Review: Nine months with the iPad Air
With the iPad Air having been on store shelves as long as a child lives in the womb, we thought this would be a good time to take another look at Apple's premiere tablet. Though we reviewed it shortly after getting our hands on it, why not revisit the iPad Air after nine months?
The iPad Air is the first iPad that doesn't have any obvious room for improvement. Of course Apple will improve it before long, likely with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and some other unknown upgrades. But we're getting to the point where the iPad doesn't really need anything else. All the most important areas – weight, thickness, screen quality, battery life and performance – are all in great shape. If you want an iPad that you won't need to upgrade for several years, then the iPad Air is a great place to start.
At launch, I was a big fan of both the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display. If you had asked me then which tablet was better, it would have been a toss-up. Flip a coin and go on my merry way. But after spending months with both tablets, the iPad Air is the one that I keep going back to. It's my pick for the best iPad yet.
Of course the iPad Air's 51 percent bigger screen is nice, but there are also a few other things working in its favor. First, the Air lives up to its name, weighing in at just 469 g (1.03 lb). That's extremely light for its size. Though the smaller Retina iPad mini is 29 percent lighter, the iPad Air feels less dense. It's a piece of cake to hold with one hand.
The other big notch in the iPad Air's belt relates as much to Samsung as it does to Apple. See, the iPad is no longer King of Light, Thin and "Retina." If you want a feathery tablet with an outstanding display, then both the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and Galaxy Tab S 10.5 are lighter, with sharper and richer displays, than their iPad equivalents.
That might sound like trouble for the iPad, and, on a hardware level, it could be. But the iPad has an ace up its sleeve, as Android still can't compete with the App Store's tablet app selection. And this carries more weight on a full-sized slate than it does on a smaller one.
See, on a 7- or 8-in tablet screen, smartphone-first apps might not look great, but they're perfectly serviceable. Once you blow that screen up to 10 inches, though, it's a different ballgame. That's where you really need apps that were designed specifically for a tablet. Advantage, iPad.
In this respect, I'd say there's a wider gap between the iPad Air and its Samsung competition than there is between the iPad mini and its competition. It's one more way that the iPad Air has aged well.
There has actually been one big change to the iPad Air since we first reviewed it. You might have noticed that iOS 7 launched with an unusual amount of bugs. For my first few months with the latest iPads, I'd run into at least one browser crash a day (sometimes many more), along with other random crashes. I spend enough time on the web that it was a borderline deal-breaker. And it was especially embarrassing for Apple, as the big iOS 7 update was all about its new "flat" design. It looked like cosmetic appearances had taken priority over fundamental stability in Cupertino.
Fortunately those bugs were squashed with subsequent iOS 7 updates, as I haven't experienced any iPad browser crashes within the last four or five months. We finally have the polished iPad Air software that we thought we were getting last November. No asterisks necessary.
If you're in the market for a new tablet, or are upgrading from an older iPad, then I'm not sure if anything can beat the iPad Air. Nine months after launch, I'd still call it the best full-sized tablet that you can buy – and probably the best tablet period.
The biggest footnote here relates to Apple's release cycle. If the iPad trains move on the same schedule as they did the last couple of years, then you'll be able to buy an updated iPad Air early this November. It will likely have that Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and ring up for the same price points that you'd pay right now. If you can hold out that long, it's at least worth considering.
On the other hand, now is also a good time to keep an eye out for discounts on new, lightly used or refurbished iPad Airs. Keep your peepers peeled, and you might snag one in the US$300-400 range. That's an offer that's hard to refuse, even if the next model is waiting on the horizon.
The iPad Air is available now, still (officially) starting at $500. Still highly recommended, still hard to beat.
If you want a deeper dive on the things that haven't changed, then you can hit up our original iPad Air review from last November. And if you want to see how the iPad stacks up against the competition, you can check out our latest Tablet Comparison Guide.
Product page: Apple