If you want a tablet and you have the money, one of the new iPads is the best way to go. The main choice you have to make is whether to buy the big one, starting at £399 (the iPad Air I’m reviewing here), or the little one starting at £319 (the iPad mini with retina display). Personally, I prefer the small one, but this big one is good too. My suggestion: pop along to a shop and try both out to see which you prefer.
Compared to the version it replaces, it’s the weight of the iPad Air that makes the most difference. The new Air is around 180g lighter than the last big iPad, which doesn’t sound like much, but when you hold the old one and the new one in two hands to compare them, you really notice it. The weight is different enough that there’s a case to be made for buying the new model even if you already own one of the past versions.
Another reason to upgrade is the speed of the Air. My third-generation iPad, for example, is starting to struggle with even some simple browsing tasks. When I try and read one of Buzzfeed’s infamous lists of GIFs, it wheezes so badly it’s hard to enjoy seeing a woman being attacked by a toilet paper leaf blower. That’s just not acceptable in 2013. With the iPad Air, the picture of a cat playing Jenga on this post is buttery smooth. I’m sure we can all agree that’s a good use of £399.
Inside is a 64-bit chip that’s the same as the one used in the iPhone 5S (although Apple has actually speeded it up slightly for the iPad). 64-bit chips in tablets may have a tangible benefit for you and I one day, but today it doesn’t mean much apart from the fact that it is really fast.
One of the reasons the iPad Air is lighter than the model it replaces is because it’s a bit smaller. Two sides of the bezel have been shrunk, which means that when you hold the tablet, your thumb may rest on the screen. The good news is that the iPad ignores it if it’s at the edge of the screen, so you don’t end up accidentally turning the page of a book, for example.
Camera, battery and apps
Other than that, it’s business as usual, which is no bad thing. The screen is amazing, just like previous models. The rear camera is fine — not as good as the best smart phones, but nothing dreadful — and the front camera is slightly better in low light if you’re video calling. Battery life is amazing — Apple claims 10 hours of use, but it lasted 13 hours in CNET’s battery test.
Apple says there are over 400,000 apps for iPad, and it certainly feels that way. For me though, the iPad’s best feature is how easy it is to buy and download loads of different bits of music, TV, movies and books, and there’s nothing different here. If you start downloading lots of movies, you might find yourself short on space.
There is a 128GB version available, but it costs at least an eye-watering £639. That seems like an unwise purchase to me — at the rate tablets are changing, a 2013 model will probably be a bit sluggish in two years’ time. I’d recommend buying the cheapest model you can get away with so if you end up replacing it in a couple of years you won’t feel as fleeced. 16GB will probably do if you have a computer handy to transfer any large files onto once you’ve dealt with them.
Do you need 4G?
Both the iPad Air and the new iPad mini have 4G models available. That’s lovely for those who need it, but have a serious think about whether you do. It adds £100 to the price: my experience when I bought a 3G model a few years ago is that I didn’t use it very often, relying on coffee shop Wi-Fi and my smart phone for connectivity instead, but that won’t be the same for everyone.
With lots of other tablets coming along with amazing screens and music/video stores, one thing Apple is keen to push is that this is not just a tablet for fun, it’s also for getting stuff done. You now get free copies of Apple’s version of Microsoft Office — Pages, Numbers and Keynote, plus movie-editing app iMovie, photo editor iPhoto and music-maker Garageband.
I don’t feel like these apps are yet at the stage when you can throw your laptop away and just use an iPad, but it’s clear that’s the direction we’re heading in. See them as a nice bonus rather than a reason to rush out and buy an iPad Air right now.
Apple owns the tablet category for good reason, and the iPad Air helps it stay out in front. Yes, it’s more expensive than the competition, but if you can, it’s worth shelling out for a more polished product, and that’s the Air.
Apple iPad Air review
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