The original model of Apple’s iPad was originally released in 2010 to thunderous applause throughout the technology and electronics industries. Though many people were skeptical that a tablet device could make the lives of individuals easier, devices like the iPad have taken their rightful place in between the laptop and the desktop for mobile home computing solutions.
The iPad 2 was released the following year and marked a substantial upgrade. In additions to a slimmer design, a slightly higher quality screen and more features, the unit also added front and rear facing cameras.
2012 saw the release of two new models – the third generation iPad and the product that would officially become known as the iPad with Retina Display. The latter model also boasted the largest hard drive yet, with 128 gigabytes of available storage in the most expensive model.
After much debate about how many improvements and legitimate upgrades Apple could continue to make, the tech giant released the iPad Air in the fall of 2013. Keeping in line with recent history, the changes to the new model include those that are both cosmetic in nature and more advanced alterations “under the hood” that cement its place as one of the most attractive tablets on the market today.
The iPad Air Screen
As with any iteration of Apple’s popular devices, one of the most important areas that people are interest in is the screen. The display on the iPad Air is the same 9.7-inch multi-touch display that has been in every full sized version of the device since the original release. It contains the same fingerprint and scratch-resistant coating, as well as the same type of LED backlighting of all other models. The major different between some of the older models is the resolution. The iPad Air contains the same Retina display found in the fourth generation model, complete with 264 pixels per inch and 2048 by 1536 pixels overall. The iPad 2, which is still on sale, features a standard display at 1024 by 768 pixels at 132 pixels per inch. If you are upgrading from the fourth generation iPad, the screen will unfortunately look very familiar. If you’re still holding onto your iPad 1 or iPad 2, the screen on the iPad Air represents a significant upgrade that is worth the price of admission on its own.
The iPad Air Design
One of the biggest changes that Apple made with the newest generation of its tablet came by way of the design. The first four generations had a similar designed with curved back panels and sides, despite the fact that each was a bit thinner and lighter than the last. The design of the new iPad Air more closely resembles the iPad Mini than any previous generation. The physical dimensions are 9.4 by 6.6 by 0.295 inches, making it thinner and shorter than the previous two generations at 9.5 by 7.31 by 0.37 inches. The biggest benefit to the new, sleeker design is the decrease in weight. The cellular model (which has always been heavier than the Wi-Fi only model) weighs in at 1.054 pounds, which is a noticeable and welcome improvement to the 1.46-pound weight of the previous generation. The 1.6 pounds of the original model feels much like holding a brick in comparison.
The new iPad Mini-inspired design makes the device easier to hold in your hand, especially for longer periods of time. The new model feels great and easy to manage in both portrait and landscape orientations.
The iPad Air Processor
Apart from the design, the second most significant change ushered in by the iPad Air comes by way of the built-in processor. The iPad Air includes Apple’s new A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and the 7 motion coprocessor, making it much more of a powerhouse than previous generations. The iPad 2, by comparison has a 32-bit dual-core A5 chip. The new chip will allow the device to support both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of popular applications and will allow for better graphics during certain types of activities like mobile gaming. Such a dramatic hardware increase was seen as something of a surprise when the device originally launches, as very little software exists at this point to take full advantage of its new capabilities. However, if the A7 chip does anything it’s allow the user the peace-of-mind that comes with knowing their device is largely future proof, at least as far as the next few years are concerned.
Much has also been said about the upgraded front and rear facing cameras that Apple included in the iPad Air. The iPad 2 included a FaceTime camera on the front of the device that could take VGA-resolution photos and videos. The front camera also provided face detection capabilities. The back camera could take still photographs in 960 by 720 resolution. The cameras in the iPad Air represent a significant upgrade in nearly every department. The front camera is a FaceTime HD camera capable of taking 1.2 megapixel photos and 720p resolution HD video. It also includes face detection and backside illumination technology for better quality photos. The back camera, now referred to as the iSight camera, can take 5 megapixel photos. Additionally, it includes added features like autofocus capabilities, face detection, backside illumination, a five-element lens, a hybrid infrared filter, an f 2.4 aperture camera for professional-looking digital images and the ability to take HDR photographs at will.
The other major alteration that Apple made to its flagship device comes by way of capacity and price. The only other major full-sized version of the iPad still on sale is the iPad 2. The Wi-Fi version retails at $399, while the Wi-Fi and 3G-capable version is $529. Both versions are only available in 32-gigabyte capacities. The iPad Air, on the other hand, is available in both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + Cellular models in capacities that include 16 gigabytes, 32 gigabytes, 64 gigabytes and a whopping 128 gigabytes of flash-based storage. Each model is priced at $499, $599, $699 and $799, respectively. If you want the Wi-Fi + Cellular version of each, you’ll need at add another $150 to the price.
Despite all of the hardware improvements that include a more efficient processor and a better screen, one area that remains curiously unchanged is the battery life. Apple quotes the same estimated 10 hours of battery life while surfing the Web, watching video or listening to music that they have since the iPad 2. If you’re planning on using your device to surf the web using a cellular data network, you can expect to receive up to 9 hours of battery life. As Apple has placed an increased emphasis on battery life in their other home products like the MacBook Air and recently refreshed MacBook Pro, one can’t help but wonder if the next major iteration of the iPad (presumably called the iPad Air 2 or some variation) will include a substantial upgrade in this department.
Comparison to the iPad Mini
When the iPad Mini was first released, it was referred to by many as little more than “a smaller version of the iPad,” despite being a different product aimed at a different segment of the population. Ironically, the reverse may now be true. The iPad Air looks, feels and behaves more like a larger version of the iPad Mini than it does with any previous version. Both have the same high definition front and rear facing cameras, the same 64-bit processor and the same overall shape and design. The iPad Air and the iPad 2 now look like distant cousins, while the iPad Air and the iPad Mini more closely resemble brother and sister. As both devices are essentially identical in every detail except size and weight, the choice becomes very easy. Pick the screen size you’re the most comfortable with and purchase the device that makes you happy.
The iPad Air in Action
The iPad Air marks the most significant change to the iPad since the addition of the front and rear facing cameras with the iPad 2. With a device that can do so much, it’s difficult to remember a time when people wondered what someone would ever need a “giant iPhone” for in the first place.
Though the Retina display is essentially the same unit found in last year’s iPad 4, improvements to the design of the case, the weight, the cameras and more make it a more than worthwhile upgrade. The only people who may want to hold off on upgrading are iPad 4 owners, as the biggest difference (the A7 processor) isn’t being utilized by the software choices that are available at the moment.
They may be fine holding off until next year’s model. If you’ve got an iPad 3 or older model, however, now is the time to upgrade. The addition of the 128-gigabyte storage option cements its position as the laptop or even desktop computer replacement that some people have been looking for. It is difficult to see how Apple can improve over the design with the release of next year’s inevitable model.