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Review: iPad Air grows in power, not size
Review » Apple’s latest computer tablet adds a number of improvements to make it a worthy upgrade.
First Published Nov 07 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:37 pm

Don’t let the new name fool you — the iPad Air is not as feather-light as the moniker suggests. But its weight is just one of the few significant improvements to Apple’s new marquee computer tablet.

Upon first view, I’m more inclined to call the new iPad Air a revision of the iPad mini than an update of the regular iPad. The iPad Air has a similar case and styling to the smaller-sized mini with its squared-off edges and thinner bezel around the 9.7-inch screen.

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The first thing you may notice is that the new iPad is smaller overall. Thanks to the new bezel, the width of the frame in portrait mode is thinner, making it a little easier to hold, though not quite thin enough to hold in one hand like the iPad mini.

While it’s not quite an iPad "Air" in terms of weight, Apple did shave off a significant amount, going from 1.4 pounds to one pound. You’ll feel the difference right away, especially after holding it for some time.

Despite its shrinking dimensions, the iPad Air is packed with a lot of power. It runs on the new A7 processor, similar to but faster than the one used in the new iPhone 5S that was released more than a month ago.

Compared to the 2-year-old iPad 3, the last version I owned, the new iPad Air is noticeably speedier and smoother. Launching applications is much faster, sometimes two or three times faster than on the iPad 3.

Apple also boasts that the new iPad is built on 64-bit architecture similar to today’s newest desktop computers. Without going into technical details, going from 32- to 64-bits means much faster calculations and better allocation of the system’s memory.

But applications have to be written to take advantage of the new 64-bit chipset, and there are very few apps that are, save for Apple’s apps such as iPhoto, Pages and Keynote.

Yet there is one game, "Infinity Blade III" developed by Salt Lake City company Chair Entertainment, that shows off how 64-bit programming can shine on the iPad Air. When played on an iPhone 5S or iPad Air, the game is much smoother, scenes launch much more quickly and there are additional graphical effects that are jaw-dropping such as flame effects and changes in depth-of-field. On the iPad Air, the game looks more stunning than any mobile-based graphics I have ever seen.

The iPad’s biggest accomplishment, however, continues to be the sharpest and best screen of any tablet on the market. It still boasts the same 2,048-by-1,536 screen resolution, which is better than most desktop screens. The colors really pop out, and the images are crystal clear and detailed.


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Fortunately, none of that additional power has come at the expense of battery life. It still gives the same standard 10 hours that previous iPads produced. I didn’t experience any noticeable dip.

Like the new iPhone 5S and the lower-cost iPhone 5C, the iPad Air runs on the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, called iOS 7. This is a major redesign of the software that powers all iDevices and includes a completely new interface. It’s the biggest update of iOS since the iPhone came out in 2007.

The new OS is elegant and colorful, though it’s had its own group of detractors. While it may run a little sluggish on older devices, especially the iPad 3 and iPhone 4 and 4S, it’s silky smooth on the new iPad Air since it takes advantage of all of its new power.

Scrolling through web pages is as smooth as I’ve ever seen in a tablet, and transition animations throughout the interface are fast and pleasant (though some have complained they somehow cause motion sickness). Apple also has made some improvements in the photos app, which groups pictures better, and the voice assistant, Siri, can produce more information than before. For added value, Apple now gives you all of its lifestyle and productivity apps, including iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, Pages and Numbers, for free.

Unfortunately, the iPad still uses the same 5-megapixel camera as before, which is not of the same grade as the new-and-improved camera on the iPhone 5S. I also wish Apple would add a second external speaker for stereo sound the same way the Google Nexus tablets have them. I think more people listen to the sound from their tablet’s speakers than with headphones.

But perhaps the biggest letdown with the new iPad is the price. At a starting price point of $499, it still is the most expensive tablet sold. Other companies are challenging Apple with much lower prices, such as the 9-inch Nook HD for $149 or the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX for $379. While you’re paying more for Apple’s better manufacturing and design, it still would be nice if the price could drop $100 or so to better compete with those other tablets.

Yet for that price, you get what I believe is the best computer tablet on the planet. The iPad Air is sleek and powerful and a worthy upgrade if you own an iPad 3 or older model.

vince@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ohmytech



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