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iPad Air hands-on review

Apple's latest tablet impresses with its thinner design and 64-bit chip
Fri Nov 01 2013, 11:35

GADGET DESIGNER Apple's iPad Air has arrived and is looking to lure punters away from Android and Windows 8 tablets with its thinner design and upgraded features.

The iPad Air, which has already drawn queues in London, is now on sale, complete with Apple's new 64-bit A7 chip, the iOS 7 mobile operating system and a reworked design. However, Apple likely disappointed some with the news that it won't come with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the iPhone 5S smartphone, and its cameras haven't seen an upgrade.

The iPad Air's main talking point is its design, with Apple boasting that the tablet is the lightest full-sized tablet on the market.

The iPad Air is 28 percent lighter than Apple's fourth generation iPad tablet at 469g, and has a 48 percent narrower bezel, making the device look more like Apple's iPad Mini. The device also measures just 7.5mm thick, which Apple has been keen to point out is thinner than an average pencil.

Apple iPad Air design

It's quite surprising how much lighter the iPad Air feels in hand than its predecessors, and it feels much more natural to hold than Apple's last generation tablets. Although we have yet to use it for a long period of time, this is likely to make the iPad Air much better suited for watching films and reading books, and is unlikely to cause the same wrist ache that we often experience from using the third generation iPad.

Much like Apple's previous iPads, the iPad Air is built out of aluminium, with the tablet available in White Silver and Space Grey models. We got our hands on the white coloured model, which looks just as high-end as you would expect. However, given the drastic drop in weight, it doesn't feel quite as sturdy as its predecessors, although we have yet to put this fully to the test.

On paper, the iPad Air features the same Retina display as its predecessor, a 9.7in 2048x1536 IPS panel. While some might be disappointed that there's no bump in screen specifications, Apple's 9.7in Retina display is still among the best, if not the best on the market.

Apple iPad Air lock screen

Colours are vibrant, text crisp and viewing angles are unchallenged. Our only gripe with previous iPads however has been that outdoor visibility is lacking, and the iPad Air is likely to have the same problem.

Software and performance
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple's iPad Air ships with iOS 7, which since its release earlier this year has divided opinions. We're fans of the latest iOS version though, and the refreshed design sits nicely with the iPad Air's new design.

As an improvement on previous models, Apple has also said that its iWork Suite will be free to adopters of the iPad Air, offering users a saving of £4.99 per app. This likely is a bid to attract business customers away from the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and Nokia's Lumia 2520 tablets.

Apple's iPad Air has a 9.7in Retina display

Check out our full iOS 7 review for our more detailed thoughts on Apple's latest mobile operating system.

Apple's iPad Air also has the firm's new 64-bit A7 chip found on the iPhone 5S, along with the new M7 co-processor that is designed to detect whether you're walking, driving or lazing on the sofa. In terms of processing power, the iPad Air is exceptionally nippy, and while we've never had any complaints about the speed of Apple's older iPads, the iPad Air seems a little bit smoother and slicker.

We'll be pushing the 64-bit chip to the limit over the weekend, so check back on Monday for our full thoughts.

The iPad Air doesn't feature everything you'll find on the iPhone 5S, however. Apple has opted against configuring the iPad Air with its Touch ID fingerprint sensor, likely because it would not get used as frequently as on a smartphone, and because it would probably bump up the price of the already expensive tablet. The iPad Air doesn't feature the same camera module as the iPhone 5S either, meaning it doesn't come with burst or slow motion modes.

Other specifications
The iPad Air doesn't offer much in the way of innovation when it comes to cameras, featuring a 5MP rear-facing camera and a 1.2MP camera on the front. We are yet to test these fully, bar pulling a few horrific faces on Photobooth, but we'll be sure to test these thoroughly over the weekend for our full review.

Due to the reduction in size, the iPad Air has a smaller battery than its predecessors, but Apple is still claiming the same 10 hours of battery life, which has long been one of the tablet's standout features.

In terms of connectivity, you'll find Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n connectivity. The tablet is also available with LTE connectivity, although you'll have to add £100 to the asking price if you're after a mobile connection.

First impressions
When Apple first announced that it would call its latest tablet the iPad Air, we sighed. Sure, it's a bit smaller, but is it really worth a new name?

Having used the iPad Air this morning, we eat our words. It's quite shocking how much thinner and lighter the tablet is compared to previous models, and while these might sound like shallow aspects to be excited about, they likely will make the tablet much more pleasant to use than before. No more aching wrists while reading, and no more dragging around a handbag with a weighty iPad in it.

We'll be putting the iPad Air to the test more thoroughly over the weekend, so check back next week for our full review.

If you're already sold, check out our iPad Air price, release date and availability roundup. µ


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