It's true. Everything you've read about the iPad Air is absolutely true.
The first thing you should know is that the first word in iPad Air is iPad. Everything the iPad has come to stand for is what this is. There are no compromises. I emphasize this point because when you first see and hold the new iPad, you are going to be reminded of the mini. When the iPad mini was introduced a year ago, it came with a number of compromises.
With the mini's reduced size and weight, came reduced screen size and image quality, power and functionality. The reduced price brought with it, a reduction in everything else that makes an iPad an iPad. It wasn't overly reduced, but it was definitely a compromise. The new Air looks and feels like a big mini. But appearances can be deceiving. This Air is 100% iPad, no compromises.
In fact, though in a smaller package, the iPad Air is more iPad than you had before. The screen to tablet ratio is greater. It packs significantly more power while staying significantly cooler. And it comes with even more sensors. This is one of those rare occasions when less really is more.
Speaking of less, the iPad has less thickness and less bezel in all dimensions. It shaved a little off the top and bottom, and a lot off the sides. How much? Look at any, previous, full-sized iPad. In your mind's eye, eliminate one of the side bezels, completely. Now, split the difference between the other two. Width-wise, it is about an inch in total savings. It also has less weight and outputs less heat. It has less battery, and uses even less of that less battery. Optionally, it even comes with less Smart Cover. Now that's a lot of less, that adds up to so much more.
For those who are reading reviews to help you make a purchasing decision, the real question is, what does all this, less, get you? The iPad Air will allow you to do all the same things as yesterday's iPad. The addition of the M7 chip will enable a few, new things that you may never notice. The iPad Air is not a magic carpet, and will not serve as a floatation device in the event of a water landing. However, everything yesterday's iPad did, Today's iPad does better, by much.
I have not done a proper battery test, nor do I intend to. I can tell you that based on my usage of the iPad from this morning till this moment late in the evening, I could go another day without thinking about it. Walt Mossberg, along with many other professional reviewers, were gobsmacked by the battery life. Some have it at 12 hours, others, over 14. Either way, it's greater than the 10 hours that Apple promises. In real world usage, you might go two or three days before needing to charge it.
Yesterday's iPad ran the most advanced, mobile operating system, and the most powerful, mobile apps on the planet. Today's iPad runs circles around its predecessor. Benchmarks clock it is nearly twice as fast. But in the real world, benchmarks don't really matter. The only speed difference that matters is the speed you notice. The iPad Air delivers a speed difference that you will definitely notice.
When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad to the world, we were all shocked with how thin and light it was. The iPad Air makes every tablet that came before it seem fat and heavy. The first time you pick it up, you're left wondering where the rest of it is. The experience of holding a full-sized iPad has been transformed. If holding an iPad is that different, imagine how much more so, will be the experience of using it. It is so much like the mini in this regard, it is only a matter of whether you have room in your bag to carry it, not whether you have the strength to use it for a long period of time.
I will not belabor the point with a 5000 word review. Bottom line, the iPad Air is thinner, lighter, more powerful, and lasts longer. If you're wondering if the iPad Air is worth the upgrade, the answer is, yes. That is true regardless of which iPad you have. If you use another popular tablet such as the Kindle fire, and are wondering if making the switch would be a good idea, again, the answer is, yes. When it comes to quality, ecosystem, and overall value, there is simply nothing else on the market quite like the iPad. The iPad Air raises the bar.
...But that's just me.
As with most Apple products, the best thing you can do for yourself is make the pilgrimage to your nearest Apple Store and have a look for yourself. In the Apple Store Summit, there is a whole table devoted to the devices. They are powered on and connected to the internet. Go nuts. Thirty-seconds after picking up the iPad Air, you will have your answer. It will be immediately obvious whether or not you should spring for it. Nothing I write in this review will change that. Your visceral reaction will be enough to make the right call.
I believe that the purchasing decision is the easy one. You are either going to love it or not love it right away. If you currently have an iPad, the iPad Air is iPadier. It is more of what you love about the iPad and less of what you don't. The tougher decisions pertain to capacity and connectivity.
In doubling increments, you can go from 16 GB to 128 GB. Many believe that 16 GB is too little. It all depends on your usage. I usually get the 32 GB capacity. But this time, I decided to go with 16 GB. Although the size of apps is getting bigger, iCloud has eliminated the need for me to carry around large amounts of data. I keep no music on my devices, as I am seldom away from a connection. I stream everything except audio books. And I would stream those if I could. I feel comfortable with about 4 GB free at all times. That leaves me plenty of room for anything I need to do. That is probably a pretty good rule of thumb. If you are inside of 4 GB, buy the next model up.
Connectivity is the more costly decision you have to make. If you think of your iPad as a laptop, you might just be content with the wifi only model. After all, with few, inconsequential exceptions, laptops do not come with cellular connectivity. Perhaps they should, but they don't. If you carry a laptop, you probably already have a connection strategy in place. Whatever it is, it will work equally well for your iPad.
If, however, you use your iPad as a giant iPhone, a perfectly legitimate use, by the way, then you might want to consider the more expensive and slightly heavier, cellular model. You still can't make traditional, cellphone calls with your iPad. I suspect it is only a matter of time before this option is enabled. Still, you can do everything else with an iPad that you can do on a phone. The caveat is that a phone has a persistent connection to the internet. You never have to think about it. The connection is just there. If you want that sense of full-functionality without compromise, you are going to need to pony up for the cellular version.
I, however, have found a way to make the less expensive, wifi version work for me. I will write up this tip soon, as I do every year. With the right cellphone plan, you can tether your iPad to your phone, and enjoy most of the benefits of having a cellular iPad. You will be missing GPS, which is a hardware feature. If GPS is important to you on your tablet, then you have to go with cellular. For the things I need cellular, I have an iPhone. For the things I need a bigger screen, I have the iPad. For big screen connectivity, tethering fits the bill. Cellular is not an add-on. You will have to choose correctly at the time of purchase.
The iPad Air is the perfect expression of what an iPad is. However, that expression does not include Touch ID: the innovative, fingerprint authentication system found on the iPhone 5S. Understand, though, that is not a con, but a whine. Apple did not promise us Touch ID, and does not owe us Touch ID. But I want it on everything from this moment, on! It works so well and feels so natural, an iPad without it feels like an absence of a feature. That absence will not stop me from enjoying all that the iPad Air is.
Finally, for those who will never spend more than $200 for a device such as the Air, you can spend that $200, but it will not be on a comparable device. For a full-sized tablet, either pony up for the Air, or keep saving your pennies. At the moment, there really is no other tablet competing in this class.