Apple iPad Air WiFi 32GB review in China

Apple has officially discontinued the original 2013 iPad Air reviewed here, but lowered the price of the iPad Air 2. On the same day, the 9.7-inch iPad Prowas also introduced.

Review update: Fall 2015

On September 9, 2015, Apple expanded its iPad portfolio with the debut of the iPad Pro — a super-sized, productivity-focused tablet equipped with a powerful A9x chip and support for some potentially game-changing accessories. Starting at $250 for the 32GB model, the iPad Pro will be available in November, with an optional keyboard ($169) and stylus, the Apple Pencil ($99).

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 The company also announced (and made immediately available) the $250 iPad Mini 4 which features an 8-megapixel rear camera, 2GB of RAM, and the same processor as the iPad Air 2. In addition, Apple lowered the price on the Mini 2, which now starts at $250, but kept the original iPad Air and iPad Air 2 at their 2014 price points (starting at $250 and $250, respectively). The iPad Mini 3 was discontinued, joining the original iPad Mini, which was scrapped from the line months earlier.

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The Air was a tangible upgrade over the previous, fourth-generation iPad, no longer in production and so banished to the annals of history. The new iPad slots right in where its predecessor left off, priced at $250 for a lowly 16GB, $250 for 32GB, $250 for 64GB, and $250 for the maximum 128GB configuration. Cellular models — with LTE and support for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon in the US — cost an additional $130 beyond the above prices.

So, yes, it’s still very much the premium-priced choice, just as it’s always been. However, the market continues to shift, offering more and increasingly sophisticated alternatives at far cheaper prices, tablets like the Kindle Fire HDX and Google Nexus 10. That, plus strong competition from within Apple’s own ranks with the upcoming iPad Mini with Retina Display, means the iPad Air has to be better than ever. Thankfully, it is.

Design

The iPad Mini introduced a fresh new design, taking cues from the iPod Touch to create a high-end tablet in an impossibly slender form factor. You could think of the iPad Air as a 20 percent scaled-up version of the Mini, as the two tablets feature near-identical styling details, the bigger one differing only by having more speaker holes on the bottom (80 vs. 56 on the Mini).

Tested spec Apple iPad Air Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Asus Transformer Pad TF701T Microsoft Surface 2
Maximum brightness 421 cd/m2 472 cd/m2 383 cd/m2 315 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.39 cd/m2 0.40 cd/m2 0.35 cd/m2 0.24 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,079:1 1,180:1 1,094:1 1,313:1
Pixel density 264ppi 339ppi 299ppi 208ppi
Tested spec Apple iPad Air Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Asus Transformer Pad TF701T Microsoft Surface 2
Maximum brightness 421 cd/m2 472 cd/m2 383 cd/m2 315 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.39 cd/m2 0.40 cd/m2 0.35 cd/m2 0.24 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,079:1 1,180:1 1,094:1 1,313:1
Pixel density 264ppi 339ppi 299ppi 208ppi

Impressively, though, the iPad Air isn’t 20 percent thicker than the Mini. In fact, at 7.5mm, it’s only 0.3mm deeper — a massive 1.9mm thinner than the previous full-size iPad. Despite that, the tablet feels just as sturdy and rigid as before, not flexing a bit even under rather aggressive attempts at twisting.

It’s light, too, weighing just 1 pound in Wi-Fi-only guise. That’s 0.4 pound lighter than the previous generation and 0.3 pound heavier than the Mini. In other words, the iPad Air’s weight is actually closer to the Mini than to its fourth-gen predecessor. Indeed, pick up an Air and you’ll be reminded of the first time you held a Mini. It’s a “wow” moment.

We were big fans of the Mini last year, and we’re big fans of how the Air looks and feels now. The more rounded profile and chamfered edges give it a modern presence, while the new shape means the buttons and toggle switch situated around the upper-right corner are much easier to find than before.

Stereo speakers flank the Lightning connector on the bottom, placement that makes them far less likely to be obscured by your hand than the previous-gen iPad’s famously mediocre single output. They’re also far louder. However, we can’t help but wish Apple had positioned the left channel speaker on the top, to allow for proper stereo separation when held in portrait orientation while watching a movie. As it is, you’ll hear everything on the right.

Our only other design complaint is the missing Touch ID. This is Apple’s term for the fingerprint scanner built into the Home button on the iPhone 5S. It allows you to unlock your device without typing in a numeric code, also making iTunes purchases password-free and, therefore, infinitely less annoying.

Device Screen size Aspect ratio Resolution
Apple iPad Air 9.7 inches 4:3 2,048×1,536
Apple iPad 4 9.7 inches 4:3 2,048×1,536
Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display 7.9 inches 4:3 2,048×1,536
Microsoft Surface 2 10.6 inches 16:9 1,920×1,080
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 9.1 inches 16:10 2,560×1,600
Asus Transformer Pad TF701 10.1 inches 16:10 2,560×1,600
Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition 10.1 inches 16:10 2,560×1,600

 

The goal of Touch ID is to make unlocking your phone so easy that everyone enables proper security. Most iPhone 5S users will agree that it succeeds in that regard, so much so that many will find themselves trying to unlock the iPad Air by holding a finger on the Home button and waiting impatiently. That, of course, doesn’t work. We appreciate that most iPads rarely leave the home, so security is less of a concern, but the convenience of not having to type in your iTunes password with every app download is more than enough to leave you longing for Touch ID here. It is a frustrating omission, reminiscent of Siri’s initial iPhone 4S exclusivity. Future iPad generations will surely make this right, perhaps beginning with an

A7 power

When the fourth-generation iPad rolled out, it contained a custom version of the iPhone 5’s A6 processor called the A6X, offering far greater performance than the phone’s version. For the new generation, Apple seemingly decided to leave X off, and so what we have here is the same dual-core, 64-bit

A7 CPU found in the iPhone 5S. Disappointed? Don’t be. The iPad Air is ridiculously fast. Interestingly, it’s slightly faster even than the latest iPhone, which also has the same amount of RAM (1GB). Apple seemingly turned the wick up a bit here, with Geekbench indicating a processor speed of 1.39GHz, versus the 1.29GHz on the iPhone 5S.

We coached the iPad Air through some of our favorite benchmarks, along with a fourth-gen iPad running the most recent version of iOS (7.0.3). The results were quite compelling. In Sun Spyder 1.0.2, the Air blasted through in 385ms average; the fastest of the four tablets we tested. (The iPhone 5S scored 417ms.) Geekbench 2 was similarly improved, 1,797 versus 2,382 (higher is better here), and on Geekbench 3 the gap widened, 1,429 vs. 2,688. In fact, the iPad Air’s single-core score of 1,475 is higher than the dual-core score of the fourth-generation iPad.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the iPad Air does get quite warm when doing this sort of number crunching. The back of the tablet feels slightly cooler at full-tilt than its finger-toasting predecessor, but there’s still plenty of heat coming off the back, reinforcement that your slinky new tablet is, indeed, working hard