Friday, November 1, 2013

Review Time: The 2013 iPad Air

The day I got the iPad Air

iPad Mini 2012         vs         iPad Air 2013
The Why & How
Today a trip to the Apple Store to buy a customer a new router led me (of course) to the iPad Air display. Handling it briefly the magic of new and shiny Apple logo'd stuff flowed into my hands and immediately to my geek brain. The first thing you notice is how absurdly light it is. I asked an Apple employee to bring over a Smart Case and compared the weight of the Air in a case to my Mini in it's clear shell and Smart Cover.  The difference was negligible and with my company prepared to facilitate the upgrade, I caved and said, "I'll take one...and a (product) red Smart Case to go with it please."

iPad 2  vs  iPad Mini  vs  iPad Air
History & Reasoning
I've had an iPad, iPad 2, iPad Mini and now an iPad Air.  The retina display was never enough to tempt me away from my iPad 2, but when the Mini arrived, it's size and more importantly weight was an instant draw.  In fact, I had planned to hold off for the Mini Retina until I handled the Air and it's Apple-y magic won me over.  Honestly, there's still a chance I'll get the retina Mini if it arrives before my return window runs out on the Air, but it's a small chance. So if the retina display didn't grab me, what did?  Speed and lots of it. The first iPad Mini has virtually identical specifications to the iPad 2 with the exception of the improved camera. I've been ready for more power for awhile.

Upright in the Smart Case
Power & Performance
The Air and the upcoming Mini both bear the new A7 processor. Apple's SOC (System on a Chip) powerhouse that runs the iPhone 5S. You can look up the many speed increases that come with it, but the big number is an 80% bump from the iPad 4th Gen in overall performance.  That's nothing to shrug at.  Add to that the introduction of the first consumer mobile 64-bit architecture (bragging rights for geeks), vastly improved graphics engine and that retina display and you have a tablet that is a stunner. All in a package that's about 1 pound and thinner than the last iPad.

Typing position in the Smart Case
Like & Love
I like the retina display.  The mini had the same 1024x768 resolution as my iPad 2, but in a smaller package.  That made the PPI (pixels per inch) much more compressed, creating a sharper image.  So I wasn't sure how much I would notice the difference.  It's pretty damn sharp and while I could definitely live without it, if it were a girl, it'd be one that I'm not kicking out of bed (if you know what I mean). I like the thickness and the build quality. Apple never lets you down in this area and it's that quality that keeps so many people willing to pay a higher price.  The edges are clean and tidy and meet the glass perfectly. All of the buttons are responsive and have satisfying click when pressed. I Love the speed.  The Mini (& iPad 2) was no slouch, but this thing has massive amounts of zip. Core applications are near instant loading. That transition where Apple uses a previous screenshot to display the app before it's actually ready, is virtually non-existent, an annoyance that is very noticeable on the mini. I love the speakers. They have carried over the design of the mini (in fact the whole thing is like a stretched mini) and the fantastic set of speakers that came with it.

There's something to dislike about every product and while that's usually a software complaint when it comes to Apple, this time I really have nothing negative to say about iOS 7 that would tarnish the iPad Air.  No, my frustration is absolutely hardware and absolutely on Apple.  It's that lightning connector and they way Apple is trying to crush the 3rd party cable market.  On my other devices (iPhone 5 & Mini) I'll get a little warning that I'm not using an approved cable whenever I plug in a $2 eBay special. However, on the iPad Air it seems to be refusing to even charge the device.  Using a cable that I know works with the other devices.  It's bafflingly arrogant that Apple is pushing it's users to pay $29 for a piece of formed silicone and wires.  Those things can't possibly cost more than $0.20 to manufacture.  If I don't figure out a way around this soon, I'll have 5 spare cables in my house that won't work with this new iPad. Lame.  My next complaint has to do with the home button.  Where's that TouchID fingerprint scanner?  It's an A7 chip, so that should mean the hardware is present to work with the scanner, yet it's absent.  Surely this is Apple doing what they do and excluding some of it's technology to hold off for the next release. Others have said it's due to the thinness of the device.  Who knows and it's certainly not a necessity, but I would have liked to play with it as I've decided not to get an iPhone 5S and hold for the iPhone 6.

My final complaint is minor, not really a complaint as much as it is a curiosity.  Apple seems to have gotten sloppy with at least one part of the Smart Case for the iPad Air.  While the design is great in many aspects, the cover doesn't lay flat at the hinge and at the other side has a weak magnetic 'latch'. It's possible the hinge will relax over time, but that magnetic latch issue isn't going to get any better.

Unprotected, but in good hands.
Conclusions & Recommendations
The iPad Air is a solid next step in the evolution of the most popular tablet ever conceived. If you have an iPad 3 or 4, a strong argument can be made to hold off one more year before you upgrade.  You already have a great processor, excellent graphics and the retina display.  However if you are running an iPad or iPad 2 or looking to buy your first, I would go for the iPad Air if you're looking for a full size tablet anytime soon.  Decide before next May though, because by then rumors of the next iPad will start popping up on the internet and you may not feel like it's a good time to buy.  As always using iCloud backup and restore meant that my downtime between devices was less than an hour and I transitioned with out any data loss or loss of customizations.

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