Review: Apple iPad Air

Review: Apple iPad Air

The advertisement for the new Apple iPad Air shows scenes from everyday life - from offices to laboratories - always with a pencil on top of either a table or piano. In the closing scenes, a hand picks up the iPad Air from behind the pencil. Yes, it is pencil-thin!

Just 7.5mm deep, the iPad Air is 20 per cent skinnier than previous iPads. It is the same thickness as the new iPad mini with Retina display.

You could be forgiven for mistaking one for the other. They share a similar aluminium unibody frame oozing class and sturdy durability. The Air is just larger.

Its bevelled edges and back feel smooth to the touch.

You will notice that the bezels are thinner on the sides of the display. At 169.5mm, the Air is narrower than the 185.7mm of older iPads.

When I picked up the iPad Air for the first time, I was surprised by how light it felt. At 478g, the 4G model is 28 per cent lighter than the previous iPad, which tipped the scales at around 480g.

I have been using an iPad mini mainly for reading. Somehow, although the Air weighs 130g more than the existing mini, the two feel about the same weight.

In fact, I can hold the Air in portrait orientation with one hand - the same way I hold my mini to read e-books - and not feel any strain.

Because it is now narrower, I found that I could hold the Air in portrait orientation and type on its keyboard with both thumbs.

The Air can probably fit into a woman's handbag - it fit easily into my small weekend sling bag.

The sharp 9.7-inch display remains gorgeous to look at with its resolution of 2,048 by 1,536 pixels. Text, icons and graphics look really sharp. The screen is still reflective, but exhibits minimal colour shift.

Inside, Apple has slotted in its latest A7 chip designed with 64-bit architecture - found in the new iPhone 5s - for faster processing and graphics power.

My iPad is a third-generation device. So this is what I am (unfairly) comparing with the Air.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, the iPad Air scored 1,470 in the single-core score and 2,646 in the multi-core score versus 260 and 478 on my iPad. So the Air is nearly six times faster than my iPad.

Starting Infinity Blade III took 40.3sec on my iPad and 7.8sec on the Air. Playing the game is also much smoother. The graphics are nicer and have smoother textures.

In DL's intensive battery test (we loop a 720p video with Wi-Fi on and the display in full brightness), the Air managed a good eight hours before the battery went flat.

I found that I needed to charge the Air only every other day despite using it frequently to check e-mail, log into Facebook, surf the Internet and read digital magazines.

Another advantage of the Air over earlier iPads is that it supports both 4G LTE bands in Singapore. The third- and fourth-generation iPads support only one 4G LTE band here.

Using the Speedtest benchmark app, the Air's download speed was 28.46Mbps; 4.93Mbps for uploads. My iPad crawled along at 7.02Mbps (download) and 2.90Mbps (upload).

To sweeten the deal even more, Apple is offering free productivity and creativity apps with the Air. These apps include iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Each app would have cost you $5.98 each before.

The Air is a touch or two away from being perfect.

I found myself wishing that it had a Touch ID sensor, such as that of the iPhone 5s. I have become so used to Touch ID that there were times I would absent-mindedly put my thumb on the Home button of the Air, waiting for it to unlock itself.

And would it be too much to ask for a camera upgrade like the iPhone 5s' True Tone dual-LED flash?

The photos and videos taken are not bad, but the Air offers no options for panoramic or rapid shooting.

With the A7 chip's capability, the iPad Air should be able to capture slow-motion videos or shoot 10 stills a second just like my iPhone 5s.

Still, the question is not whether you should get the iPad Air or an Android tablet. It is whether you should get the iPad Air or iPad mini with Retina display when the latter is released later this month.

It is all down to whether you want a bigger screen or a lighter iPad.

Apple's earlier iPads have always been some of the best tablets in the market. The iPad Air's thinner profile coupled with its faster performance just made it better than ever.

TECH SPECS

Price: From $688 (16GB Wi-Fi) to $1,288 (128GB Wi-Fi + 4G, version tested)
Operating system: iOS 7
Processor: A7 chip with 64-bit architecture, M7 co-processor
Screen: 9.7 inches, 2,048 x 1,536 pixels
Camera: 5-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera
Weight: 469g (Wi-Fi), 478g (Wi-Fi + 4G)

RATING

Features: 4
Design: 5
Performance: 5
Value for money: 4
Battery life: 5
Overall: 5


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