My Thoughts on the iPad Air

Apple recently released the iPad Air and since then tech journalists and Apple fanboys have been fawning all over it. While I was interested in the new form factor of the iPad, I really wasn’t sure whether or not this was a home run for the folks from Cupertino, and after 24 hours, I’m still undecided. In this article I’ll give you a rundown of my first impressions of the Air and we’ll explore both the good and bad of Apple’s new flagship tablet computer.

My Model

I went with the 64GB Wifi model iPad Air. This is the largest capacity iPad I’ve ever purchased and I’m looking forward to the extra space for all my media and apps. Previously I felt hindered by my lack of space on my 16GB iPad(s) and also my 32GB iPad mini, so I’m hoping this alleviates some of that. As for why I didn’t get the LTE model? Well, that’s simple… I don’t need it. I assume many do need it, and that’s fine, but I do not. I’m always connected to wifi, whether it’s at my house or the office, and in the off-chance I find myself in an area without wifi I can use my phone as a mobile hotspot thanks to my AT&T shared data plan. Just a side note here, the guy that sold me my iPad Air told me that the cellular models were more popular than the wifi models this time around, so perhaps I’m the odd duck of the bunch on this one. Ok, now that you know what kind of hardware I’m testing, let’s talk about it…

The New Design

The most notable change from the previous generation iPad is the all-new design and form factor of the iPad Air. The new design takes its cues from the iPad Mini and comes with a nice slim profile, smooth round edges, and a much smaller bezel than any other full-sized iPad models. My favorite thing about the Air is the weight. I can now comfortable hold this device while I’m reading in bed or laying on the couch, and it’s even somewhat comfortable while holding it with one hand.

I was a big fan of the iPad Mini, so the Air’s aesthetics really appealed to me. If you’re a fan of the old iPad design and enjoyed the solid feel of a more sturdy device, this might be a big change for you, but in a good way. You’re not losing anything important with the Air. The form factor might be different and the device itself may weigh less, but you’re actually getting more computing power, faster speeds, and equivalent battery life with a fraction of the weight and bulk of the old iPad.

When you pick up the Air you’ll definitely be impressed with how light it is, especially if you’re coming from a first generation iPad or iPad 2, I think. However, even though it’s lighter than its predecessors, it doesn’t feel cheap or fragile. Bottom line here is that Apple managed to cram a whole lot into a very tiny space, and they did it without sacrificing quality.

iPad-in-hand

Overall Speed

I’ve owned just about every iteration of the iPad, save for the “New iPad” last year. I can honestly say that with each iteration of the device I’ve always noticed a dramatic increase in speed, until now. While the Air does feel snappier than my iPad Mini in some respects, it’s not a dramatic change for me. Games feel like they play smoother on the Air, more so than any other iPad I’ve owned, but everyday tasks seem about the same. I’m not much of a gamer, either, so that is of little importance to me.

Wifi speed is another issue entirely when it comes to the Air. For whatever reason, my previous iPads have all felt a little sluggish in the wifi department. However, the Air feels much faster. Netflix and Amazon Prime video playback is also fantastic on the Air, whereas my iPad mini struggled with both on a regular basis. For those who care about such things, the Air does boast MIMO 802.11n wifi capabilities, which far exceeds the specs of any other previous generation iPad. Translation: this thing is F-A-S-T.

The Screen

The screen resolution of the iPad Air is 2048×1536, which is the equivalent of the previous generation retina display. The interesting thing here is that the iPad Mini boasts the same resolution in a much smaller screen size, making it likely to have an even better viewing experience than the Air. This is definitely something to consider if you’re doing a lot of reading, I think.

Really, there wasn’t much for Apple to improve on with the iPad Air in terms of the screen. I’d still like to have a 16:9 aspect ration, but it appears I’m in the minority when it comes to that sort of thing.

battery-life

Battery Life

One of the biggest features of all previous generation iPads has been the amazing battery all-day life. The Air is no exception. As I type this, my iPad has been going strong for almost two days of regular, yet intermittent use with no need for a charge. All together I’d estimate my battery life to be right at or just a little over Apple’s 10hr threshold. I haven’t been watching too many movies or playing any big games, though, so take that for what it’s worth. I seriously doubt you’ll be able to run this battery down unless you’re doing some serious heavy lifting.

The Price

The price of the iPad Air is consistent with previous generation iPads and it shows that Apple is not concerned with competing with the low end tablet market. They do, of course, offer previous generation iPads at lower price points, but the flagship devices remain at the $499 entry price. Personally, I’d like to see apple get that down eventually, but I doubt we will ever see it happen.

Another concern of mine is the insistence on charging $100 more for each level of storage capacity and the $130 extra charge for the LTE cellular models. What’s that all about? Seriously, that is the most expensive flash memory and cellular radios ever, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with paying more for getting more, but the top of the line iPad Air costs nearly $1,000… Seriously?!? You could buy a MacBook Air for that much money! The only reason I even bought an iPad Air was because I had some old electronics to trade in. If I’d had to pay full retail for one, I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.

The Software

While I don’t think that iOS 7 is a giant leap forward, especially for the iPhone, it does feel tailor made for the iPad. In all honesty, it’s been a joy to use. However, there’s a bigger picture here that I think we need to look at. Apple wants the iPad to replace the personal computer for some, if not all of their users eventually, right? Well, in order to do that, they’re going to have to rethink the one app at a time world that they’ve created on the iPad. Multi-tasking is still so tedious on these tablet devices and many times I feel myself wanting multiple windows of applications while I’m working on the iPad, and it just won’t do it. This fact alone, I believe has kept me from truly integrating a tablet into my daily routine(s).

While we’re on this subject, let’s talk about tablets in general. The innovation with software just isn’t there yet, and it’s driving me a little nuts. If we’re supposed to be using these devices in our everyday lives, someone has to invent apps that let us do that. There are some me many things that I would want to do with this device and simply can’t because the software isn’t there. Let’s fix that, please.

smart-cover

Smart Cover/Case

This is the biggest disappointment about the iPad Air, in my opinion. I love Apple’s design aesthetic when it comes to cases. Well, except for that thing they’re shipping with the iPhone 5c. The new Smart Cases and Covers are awful. Apple first made this mistake with the Smart Cover for the iPad mini, wherein they changed the cover from a quad-fold to a tri-fold design. This made the iPad very unstable and ultimately awkward to use in certain situations. The cases/covers for the Air also sport this new tri-fold design, and they suck equally as hard as the others.

I had high hopes for new cases during Apple’s announcement of the Air. Mostly because it was rumored that they would produce an all-in-one case/keyboard combo a la Microsoft’s Surface tablet… Instead, we got this, and it’s awful. Thanks, Apple.

Why I Bought One

I purchased an iPad Air because I currently lug around a 15″ MacBook Pro while I’m at the office. Seeing as we have an ever-expanding campus at lynda.com, it becomes a pain to have to unhook the laptop, pack it up and carry it with me all the time. Not to mention the fact that it’s really heavy compared to my 13″ Retina MacBook Pro that I have at home. I’m hopeful the iPad Air will become my daily commuter while at the office, thus allowing me to leave my MBP connected at my desk while I attend meetings or am on the sound stages.

Should You Buy One?

The inevitable question is whether or not I would recommend that someone upgrade to the iPad Air or not. Well, that depends. If you are using a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation iPad, yes, go get yourself one of these beauties right now! If you’re using a 4th generation iPad, I’m not so sure this is a compelling device for you. Just upgrade to iOS 7 and you’re 3/4 of the way there.

If you’re a previous generation iPad mini user, this is your chance to get all the slimness of a mini with the firepower of a big iPad. However, if you’re really sold on the form factor of the mini, go with the retina version of that instead. The new Air is just big enough so that it loses that phablet feel that most seem to love about the mini.

Conclusion

All-in-all I applaud Apple for their ability to streamline the iPad into its current form. I do think, however, that they have a lot of work to do in the innovation department when it comes to the software and platform of iOS in general. There are things to love and hate about any device and/or platform, though, so I’ll reiterate my feelings that you should go with what works best for you, and take everything I’ve said here with a big grain of salt. Opinions are an abundant resource on the web, and now you know mine. Thanks for reading.