movies are a pleasure to use. In particular, the speakers on the iPad Air are amongst the best I’ve ever encountered on a device of this size. Crank them up to full volume and they’ll fill a decent sized room with rich, clear sounds.
As with previous iPads, the Air comes with dual cameras a 720p personal camera, for video chatting, etc. and a 1080p front facing camera for shooting video and taking pictures. The clarity on both cameras is pretty impressive, with the 1080p camera taking excellent quality video that simply isn’t seen on another tablet device.
While it’s still positioned firmly at the high end of market, the iPad Air should definitely appeal to the majority of consumers, even if you’ve not previously used an iOS device.
The new design is certainly an improvement, even though it’s not massively dissimilar to earlier versions. There are few other devices that put so much emphasis on design, which makes it a shame that most people will choose to cover it up with a case.
In terms of performance, I’m still not that keen on the look of iOS 7, but it at least seems to be a rock solid basis for your apps, and the new A7/M7 processor combination seems to help make light work of the majority of apps.
Apple’s decision to include a whole host of free apps does add to the value of the device, though if you’re buying the 16GB version then you’ll find yourself very short on space once you install all the free apps.
Overall, the iPad Air is a premium product at a reasonable price. The performance, design and added value of the apps re-confirm the iPad as the king of the 10″ tablets.