The tablet market is very crowded these days, and even though Apple maintained the market leadership when it comes to overall tablet app selection as well as sales figures of any specific device, Android is pulling up fast. It’s not a monopoly anymore, as more and more people opt for cheaper Android devices. While Apple reacted to the big success of 7 inch tablets like the Nexus 7 or the Kindle Fire by releasing the iPad Mini, the question was what will happen to the classic iPad model. As it turns out Apple is not planning to neglect or abandon the 9 inch category anytime soon. Instead they presented the iPad Air which sports the biggest overhaul for the classic iPad yet.
iPad Air Hardware Design
Actually the redesign is based on the iPad Mini, as Apple basically took the hardware design of the Mini and scaled it to the bigger version. And this is definitely not a bad thing. The front hasn’t really changed that much, with the same home button as always and no fingerprint sensor opposed to the iPhone 5S.
But the iPad Air is much more compact now while keeping the same screen size as its previous models. Its bezel is narrower on the sides and it’s 20% thinner than last years model. Apple managed to make the iPad Air weight under 500 gram which is a huge effort. You will immediately notice this when picking up the iPad Air for the first time.
The corners are not as sharp anymore which makes it much more comfortable to hold in your hand. This was something which always bothered me with the previous iPads, because the combination of sharp edges and quite some weight made it difficult to use for longer periods of time without leaning it on something.
The back is made of aluminium and feels as great as ever. Apple changed the color of the black version slightly, which now has the same space grey as you can find on the new iPhone 5S. This is probably due to the color chipping issues of the black iPhone 5 versions, but I still prefer the deeper black instead of space grey.
Overall the result is one of the best looking tablets out there. It has the right balance of being understated while still having this kind of premium look and style that makes Apple products so desirable for the masses.
iPad Air Build Quality
You normally don’t have to worry about build quality when it comes to new Apple products and the iPad Air is no exception. Made out of perfectly fitting glass and aluminum parts with no real weaknesses, this is still among the very best quality you can get.
The same is true for all the hardware buttons and controls. While there are phones out there which can match the iPhone in this regard, there is just no tablet from another manufacturer which feels as premium as the iPad Air does. Only the Nexus 7 2013 comes close with its light build and soft rubber back, but the iPad Air still has a more premium feel due to the aluminum casing. This doesn’t mean though that everybody will prefer premium feel to the more comfortable and grippy soft rubber back of the Nexus 7 as it’s a matter of taste in the end.
What I noticed as an issue on the iPad Air is the fact that the screen seems to sit pretty deep withing the casing, while on other tablets like the Nexus 7 there is basically zero gap between the display and the touchpanel/glass on top. It’s much more impressive when the display is very near to the surface as it will look like the image is printed on the glass instead of being inside the tablet casing. This also results in the iPad Air somehow feeling more hollow than the previous versions.
When working with the iPad Air for a while the great first impression will be just reinforced. Besides the mentioned display issue, every hardware part sits tight and is crafted with incredible attention to detail.
iPad Air Display
There isn’t much of a change regarding the retina display which still sports the same resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixel with 264 ppi and great color reproduction as the previous model. There may be some slight optimizations but nothing which you would notice without somebody telling you. It’s still good to see that Apple still concentrates on natural color reproduction instead of the unrealistic popping color of many other displays out there.
Even though other tablets sport even higher resolution screens, the retina display still does a great job and doesn’t feel outdated. At this point every resolution leap will only add minor details and can’t really wow anyone. It’s noteworthy that Apple seems to have chosen a thinner and more flexible glas to minimize weight. While it definitely helps to keep the weight down, this also has a downside as the iPad Air display doesn’t feel as sturdy anymore.
iPad Air Performance
I’m not much of a gamer on tablets or smartphones, but I think that games will be probably the area which would show the hardware update most clearly. As with the other regular tasks for a tablet, everything runs very smoothly, the iOS7 animations are still too long for my taste and the performance jump from last years iPad is there but not very big. The iPad Air does a great job by keeping up with all of your multi tasking and app switching without any hiccups. Using Safari is also as smooth as ever, and you have to wonder why Google still can’t make scrolling on their Chrome browser for Android as fluid. With the iPad Air you can be sure to have good performance for the next two years.
iPad Air – The Verdict
I never thought that I would seriously consider going back to a bigger tablet after being happy with both Nexus 7 models for quite some time. But the iPad Air proves that you can have a bigger screen while still keeping the tablet very compact and lightweight. Even though the weight is still a little bit too high to be a real threat to 7 inch tablets, you can’t deny that the bigger screen is especially useful for productive use cases. Writing a lot of text is a pain on small tablets, while I could easily write a review completely on an iPad. Actually I did write this review on an iPad, because I’m pretty fast with the onscreen keyboard and don’t need to take out the laptop for some quick blogging.
I’d still take my Nexus 7 over the iPad Air for the daily newsfeed dose and other content consumption like reading an ebook, but the iPad Air is the perfect device if you also want to be productive with your tablet, while still having all the possibilities for laid back use cases. I was a little bit disappointed by the display being too deep within the device frame, in contrast to the zero gap screens of the competition. Therefore it does feel a little bit cheaper than the previous ipad versions. Still if I’d have to go with only one tablet it would be the iPad Air, and this quote really means something from a longtime (primarily) Android user.