A Review of the iPad Air

By John Seiley

iPad Air

The best computer for right now.

The current times we occupy are so different than the dawn of the “PC” and even a few years ago. The interests and needs of the modern consumer are different as well. I’m not saying professionals don’t need a PC to accomplish certain tasks. I’m saying most of us don’t. In fact, the PC is not well suited to practically any interest or need of the modern consumer. It’s not that portable, it’s very stationary (even laptops), it’s very technical, and for being labeled a “personal computer” it isn’t even that personal. Most of us want to take our computer with us when we go out, we want to be connected to the internet practically all the time (even when we aren’t necessarily using our device), we want a simple experience, we want to have fun, we want to be able to do essential tasks. The iPad was made for this and is perfect for this. With each iteration, it’s gotten better for this purpose than before. Thus, the iPad Air is the best computer for right now.

My background and why I buy iPads

I’ve been following the tablet market ever since it’s modern inception with the first-generation iPad in 2010. My initial impressions of the 9.7″ iOS device were similar to many – it was a big iPod more suited to reading. I had no clue how popular the genre would become. I had some reservations about buying one for myself for portability reasons. In 2010, I didn’t even own a computer for that reason, so it seemed unlikely I would purchase an iPad.

I eventually decided to buy one partly because my first iPhone was, although super portable, too small, and partly because I kind of just wanted to be a part of the revolution that was starting to take place. I still remember my first unsealing of the minimal Apple packaging and holding in my hands for the first time my very own iPad. In portrait mode I felt like I was holding a larger iPhone that couldn’t make calls, and in landscape I felt like I had removed the screen from a MacBook Pro and just had the essentials. It was so unique. It was the closest thing to a digital piece of paper yet. And then I turned it on.

Interacting with a mobile operating system on this large of a device was very much like Steve Jobs had described it (“magical”). Everything was so easy to figure out and manipulate directly with your fingers as it was on the iPhone. But enlarging the experience, though subtracting from the portability, vastly improved it. It was for the first time immersive. And it was so much more personal than using a PC or Mac. It was the first technological object I ever loved and became attached to, totally unlike anything I’d used before.

Because of my intense enjoyment of the iPad experience, I came into possession of every iteration from then on. I was there for the iPad 2, to experience it’s pleasantly reduced form factor. I was there for “the new iPad” (3rd-generation) to become absorbed in the unprecedented clarity and color of its Retina display. I picked up the 7.9″ iPad mini just to riff on my buying habits and try the dramatically shrunken and seemingly even more perfect size. All this time I tried out competitors products and saw efforts to make tablets more customizable or more like laptops. When the latest iPad generations were released it was a very saturated and mature market this past holiday season.

At this point, though I had so many options available and though I had come to prefer the aesthetics of the Windows tablet operating system, there was no way I was abandoning iOS. Though underwhelmed by some aspects of the major update to Apple’s mobile operating system running on iPad and iPhone, it still showed Apple had the right priorities and brought many improvements, and I had spent quite a bit on non-transferable apps, movies, and music from Apple. In addition, the design, durability and usability of Apple’s hardware is completely unmatched, without rival.

So I really only had two choices for an upgrade – iPad Air or iPad mini with Retina display.Never has the tablet been so refined. Nearly equally reduced to their very essence, the Air and mini are just as thin as each other, are only a few fractions of a pound apart, and sport identical resolutions, processors, cameras, and hardware/software aesthetics. Either one is a fantastic choice. I picked the Air simply because the color accuracy of the screen was slightly better than the mini.

The hardware

The physicality of the Air is somehow minimal yet luxurious at the same time, perfectly usable and as portable as it should be. I imagine the reader has likely handled an Apple product before. The new iPads really take it up a notch. They are essentially a single piece of textured aluminum attached to high grade glass that is a window to your content. The body has been reduced from previous generations however, in the case of the Air, and the quality and detail of the manufacturing has been vastly improved.

The texture of the aluminum is smooth yet grippy, and either the “Space Gray” coat of paint or the uncolored metal of the “Silver” version wear damage well. Along the edges, the rear of the aluminum softly curves toward the front, and in a detail at the same time gorgeous and practical, transitions into a polished 45-degree-angle called a chamfer, reflecting the light of the surrounding environment in its mirror finish and meeting with the glass. Because of all this, it’s very comfortable to hold.

best_design_dimensionsUnlike prior full-sized iPads and just like the mini, there is no plastic or other material in between the glass and the aluminum. It’s as seamless as you can get while still having a seam.

The glass on the front is remarkable. For apparently not being as scratch-resistant as the sapphire Apple is now starting to use for some purposes, it is very scratch resistant. Other than the reduced weight, this is what I consider the biggest improvement over the 4th generation iPad. Though the glass is thinner and somewhat flexible (in order to help reduce the weight), it negates the use of screen protectors that can be very expensive to buy and install. While exceptionally rugged, the glass is very clear allows the screen underneath to really shine through. In addition, reflectivity has been reduced quite a bit.

The resolution of the screen remains constant at 2048×1536 pixels, or 264 pixels per inch, though the color saturation is slightly better than the “iPad 4” and much better than the new mini. Groundbreaking though no longer industry best, the Retina display remains one of the best screens you’ll ever see and likely better than anything else you own. Looking at high resolution video and stills and text is blow-away, not just because of the detail but because of the ravishing colors and contrast. Since screens are what we’re always gazing at, it’s important to have one that’s accurate, and for this reason I would recommend the Air over the mini.

Inside the Air is the latest system on a chip from Apple, the A7, which brings 64-bit computing language and better power management. The M7 motion co-processor takes over some tasks, which additionally enhances the performance of the Air. Though these parts are common to the mini and iPhone 5s, the Air’s A7 runs faster, though you won’t really notice it since it’s driving a bigger display.

The competent 5 megapixel camera on the rear is another unchanged feature, but thankfully the front camera is now 1.2 megapixels and backside illuminated, meaning better quality selfies and video calls.
Missing is the 5s’s Touch ID. I was hoping for its inclusion, but it’s not a deal breaker and is understandable considering manufacturing constraints.

The softwareios_hero

The mobile experience really comes down to 3rd party apps, or what you’ll find available in app stores. Without question, Apple’s App Store is the premier destination for tablet-optimized apps. Almost a half-million are available and the quality is high, with no competitors coming close. Though I’ve waxed poetic about the hardware in the previous section, this is the real reason to choose iPad over any other competitor’s tablet.

The operating system, iOS 7, can be described as a face-lift to the previous versions. Though you may have heard about a lot of changes, the important thing is that it remains simple to use. Really, iOS operates like it always has. The aesthetics have changed slightly to a more minimal, sometimes abstract, look, and many features have been added, but there isn’t anything that makes it harder to use. This is a key advantage over the more technical Android and Windows systems, though some who are more into customization or flexibility prefer those. I believe Apple’s goal with iOS 7 was to keep it simple while freshening the look and including some additional functions. They succeeded.

Have I convinced you yet?

My iPad is my most precious possession for the simple reason that it does everything I want to it do and let’s me do what I need to do. If you are like me, I highly recommend the iPad Air. The iPad is the best computer for right now.
Sent from my iPad

John Seiley Banner

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