Apple really know how to work an audience thanks to their marketing hype and by limiting supplies at launch date. Thankfully they are now readily available and prices are creeping down. I am no Apple iOS diehard fan. In fact I have several android tablets (including the Nexus 7, which I love). Yet there's no denying that the iPad has revolutionised the computer industry by triggering the tablet era.
This review focuses solely on the iPad Air.
Having owned two other iPads: iPad 1 and iPad 3, I am no novice to the iPad, and have followed the incremental upgrades since it was first introduced .... just 4 years ago! When my iPad Air finally arrived (had mine on pre-order for several months) I thought that the store had made a mistake and got me the iPad mini instead! I opened the usual premium Apple packaging and was greeted by a lovely, super slim and lightweight gem of a tablet. The side bezels are so much thinner too, no wonder it could be mistaken for a Mini. This is no incremental upgrade, but a total redesign around the existing iPad 4 screen. (albeit screen offers better viewing angles)
It really is a pity that I had to buy a protective case, which covers the beautifully crafted aluminium body. Yet it means that your investment will still look like new for years.
------------------------------------------ Case options: Skip this part if not interested.
When it comes to cases there is quite a choice. I call these necessary evils, yet one should not skimp on a quality case offering the best protection possible.
I have the original Apple, Invision and the Veo cases for the iPad Air. I cannot comment on cases I do not own which might prove to be actually better. They weigh 148.7g, 208.5g and 230.7g respectively. The Apple case is expensive, and the volume and sleep buttons are a nuisance to operate as they are covered in the thick premium leather. The other cases offer easy access to the buttons. However this case offers the best protection and looks great. It takes a lot of patience to remove this cover once it is in place. The Invision is a very cheap case and a best seller. It looks sturdy and the stitching is top notch, yet I do not particularly like the shiny finish. The iPad is held in place by 4 corner tabs which tend to pop out of place fairly easily. The Veo is probably the nearest to the Apple as far as looks go. It comes in a mat finish and the iPad is held in place via a plastic strip along the right and 4 corner tabs. --------------------------------------------
DOES THE iPad LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?
A quick answer is "Yes"! The new zippy 64 bit A7 processor and crisp "Retina display" are the best I've seen on any 10" tablet so far! And even though it sports the same display as the iPad 4, the viewing angle is far superior, probably thanks to the closer proximity of the display to the scratch proof glass.
The Apps further contribute to making this the best iPad to date, as they have been optimized to take full advantage of the powerful 64bit processor. These include iPhoto, iMovie, Numbers, Pages and Keynote which are bundled for free!
Apps written for iOS are generally superior to the android version. There are various reasons for this: - iPad is also targeted for professional environments - Stable and reliable iOS platform - Applications are only available through the App Store, thus guaranteeing income to the developer. - Other platforms have new tablets springing every other day, sporting different screen sizes and processors.
Pros: ✓ Blazing fast, low consumption A7 (64bit) processor. The fastest to date ✓ Premium build quality with ever so stylish looks thanks to the precision engineered aluminium housing ✓ 30% lighter than iPad4, weighing only 469g for Wi-Fi, and 478g Wi-Fi + Cellular versions ✓ Retina display. Great colour saturation producing stunning images ✓ iWork and iLife software included for free ✓ Vast choice of apps that can mimic laptop/desktop programs ✓ Awesome battery life. No other tablet manufacturer can match as yet ✓ Is widely used in the Aviation industry by pilots*: This gives the iPad the ultimate seal of approval for reliability, performance and stability.
*Jeppesen, the leading Airline chart manufacturer, has been officially endorsed by EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) to provide digital navigation charts on the iPad for use in flight decks by pilots, and is being used by major airlines. This is a first, and truly revolutionary!
Cons: - Proprietary hardware required. ie: Bluetooth GPS, Airprint printers.. - No expandable memory - No touch ID
I would have loved to see an improved version of the iPhone's touch ID.
Probably the most difficult task is choosing the version which best suits your needs and budget:
I will first start with the common denominator. All flavours offer the same A7 chip, retina display and Wi-Fi.
So the options are colour, storage size and cellular: ♦ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yet I do suggest a side by side hands on comparison. ♦ Given the fast processor I would say go for the largest available storage you can afford. This might easily be a laptop alternative, given the new 128GB SSD version. ♦ Many think that cellular versions only offer data. This version also sports a GPS chip which works as good as the best GPS receivers. So this has to be taken into consideration when factoring the price difference.
Highly recommend to anyone seeking a versatile, fast and reliable alternative to a laptop.
I hope you find this review helpful. Any comments or queries are welcome, and I will try my best to address.Read more ›
This is a stunning piece of modern design. Remarkably light, thin and very fast indeed. But is it the best iPad version for you? Read on to find out…..
Why all the fuss? ----------------------- I used to own a laptop for work, and (very occasionally), it'd sit on my lap on the sofa, and I'd use it for pleasure (eMail, watching films or playing the odd game). Then I bought my first iPad, and the laptop became redundant, a boring "work device". Hard to explain, but the fact the iPad is so small and light, and you navigate around with your finger by pointing and gently swiping the screen makes the whole experience a lot easier - a lot more fun.
It's incredibly simple and easy to use (it only has one main button), and everyone from my one year old granddaughter to my 85 year old dad have taken to without problems. It's size and shape also support using it like a book (literally to read a book or web page), but you can also watch TV and films.
Personally I'm also paranoid about my password getting "hacked", and someone running up a huge Amazon bill or buying stuff with my credit card on eBay. Well one of the benefits of the iPad (and iPhone) is it's "almost impossible" to get a virus - one of the most common ways to get hacked. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use strong passwords, (both Sony and Adobe got hacked), but it's reassuring to leave the Windows world behind.
Finally, I love the way these devices (iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, Apple Mac), increasingly work together. The fact you can start a Pages document on your Mac and edit it on your iPad, or take photos on the iPhone, and in seconds see them on the iPad or Mac and display them on the Apple TV.
Which model should I buy? ---------------------------------- I can't comment about Android tablets (apart from the Google Nexus 7 which is well regarded), but in terms of the Apple tablet line-up in order of cost:-
1. Avoid the Apple iPad 2, it's a relatively old model, under-powered and with a lower resolution screen. 2. iPad 3rd or 4th Generation. Not quite as light, fast or thin, but if you're on a budget (and who isn't), a great alternative. 2. iPad mini is a lovely tablet. A 7.9 inch screen and astonishingly light and remarkably thin - it feels like a light-weight book. 3. iPad mini with retina screen. Again 7.9 inch screen, but with the blazingly fast A7 chip, and a "retina" (high definition) screen. Worth the upgrade from the "mini". 4. iPad Air. Much larger screen size (9.7 inches - doesn't sound much but it makes a huge difference). Same fast (A7) chip as the Mini with Retina - the latest and fastest full size iPad available.
If you want a small tablet (eg. to read one handed on the train), I'd go for the iPad Mini Retina or (at a push), the original mini.
In terms of a full size tablet, the Air is the fastest, lightest and thinnest, followed by the 3rd or 4th Generation iPad - and all are available on Amazon. It depends upon your budget.
What are the Optional add-ons? ----------------------------------------- Well, assuming you've dropped by the Apple Store or John Lewis (which I would HIGHLY recommend), and handled the iPad Mini, and iPad Air then your options are around memory size and cellular option.
Memory: Important! Once bought, you can't add memory (space for apps, films, books etc). However, the basic price goes up (+£80 for the 16-32g iPad Air). But, having owned a 16g and 32g iPad - I can safely recommend the 16g unless you want to store a huge amount of videos and downloads. Only you can decide, and if you need the space, then buy the bigger model. Otherwise, 16g should be fine for most people - especially if you store photos and documents online (eg. Dropbox or Google).
Cellular: Allows you to connect to the internet while you're out and about. This will add an additional £100 to the price and means you can slip in a mobile phone SIM card. This means (£7-15 a month on contract), you can access the internet on the move. Alternatively, you can opt for the WIFI option, and use it at home or at at "hot spot" (eg. Starbucks, most rail stations and hotels etc).
Note: If you have a "smartphone" (Android, iPhone or whatever), you may have the option of "tethering" your WIFI iPad to your smartphone. Effectively, this means using your smartphone's data connection to connect to the internet, and broadcast a local WIFI signal. You connect your iPad to this (password protected) signal, and then use your WIFI based iPad to connect when you're out and about.
Sounds difficult, but even tying your shoe-laces was difficult first time. If you need advice, drop by the Apple store or search You Tube and I'm sure you'll find some help.
Be aware, you may need to pay extra for tethering (eg. Three charge £5 a month extra), but a great option to avoid the additional cost of the "Cellular" option if you've aready got a smartphone.
Personally I'd buy (and indeed did), the 16Gb iPad Air WIFI, but these are key decisions.
How about Apps? -------------------------- Firstly, an App, is a small "application" (a program) that runs on your iPad, and there's literally thousands available from the "App Store", with the most important ones (web browser, mail, music player, word processor, spreadsheet etc) are pre-installed or free to download.
Many apps cost $1 - or 69p in real money, and loads are free (frequently advertising funded with the option to "add on" stuff - but beware you can run up a huge bill).
Here's my favourites:-
* Mailbox. Incredibly slick mail app (or use the built in Apple App) (Free) * Photo & iPhoto. Built in apps to take/view/edit photos (Free) * Skype. Chat to the family for free using a video call (Free) * BBC iPlayer. Great way to catch up on BBC TV. (Free). * tv24.co.uk. TV Listings. See what you're missing on TV (Free) * TVCatchup. Watch real time TV (the Freeview stations anyway). (Free) * Netflix. For £5 a month watch a huge collection of films online. (Free) * Evernote. Write and organise notes. Edit them on your Android, iPhone, iPad, PC or Mac (Free) * DropBox. Access your files, documents and photos on Android, iPhone, iPad, PC or Mac. (Free) * Tune In Radio. Listen to 1,000s of radio stations world-wide - or listen to Radio 4 like I do (£2.40) * Spotify. Stream music for £5 a month (or free with ads). Brilliant! (Free) * eBay. Buy and sell your stuff online. (Free) * Garage Sale. Fantastic way to produce professional looking sales on eBay. (£2.99) * Rightmove. Search for your next Flat or House or just gape at daft prices (Free) * Zite. Online web magazine that learns what you like. Terrific! (Free) * Movies by Flixter. Read reviews of films on cinema and DVD. (Free) * Kindle. Read your books from Amazon Kindle bookstore. (Free) * QuickOffice. Edit Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents (Free) * Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Apple's version of MS Office. Edit/save documents in Word, Excel andPowerpoint format. (Free) * MS Office. £80 a year subscription for 3-4 PCs, Macs or an iPad or "read only" for free. (Free)
Of course you could also use it to read web pages (my wife loves the Daily Mail Online), or playing amazing games like "Football Manager" (£2.99) or "Cut the Rope" (69p). It's a wonderful surprise having come from a PC background to find the most expensive game in the top 100 cost £6.99 and most cost £2.99 or less.
Personally, I tend to use it for Mail, watching TV (BBC iPlayer, Netflix), or shopping using the built in browser - Safari. Having said that, I'm writing this review (using an external keyboard) on Pages - so it can (with a stretch) do "most" of what you can do on a PC or Mac.
Do I need anything else? ------------------------------- Most people (me included) buy a cover. Apple (and now hundreds of others) make a "smart-cover" which automatically shuts down the iPad when you close it, and switches it on when you open it. There's versions which cover the back, or just the screen. Apple charge from £35 to £65 for their (admittedly) high quality fabric or leather covers, but there's many available from £10. Be aware, you do get what you pay for, but "Swees Ultraslim" (about £10), has excellent reviews on Amazon.
Personally,I think it's a pity to cover the beautiful aluminium industrial design of the iPad with a cover - but if you've spent literally hundreds of pounds, you'll want to protect it from scrapes and bangs.
I also invested in a keyboard (£25-80), as I tend to write a lot of mails and documents (remember it comes with a word processor). I'd recommend the Logitech Ultra Thin iPad Air Case with Keyboard - Space Grey. Be aware, a keyboard is strictly optional unless you want to use your iPad as a proper laptop.
You can also buy a rechargeable wireless bluetooth speaker. It's a fantastic way to boost the sound quality and volume from an tablet, phone or PC. I'd recommend the JBL Flip (from £49), the Bose Soundlink Mini (£169) or the top end Bose Soundlink III (£259). Personally, I listen to music (Spotify or iTunes) or the radio on my wireless speakers every day. It's just brilliant.
Finally, if you have another Apple device (eg. an iPhone, Apple TV or Mac) you'll find these work together beautifully. For example, you can create a reminder on your iPad and it appears on your iPhone. Equally, photos taken on your iPhone appear on your iPad, and you can send music or videos from iPad, iPhone or Mac to an Apple TV.
Some people think this "locks you in" - but it's your choice.
What's great about the Air? ----------------------------------- * Lighter (30%) and thinner than the previous version (469g from 650g) * Even faster A7 chip. Blazingly fast! * Improved sound (compared to the iPad 4) * Software including + iMovie - edit and publish home made movies + Numbers - Fully functional Excel for the iPad + Pages - Word processor + GarageBand - Play a piano or a drum kit + iPhoto - Edit and organise your photos
What's not so great? -------------------------- * The change in physical size means you'll need a new keyboard or replacement cover if you're upgrading from a previous model * Pity Apple didn't include the "touch ID" to secure your passwords
Overall Opinion --------------------- It's hard to believe the iPad version 1 was released just a few years ago, and there's a huge raft of "me too" tablet computers to choose from, but the Apple iPad Air is still the one to beat. As "Which?" magazine put it - "...the best tablet we've ever tested. Apple packs a beautiful screen and lightning fast processor into a slimmer-than-ever shell, and battery life is very impressive".
Yes, there are cheaper Android based alternatives, but the quality, design and beauty of this tablet just sets it apart. If it were a car it'd be a top of the range Mercedes or a BMW 5i.