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ipad air review 1

The iPad practically invented the tablet computer. Sure, there were tablets before, and plenty of devices since have added more features like styluses and in-built keyboards.

But for all that, the iPad is still the best of the bunch as far as the public and technology press is concerned.

The question is for how much longer? We took the latest iteration of Apple’s tablet a test drive to find out.

First impressions and design

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The Air is Apple’s latest tablet, and as the name suggests, it’s very slim and very light. It takes the moniker from the similarly svelte MacBook Air, which launched in 2008 and has gone on to pack ever more impressive specs into an impossibly slim and light package.

The iPad Air is just 7.5mm thick, which is almost exactly as thin as the iPhone 5S. It weighs 469g, which is about 180g lighter than the previous full-size iPad.

To put that in perspective, it’s dropped about the weight of a smart phone, so it’s significantly lighter than its predecessor.

One of the main complaints of the original iPad was its weight, so the Air shows Apple is listening to its customers. Stick the Air in your bag, and you’ll barely notice it’s there.

The lighter weight also makes it more suited for motion-controlled games which require you to tilt the device to steer a car, say. You can happily play away without your arms starting to ache.

Features

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Games runs like a dream thanks to the whizzy 64-bit A7 chip inside. Asphalt8 ran super smooth, with no slowdown or judder at all.

In ShadowGun, the device reacts instantly, with your character’s point of view turning the millisecond you move your finger. You’re only really limited by how quickly you can jab the screen.

The Air is a real powerhouse, so it’s great for showing off flagship titles. Apple only unveiled the 64-bit chip three months ago, with the launch of the iPhone 5S, so developers are really just starting to get to grips with it.

The results so far are stunning. We can’t wait to see what else they come up with.

As with the rest of the current crop of Apple devices, the screen is excellent, with strong colours and fantastic contrast. It’s bright enough to be seen in direct sun, too.

The 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution gives it a pixel per inch rating of 264ppi. That’s not quite as high as the Google Nexus 7’s 323ppi, but the 9.7-inch screen is way bigger than the Nexus 7’s 7-incher.

The camera is fine, but nothing world-changing. Snaps look grainy in low light, and it doesn’t have the burst mode or slow-motion video recording as found on the iPhone 5S.

Though if you’re taking a lot of pictures using your tablet, you want to take a long hard look at yourself.

Speaking of taking a look at yourself, the front camera isn’t great in low light either. But it’s very responsive, keeping up as you move your head, which makes it great for video calls.

Software

iOS 7 close-up (banner)

To say iOS 7 split opinion is an understatment. Because so much has been written about it, we're not focussing on the OS here and will instead focus on the iPad Air as a slab of hardware.

But you can get our take on iOS 7 and it's key features in this round-up.

Usability

While it’s big, the Air doesn’t feel anywhere near as unwieldy as other full-size tablets, which is testament to how much weight Apple has managed to shave off it.

The iPad Mini with Retina display is still more portable, but if you use your tablet mostly for movies and games, it could be worth spending the extra on the bigger device.

Battery life is fantastic. Apple advertises 10 hours of surfing over Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music, but we actually got a little over that. Leave it on standby, and it’ll stay on for more than a week, even with Wi-Fi connected.

iTunes is still the easiest way to buy songs and films on a device. There’s no Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the Air, so you can’t just touch your thumb on the home button to sign in, as on the iPhone 5S.

But if you believe the rumours, it won’t be long before Apple’s tablets get the same functionality.

Typing on screen is still not ideal. It’s fine for emails, but if you’re bashing out a War and Peace-sized epic, or using it for work – the Pages, Numbers and Keynote work apps come free with the Air – it might be worth buying a keyboard.

The aluminium back gets quite cold in this weather too. So again, might be worth investing in a case.

Verdict

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The only real downer is the price. The Air starts at £399 – that’s for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model. If you want more storage, you have to pay for it – the 32GB Wi-Fi-only model is £479, right up to £639 for the 128GB one.

Add a data connection and the cost quickly escalates – from £499 for the 16GB version, up to a frankly insane £739 for the 128GB one.

If you can do without the extra storage, you’ll save yourself a bundle of cash.

You can get the Air on contract too. It’s free on contracts starting at £36 a month. Or if you want to pay upfront to lessen the monthly outlay, it’s yours for a one-off fee for £119 and then £29 a month on Three, who supplied our review device.

If you’ve got the money, this is the best full-sized tablet around right now. If you’re not sure about it, try out the iPad Mini – if you can do without the Retina display, the standard Mini is just £249.

It’s a shame the Air isn’t cheaper, but then it’s not a tablet for the budget market. It’s a best-in-class powerhouse in a ridiculously slim and light chassis. And it’s fantastic.

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