iPad Air Review: My First Week With The New iPad Air

iPad Air Review: My First Week With The New iPad Air image iPad Air 004 600x449iPad Air Review: My First Week With The New iPad Air

It’s been a full week since Apple released not only a new version of its iconic iPad, but a whole new product category as well.

The “Air” in iPad Air indicates that the new, top-of-the-line, full-size iPad is thinner and lighter than ever. But how well does it stand up to the demands of daily use? Does it live up to the hype?

I bought what Apple calls the “Slate Gray” model with black front, and while one week is not enough time to fully test the ins and outs of a sophisticated and full-featured device , it is enough time to assemble and share my initial impressions.

Out-of-the-box, the iPad Air certainly gives the impression of having a certain amount of heft and solidity. After all, a pound is still a pound. However, if you’re used to previous models of the iPad, the iPad Air should feel light indeed, having shaved about a half pound off the previous model’s weight, making it one of the lightest full-size tablets ever.

First Impressions

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At roughly 9.5″ x 6.5″ in dimension, it is also slightly smaller than the previous model of iPad, without sacrificing screen size. Apple achieve this by making the side bezels narrower than those at the top and bottom, giving it an appearance more like that of the iPad Mini.

As to the screen, it’s sharp and crisp, with little color shifting even when viewed at extreme angles.

The front of the device sports an almost unnoticeable FaceTime HD camera at the top edge and the familiar “home” button at the bottom. The top rear has a microphone, in addition to the one on the top edge for Siri and dictation, along with a rear-facing still and video camera. The back is a matte gray finish with a shiny, almost mirror-like Apple logo in the center.

At the top edge, in addition to the secondary microphone, is the on-off switch and headphone port (a much better place than on the bottom edge as on some of Apple’s devices) and on the upper left edge are the screen orientation lock and volume buttons. At the bottom edge is a lightening port with two stereo speakers (although one of them might better have been placed at the opposite edge for better stereo separation).

In addition to the dual microphone, input options include a multi-touch screen, M7 motion coprocessor, proximity and ambient light sensors, a three-axis gyroscope, an accelerometer and a digital compass.

Setting Up

The iPad runs the newest version of Apple’s operating system, iOS 7 (which takes two or three steps forward and one step back, in my opinion, as one who prefers the look and feel of the previous version). However, the new version is easy enough to get used to, and it sports great features including better multitasking, AirDrop and Control Center.

Immediately after setting up the iPad, the Setup Assistant offered to download Apple’s full suite of iLife and iWork apps, which are free for new device owners. These include Pages, a word processor, Keynote, a presentation app, Numbers, a spreadsheet program, iPhoto, a photo manager, iMovie, a home movie editor, and GarageBand, a music creation program. This is in addition, of course, to the many standard iPad apps such as FaceTime, Maps, Mail, Safari, Game Center, Newsstand, the iTunes Store, and many others.

One thing I wish had been preinstalled was a user’s manual. Accessing the online user’s guide is easy enough, but I wanted a downloadable version that I could refer to when I lacked an Internet connection. A quick reference card included with the iPad, however, informed me that it can be downloaded free from the iBook store.

Performance

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How fast is the A7 chip with it’s 64-bit desktop-class architecture in the new iPad? Well, let’s just say that it’s handled with aplomb everything that I’ve thrown at it. One of the first apps I downloaded was Frax, a beautiful fractal design generator, which is also one of the best ways to test the speed of the new iPad.

The new device scrolls through incredibly complex fractal landscapes with no delays or stutters whatsoever. (By comparison, one of the developers of Frax says that he once started a simple black-and-white fractal design generator on his Apple IIc before leaving for summer camp, and when he arrived back home a week later, it was almost finished!)

Features

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The rear facing camera on the iPad Air are the same as on previous models, but I tested it out anyway. To do so, I popped the iPad in a backpack and bicycled down a nature trail to take pictures of the fall foliage. Although the still camera is only 5 megapixels in resolution, the colors are true and vibrant. The camera app also has an HDR mode for taking pictures in high-contrast lighting conditions.

The front-facing 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera, on the other hand, is upgraded with a new sensor sporting bigger pixels and backside illumination for better low-light performance.

I was able to test out not only the rear camera but the accelerometer and gyroscope using Photosynth and 360 Panorama, two 360° “virtual reality” picture-taking apps. You turn around in circles holding the device at every angle, and the apps take pictures and automatically stitch them together for a more or less seamless 360° panorama.

The iPad Air offers enhanced connectivity with MIMO technology and two antennas instead of one. I was able to surf the web, send and receive e-mails, connect to Game Center and download new apps–all wirelessly. The pictures I took on the nature trail with my Wi-Fi only model were nicely geo-tagged.

I also synced the iPad with iTunes on my Mac through Wi-Fi, although this is not entirely wireless, as this feature requires the iPad to be connected to either the computer or to a power supply with its lightning connector.

Conclusion

One week is not enough to begin to explore all of the capabilities of this new tablet device from Apple. I haven’t begun to learn all the ins and outs of the updated apps that come standard, not to mention the iLife and iWork apps that are now free with the device. Nor have I fully explore the new capabilities of Siri, messages, Mail, Safari, iTunes Radio, Reminders and much more.

Suffice it to say that this new computer device from Apple will keep me busy exploring for a long time to come.

All photos by author

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