Top positive review
Return of a favourite that offers fantastic bang for your buck
5 April 2019
I write this review as someone who appreciates Apple products and their ecosystem, but who also owns Android and Amazon based products too so I hope this is a balanced and considered review. In this household there are currently two iPhones (6S), Apple Watch 3, Apple TV and an iPad Air 2 alongside a Motorola Moto G (work mobile) and an Amazon Fire 8. I’m also tech-support for my entire extended family across a whole range of devices so I’m familiar with competing devices.
Our iPad Air 2 is several years old now, but still in regular service. It’s my wife’s and I rarely used it up until recently, favouring my laptop if I wanted to do something I couldn’t on my iPhone. However, the last few months saw me spending more time on it, enjoying the extra screen space and versatility so I decided I’d look into getting a tablet for myself.
Perhaps foolishly, we bought an Amazon Fire 8 tablet in the Black Friday deals as it was really cheap for a tablet. Yes, for the £50 we paid it’s an operational tablet. Fine as an introduction to tablet use, and great enough for watching Prime and YouTube content. But, it’s hugely limited, feels cheap and you’re compelled into watching adverts to subsidise the cost. I’ve also spent a lot of time using my step-mum’s Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 tablet, which while far superior to the Fire, it’s still a long way short of even an aging iPad.
I began seriously considering buying an iPad Pro. For the ones I was looking at you’re pushing the £1k mark, which is a huge amount. The specs are fantastic, and as an amateur photo editor and creative sort I liked the idea of the Apple Pencil compatibility. Fortunately, just as I was beginning to accept the massive kick in the wallet, Apple announced the arrival of a new generation of iPad Air (oddly not called the Air 3), alongside a new iPad Mini too. Doing a little bit of research and reading trade reviews the new Air ticked almost all of the boxes I was looking for, for practically half the price.
If you’re looking at this review, you may be asking what is the iPad Air and where does it fit into Apple’s current range? The flagship models are the iPad Pros, then standard iPads and then the iPad Minis. Confusingly, the iPad Minis latest iPad Mini is more powerful and more expensive than the standard iPad, but smaller. Until recently, there was a huge difference in performance between the Pro and the iPad, which is where the Air comes in. It fills that gap by having much of the power and ability of the Pro, but Apple have kept a bit of a leash on it to prevent too many potential Pro buyers spending less money.
Apple have basically repackaged a previous generation of Pro tablet (the 10.5”), and given it a bump up in processor speed. The screen is better than the iPad, but not quite as good as the Pros. It has only two speakers compared to the four on the Pros. It also has support for the Apple Pencil, but only generation 1. The 2nd generation has been reserved solely for the Pro. That said, the 1st generation pencil is still very good, and cheaper. The Air also gets the smart keyboard connectivity of the Pros, which is a big plus if you’re planning on typing a lot.
In use though, what is it like? Well, at the time of writing the Air had only been on sale for one week, and I’ve had mine for a few days. I love it. Visually, it looks very similar to the older Air 2. It’s not even much bigger in the size. The size in the pictures I’ve attached with this review are perhaps skewed by the slightly larger case I have it in. But it’s much quicker. And it feels so much nicer to use and navigate with than any other tablet I’ve used. Not just slightly, but a lot. The Apple operating system is so much slicker than Android, and that really is coming from someone who uses both a lot. Productivity on an iPad is a possibility, not just a pipe dream. There are so many great apps available, and Microsoft Office and Adobe suites are on the App Store if you want them. There’s so much you can do on a tablet, beyond watching TV and movies and playing games (which play incredibly well). My iPhone, formally welded to my hand, has barely been touched since I opened the Air up.
If you already operate within the Apple ecosystem then the Air fits right in. Photos and notes sync seamlessly. What size of iPad you go for, 64GB or 256GB, will depend on what else you have. If you don’t have other Apple products then you will soon fill 64GB very quickly. If you have an iPhone with decent storage, and especially if you have an iCloud account, it’s more than possible to live with 64GB. I have a 2TB iCloud account which has more than enough space to be shared across all of our Apple devices.
There is a lot to be said about finding a refurbished iPad Pro which will give you the Pro features missing on the Air, but if you’re more comfortable buying a new product then the new Air offers exceptional value. In the real world it offers the vast majority of the functionality most of us are going to need, fantastic performance, and all for a lot less money than the Pro. It really does offer exceptional value. As a further recommendation I would advise a decent folding case to protect the screen and provide a stand, and if you’re a creative type then the Apple Pencil is a winner all the way.