Hardware

iPad Air Review: Apple Makes Big Tablets Beautiful All Over Again

Comment

Apple introduced two new iPads this month at a special event in San Francisco on October 22, and the first of those to go on sale is the iPad Air, which is in stores and on virtual shelves this Friday, November 1. After a week with Apple’s newest 9.7-inch device, it’s clear there’s a new champion of the large tablet market, and one that breathes new life into Apple’s original slab-style game-changer.

Video Review

Basics

  • 2048 x 1536 (Retina) 9.7-inch display
  • 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB
  • A7 processor
  • 802.11n dual-channel Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 10 hours general use Wi-Fi surfing, 9 hours on cellular
  • Starts at $499

Pros

  • Thin and light design is a huge improvement over 4th-gen iPad
  • No battery life sacrifices required

Cons

  • Hard sell over the iPad mini with Retina, which also now has A7 power

Design

The design is the star of Apple’s iPad Air refresh this time around; the 9.7-inch Apple tablet has had the same form factor for two generations now, and that one actually made the design worse – it got heavier, and it got thicker. This new iPad mini-inspired look sheds both size and weight, giving the iPad Air a 43 percent smaller bezel, a 20 percent thinner case, and making it 28 percent lighter, at just one pound.

It’s a difference that you feel, all numbers and measurements aside. The iPad Air is much, much more comfortable to hold than the iPad 4th-gen it replaces; This isn’t strictly a one-handed device, but it’s as close as you can get with a tablet that still has a gorgeous, expansive 9.7-inch Retina Display.

The aesthetics of the iPad Air are also improved: That smaller bezel better showcases the screen, for instance, and the mirror finish Apple logo is a nice touch. The silver version I reviewed is very nice, though I personally prefer the space gray finish in this device based on comparing them both at the Apple event itself. Plus, the speaker design is improved both in terms of looks and sound quality.

Display

ipad-air-display

The screen on the iPad Air is a Retina display, which means that when viewed from a standard distance, the human eye shouldn’t be able to make out individual pixels. The actual pixel density of that 2048 x 1536 9.7-inch display is 264 PPI, which is much less dense than the iPad mini, but you’d have a hard time telling the difference when you’re actually using the thing. In short, both are excellent, and lead the market in terms of quality when you factor in color rendering, viewing angle and other visual attributes.

Having used primarily an iPad mini for the past year, there’s no question that coming back to the 9.7-inch Retina display was an uplifting experience. It felt a little like getting your prescription adjusted and realizing you’ve been seeing everything poorly for a long time. Video shines on the iPad Air, as does image-rich content like comic books and photos.

There’s no question that coming back to the 9.7-inch Retina display was an uplifting experience.

Not to mention that all that extra space makes for a much more comfortable browsing experience, and offers a lot of benefits when it comes to content creation. It doesn’t feel arduous doing work on the iPad; you can start to remember why people touted the iPad as a PC-killer when it debuted, and it edges ever closer to being able to truly replace notebooks for the majority of everyday users.

Features

Apple’s iPad Air has some new powers compared to its predecessor – chief among those is the new A7 64-bit processor, and the M7 motion coprocessor that goes along with that. This means that like its cousin the iPhone 5s, it’s a “forward thinking” device, but it also brings benefits right away, thanks in large part to Apple’s own redesigned first-party apps.

a7-chipWhen using the new iLife and iWork suites, performance is considerably bolstered by the 64-bit retrofits they got with their recent redesigns – everything feels faster and more responsive. 64-bit processing doesn’t mean that every app necessarily gets a 2x boost in performance over those made for the traditional 32-bit architecture used in previous iPads, but it does mean that software made for those processors will feel even more instantly responsive than it has in the past.

Also new to the iPad Air are dual microphones which help out with sound quality on audio and video FaceTime calls, and the motion coprocessor means that you’ll start to see more activity tracking built into the iPad, too. It may seem an odd feature for a tablet, but the iPad is designed to go with you where you go, and it might be even more representative of your general activity level since it won’t be triggered so easily as a phone worn close to the body.

Cameras also get an update with the iPad Air, which is to be expected. The real gem here is the FaceTime HD camera that offers 1080p video calling instead of 720p on the last model, which does make a difference. It also has a new 5-megapixel shooter that gets bigger pixels on the sensor, which does lead to better photos. I feel no less ridiculous taking photos with a 9.7-inch tablet than I did before, however, but if that’s the type of photography you go in for, you’ll be better served with this device.

Performance

The iPad Air may be a lightweight device physically, but it’s a heavyweight when it comes to performance. Benchmarks tell only one side of the story, and the one that most users will be more interested in is around how the tablet work under normal, everyday usage conditions. Put simply, Apple’s latest iPad soars.

Put simply, Apple’s latest iPad soars.

Other performance tweaks from the A7 include support for OpenGL ES version 3.0 graphics, which makes it possible to build effects into games that were previously only available on the desktop. This iPad is a really strong gaming advice I learned based on my testing with Batman: Arkham Origins on the tablet, and you really get the sense that developers are just cracking the surface when it comes to what they can do with these new graphics capabilities.

The version I tested also supports LTE, and this iPad supports the most frequencies of that network technology than ever before. I was able to test out those claims right away, thanks to taking the device from San Francisco out to London. The iPad Air worked perfectly on both AT&T and on EE LTE, making this a world traveler’s best friend and constant companion. Thanks to FaceTime Audio and third-party apps like Skype, this could easily operate as someone’s international travel phone, letting people escape costly roaming charges.

Battery

ipad-air-battery

The iPad Air’s battery offers up to 10 hours of continuous usage, according to Apple’s official published specs, and I’ve found that it easily matches up with the high bar set for power by previous generations. On average, I found myself getting around 10 hours of actual use on Wi-Fi, and slightly less on LTE networks. Standby time seems to have improved considerably with this generation, also, as the iPad Air seemed to positively sip battery life while unplugged but with the screen asleep.

Part of the iPad’s magic is the fact that you can put it down and forget about it for days, then pick it up and still have nearly a full charge. That’s still the case, and it’s made all the more impressive based on the physical changes Apple has made to the case design, which theoretically should leave less room inside for actual batteries.

Cases

Apple has two cases for the iPad Air, and they follow in the footsteps of those that came before. There’s the Smart Cover, and the Smart Case, both of which feature a magnetic closure with a multi-panelled front. The Case, as its name implies, also has a back component, but the Cover just protects the screen.

The Smart Case comes in leather variants, while the Cover is only offered in polycarbonate materials now, though both are offered in multiple color schemes. In almost every single instance where an Apple device is involved, I’m a fan of not using a case at all; the bumps and scratches that inevitably ensue help give the great design character, in my opinion. But if you’re going to get a case, I’d opt for the Smart Cover, as it adds virtually no bulk and protects the part of the iPad that is most important to protect – the glass.

The Smart Case makes the iPad Air feel quite a bit more bulky, in my opinion, and is fairly difficult to get off once its on. On the other hand, it’s definitely more protective than the Smart Case, and it’s still relatively svelte. Apple has also nailed its leather case designs in terms of putting out a product that feels very high quality, and that’s what they’ve done here, too.

Bottom Line

The iPad Air is a huge improvement over the iPad 4th-gen, or the iPad 2, pictured in the gallery. Its form factor is the best currently available for a 10-inch tablet, and it provides a great blend of portability and usability that leans towards the media device end of the spectrum.

When Apple introduced the iPad mini, I feel in love and felt that I’d never be swayed back to the other side. The iPad Air makes the argument anew that there’s still room for big tablets in people’s lives, and it might just help usher in an era of computing where households own more than one kind of iPad, and PCs are harder and harder to find.

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares