Apple continues to dominate the tablet realm and despite worthy efforts from the Android camp, no one has been able to truly knock them off the pedestal. Rather than just getting a beefed up version of the iPad 4th Gen this year, we got a completely overhauled iPad, heavily influenced by the iPad mini. The iPad Air is currently the lightest 10-inch (9.7 to be specific) tablet in the market and manages to beat the Sony Xperia Tablet Z as well by a good margin. But is the drastic weight shedding and new internals worth the higher starting price? Let’s see if the Air can make a strong enough case for itself.
Design and Build
First off, we’re really glad Apple has decided to give the new iPad a proper name, rather than going with something like ‘new’ or just ‘iPad’. The Air also has many visual differences to distinguish it from its predecessors. For starters, it looks like a bigger iPad mini so there’s no mistaking it for any of the previous versions. As with any Apple product, there’s a sense of overwhelming premiumness to the Air and that anal attention to detail can’t be missed. It looks good in white or black frankly and the chamfered aluminium bezel completes the look nicely. The Air is quite thin at just 7.5mm however; the Sony Xperia Tablet Z remains the thinnest at a ridiculous 6.9mm. Still, the Air is big improvement over the out-going model and is light as well at 469g (for the Wi-Fi model).
The Air has very good aesthetics
The 1.2MP/720p FaceTime camera remains in the front, along with the home button at the bottom. The Air does not sport the finger print sensor for Touch ID like the iPhone 5s does. The stereo speakers flank the Lightning connector at the bottom and manage to deliver very good quality. The volume level is loud, which makes for a good gaming experience. The trouble here is though, if you’re gaming or watching a movie, your hand tends to block one of the grills, which in turn leads to slightly muffled sound. It’s not a big problem but something you’re likely to encounter. The matt-finished rear end holds up well against fingerprints but is still susceptible to light scratches from everyday use. Up top, we have two microphones and the 5MP iSight camera that’s capable of 1080p video.
Chamfered edges look positively premium
The iPad Air is a much needed evolution in terms of design and is just what the doctor ordered. The drastic weight shedding makes it extremely comfortable to use single handily, especially when lying down – something you could never do for long periods with the old one. Touch ID would have been a nice addition, given this is their flagship tablet, but you won’t really miss it.
Apple’s displays are always a treat and the Air is no different. The IPS Retina display is among the best in the business, with lively colours and great sensitivity. Viewing angles are very good and although it’s not 320ppi, there’s no visible pixilation around icons or text. Sunlight legibility is also very god and the screen doesn’t attract fingerprints as easily. iOS 7 looks really good on the big screen and animations and transitions are smooth. Switching between apps is a quick and painless experience.
The multi-tasking feature in iOS 7
All of this is possible thanks to Apple’s brand new A7 microprocessor. This is the first 64-bit capable SoC in a mobile device and it seems like everyone from Samsung to Qualcomm is going to jump on this bandwagon next year. Just like iOS 7, we can expect the next version of Android to have full support for 64-bit computing. The new chip is really fast and even intensive games like Real Racing 3, Real Steel or Asphalt 8, playback with smooth frame rates without breaking a sweat. The tablet gets slightly warm after a while but never uncomfortably hot.
16GB just ain’t enough for media and apps
Out of the 16GB of storage space, you get about 12.8GB that’s available for apps and media. The trouble is, iPad apps are larger in size due to the higher resolution textures and images needed and because of that, you’ll find yourself running out of space very soon. After installing about 27 apps, which included a mix of games, magazines, videos, music and some of the free Apple apps like iMovie, etc, we were
struggling with roughly 2GB of space. iOS also counts individual magazines as apps so we actually had lesser actual apps installed. This means, if you opt for the base model, you’re going to have to pick and choose your apps carefully. For some reason, Apple refuses to add expandable storage to any of their mobile products, which remains one of the biggest drawbacks till date.
The music and video player is similar to what we saw on the iPhone 5c, the difference being, you have to scroll a lot less due to the larger screen real estate. There aren’t any Ear Pods bundled along with the Air. Audio quality is pretty good through earphones and equally good via the speakers. There’s no stereo effect like some of the other tablets in the market but it’s loud and clear. The new music player gets a complete cosmetic overhaul while still remaining functionally similar to the previous version. The stock video player only supports MP4 files so any other format will need to be converted, unless you use a third party app.
The version we’re reviewing today is the Wi-Fi-only model so there’s no LTE/3G or GPS even. You do get dual-band Wi-Fi ‘n’, Bluetooth v4.0 and TV-out via the Lightning jack. Siri is also at your beck and call, whenever you need something. It’s not as accurate as Google Voice in understanding Indian accents but it works after a couple of tries. Apple bundles a whole bunch of apps with iOS 7 like Newsstand, Photo Booth, Game Center, iBooks and you also get a prompt during initial setup, to download additional free Apple apps like iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, etc.
The speakers are loud and deliver very good audio quality
The camera on the new Air might be the same 5MP iSight shooter from the earlier model, but it still manages to do a very decent job for a tablet. There’s good depth of field and the app is very quick in focusing and saving the image. Even HDR pictures save really quickly. Indoor shots are good with very little noise. We would have liked the 8MP sensor from the iPhone 5 though; given this is their flagship model.
Still a decent shooter, but we expected more
Despite the slimmer profile, the Air still promises up to 10-hours of battery life for media playback. During the course of our testing, we easily went couple of days before having to charge the iPad and our usage involved a lot of reading (mostly magazine and websites), video playback and some gaming. The tablet also has some amazing standby time so when not in use, you can literally go days without having to charge it. This is something Android tablets simply cannot offer.
A worthy successor but we’re not sure if it’s the smarter pick compared to the Retina mini
Verdict and Price in India
The Apple iPad Air starts at Rs 35,900 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi model and we feel this is a bit too much for what’s on offer. The drastic weight loss and new internals aside, we don’t see why someone would buy the Air instead of the 32GB iPad mini with Retina. Not only are you getting double the capacity but it’s spec-for-spec identical to its larger sibling. We’ve also seen that 16GB is simply not enough for iPad apps and your media files, so there’s another problem. If Apple had fitted a better camera (8MP iSight from the iPhone 5) and Touch ID (from the 5s), then there would be a better distinction between the two tablets and perhaps, the high starting price of the Air could be justified. Overall, if really must have the extra 1.9-inches of the Air, then go for it but we strongly suggest you get the equally well equipped 32GB iPad mini with Retina for the same price.