A Grounded Evaluation Of The iPad Air

Introduction and Specifications

So much has changed in the tablet market since Apple starting shipping its first iPad around three and a half years ago. Prior to the original iPad, the tablet category didn't really exist, not like it does today. Apple wasn't the first to market with a tablet -- not by a long shot -- but Steve Jobs and the gang were the first to release a tablet that people actually wanted, and bought. And bought, and bought, and bought. There was no competing with the iPad in the early days, not when Google's hardware partners insisted on charging the same premium for Android tablets as Apple was for its iPad.

It took some time, but Android tablet makers eventually figured out that in order to compete with the iPad, they had to undercut it on price, even if it meant releasing a smaller sized slate. Amazon took the lead with its Kindle Fire line, and Google offered up a blueprint of its own with its Nexus family. Fast forward to today and Apple no longer dominates the tablet market to the same extent it did in 2010.

However, based on available data from market research firms like IDC, the iPad is still the single most popular tablet family around, though the gap is closing quickly, making this latest release arguably the most important iPad launch since the original. Having now proven there's a substantial market for tablets, the challenge Apple now faces is maintaining its lead and coming up with new features to keep its customers mesmerized.

Enter the iPad Air. This is Apple's fifth generation iPad and the true successor to the iPad 3, whereas the iPad 4 was mostly a speed bump and lacked the fanfare associated with most of Apple's product launches. It also marks the first real redesign of the tablet's form factor to some extent. It's significantly thinner than the previous iPad, noticeably lighter, and sports a reduced bezel that more closely resembles that of the iPad mini. It's such a drastic change in feel that Apple chose to dub this version the iPad Air. It seems Apple always chooses a standout feature to rally behind -- upgraded cameras, high-resolution (Retina) display, Siri -- and this time around it's the physical dimensions garnering all the attention.

First, here's our quick video walk-through, then we'll get to the finer details...

Apple iPad Air (fifth generation) Specifications
Specifications & Features
  • Apple iOS 7
  • 1.3-1.4GHz dual-core A7 processor (64-bit); M7 motion coprocessor
  • PowerVR G6430 quad-core graphics
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16GB/32GB/64GB/128GB storage
  • Optional 4G LTE radio
  • Dual-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi; MIMO
  • Front FaceTime (VGA) and rear (5MP) iSight cameras
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 9.7-Inch 2048x1536 Retina display (IPS)
  • Capacitive Multi-Touch
  • Non-replaceable 32.4W-hour Lithium-Polymer battery
  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi-, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours using cellular data network
  • Charging via power adapter or USB to computer system
  • 3.5mm audio jack; dual microphones
  • Three-axis gyro; accelerometer; ambient light sensor
  • Access to Apple App Store
  • Digital Compass
  • 9.4 (H) x 6.6 (W) x 0.29 (D) inches
  • 1 pound (Wi-Fi); 1.05 pounds (Wi-Fi + 4G)

Apple didn't just create a thinner iPad, it also equipped its newest tablet with an upgraded processor, the same chip that's found in the iPhone 5S, and the company is making a big deal about it being a 64-bit part, perhaps too big a deal. Other than that, however, we're a little underwhelmed with the spec sheet. It's nice to see dual-band Wi-Fi with multiple antennas on there, but we'd be more stoked if Apple opted for a quad-core chip and/or 2GB of RAM. Maybe we're a bit jaded after several years of product releases with whiz-bang upgrades, or maybe Apple is running thin on ideas, all the while refusing to cave on its position of leaving out USB connectivity and expandable storage (microSD card slot).

One of the things we're glad to see unchanged is the price. Yet again, iPad Air pricing starts at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model and goes up from there depending on capacity and whether or not you want 4G LTE connectivity. Apple deserves some kudos for continually upgrading its iPad line while avoiding the temptation to charge extra throughout five generations of tablets.

It's also interesting to note that housed inside the iPad Air is a 32.4Wh battery, which is considerably smaller compared to the 42.5Wh battery in the previous generation iPad. This is the primary reason why Apple was able to shave so much weight and bulk off the tablet, but don't sweat the smaller battery, we've been getting just as much run time out of the iPad Air as its predecessors (more on that later).

Even though the spec sheet doesn't slap you across the face and scream, "Hey, look at me, I'm frigging awesome!," is there enough here to warrant an upgrade? Let's have a closer look...

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