Review: iPad Air

From the minute I picked up the iPad Air at Apple’s event in San Francisco last week, I knew it was going to be different. Apple set expectations very high by simply using the “Air” moniker for the new iPad, giving users thoughts of a lightweight, powerful, professional device, similar to how they think of the MacBook Air.

The good news is the iPad Air lives up to all of those expectations and more.

When I first picked up the iPad Air, I noticed how light it was. I mean really light. In reality, Apple shaved about half a pound of weight off the new iPad compared to the previous generations. That may not seem like much, but when the old iPad only weighed approximately 1.5 pounds, knocking off half a pound is significant.

I must admit, at first I was wondering if the new iPads Apple had on display at the event were prototypes—empty fakes that didn’t actually work, but showed what the form-factor would be like when they were released. I’m pleased to say that they were the real thing.

iPad Air

It’s very hard to describe how good the iPad Air feels in your hand without actually picking one up. It’s kind of like the first time you saw a Retina display for the first time—shock.

The other thing you will quickly notice is that while the screen size of the iPad Air is the same as the previous generation, the Air is actually a smaller device. The height is the same, but the width is considerably narrower.

Apple made the distance between the edge of the screen and edge of the iPad smaller on both sides, accounting for the smaller size. The iPad Air now resembles the iPad mini in that respect.

This smaller size is great. If you have decent sized hands you can type with two thumbs on the iPad in portrait, something I wasn’t really able to do with the last generation iPad without a lot of stretching. Clearly a full-size iPad is not something you will be thumb typing with all the time1, but it does give you an idea of how much smaller the iPad Air is.

The iPad Air also comes with Apple’s A7 chip, the fastest chip the company has manufactured to date. Power has never been something I worried about on an iPad and I certainly won’t be worried with this new version.

The A7 is a 64-bit chip that is packed with power. There aren’t any apps or any situation that I have tried or can think of that would slow down this iPad. In fact, the A7 chip has twice the processing power and graphics performance as the A6X chip found in the iPad 4. That’s an astounding amount of power increase for a single generation.

The Air is also equipped with the M7 chip, a new coprocessor first introduced on the iPhone 5s. The M7 takes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass and can deliver that information to apps without accessing the A7. This ultimately means power savings for the user because the more power hungry A7 doesn’t have to work at gathering that information.

Speaking of power—let’s talk about the battery. I don’t use my iPad all day, every day, but I do use it on occasion throughout the day. For instance, if I have an appointment, I’ll take the iPad with me and do some writing. I did that today.

I sat for a few hours today, utilizing LTE for Internet, and writing in Byword. I was doing simple things really—nothing that was taxing for such a powerful device, but still important work for me.

I used it a few more times during the day for research, email, surfing the Web and other such tasks. I wrote and edited part of this review on it. As I type this, there is 84% of my battery remaining. Not bad for having a device at my disposal all day long, ready to do anything I need.

I always opt for the cellular model iPad because I think it’s the smart choice. We can have Internet almost anywhere we go these days and I want that option. We can get very cheap data packages, so why not do that.

My wife never gets the cellular model and it came back to bite her on a couple of occasions—the last time was just before I left for the Apple event.

We were going to see a new puppy at the dog rescue she volunteers for. She had the address on her iPad mini, but forgot to bring up the email before we left the house. Of course, when she did try to search for it, we were on the road without a connection. We had to stop at a coffee shop, get a Wi-Fi connection and find the address. It was a pain, but we had little choice2.

The last thing that stood out to me with the iPad Air are the apps. I usually don’t talk about apps when I look at an iPhone or iPad, but this time, they deserve a mention.

It would have been great for users if Apple released iLife and iWork free for its users. Instead, the company updated iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote and then made them free.

iPad Air

This is a huge win for users. Apple is giving away the OS and now it is giving away all of the apps people need to do work and have fun. Everything you need is free. It’s not just that the apps are free that’s impressive—it’s that they are really good apps.

I spoke at a conference in San Francisco last week after the iPad event, so I had a chance to use the apps in real-world circumstances. I worked on my Keynote presentation on my iPad, made notes in Pages on my iPhone and worked on The Loop Magazine payments in Numbers, all while sitting in Union Square enjoying a coffee. When I got back to the hotel, all of my work was available on iCloud when I turned on my Mac.

That’s powerful and efficient. I got things done. That’s what software and hardware are supposed to do for you. That’s what the iPad Air and iWork did for me.

  1. Let’s face it, we all pick up the iPad from time to time and type in a URL or email address. 

  2. Yes, I realize it’s cheaper to remember the address than it is to buy a more expensive cellular iPad, but this kind of thing happens to people all the time. I opt for convenience. 

  • I disagree on getting the LTE version, at least for most users.

    If you have an iPhone with T-Mobile or AT&T Share plans, you get Mobile Hotspot at no additional price.

    The hassle of turning on Mobile Hotspot and connecting your WiFi-only iPad to it in the rare occasion that you need internet access on the iPad and no WiFi network is available, is to me a reasonable tradeoff. I save $130 on the device and I save on a separate monthly data plan.

    • Charles

      I agree to an extent but it depends on the user. I like having my ipad around for work and knowing it’s always connected to Verizon is easily worth the $10 to Verizon. Yes it is a bump on the initial price but I’ve used the Verizon LTE network enough where it earns it’s value.

      If I were on AT&T where the coverage is spotty in any place other then Dallas I’d agree.

      AT&T normally drops in signal in most major cities I’ve traveled to at the thought of anything with a wall. It’s like that I’m Miami, Orlando, NYC and Vegas.

      Everything has it’s use case.

    • Fraydog

      This time around, I’d get the T-Mobile model as it comes with 200 MB of free data. For the times that you didn’t have access to WiFi, that would be nice to have. Sprint and AT&T are also coming out with more economical options for data as well in response to T-Mobile starting at $5.

    • Genkakuzai

      I just share internetz from my iPhone if needed. Got a great data plan there, might as well use it.

    • T_Will

      This is true, unless you’re like my family who still has a real unlimited data plan on AT&T. But this is the reason I’m planning to jump on the T-Mobile bandwagon (0% financing and 200 MB’s free).

  • Jason Monk

    I’d have to say the cellular iPads seem silly because my phone can tether to anything with WiFi. Tethering is not an extra fee for us in Canada so it’s never a bother.

    The $130 price difference is too much in my opinion. If it was ≤$100 I might be more inclined.

  • gavin

    Will Get 2

  • Scott

    The dog story doesn’t add up, sorry man. You were both out, one of you with an iPad, and neither of you had any other device with cellular connectivity with which to look up the address? I have a hard time picturing you being somewhere without an iPhone or two (since we know you’ve got the iPhone 6 and 7c in testing 😉

    • Kenty

      If you can’t remember ANY of the address how do you look it up? 😉

    • It was my wife’s email account and she didn’t have her phone with her. Mine doesn’t have tethering enabled.

      • reallyronswanson

        I’m pretty sure your wife’s email account could have been pulled up in a modern-day browser on your phone, don’t you think? What does she use, Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, iCloud…?

        • She uses iCloud and you can’t access it in a browser on the iPhone.

          • titietrominet

            Yes you can, but you have to use third party browser such as Puffin (I have not tried on other browser) which will act as if you were on a computer and not on an iPhone. Safari for instance recognizes immediately you are on an iPhone and won’t let you read your iCloud emails or contacts and so on.

          • reallyronswanson

            It is possible to input another iCloud mail account on your iPhone 5S, search for the address, then delete that iCloud account after you’ve retrieved the address. That’s far more convenient than having to locate some coffee shop for a Wifi connection.

            Also, it does not make sense that leaving from your house before going to the Apple event, your wife does not know how to get to the dog rescue that she volunteers at (which makes it sounds like she’s been there more than one time…).

            Let’s get real here.

      • digeratti

        Btw, getting tethering enabled is probably a more cost effective solution in most cases. You save on the cost of the iPad and get a hotspot when in a pinch like this.

    • Billy Razzle

      Wow! I’m never disappointed in peoples ability to focus on the wrong part of something. You people really think he just made up the dog story, or failed to think of an obvious way to check her email?

  • yummyyummyfly

    Neither you nor your wife had an iPhone that you could check your email on?

  • Moeskido

    Mr. D., how do you feel about the narrowed side bezels? Does the Air still have enough grip space for you to hold onto the device comfortably without touching the active part of the screen?

    • In most cases, iOS on thin-bezel iPads is smart enough to recognize that you don’t mean to interact with the edge of the screen.

  • duckzila

    @jdalrymple:disqus She didn’t have her phone with her, but had the WI-FI only iPad?! Come on… This story is (I dont’t want to say pathetic) unrealistic. You really don’t need an iPad with celullar in order to check for emails. There are 1000 other reasons to get one…

    • I really don’t know what to tell you duck, that’s what happened.

  • reallyronswanson

    Jim, the cute puppy story, it doesn’t make senses at all. So your wife had a Wifi iPad and neither of you had a phone? So you had to pull over to a coffee shop and look it up on the Wifi device? If you opt for convenience like you say you do (I don’t know, maybe to get more people to opt for the cellular iPad model?), then you would most likely carry a phone with you at all times (same goes for your wife).

    If this is your idea of a pitch for a product need scenario then you are a lousy salesman. At least take more time to fabricate the story so it’s buttoned up…

    • Ok, since you obviously care more about Jim’s personal life experience than the iPad Air, let me detail the completely fabricated truth about the epic journey in which Jim and his wife ended up on the road to nowhere with a wifi iPad, only one iPhone (with no tethering) and no access to his wife’s email.

      It all started many many years ago, when Jim first laid eyes on a Heineken…

      • Michael Roselius

        Jim – your inability to think as quickly as the rest of us (after the fact) in this difficult scenario confirms for me that the iPad Air is not the product Apple is trying to make it out to be. Those of us who can analyze your story and find the shortcomings would all agree that the Blackberry playbook is really the superior tablet and if you had had one of those, that puppy would have rescued without incident. More seriously, I’m curious if the change in dimensions width wise for the Air has had any impact in how you carry the device in your beard?

        • LOL!

          Funny, I even posted pictures of the puppy on Twitter. I was so interested in making up a story I thought weeks ahead—even before the iPad Air was released.

    • I had my phone.

    • Slurpy2k12

      Truth be told, I didn’t get the puppy story either. Was a weird pitch for a cellular iPad, and the scenario the scenario didn’t make sense. That email could have been pulled up on either Jim or his wife’s phone- I don’t understand the need to pull into a coffee shop to get wifi for the iPad.

  • digeratti

    Why couldn’t you have used your iPhone to check your email instead of stopping by a coffee shop to get wifi for the iPad?

  • Michael Roselius

    I guess the part that troubles me the most with this article is that, with the non-LTE iPad Mini – you were able to visit a coffee shop, and save a puppy. Fast forward to San Francisco. You find yourself in another coffee shop – with the brand new iPad Air – complete with LTE – and all you did was a bunch of paperwork. You failed to rescue any puppies. My takeaway is that – despite its reduced size, weight, retina screen and blazing fast A7 64 bit chipset – the iPad Air is simply the wrong device to rescue puppies with.

    • Jalcoza

      This thread makes me want to check WSJ for the headline “Do new Apple iPads lead to increase in puppy deaths?

  • menace

    prove it beardie ;P

  • Jeff

    If you want GPS capability, you need to go with the cellular model. That’s the main reason I do. I use my iPhone for tethering, and sometimes the large iPad for maps while driving.

  • Great review of the iPad Air! Sorry to see that so many people are giving you a hard time over a very realistic situation that occurred in real life. I think it’s hard for geeks to remember that not everybody is one and doesn’t always have their phone glued to them every second of the day.

  • dvdphn

    Oh man, I hesitate following these commenters, but here’s my story.

    My first mobile device was the 3G iPad 1, (back when I was only using a feature phone). I felt that it was worth the extra $130 to have optional 250 MB data whenever I want. It’s the convenience, plus, I hate contract plans, (I liked only paying $100 a year for my phone, thank you very much).

    It was nice to have a big screen device where I can take it out and sign up for data on the spot, and use it right away, (can’t do that on a netbook, or as effortless on a smartphone). Saved myself a couple times when I got lost in an unknown city.

    Plus, isn’t it a bit unsettling, draining the batteries of two devices? Especially when one of those devices is essentially your lifeline/emergency line? (Assuming you’re not close to a charger.)

    Also, it’d be difficult for some people to do complicated things, like tethering their tablets to their phones, (mostly muggles who avoid the settings app).

    I miss having that convenient data sign-up with my WiFi iPad Mini, (and honestly, the free WiFi hotspots login pages are annoying).

    • dvdphn

      Also, it can be convenient to have your smartphone with one carrier, and your tablet on another. That way, you can have yourself covered.

  • Barney

    I’ve owned every generation of the iPad , My wife also has one and I’ve equipped everyone in management at our company with them can’t imagine an excuse for a WiFi only iPad.. with LTE you open it , Use it, Done no fooling around …