Incredible value at a new lower price, the iPad Air is small, light, incredibly powerful and has an amazing screen
Processor: Dual-core 1.4GHz Apple A7, Screen size: 9.7in, Screen resolution: 2,048×1,536, Rear camera: 5 megapixels, Storage: 16/32/64/128GB, Wireless data: 4G (optional), Size: 240×169.5×7.5mm, Weight: 469g, Operating system: iOS 7.1
The original iPad Air had a great run, but it’s now been succeeded by both the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro 9.7. You also can’t buy it directly from Apple any more. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading, though, as you can still buy it from other online retailers. In fact, with some selling it for as little as £300, it’s still around £80 cheaper than the entry-level Air 2, making it a good budget option if you don’t want to fork out for the latest model.
You won’t be left behind in terms of features, either, as Apple’s confirmed that the Air will be getting an update to iOS 10 when it launches on 13 September. This brings several new software tweaks to the Air, including a split-view Safari mode, allowing you to run two tabs simultaneously, as well as a revamped lockscreen. You’ll even be able to delete all those pesky Apple apps you never use as well, freeing up loads more space for the apps you actually want. I’ll be updating this review with more information about how iOS 10 runs on the Air as soon as it’s available, but for now, you can read about all the new features in our in-depth hands on with the iOS 10 developer preview.
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 the 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 2,048×1,536 Retina resolution, originally introduced with the iPad 3. Although this is no longer the pinnacle of screen resolution, with some Android competition hitting 2,560×1,600 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.
|Dual-core 1.4GHz Apple A7
|Yes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
|Yes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
|Memory card slot (supplied)
|Apple iPad Air