TL;DR The iPad air is a significant upgrade and a new direction for the iPad line, you may still want to wait for the iPad mini with retina screen though.
There are plenty of reviews on the new iPad air out there, and I don’t want to add to the cacophony. Instead I want to look at the iPad air from a different view, the experience. After all apple is an experience product meshing hardware and software to create an experience. [If you want the spec just go to the page on the apple site]
A New Name, A New Experience?
With a change from the previous generations of iPad naming 1/2/3/4th generation to iPad Air (presumably with the iPad Pro on the way sometime next year) this marked a big change for apple. Although name changes can just be branding exercises to rescue failing ideas this didn’t show any signs of that and instead hints at the change in experience for the iPad air as radical as the change from MacBook to MacBook Air.
Having owned previous tablets on a variety of operating systems the first thing that was clear about the iPad air from the moment I first took it out of the box was this device isn’t going to break easily. Despite the name air it is sturdy and contains apple’s usual high build standard. No flimsy plastic or bendable metal here. Even details like the binding between the screen and sides show quality and precision and the home button is a million miles ahead of the flimsy buttons one usually finds on samsung products.
As Light As Air
The second much talked about factor is the weight. It truly is a device that you can carry without thinking about. As Mashable pointed out, it’s even lighter than a loaf of bread some people have gone on to call this a one handed device but I’m not convinced. It’s fine to hold for a while in one hand but in the long run it’s just awkward due to the weight distribution being that little bit further away. It’s not noticeable for short periods of reading or typing one handed, but it will build up if you plan to spend your evenings reading in bed.
This can be slightly mitigated by holding on to the side bezel further up however due to the reduction in size it isn’t as easy to get a full firm grip which causes strain in other ways. Having said that the reduction in size and the easier access to the keys from the side for thumb typing makes it worth the trade off.
The reduced weight will also be welcomed by those strange people who when out and about use their iPad to take photos of sites and attractions. The slight reduction in the side bezel will also mean that they block off slightly less of the view than they did in the past and the upgraded isight camera will result in a slight improvement in both the pictures and a decrease in annoyance for the rest of us who have to put up with this behaviour (though seriously, just get a normal camera or camera phone).
On the other hand the decreased weight may encourage people to take more pictures or encourage more people to engage in this unsociable behaviour. Basically, we’ve got a long campaign still to fight (if you really not convinced just check out this tumblr)
The speed of the device is also worth the air moniker, it is just smooth and with the exception of a couple of seemingly unrepeatable freezes, the A7 processor and iOS provide an easy to use, simple to adapt to and speedy service that puts many tablets to shame.
One strange feature I noticed with my iPad is that the wifi signal seems better in portrait, I can’t tell if this is just me, my hands or the location of my router though I’ve experimented with shifting positions and it still seems true. The battery life is impressive considering the reduction in size and weight, which can only lead to the conclusion that the iPad is using the energy provided to it more efficiently allowing for the thin size without compromising on the battery life and saving your energy bills (the little things add up!)
If you are wondering “Is the iPad air light enough to replace my iPad mini” then I’d say yes BUT I still don’t think you want the air. It’s been noted by other writers that the mini isn’t just about its weight, the smaller form factor suits some people more. If you like thumb typing, want something to read on and maybe have super large pockets then I suspect the iPad mini will be better for you. If you want a bigger screen, prefer typing in portrait and you have your doubts over whether the mini would be big enough then the air is the device for you.
If you want an another tablet then either of these then you are just wrong.