iPad Air Review: It’s Going to Be an iPad Christmas

PHOTO: The iPad Air weighs just one pound.

Day after day, week after week for the last few months new tablets have come marching out of technology companies, holding their touchscreens high, ready to fight to find a home in your hands. Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX, Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1, Google's Nexus 7, Microsoft's Surface 2, Lenovo's Yoga, Asus Transformer Pad: the list could go on of the new tablets introduced in preparation for the big holiday season.

And today Apple's newest entry marches on out. The iPad Air hits shelves today; it's a lot thinner, lighter and faster than last year in hopes it will defend its lead and prime spot under Christmas trees, next to menorahs and on tables for those agnostic gift givers. But are Apple's hardware improvements enough to stand up to the heavy competition this year? Is it, as Tim Cook has said, really going to be an iPad Christmas?

Thinner and Lighter Than...
"Thin and light" is likely the most overused and abused term in the technology industry. Sixty-inch TVs are described as thinner and lighter, huge desktop replacement laptops get thinner and lighter (though still weigh seven or eight pounds), even routers get the "thin and light" description.

VIDEO: iPad Air and iPad Mini With Retina Display First Look
iPad Air and iPad Mini With Retina Display First Look

Describing what Apple has done here with those terms does the tablet no justice. The .29-inch thick device now weighs just a pound, and if you are used to using the full-size iPad 3 or 4, the difference is extremely noticeable, especially in situations such as reading in bed. In terms of the larger tablets out there, the Air is the sleekest, trimmest and lightest. Compare it to a Galaxy Note or a Surface 2, and you'll see that that's not just a lofty statement.

Apple has also rounded the back edges and slimmed down the screen bezel. Like with the Mini, the tablet is smart enough to know when your finger is resting on the frame of the screen rather than to mistake it for a swipe or zoom.

But that's not to say the tablet is as easy to manage in one hand as the iPad Mini or other 7-inch tablets like the Nexus 7. I still very much prefer the iPad Mini for reading in bed. And this year Apple has made the choice between the forthcoming Mini with Retina Display (set to arrive later this month), and the Air as simple as size.

This is the sleekest, trimmest and lightest big-screen tablet. Period.

Both the tablets have the same internals and will have the same screen resolution. The reason to opt for the Air is simply the bigger size of the still incredibly crisp and clear Retina Display. The larger screen may be better for kids, games and highly visual or graphics-heavy apps, while the smaller version may be a better choice for more personal reading and web browsing. As I say in all of my iPad reviews, though, I still do wish the screen was better for reading outdoors and in the sun. Reading on the beach with the tablet will still require a fair amount of adjustment and positioning out of the sun.

A7 and iOS 7
But the engineering feat of the Air isn't that the tablet has been cut in half, it's that the tablet is even more powerful and lasts just as long on a charge. The Air has the same A7 chip as the iPhone 5s. As I said in my review of the new iPhone, the performance increases provided by the new 64-bit processor aren't all that noticeable in regular tasks.

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