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iPad Air Review: thinner, faster and better than ever

The iPad Air gets the full review treatment, and takes the crown as the best iPad upgrade Apple has ever made

iPad Air Review Main ImageKey features • Stunning new thin design • 64-bit A7 chip with M7 coprocessor • Five-megapixel camera

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Price: Wi-Fi from £399/$499 (16GB) • Wi-Fi + cellular from £499/$629 (16GB)

Often, iPad and iPhone reviews throw out words like thinner, lighter and faster, and while these are often the case, we can’t think of a time they have been quite as accurate as with the iPad Air. The Air uses a similar design to last year’s mini, with a flat aluminium case that curves neatly up, meeting the glass screen with a glossy chamfered edge. New technologies have allowed Apple to shave 20% off the iPad 4, making this the thinnest 9.7- inch iPad ever, and thinner bezels on the left and right of the screen have helped accomplish an almost 30% reduction in weight. They’re impressive figures, but numbers alone can’t quite get across just how big a difference they make.

Picking up the Air for the first time, the change is immediately apparent. The thinner casing feels fantastic in the hand, and the reduction in weight not only makes the iPad easier to carry, it makes using it a much more comfortable experience. It’s now easy to hold the tablet one- handed for prolonged periods, and for activities like reading in bed or watching a movie, you’ll find your arm and fingers under a lot less strain to keep the iPad upright.

It‘s gorgeous, too; taking its design cues from the mini, the Air’s smooth curves, brushed aluminium case and glossy screen blend together beautifully. The thinner bezels could’ve made the whole thing look a little out of proportion, but in fact going back to an iPad 4 after using the Air for a week or two made the older design feel so strange it was almost laughable. Why did we ever think that a 16mm bezel was okay?

annotated-2annotated-1These thinner edges have other benefits, too. The split keyboard mode that Apple introduced in iOS 5 is now much more comfortable to use, and thanks to some clever technology baked into iOS 7, if your thumb accidentally touches the screen’s edge when you pick it up one-handed, the system ignores the accidental input.

The screen itself hasn’t changed much in the new model, but that’s no bad thing. You’ll still get the same 2048 x 1536 Retina display as last year, with the same 264 pixels per inch. There have been a couple of small improvements to colours, though, with a side-by-side comparison between the iPad 4 and the iPad Air revealing slightly more natural colours and ‘whiter’ whites on the new display. The same can be said for the cameras; on paper they’re identical to last year’s, but in our test shots the Air offered deeper colours and more vibrancy than the iPad 4. We also noticed that iOS 7 has made some small changes to the way video is handled. When watching a film or TV, the iPad detects darker scenes and lowers the brightness of the screen. This both prolongs the battery life of your tablet, and provides deeper blacks and better colours throughout.

The new A7 chip powers everything – it’s the same as that inside the iPhone 5s and iPad mini with Retina display, but for the iPad Air it’s been given a speed boost up to 1.4GHz (compared to the 1.3GHz for the other devices). The slight boost doesn’t make a hugely noticeable difference during day-to-day use, but the A7 itself absolutely flies. It’s twice as fast as last year’s A6X chip, and the improvements to both speed and graphics are huge.

comparison tableClick image to enlarge

Playing games we experienced higher frame rates, improved lighting and more detail, while other apps are simply more responsive and quicker to load. The M7 coprocessor is included, too, and it deals with many of the things previously associated with the main chip, including the accelerometer and gyroscope. The result of these two chips working together is that Apple could also include a much smaller battery but maintain its impressive ten-hour lifespan. The A7 requires a lot less power than its predecessors, and as the battery takes up 80% of the iPad’s internal space, it’s no wonder that reducing its size was the main factor in the iPad’s redesign. We still got impressive life from the Air, taking it off charge mid- afternoon on a Friday, using it for web browsing, video, reading and other standard tasks for the entire weekend, and ending up with around 20% charge left on Monday morning. It doesn’t improve on last year’s model, but as the trade-off is the beautiful new design, and as you’ll still easily get the promised ten hours from the Air, we have no complaints at all.

The Air is a massive leap forward for the iPad brand, and easily the best iPad upgrade ever. It’s thinner, lighter and faster – words we use a lot when talking about new Apple products – but when it comes to the Air you’ll notice all of them every time you pick it up.

Buy now?

Pros: Fresh design with forward- thinking internals, plenty of power

Cons: No Touch ID and the camera is still worse than the iPhone’s

Orange 5 Stars