A Grounded Evaluation Of The iPad Air

Performance: Battery Life and Camera

The iPad Air sports the same 5MP rear-facing "iSight" camera as found on the iPad 4 and a slightly improved 1.2MP front-facing "FaceTime" camera with superior low-light performance. We took a couple sample shots in in the evening under a halogen light bulb to see it was really improved, and were generally pleased with the camera's performance.

The FaceTime camera is serviceable for chatting with friends and family, and it handles low light environments fairly well, so long as there's at least some light to pull through the lens. However, don't expect to take self portraits to send to the modeling agency -- the overall quality just isn't there.

5MP iSight Camera

The 5MP "iSight" camera consists of a five-element lens, hybrid IR filter, and f/2.4 aperture. Tap-to-focus works with both videos and still images. It also supports autofocus, face detection, and backside illumination, as well as photo and video geotagging and HDR photos.

These are all the same features found on the 4th generation iPad because the camera is the same as before. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though it's a bit disappointing Apple isn't putting more emphasis on camera performance. We suppose the train of thought is that people are prone to whip out their smartphones or dedicated point-n-shoot devices to capture memories, but given that the iPad Air is so portable, why not ensure the camera can take spectacular shots for those moments that may come along while you're using the tablet?

Short and to the point, we're not overly impressed with the 5MP iSight camera. In the shots above, the top row represent HDR captures and the bottom row is with no HDR. Either way, the iPad Air shoots photos that are okay for posting to social media sites, but performance is far from great, especially in lower light situations where the grain is more noticeable. We can tolerate that on the FaceTime camera, but expect better stills out of the rear-facing lens.

Though still shots aren't anything to write home about, videos recorded in 1080p using the iSight camera are pretty solid.


Battery Life

Part of the reason why the iPad Air is so much thinner and lighter than previous models is because Apple went with a smaller capacity battery rated at 32.4Wh, down from the previous model's 42.5Wh battery. Despite the downsizing, Apple rates the overall battery life to be at least as good and in some cases even better than the iPad 4. Let's have a look at Apple's claims:

  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
  • Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using cellular data network (Wi-Fi + Cellular model)

As always when it comes to battery life, your mileage will vary based on what you're doing and the settings you're using. In our testing, we found Apple's claims err on the side of conservative. With the brightness at 50 percent, we were able to stream Netflix for around 12.5 hours.

Gaming will tax the battery more heavily, though if you're a fairly light user -- check the web a little bit each, catch up on Facebook, and stream some music while you shower -- the iPad Air can go several days before needing a recharge.

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