Technology

GADGET WATCH: iPad Air

Andrew Sadauskas /

Last week, Apple announced a major refresh of its iPad and MacBook Pro product lines ahead of Christmas 2012.

While the original iPad helped to revitalise the tablet market, in recent years the company has faced increased competition in the tablet market on a number of fronts.

At the low end of the market, Android tablets by Samsung, Asus and Amazon offer the tablet experience at a more competitive price point.

Meanwhile, in the enterprise, Windows 8 hybrids such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2 aim to marry the tablet form factor with laptop functionality and poor battery life.

Will the latest iteration of the iPad – the iPad Air – help Apple to retain its leadership in the tablet market? It’s time to find out.

Hardware and features

Available in either “Space Gray” or “Silver”, the new device features a 9.7-inch Retina display, with a resolution of 2048 by 1536 and 264 pixels-per-inch.

It measures 169.5 millimetres by 240 millimetres, weighing in at 469 grams with WiFi only or 478 grams for the 4G version.

The fifth-generation iPad also sees the introduction of the company’s 64-bit A7 processor, also used in the iPhone 5s, alongside the M7 motion co-processor.

The device has an Australian starting price of $598 for 16 gigabytes on the WiFi only version, with a 32 gigabyte version for $699, 64 gigabytes for $799 and 128 gigabytes for $899.

With 4G support, the starting price increases to $749 outright for 16 gigabytes, $849 for 32 Gigabytes, $949 for 64 gigabytes or 128 gigabytes for $1049.

What’s the consensus?

As Engadget points out, the latest iPad borrows many of its design cues from its smaller sister device, the iPad mini:

Yes, as strange as it may sound, the latest iPad is actually just a larger version of the 7.9-inch mini. It’s as if the smaller device – which launched at the same time as the fourth-gen iPad – was a pilot test for Jony Ive’s new design language.

One of the ways Apple made the iPad Air smaller than its predecessor despite having the same screen size is by cutting down the width of the bezel around the edge.

One of the risks of a thinner bezel is that it’s easier to accidentally touch something you don’t mean to. Thankfully, according to Anandtech, Apple has taken this into account:

The thinner bezel around the left/right edges doesn’t pose a problem for using the device. Just as with the iPad mini, Apple does a good job of rejecting your thumbs while they’re resting on the edges of the capacitive display. Sometimes it’s a bit too good of a job as it’ll reject the beginnings of my thumb placement if I’m trying to casually swipe between web pages in mobile Safari, but for the most part it’s seamless and well done.

The other major improvement in the iPad Air is the upgrade to Apple’s 64-bit A7 processor. TechCrunch notes the boost in performance is noticeable.

The iPad Air may be a lightweight device physically, but it’s a heavyweight when it comes to performance. Benchmarks tell only one side of the story, and the one that most users will be more interested in is around how the tablet works under normal, everyday usage conditions. Put simply, Apple’s latest iPad soars.

Perhaps the biggest weak point of the device – especially for those who use the camera on their tablet – is the relatively low resolution it captures. As Time Magazine explains, you’ll probably end up reaching for your iPhone:

Apple also gave the new iPad the same 5-megapixel camera on its backside as the old iPad had — okay by tablet standards but no match for the improved 8-megapixel model on the iPhone 5s — and a 1.2-megaixel camera on the front for FaceTime and other video-calling apps. Alas, the Air doesn’t have the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that’s the iPhone 5s’s niftiest new feature; here’s hoping it shows up on the iPad Air 2 in 2014.

That being said, reviews for the latest iPad are generally positive. In the words of Engadget:

Surprise: the iPad Air is the best iPad we’ve reviewed. In addition, though, it’s also the most comfortable 10-inch tablet we’ve ever tested. Not every manufacturer can produce a thin and light device without also making it feel cheap or flimsy, but Apple nailed it.

Who’s it for?

If you’re a loyal Apple customer looking to upgrade your iPad for a sleeker, lighter and more powerful model, the iPad Air is one to look at.

Likewise, unless price or desktop Windows/Android compatibility are your absolute key concerns, the iPad is still the device to look at.

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Andrew Sadauskas

Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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