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Apple iPad Air review

 Review: November 2013  

Last updated December 2013

Rating: 5 stars

In a nutshell: The iPad Air is a full-sized tablet that's slim, lightweight and superfast thanks to the A7 processor. It's quite probably the best tablet you can buy right now.



The iPad Air is the lightest, slimmest full-size iPad so far, but apart from that it's virtually the same as the iPad 4. So is this a huge step forward or a sign of Apple losing momentum? As always there will be two opposing world views. Let's take a look at the facts and leave the hype to one side.

New slimline design

The first thing that grabs you about the iPad Air is how slim it is. Measuring just 7.5mm thick, it's 20% thinner than the previous iPad 4. And a cunning design makes it look thinner still. Psychologically, this has got to be a good thing.

It's lighter too. A lot lighter. As light as air? Hardly! The iPad range has always been substantially heavier than rival tablets, and the new lightness simply makes it the same weight as the lighter Android tablets. Still, it's a very welcome development and it makes the appeal of the iPad greater than ever.

The Retina display is the same as before. It's a 9.7 inch screen with a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels, which equates to 264 pixels per inch (ppi). That's almost as sharp as the Google Nexus 10 and it's arguably the best screen on any tablet currently available. Certainly the IPS screen is pin sharp and enjoys wide viewing angles - perfect for sharing with a friend or with the family.

The bezel around the screen has also been slimmed down for the Air, making the whole device more compact. Overall, the design of the iPad Air is a winning formula that can't be faulted.

Faster inside

Moving on to the electronics that powers this device, it's the fastest and most powerful iPad so far. The Air uses the A7 chip with 64-bit architecture and M7 motion coprocessor that first appeared in the iPhone 5s. The A7 processor is twice as fast and uses less power than the previous A6 processor. That's partly due to the 64-bit architecture and partly due to the fact that the M7 coprocessor is now handling all of the motion-related data.

Surprisingly the A7 processor has just 1GB of RAM available to it, which is half the amount that rival Android tablets have, and yet that doesn't seem to be an issue, with everything here just silky smooth and responsive.

You have a choice about how much memory to buy, as the iPad Air comes in a choice of 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and even 128GB models. We'd advise that 16GB is going to be too small for most users. However, the price of the iPad Air rises scarily as the memory goes up, so choosing the right model is going to be a fine balancing act.

iOS 7

The Air runs iOS 7, giving it a quite different look and feel. This is quite a dramatic overhaul, with new graphics and a lot of new ways to do things. There's no doubt that this is the most significant change since Apple debuted the iOS software and this update does feel like a leap forward from iOS 6.

iSight camera

The Air features a rear-facing 5 megapixel camera that's loaded up with goodies like a five-element lens and a BSI sensor for good low-light performance. It also now features HDR for improved shadow detail and is capable of producing the kind of high quality photos that expensive camera phones can produce. That's provided you don't feel like a complete idiot walking around taking pictures with a 10 inch pad.

Perhaps more useful is the front-facing camera that can be used for video chat, or FaceTime in Apple-speak. This has a more modest 1.2 megapixel BSI sensor and can record video at 720p HD resolution.

4G or Wi-Fi?

As well as deciding how much memory you want, you'll also have to choose between the Wi-Fi only version and the Wi-Fi plus 4G version. The latter includes 4G LTE compatibility plus 3G in addition to Wi-Fi. It's the same size and weighs just 9g more, but you guessed it - it costs £100 more to buy and that's before you factor in a 4G price plan.

Other connectivity includes Bluetooth 4.0, a Lightning connector and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

Battery life

If you were wondering how Apple managed to make the Air smaller and lighter than previous iPads, you'll find part of the answer here. The battery is substantially smaller than in the iPad 4. However, it's still a formidable power unit, rated at something like 8,500mAh (Apple quotes 32.5 watt-hours) which is more than the Sony Xperia Tablet Z for instance. It should give something like 10 hours of continuous use between charges.

Conclusion - a super lightweight iPad

As we indicated in our introduction, the iPad Air is very similar to the iPad 4, but slimmer and lighter. The only other significant difference is that the A7 processor is faster. It's a shame that the iPhone 5s's fingerprint sensor wasn't included. But these benefits are definitely worth having and they make what was already arguably the best tablet even better than ever.

If you're an Apple fan we have no wish to persuade you that there are better options than this. It's an absolutely superb mobile computing device. However, if you're open to suggestion, we'd advise you to take a look also at the Android-powered  Sony Xperia Tablet Z which can match the iPad Air feature for feature, but is cheaper and waterproof too.

Apple iPad Air features include:

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Apple iPad Air user reviews

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Average rating from 4 reviews:

Reviewed by J Morris from Wales on 1st Mar 2015
As a complete novice to the world of tablets I would certainly recommend the I pad Air -easy to use and very fast. After struggling for months with an ever slowing laptop it is now all systems go- the best possible Christmas present.

Reviewed by Demola from Nigeria on 12th Aug 2014
I think Apple should pls stop producing 16gb versions.

Reviewed by Mr Nutcase from UK on 29th Nov 2013
The iPad Air is a thinner, lighter and more powerful replacement for the iPad 4, which is all you can really ask of a new tablet. And if you're an Apple fan then it is probably already on your wish list.

Reviewed by Colin Brown from United Kingdom on 12th Nov 2013
I am an Apple sceptic, I used to use my iPhone 4 religiously but had been tempted away by the newer Android powered devices. I had however always liked the idea of an iPad and with the redesign of the iPad air decided to go for it and buy one, specifically the 64gb black version.

Firstly, the price, yes, it's eye watering. Once the device was bought home however any sense of buyers remorse disappeared. It booted up quickly, synchronised with my computer, downloaded all of my music onto itself within a few hours and loaded many of the apps I used to love.

Build quality is superb, it feels like a stunning piece of engineering and really is comfortable to use for hours on end. Buying a case was a must though as any thoughts of scratching it or risking damage were frankly horrifying!

The quality of the retina display is well commented and I can only confirm that it's superb. Photographs look vivid and crisp, videos look outstanding and watching live TV (via Sky and BT Sport) is a joy.

I am sure I am only scratching the surface of the device's capability but I already love it. I cannot stop using it, plus there is no need to regret not purchasing the 4G version as it can use my work phone as a WiFi hotspot, it will work anywhere!

I know that there are equally capable android tablets out there but for the full experience of use I cannot recommend the iPad Air enough.

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