The iPad Air Review: A Two Week Retrospect

Wow. Such focus, so art.

The power of lightness, the essence of beauty.

If you, dear reader, were to tell me after I had purchased the original iPad Mini that I would make the jump to the larger and heavier iPad Air a little over a year later, I would have scoffed at your remarks. Why wouldn’t I? The iPad (or future iterations thereof) is a heavy, bulky, and overpowered piece of gadgetry. I already have a MacBook Air for all my portable computing needs, so why in the world would my next tablet be the larger and more expensive iPad when I could wait for the retina iPad Mini? Hell would have to freeze over before I would make that change.

A year later, hell has frozen over.

The iPad Mini on the left, the iPad Air on the right.

The iPad Mini on the left, the iPad Air on the right.

For those of you who are Apple Acolytes like myself (or at least claim to be), it was no surprise when Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the next generation iPad Air. The leaks and images have been circulating the internet for weeks prior to the event. A design metaphor that nearly mimics the iPad Mini, but still retaining the same 9.7 inch screen and battery life the original iPad was known for, the iPad Air truly is a feat of engineering and design. In a sense, it was the redesign people were expecting, yet at the same time, anticipating as well.

Aside from the various design and engineering changes to the chassis and feel of the device, the iPad Air retains most of the original on-paper specifications of the fourth-generation iPad. The screen is still an IPS 9.7 inch display with gorgeous color reproduction. The volume switches on the right-hand side draw from the motif of the iPad Mini. Long gone are the rocker-style switches for changing volume. Instead, the buttons present itself as two individual switches of brushed aluminum. The silence/rotation lock switch is still in the same position as before, right above the volume switches. The front-facing camera and back camera are still in the same position and at the bottom of the device there are stereo speakers with a lightning port sandwiched in-between.

iPad Air on the left and the iPad Mini (1st Gen) on the right,

iPad Air on the left and the iPad Mini (1st Gen) on the right,

On the inside, there is the new Apple A7 SoC (System on a Chip) silicon driving both the display and the logic of the device. It is clocked 100MHz faster than the A7 found in the iPhone 5S and the differences in speed is noticeable. Applications are launched quick and snappy with the occasional lag on transitions. I attribute the lag on the operating system and I hope future iterations of the operating system will improve the performance on this flagship device.

Specs are all well and good, but I’m a pragmatic man. A conventional and realistic man at that. Paper specs are just that: good on paper. What matters to me is real-world performance. Subjective experience. The experience that Apple’s designers and engineers focus on more than anything, especially more than the competition. First-hand experience with operating the device can make or break the public discourse of the device. So let’s split up the review into three sections:

The Retina Display

LP on the iPad Air using Mercury Browser.

LP on the iPad Air using Mercury Browser.

I’ve been an avid user of the original non-retina iPad Mini since it’s debut last year. I’ve used it to read books, watch my Chinese cartoons, and browse the web in the comfort of my bed. To say that the non-retina display was satisfactory would be a lie. At best, the display for the iPad Mini, after using the iPad Air for two weeks, was a necessary evil. The original iPad design was heavy, big, and bulky. I couldn’t use it with one hand and couldn’t stand having to fear my face being crushed if my arms were to suddenly give into the weight of the device. So I opted for the iPad Mini. The size and weight were absolutely superb. It’s not to say the display on huge iPad Mini was bad. It was good for its time and a necessary trade off. A year later, however, it no longer is a necessary trade off.

The display is absolutely stunning. Hands down. The 226 PPI (Pixels per inch) display renders text crisp and clear, the menu icons are vibrant and colorful. Jumping from a non-retina display to a retina one is probably one of the largest leaps a person with a low resolution display can ever make. At average operating distance, you can’t even see the pixels or the anti-aliasing of text and graphics. It is absolutely remarkable.

“But Joseph, why not just get the iPad Mini with retina display instead of the air. I thought you adored the size and portability of the Mini.”

Which brings me to the next part:

The Weight

Just more of me to love.

Hands be damned.

Hands be damned.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again to drive the point home: the weight of the previous iPad was just too much for me to compromise. At 1.46 pounds, the previous iPad was just impossible to used with one hand, effectively scratching out 90% of my usage from the device. With the iPad Air, that consideration is null and void. At a little over a pound (read: ~1.07 lbs) for the cellular version I have (thanks to the T-Mobile promotion) the weight consideration has become a non-factor. I can comfortably (and safely) use the device with one hand and pulling it out for spontaneous usage is no longer a chore. The depth of the iPad Air is significantly thinner than the previous iPad, so bulk is no longer a problem in my day-to-day lugging of my messenger bag.

“But Joseph, wouldn’t it be substantially easier to use the iPad Mini because it’s nearly 25% lighter and thinner than the iPad Air? Are you just trying to justify your purchase?”

Dear reader, the final section:

The Price-to-Usage Ratio

Or, how I learned to love the performance.

Made using Paper by 53.

Made using Paper by 53.

I’m not going to lie: if the iPad Mini was priced differently with respect to the iPad Air pricing, it would have been a no-brainier as to which device I would have purchased. But at $100 cheaper than the iPad Air, the iPad Mini has nearly no advantage over the iPad Air aside from screen real estate. I’m a sucker for having the latest and greatest gadget with the highest performance. Sure, reading books and browsing the internet with a 7.9 inch screen for $170 dollars cheaper compared to the previous iPad is a drop in the bucket, especially if the iPad was heavier and bulkier than the Mini. But with the iPad, that conundrum is no longer valid. Spending $100 more for a larger display and overall similar performance over the retina iPad Mini is a more obvious choice. However, it was not to say it was an easy choice. I was in a precarious position for the days leading up to the launch of the iPad Air. Spend more for a bigger display, or wait for the iPad Mini with retina display?

Needless to stay, if it weren’t for the small gap in pricing between the iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display, I most likely would have gone for the latter.

But, after using the iPad Air for two weeks, I can safely say that I don’t regret the purchase.

Final Words

Or, final taps on the virtual keyboard.

The most expensive tent in the world.

The most expensive tent in the world.

I’m not here to convince you, dear reader, to purchase an iPad Air. Nor am I trying to convince you to purchase the iPad Mini. Simply put, if you wish to have a bigger screen then buy the iPad Air. If you want to have something smaller, buy the iPad Mini with Retina Display. Truly, it makes very little difference whichever device you purchase. Or even if you purchase the cheaper yet similarly capable Nexus 7 or Amazon HDX, I wouldn’t put it against you. The iPad Air isn’t for everybody, but it certainly is for me. I can browse the web with one hand laying in bed, watch videos with stunning performance, and work on documents and other projects without my MacBook Air (speaking of which, this entire post was written using the new Pages app for iOS, both using a Bluetooth keyboard and with the on-screen keyboard). The iPad Air truly is a fantastic piece of technology.

After using the iPad Air for two weeks, I am satisfied with my purchase.

Now with 100% more viewing angles.

Now with 100% more viewing angles.

And in the end, isn’t that what we all strive for?

  • http://www.spudart.org/ Matt Maldre

    I own an iPad 3. The one thing that the mini has going against its larger brother is the size on the train. Riding the CTA in chicago, there is no way I would ever pull out the full-size iPad. It just screams, “please mug me.”

    Besides, even when i’m at home, I don’t read books on my iPad, because all the light emitting from the thing is too much (even though I know you can lower the brightness, there’s something I don’t like about all that physical glass to read. Maybe the size is more like reading a magazine, when I really want to just read a book–this is an interesting idea, I’m saving it as a future blog post–thank you.)

    I prefer to read books on my iPhone 4S. If I had the iPad mini, I believe I would prefer to read books on that smaller screen.

    Oh, and btw, I see you are already using a stylus. :) (you asked me about that in one of my blog posts). Your stylus looks fancy! Does it have a more pointed nib?

    • http://loneplacebo.com/ Tony Hue

      For reading, I recommend the Kindle Paperwhite. No more blinding backlit screen.

      This post was written by Joseph, the other writer on this blog, so I have no clue what stylus that would be. Sorry!