iPad Air review - Fantastic value now just £319
Processor: Dual-core 1.4GHz Apple A7, Screen size: 9.7in, Screen resolution: 2,048x1,536, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage: 16/32/64/128GB, Wireless data: 4G (optional), Size: 240x169.5x7.5mm, Weight: 469g, Operating system: iOS 7.1
The iPad Air is no longer Apple's top-end tablet, thanks to the release of new iPad Air 2. The original Air may not be top dog but the price has been sliced by £80 down to £319, pretty good for a device that's only a year old and still attracts attention for its slender design. In fact at this price we're even more impressed with the Air than we were when it launched 12 months ago. With a free update to iOS 8 not slowing it down a bit, it's every bit worth your consideration now that a successor has arrived.
Adopting the Air moniker used by the company's super-light laptops really makes sense here, as the iPad Air is staggeringly light. At just 469g (Wi-Fi version) it's 183g lighter than the 652g iPad 4. That's a staggering 28 per cent lighter, which is even more impressive given the iPad Air has the same size screen. The new iPad Air 2 is lighter still admittedly, down to 437g, but the 32g drop isn't anywhere like as radical - you'll barely notice the difference once you've slipped it into a rucksack or satchel.
In order to get the weight down, Apple had to make iPad Air smaller and thinner than its predecessor. In simple terms, the Air takes its design cues from the iPad Mini with its thinner bezel and slimmer case. It shouldn't be underestimated how much work this takes, as Apple's managed to make the iPad Air a lot smaller than the outgoing iPad 4, reducing width from 188mm to 169.5mm (a 10 per cent reduction) and depth from 9mm to 7.5mm (a 16 per cent reduction), while height remains roughly the same. The newer model slims down again to just 6.1mm, but the other dimensions remain the same. The bezels are significantly thinner than before, but Apple's excellent thumb rejection means you can grip the tablet from the side and not interfere with the touchscreen - even if your hand slips off the bezel and onto the display.
As we've come to expect from Apple, the iPad Air is made from a single piece of aluminium, with a glass front. Available in Space Grey and White to match the colours of the iPhone 5S, the iPad Air, alongside its successor (which barely changes in terms of outward appearances) is the best-looking tablet around. More than that, it also feels extremely tough and durable thanks to its metal construction, giving it a major advantage over the countless plastic Android tablets also vying for your cash.
Although the iPad Air still has the same size 9.7in screen as used in all full-size iPads since the original, the reduction in size of the case means that it looks bigger. That’s no bad thing, as the screen is the most important thing about a tablet.
Apple has kept the same 2,048x1,536 Retina resolution, originally introduced with the iPad 3. Although this is no longer the pinnacle of screen resolution, with some Android competition hitting 2,560x1,600 or even 4K resolutions, it's almost to the point where that doesn't matter. On a screen this size, held at an average tablet viewing distance, it's tough to spot any differences in day-to-day use. As Apple says regarding its Retina buzzword, it's a resolution at which you can no longer see the individual pixels. As a result everything looks incredibly sharp and detailed.
As we've come to expect, the screen is also one of the best quality. Viewing angles are superb thanks to an IPS panel, meaning you can hold the tablet at pretty much any angle and still see what's onscreen clearly. It's bright, measuring 387.68cd/m2 in our peak white brightness tests, making it usable in pretty much any lighting conditions. Image quality is still incredible, too. Colours are rich and vibrant, despite only measuring 90.7% in the sRGB colour gamut test, with dark blacks and bright whites, which really helps bring out the quality and detail in any photo. We measured the screen with a very low black point of 0.4510cd/m2, meaning dark images look black rather than a washed out grey, and without buying a tablet with an AMOLED screen it's difficult to go lower. A contrast ratio of 860:1 proves Apple has improved the panel over the outgoing iPad 4, although it falls behind the superior iPad Air 2's 1015:1 score.
One surprising omission from the iPad Air was the lack of the TouchID fingerprint reader, which is now included on the new iPad Air 2. Currently this reader is just used to unlock the phone and make app store purchases, but the long-term plan would seem to be to use this technology for authentication for a wide-variety of applications, such as online payments. As it stands, the iPad Air just has a traditional Home button; it's not a big loss day-to-day. If you really want Touch ID then you'll have to spend the extra £80 for the Air 2. The only people that will miss it are iPhone 5s or iPhone 6 owners that are already completely used to unlocking their device with a fingerprint - for everyone else tapping in a password is still perfectly acceptable.