iPad Air

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.

iPad Air
iPad Air

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.

Heavier than the Air
Paper notebook now heavier than the Air
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.

Logitech Ultrathin Cover
Logitech Ultrathin Cover
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.

New Air

It’s been two years since my Macbook Pro said fairwell to this mortal world and I picked up an iPad to replace it. While a great device the iPad has never quite fully replaced the laptop for me. I thought about getting a laptop last year but upgraded the imac instead. This was to to be the year – all the rumours pointed to retina Macbook’s of some description. Hopefully an Air and I’d be set.

Macbook Air 2012
Macbook Air

It’s never quite that easy with Apple so I was left with a choice – updated Macbook Air or a Macbook Pro with Retina display. A nice decision to make, but one that I struggled with. Portability of an Air compared to heavier Pro with a Retina. The retina update to the iPad left older screens looking…poor. I visited the local Apple store and saw the screen. Amazeballs. Really really nice. But the weight and price of the Macbook Pro saw me stumping up for an Air but I’ve no doubt that when retina screens hit the Air line I’ll make the move. The screen makes such a difference to text and images. Within 2-3 years most pc’s (not just Apple) and monitors will be retina. Maybe not low end but like the iPhone and iPad, they are setting the standard to which others will follow. I thank Chris for keeping me on the straight and narrow – remember why you wanted the Air in the first place and he was right.

So my thoughts on the Air? What a great machine. Fast, light, cool and quiet. I bought the stock 13″ model but added another 4gb of ram. One of the downsides of the Air line (and the new Retina Macbook pro) is that you can’t upgrade then at all. Ram is soldered and I felt that while 4gb is fine today, I’m not sure about two years from now. It also allows me to run vm’s without any hiccups…but it’s an Air – surely you can’t run vm’s?

Macbook Air 2012
So thin and light

The screen on the 13″ is great. Clear and bright although I do notice a little smearing on scrolling which I didn’t expect. It’s a small complaint though as images pop nicely. The screen isn’t too glossy unlike the Macbook Pro’s which helps too. The backlit keyboard is comfortable and good in use – I hate using a laptop keyboard without a backlight. Must have feature for me. Connectivity is not too bad – two USB 3 ports, a thunderbolt port and a SD slot which is handy for me as the camera’s I have are SD. Not so great is the updated magsafe connector. It’s slightly thinner but seems to pop off with ease…too much ease. Looking online it also seems hardly any thinner than the previous design. But thats a small complaint.

Boot times are great and in use the Air feels so fast. 128gb of flash storage ensures that a machine with only a 1.8Ghz i5 feels much faster. I went with an SSD on the iMac last year and it made such a difference – don’t think I’ll have a computer in the future without flash storage. Finally it’s worth mentioning battery life – 5-6 hours on a machine this light is great.

Macbook Air 2012
Love the backlit keyboard

Setting up the Air was very straightforward thanks to the cloud. “The cloud” is such a cliché but it really helps setting up a new machine, and one that has limited space. On startup I entered my iCloud details and saw calendars, mail etc setup for me. I launched the app store, entered my Apple store details and downloaded/installed app’s without the hassle of visiting websites and digging out serials. I installed Dropbox and synced the folders I really needed – before long I had all my documents and active files on the Air with the knowledge that they are being shared without thought between the laptop and desktop. After 1Password was installed I could login to websites without having to remember passwords although Chrome sync had taken care of bookmarks, passwords etc for the common sites. All fairly straightforward and, well, easy. The final bonus was music as I authenticated the laptop against my iTunes Match account – I now have access to all my music, none of which is installed. Streaming works far quicker than on the iPad and has worked without issue so far.

I mentioned vm’s earlier. Windows 7 running through Vmware Fusion runs really well. Any thoughts that the Air couldn’t be used as a ‘proper’ laptop are dispelled when the vm is running and you can launch Lightroom as well alongside all the app’s that are usually running. Even then, the fan noise is pretty quiet compared to the memory of my old Macbook Pro.

So a great machine – I couldn’t be happier with it. One last thought though – it all feels a bit dull. Maybe I’m too used to OSX and the familiar software, but I used to get a kick out of getting a new computer and setting it all up. I’m not sure if it’s the familiarity or if it’s due to iOS or maybe I’ve just too many devices that overlap. I love my gadgets but sometimes you can have too much? Not sure – the laptop certainly helps with blogging, coding and the podcast which I struggled to do on the iPad and meant I was chained to the iMac. I’ll keep a track on my usage over the coming months – be interesting to see how it pan’s out across devices.

One things for sure – the Air is a great computer.

RIAT 2011

A few weeks ago I went to my first air show – RIAT 2011. I’d always wanted to attend an air show but never really had the opportunity. What was nice about RIAT was that there was a group of us going (Shak, Tam and Ro), we were all going with a load of photography gear and the tickets worked out a bit cheaper as BAE Systems was a sponsor. What this meant was £10 off the ticket price, free lunch (which was actually pretty good) and use of a BAE Systems marquee…oh, and a free program.

For the weekend I hired a lens to try and take better advantage of the air show. My current lens doesn’t have the reach and while the lens hire cots just under £100, then lens I hired would costs nearer £1300 to buy so it was a bit of ano brainer. What was most disappointing though was the weather. We arrived at RAF Fairford for 07:45 and 5 mins standing in a queue was enough to drench our jeans. We all had waterproof jackets but it was still a poor start. We headed straight for the BAE marquee…which became our home for the next 4 1/2 hours as the rain just wouldn’t stop. The show should have started at 10:00 but instead it was nearer 12:30 before an Apache took to the skies. Unfortunately this meant that some of the aircraft didn’t fly on the Saturday. More annoyingly, the presenter kept telling us over the tannoy about how good the aircraft that wasn’t flying was in practice the day before. Shut up!

However I loved the show. It was great seeing the Apache, The Red Arrows, Eurofighter and the Chinook. I loved the Mustang and Spitfire as well. What I didn’t love was how difficult it was to photograph some of the planes. This was due to a number of issues. Firstly, jets move quickly. Obvious I know but keeping a jet in frame as I snapped was tricky. It was also tricky to keep it in frame and in focus. So many photo’s I took just weren’t very sharp. My biggest issue (apart from lack of skill) was the weather. Initially dark and gloomy, it then changed to dark at one side of the airfield to brighter at the other end. It then changed again to dark at one end and bright blue sky at the other, before ending the day in lovely sunshine. Tricky.

That didn’t stop me trying and by the end of the day I had taken just over 1200 photo’s. After ditching many and cleaning up others in Lightroom I finally got round to publishing 200 photo’s from RIAt on Flickr, handily split into sets.

Probably the aircraft I most wanted to see – the Apache. I’ve loved this since I was a kid, having a large airfix dangling from the ceiling. I couldn’t believe how manoeuvrable it was at the show. It managed a barrell roll. In a helicopter. Awesome.


Also impressive was the Chinook. A massive beast but it was being thrown around the show as if it was a toy.


Full helicopter set can be found on Flickr.

Some amazing displays but the one that stood out was the Rafale. A great 10 minute display with the pilot really pulling out a great show.

French Dassault Rafale B

Also impressive was the EuroFighter but it didn’t do too much at the show apart from look and sound good! Full set can be found on Flickr.

Some great display teams at RIAT with the Red Arrows coming out on top.

The Red Arrows

However special mention goes to the Italian Frecce Tricolori display team. Great colour and variety during there display but lifted by the great commentator. You had to be there to understand why but it did make us all laugh.

Italian Frecce Tricolori

My favourite picture from the displays though was the Belgian display team – Les Diables Rouge.

Les Diables Rouge

It’s not the planes but the pilots. A mixture of concentration and one of them glancing over to the crowd. Love it. Click through to the full display set on Flickr.

A few great old planes on display and I was pretty stunned that when the Vulcan had landed around half of the crowd left – there was still around 2 hours of flying! I guess there’s a lot of love out there for the Vulcan that I didn’t appreciate. Favourite for me though was the Spitfire, seen here with a Mustang.

RAF Spitfire and American P-51 Mustang

The sound it made was great – can’t imagine how hundreds of Spitfires taking off in WWII must have sounded. Full set of classics can be found here on Flickr.

Round Up
So a great day and weekend which wasn’t spoiled by me and Shak being sick – pair of lightweights. Thanks to Tam for putting us up (and putting up with us) and also Lynne for the great cooking. Pleased to have seen so many great planes but don’t think I’ve caught the airshow bug. One was enough…for now.