Review: iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini won't knock your socks off
The best tablets on the market nonetheless feel more like interim upgrades than milestone devices worth ditching older models forFollow @MobileGalen
There's no question that you'll get a thrill the first time you pick up the iPad Air. It's so much more holdable, even in just one hand, than the previous full-size iPads. The new iPad has shed a quarter of the old weight, has the nicer-feeling case design of the iPad Mini, and has lost a quarter of the old volume due to its slimmer, trimmer case. The iPad Air is both a shrunken iPad and an expanded iPad Mini. Either way, it's the most portable tablet out there today.
Once the thrill of lightness and thinness passes, however, you're left with what is just an iPad.
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iPad Air: Thin, light, and ... well that's it
Yes, like its predecessors, the iPad Air is the best tablet on the market, thanks to great hardware, a highly capable OS, and a strong ecosystem of apps and add-on devices. But the iPad Air doesn't bring much new functionality to the table. Its faster, 64-bit A7 chip and M7 motion coprocessor, which debuted in the iPhone 5s, don't add noticeable performance outside a very few applications like Autodesk's Sketchbook Pro and some games where the slight lag on an older iPad goes away in the iPad Air. The speed is entirely unnoticeable in office productivty apps, the Safari browser, and media playback apps.
It's likely that over time we'll see apps that take advantage of the A7's 64-bit processor, which has the potential to push the iPad into laptop performance range. And we'll certainly see peripherals and apps that take advantage of the M7 coprocessor. The iPad Air should get more powerful over time -- at which point there'll be a better model to buy.
The iPad Air feels more like a halfway upgrade. That's why people with spring 2012's third-generation iPad or fall 2012's fourth-gen iPad should skip replacing their iPad until a truly remarkable upgrade comes along. After all, what Apple didn't include in this year's model but did include in the iPhone 5s strongly suggests what we can look forward to next spring or fall: the Touch ID fingerprint sensor and the dual-color LED camera flash for capturing better skin tones. The iPad Air also lacks support for the 802.11ac Wi-Fi protocol, as do Apple's latest Macs. Although 802.11ac is not widely deployed today, it's on its way, and given an iPad's relatively long lifespan, today's model should be more supportive of that near-term future.
My big complaint about the iPad Air boils down to this: By the time apps and peripherals take advantage of its better processors, Apple will have a new model with more capabilities. So why not wait until then to get a new iPad? That's my strategy -- my third-gen iPad is more than capable enough for my needs today, and I'm used to its heft.