Nov. 01--We may see a time when iPads don't change much from year to year.
Consumers now have a general expectation of what tablets should be, the basic functions work well enough and there's little missing that could be genuinely useful. In other words, future tablets could become more like refreshed PC models. When was the last time you got excited about a new desktop?
With the iPad Air, Apple managed to avoid stagnation for one more year. My brief experience with the device showed there's still great improvements to be made long after the revolution is over.
For starters, the name is no empty boast. The iPad Air somehow became even thinner and lighter than its already-svelte predecessor, making it the trimmest tablet in the 10-inch range I've ever used.
The thickness has dropped from 0.37 inches thick to 0.3 inches, and the width slimmed from 7.31 inches to 6.6 inches. It's all in the narrower bezel, as the 9.7-inch display is as big as always.
Even more impressively, the weight dropped from 1.4 pounds to just a pound. That might not seem like much, but every ounce matters in the tablet world when you're holding it up to watch videos or read a novel. The iPad Air feels like a relative feather in your hand while still seeming substantial. I kept picking it back up to make sure I wasn't just imagining its wispiness.
The slimdown hasn't affected its performance. In fact, the new A7 processor gives the performance a significant boost. I kept screaming through complex web pages and substantial apps without a hint of stuttering.
And then there's the battery. In my three hours of heavy use and downloading I barely chewed through a quarter of the available charge. Maintaining the battery life and ratcheting up the horsepower while significantly trimming the body may remind you of cliched overpromises from 3 a.m. commercial pitches, yet Apple managed to pull it off.
Though that's pretty much the end of the changes. The iPad Air runs iOS 7 exactly the same as every other older iPad model. The navigation's the same, the stock apps are the same, every aspect you can think of is the same. The display, while gorgeous, is the same, as is the 5 megapixel rear camera.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. iOS 7 remains polished, convenient and pleasing. The included apps function well. As a bonus, Apple has thrown in the iWork and iLife productivity apps for free, which makes the newest iPads the most productive ones yet.
Apple's not invincible. Hungry tech companies keep improving their own tablets, and it's possible one of them will dethrone the iPad as the best slate available. Maybe even soon. But not this year. While the pace of changes has slowed considerably, Apple has delivered big enough improvements to keep the iPad impressive.
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Original headline: Review: iPad Air has great performance, less weight
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OCTOBER 31, 2014
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