Despite the company’s early hesitation with regard to smaller tablets, Apple joined the ranks of the sub-9.7in tablet manufacturers and released the iPad mini in 2012. In 2013, we saw the release of the iPad Air alongside a new iPad mini Retina, a refresh that turned the larger of the two Apple tablets into a stretched out iPad mini. This shouldn’t take away from the iPad Air's status as a great tablet, a fact which was apparent from the early reaction to the device at the end of last year, which we’re going to revisit in this article – it should be of some help if you’re still considering purchasing an iPad Air.
The most important reason why you should be interested in the iPad Air is if you were already a fan of the larger form factor, but perhaps not the heft – as Apple’s latest tablet cuts down on this remarkably. While the slate weighs just 470 grams, it’s perhaps more significant that the whole tablet is smaller in every single way compared to its predecessors. As AnandTech’s review pointed out: “Trying to summarise what makes the iPad Air special quickly turns into a list of the things Apple likes to have with any evolution of an existing product: It’s smaller, lighter and faster with absolutely no trade-offs made in the process.”
It’s not uncommon for tablets to get smaller, lighter, and thinner with a new generation, but when you consider that it’s not just the size but also the shape of the iPad that changed, you begin to realise that this is an experience that can only truly be appreciated when you’re holding the device. Most tablets in the 10in range are two-handed devices because the weight is either not balanced or it’s awkward to hold from one corner in most environments. With that in mind, it’s possible that Apple’s Air design effectively eliminated the big drawbacks to a larger tablet, which would explain why Brad Molen from Engadget said the iPad Air is the most comfortable 10in tablet he’s ever used.
Despite benchmarks which appeared all over the Internet claiming that the iPad Air is just a hair faster than the iPhone 5S, you can expect performance to be exactly the same. It’s more than likely that Apple tweaked the A7 a bit to drive content to the larger display, but like all of the other changes to the overall experience, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on battery life. Apple claims the tablet will get you through 10 hours of heavy use, but most of the reviews reported greater than 10 hours of longevity in their tests. In fact, Walt Mossberg claimed the iPad Air has the best battery life he’s recorded for any tablet.
Ultimately, going by the general feedback from critics, it’s clear that there are plenty of reasons to purchase the larger iPad Air. In 2012, the iPad mini lacked a retina display and had a slower processor than the top of the line iPad. It was also significantly less expensive, but really the improved design of the 2012 iPad mini was what made it such a desirable device. At the close of 2013 Apple applied that same design to the iPad Air, raised the price of the iPad mini, and once again restored balance to its hardware ecosystem by making it so you could have the smaller tablet if you really wanted it, but for only £80 more you can enjoy the same thing on a larger display. And many things, such as gaming and video in particular, benefit from that extra screen real-estate…
For more help on deciding between the two latest Apple tablets, check out our spec comparison which pits the iPad Air against the iPad mini with Retina Display.