Apple’s iPad Air takes flight

The big announcement at Apple’s event in San Francisco, and one not wholly unexpected, is the release of the new 5th generation iPad, but we were surprised by its name – the iPad Air.

Key differences between it and its predecessor start with a new case, which is more like the current iPad mini.

Compared to its predecessor, the iPad Air’s is 20 percent thinner, measuring just 7.5mm, and has a smaller, 43 percent narrower bezel, but is still around the same length at 240mm (a hair smaller, actually). The unit is also 28 percent lighter, weighing just under half a kilo.

The good thing about the new dimensions is that, while the case is more compact, the screen remains the same (9.7 inches in diagonal) as the iPad 4th gen.

With 24 percent less volume overall, this means the iPad takes up less space in purses and bags without a compromise in screen size. And while the resolution is still the same as the Retina grade 2048 x 1536, Apple has upgraded to the thin-plane screen technology as found in the iMac. When trying it out at the ‘hands-on’ part of the Apple event, the new iPad Air really felt good in the hand. Materials and finishes were excellent, and loosing the additional width made it easier to hold with one hand, and you really do notice the weight reduction. It’s almost like you’re using an iPad Mini, but with a slightly bigger screen.

Inside, the big change is the addition of Apples latest, and fastest A7 processor, which sports 4 graphics cores and is built on a 64-bit architecture.

While the 4th generation iPad was no slouch, this unit offers twice the graphics power, so expect more graphically rich games, powerful apps and faster web browsing in the near future. Accompanying the A7 is the M7 motion co-processor.

First introduced on the iPhone 5S, the M7 handles location, motion, direction and distance tracking, leaving the processor free for other tasks, and helping to improve battery life, which is rated at 10 hours. Overall, the iPad Air’s A7 chip is expected to be about twice as fast as the A6 version found in the iPad 4th gen.

When trying it out, the iPad Air was very responsive, and there was no perceptible delay anywhere. Scrolling and screen refreshes were lightning-quick, especially when using Apple Maps’s Flyover feature, and the new, thinner IPS capitative touch-screen display was bright, vibrant and easy to read.

One thing missing, however, is the Touch ID sensor from the iPhone 5S, which is surprising considering the additional security it provides.

The cameras haven’t been upgraded much, though the sensor has changed, and we’re seeing a 5 megapixel camera on the back, with 1.2 megapixels for that front FaceTime HD camera. There’s a dual mic as well, which will help with Siri and video conferencing.

As per the 4th generation iPad, the new version comes with a Lightning connector, and the same dual-channel ‘MIMO’ WiFi support as the previous model, so, disappointingly, the new 802.11ac WiFi standard is not included. On the plus side, the high-speed 4G LTE cellular system has been upped a notch, with support for more LTE bands across the globe, which is good for those who travel to different countries.

You can now choose between 16, 32, 64 and 128GB memory configurations, with prices starting from $598 for the 16GB WiFi-only model to $899 for the 128GB WiFi-only model, and all the way up to $1049 for the 128GB WiFi and 4G compatible iPad Air. Apple expects units to be available in two weeks.

Also being left around is the iPad 2, which will go with pricing of $449 for the 16GB WiFi and $598 for the 16GB WiFi and 3G supporting edition.

Valens Quinn travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Apple.