Apple iPad Air review

26 Jan 2015

The iPad Air improves on its predecessor in every respect - and it's better value than the iPad Air 2

Price when reviewed: 
399(£399 inc VAT), 16GBmore
Buy it now for 
5

So, the iPad Air has been superseded by a new model: the iPad Air 2. That doesn't mean that you should ignore the original iPad Air, though, and especially not given that the 16GB model is now selling for £319. Admittedly, the iPad Air 2 is the superior device: it's a millimetre thinner and just a few grams lighter; has the Touch ID sensor found on the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus; and the new A8X processor gives it a healthy boost in performance terms, too. The original iPad Air is no slouch, however, and if you're looking for a gorgeous, high-quality tablet that doesn't break the bank then it's still a cracking choice. Not sure which to buy? Then read on to learn why we loved the original iPad Air, and click here to jump to our iPad Air 2 review and find out why it's arguably the best tablet on the market.

It took Apple CEO Tim Cook a long time to get around to the iPad Air at the company's Autumn launch event last month. After rattling through a set that covered OS X Mavericks and the free versions of the iLife and iWork suites, he finally got to the meat of the presentation: a pair of new iPads, the first of which we have on review here.

Apple iPad Air review: design

So, what's new about the iPad Air, aside from the name? The major change concerns the design. The full-sized, 9.7in iPad is now a dead ringer for its little brother, the iPad mini. It has the same chamfered metal edges around the glass front; those edges are more aggressively rounded than on the iPad 4; and discrete volume buttons have replaced the rocker switch of old. In our view it's a marginally more attractive device, especially in the moody Space Grey livery (it also comes in silver), but there's not much in it.

iPad Air (top) vs iPad 4 (bottom)

The headline is the reduced weight and size of the iPad Air. At 469g, the Wi-Fi iPad Air is a significant 28% lighter than the equivalent iPad 4, and it's thinner and narrower across its waist. Hold each in succession and you notice the difference immediately.

In isolation, the weight reduction is less noticeable, but the slightly more compact dimensions make a material difference to the way you handle the Air. It's now possible for people with large hands to stretch their fingers across the back and grip the iPad in one hand. This isn't something we'd recommend you do for any length of time, but it gives you an extra option.

For the most part, you'll grip it by the edge, with a thumb resting on the narrower bezel. This isn't as much of a bind as you'd think: while reading a book in the Kindle app, for instance, you can rest a thumb in the margin without anything untoward happening, and the same goes for the browser. In our time with the tablet so far, the Air's narrow bezels haven't proved a problem.

Apple iPad Air review: battery life and performance

In realising the new design, Apple has reduced the capacity of the battery by 23%: it drops from a huge 43Wh to 33Wh. Yet remarkably, this hasn't had a negative impact on longevity. In our looping video test, with the screen calibrated to a brightness of 120cd/m2 and flight mode activated, the Air lasted 12hrs 55mins – 43 minutes longer than its predecessor.

Clearly, the Air is a much more efficient tablet. According to Apple this is due in part to the low-power M7 processor, which takes over the role of handling data from the tablet's various motion sensors (the accelerometer, the gyroscope and the compass).

A pleasant side effect of having a smaller battery is that the iPad takes less time to charge. Using the supplied AC adapter, the Air charged from 0% to 100% in around four hours. In the same time span, the iPad 4 hit only 80%. This may be a result of the more potent charger, too: the adapter bundled with the Air delivers DC current at 2.4A, compared to the 2A of the previous effort.

Performance, too, has seen a significant boost, with the same dual-core, 64-bit, 1.4GHz A7 CPU as the iPhone 5s on board. In every benchmark we ran, this helped the iPad Air stretch out a significant lead on the iPad 4, which is no slouch. It's also faster than every Android tablet we've tested recently (you can find comparative results in the table below).

In real-world terms, that means swift load times for apps, slick menu and web-page scrolling and sumptuous graphics in games. In Asphalt 8: Airborne, one of the most demanding games around, there's a slightly smoother frame rate than on the iPad 4, and the particle effects and high-resolution textures are stunning.

Apple iPad Air review: display, cameras, audio and wireless

The component that hasn't seen any change is the display, which is an IPS unit with a resolution of 1,536 x 2,048 and a pixel density of 264ppi. We measured the maximum brightness at 410cd/m2 and the contrast ratio at 1,000:1. Eyeballing it next to the previous model, it looks identical, with rich colours and an ever-so-slightly compressed dark-end to the colour spectrum.

Detail

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical

Dimensions 169 x 7.4 x 240mm (WDH)
Weight 469g

Display

Screen size 9.7in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,536
Resolution screen vertical 2,048
Display type IPS
Panel technology IPS

Core specifications

CPU frequency, MHz 1.4GHz
Integrated memory 16/32/64/128GB
RAM capacity 1.00GB

Camera

Camera megapixel rating 5.0mp
Focus type Autofocus
Built-in flash? no
Front-facing camera? yes
Video capture? yes

Other

WiFi standard 802.11abgn
Bluetooth support yes
Integrated GPS yes
Accessories supplied Lightning cable, USB charger
Upstream USB ports 0
HDMI output? yes
Video/TV output? no

Software

Mobile operating system iOS 7

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