An absolute killer: Australia’s first iPad Air review

Apple claims that the A7 is about twice as fast as the A6, and in terms of real-world use at this early stage, it’s difficult to find any evidence to suggest otherwise.

Apps start up very quickly, web pages of text and graphics scroll smoothly, the unit reacts instantly to swipes and inputs, and graphically rich games such as Infinity Blade 3 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted look great and are stutter free.

Also, image manipulation via iPhoto is very smooth, with no delays during real-time zooming and rotating, applying filters or brushes.

On Geekbench 2, the Air produced an impressive score of 2358, compared to 1803 of the 4th generation iPad. Also, considering that there is now support for OpenGL ES version 3.0 and a 64-bit architecture, let’s just say that the Air has all the foundations for some truly powerful and visually stunning future applications. Did you hear that apps developers?

iPad Air on the left, new iPad (also known as the iPad 4) on the right.

Other changes to the hardware include two updated cameras. While the rear camera is still 5 megapixels, its lens gains a wider 2.4 aperture, and a back-side illuminated sensor.

The net result is better low-light performance and improved colour detail. When tested compared to the excellent 8MP camera in the iPhone 5S, there’s some noticeable distortion in the lower light areas of our test images, but otherwise, it takes a fairly good picture for a tablet.

The front-facing 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera also gains back-side illumination and larger pixels, and appears to perform better in low light than the iPad 4th generation.

On the connectivity front, our big hope was to see the introduction of the new Wi-Fi standard, called 802.11ac. While supported in the new MacBook Pros that were also announced at the iPad Air launch event in San Francisco, it seems we’ll need to wait until the next generation before this ultra-fast standard is supported.

Still, the iPad Air is equipped with a faster version of dual-channel (and MIMO) Wi-Fi, so you can wring more speed out of it than the previous generations, with a theoretical maximum transfer speed of 300Mbps, although real world speeds will likely be about half of that.

We were also hoping to see support for some of the new faster varieties of 4G LTE cellular networks, such as LTE Cat 4.

The Air does support a wider range of LTE bands, however, meaning you’ll be able to hop on 4G networks in other countries that operate on different frequencies, which is handy for world travellers.

While the buttons, such as sleep and volume controls, are slightly different and easier to access along the Air’s flatter edges, the positions are about the same as pervious models.

The Lightning connector and speaker grilles now match they style of the Mini and iPhone 5S, and dual-microphones have been added to improve Siri interaction and FaceTime conferencing. The dual mics support background noise suppression by focusing on your voice rather than the noise around you.

Old iPad connector (top) versus iPad Air Lightning connector and new speaker grille beneath.

While the new iPhone 5S comes with a more compact and different looking power plug, the one for the iPad Air looks the same as before but has been up-rated to 12 watts over the previous 10 watt charger.

Hopefully this means a slightly faster charge cycle, but it was difficult to notice any major differences. Otherwise, the box also includes a Lightning cable, instructions and a SIM pin on the cellular models.

In terms of colour choices, we didn’t see a champagne gold model on offer unfortunately, which could have been quite cool, but otherwise, the silver and white, or black and ‘space’ grey models are both attractive options. You can choose between Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi + Cellular models, in memory configurations including 16, 32, 64 and 128 gigabytes.

Pricing starts from $598 for the entry level 16GB Wi-Fi only version, and spans up to $1049 for the top end Wi-Fi + Cellular 128 gigabyte model. Airs can be ordered online or purchased in stores from November 1st.

Overall, the new iPad Air is an absolute killer of a tablet.

It offers you twice the power in a more compact package, while keeping the same 10-hour life. Add to this that the Air’s pricing is slightly less than the 4th generation model it replaces, even considering our weaker dollar, and you also get free 64-bit iOS7 versions of iPhoto, iMovie, Garage Band, Pages, Keynote and Numbers as part of the deal.

While it might be easy to take the Air’s achievements for granted, this is made possible by some truly outstanding feats of engineering, and there are no tablets currently available that can best its combination of portability, packaging and performance.

Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes
More compact, more powerful but keeps its 9.7 inch screen
New size means you'll need new accessories