When the iPad was first announced I scoffed at it. Who’d want a bigger iPod Touch? More fool me. I loved the first iPad and jumped on the first retina iPad when it came out in March 2012. I loved it but as time went on it was obvious that it was underpowered and was struggling to throw all those pixels around. October 2012 saw Apple release a fourth generation iPad with a better CPU but that was too soon for me to upgrade. iOS 7 didn’t help and only highlighted the third gen’s performance problems. They also released an iPad Mini but that was non-retina so I always knew my iPad upgrade would probably be this year and involve a choice between a new iPad and a retina Mini.
So in late November after much deliberation I plumped for an iPad Air. I love it.
The iPad Air and Retina Mini are more similar than I expected. They have the same processor, memory, M7 chip, come with the same capacities and both have 4G options. They even have the same pixel count – the only difference is size and weight which made the choice a difficult one.
Ultimately what swung it for me was the usability of the larger screen over the smaller one. Reading both books and comics was better on the Air and the virtual keyboard was easier to use for me on the Air. A part of that is probably just me being used to the size so your mileage will vary. What was surprising was how close the weight of each device felt. The Air weighs 478g against the Mini’s 341g but in practice they felt closer. The Mini felt denser and ultimately I preferred the feel of the Air in my hand. It was much lighter than expected especially as I was used to the third gen iPad weight at 668g’s.
The A7 chip and the power it delivers felt more noticeable on the iPad against the iPhone 5s. Again that might be because I’m used to the third gen performance but iOS and app’s felt so snappy on the iPad Air. App’s loaded quickly, game performance was so much better and swapping between app’s made iOS 7 feel far more complete on the Air. All combined, the Air has been a great upgrade for me. One surprising aspect hit me a few days after use. The drop in weight of the iPad Air has now made it lighter than my usual work notebook which weighs in at a mighty 580g. Thats for a 200 page A4 paper pad. I can now swap that for a lighter iPad Air that can do everything a paper pad can do plus so much more. The iPad Air feels like the iPad that matches the ambition that Apple had when Steve Jobs showed it for the first time in January 2010. A lot has changed in 4 years – that original iPad looks massive now yet much remains the same. 9.7″ screen, physical home button and a familiar design. The only feature I miss is Touch ID. I am constantly trying to unlock the Air by touching the home button. Damn you Apple.
I say Touch ID is the only feature I miss. This isn’t strictly true. There are times that a physical keyboard would be great for taking notes or updating documents on the go. Yes, I could use a laptop but I can do 95% of my work on an iPad so for those infrequent times I want a physical keyboard I’ve picked up a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. This acts as a screen protector when carrying and does increase the weight but includes a great physical keyboard that works over bluetooth. I’m OK at using the virtual keyboard but still feel more comfortable using physical keys that I can touch. The keys are smaller than a full size keyboard and initially I’m finding some letters are constantly being missed – A is always an S at the moment. However it’s been working well and the keyboard shortcuts that you can use on iOS especially for selecting blocks of text are great when compared to their touch equivalents. The logitech matches the ipad colour eactly but feels a bit plastic in comparison. Also, it’s another device that needs to be charged although a charge seemingly lasts for around 3 months assuming a couple of hours use per day which is good. Definitely a niche requirement but I’d wanted one for around a year and waited until I swapped to a newer iPad design. It will be interesting to see how my usage fairs over the coming months.
I can’t recommend the iPad Air strongly enough. Fast, light with a great screen and an amazing software library. I’m looking forward to developers pushing the A7 chip to see what the Air and iOS can really deliver.