iPad Air review

Apple lays down the gauntlet for future tablets with a stunning effort

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Editor's Choice

The iPad Air launched with iOS 7, but Apple has kept up with its update commitment by pushing iOS 8 and iOS 9 to the slate. More specifically the Air runs the very latest software - iOS 9.2 - which is the same as the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6S.

I'll run through some of the key features and how they perform on the Air in a moment, but the main thing to know is that the iPad Air is fast. Really fast.

We're getting to a point where describing a smartphone or tablet as quick under the finger is pointless – once you reach a certain point there's not a lot more speed to be gained.

iPad Air

Even dual-core phones were more than acceptable, so why make a point of highlighting the speed of the new iPad?

Well, it's just virtually flawless through all kinds of tasks. A millisecond faster from a finger press might not seem like much, but once you do a hundred or a thousand of them in a day, and then go back to something like the iPad 3, you'll realise that there's a real difference in the operation.

Our benchmarking scores saw the iPad Air narrowly eclipse the iPhone 5S, also running the 64-bit A7 chip, in terms of overall speed - which makes sense given it's slightly more optimised for the larger screen but still maintains the same power output.

Since the upgrade to iOS 8 its performance has improved further. Back on iOS 7 it scored 2629, but now we're looking at a score of 2660. That's not a difference you'll notice, but it's nice to see something getting faster not slower over time.

Like it or loathe it, iOS 7 is still a real step forward for a company that desperately needed to refresh its offering in the face of stiff competition from Android and iOS 8 and iOS 9 further improves things.

The new flatter interface takes away the pointless need to pretend all apps are real-life objects just to integrate them into people's lives - users know that pressing the Photos app will take them there, no matter the result.

Like most popular platforms that get upgraded, there's been a large amount of flack coming Apple's way for iOS 7, with features like the parallax effect (no, there's no way of saying that word without thinking it should be the name of a Marvel supervillain) being turned off by a number of users.

It's also fair to say that the troubled launch of iOS 8, which suffered from a number of bugs, has also left some iPad Air owners unhappy.

iPad Air

Parallax is where tilting your iPad will see your wallpaper move with the motion, giving a 3D effect on the screen. And while this was annoyingly unpredictable on the iPhone 5S, on the Air it's much better and I wouldn't advise you turn it off, unlike on other Apple devices.

It doesn't even have a huge effect on battery life, which is impressive in itself.

The rest of the interface is easy to use and makes sense for the most part. One of the bigger features of iOS 7, iOS 8 and iOS 9 is the notification bar, found by dragging down from the top of the tablet. This gives access to updates, calendar entries and missed messages. Initially it was one of the weaker parts of the OS, as it always started on the calendar, which doesn't often give a lot of useful information.

The 'Missed' section was often also sparsely populated, but update to iOS 8 and a swipe will start you on the Today and Notifications menu, the latter of which is a condensed version of the All and Missed tabs from iOS 7. It's a big improvement all round.

However, there are a lot of other areas in which the Cupertino brand has made strides in terms of improving the user experience too with iOS 7, iOS 8 and iOS 9.

For instance, swiping upwards with all five fingers (or double tapping the home button) will lead to the multi-tasking pane, which shows all of your apps in large thumbnails. This is an excellent interface, although perhaps a little large, and you can swiftly jump between apps or flick a thumbnail upwards to end it.

On top of that, the home screen is now updated to allow a much larger number of apps in each folder. Now you can create collections just by dragging icons on top of one another, and continue to do so almost ad nauseum. This prevents the need to make loads of folders called 'Game 1' 'Game 2' and 'Why do I have this many games that I don't play?', and allows a much less cluttered home screen.

iPad Air

Apple still hasn't updated its operating system to allow users to autosort their apps, meaning if you uninstall something (by long-pressing the icon until everything jiggles and then tapping the 'x') then the space won't be filled by an app from another screen. When in the edit mode you can rearrange things, but it's not the most time-efficient way of making everything look neat.

The new Control Center is something worth highlighting too - drag up from the bottom of the screen and you can control music, brightness, turn on Wi-Fi and loads more. I would have thought that most people know all about this feature, but the number of iOS 7, iOS 8 and iOS 9 users who get their minds blown when I show them that this exists means it's worth highlighting.

And it is well worth upgrading the iPad Air to iOS 9, for Siri improvements, additions to Apple Maps, such as public transport directions, a better keyboard, a News app and more.

Perhaps most excitingly for iPad Air owners iOS 9 adds true multitasking, with two new modes. Slide Out lets a second app slide in from the left of the screen, giving it around a third of the display to play with, while Picture-in-Picture puts a little window in the corner of the screen, which can be dragged around and resized and is ideal for playing videos in while continuing to do other things.

There are tonnes of nuances to Apples UI that I'd like to laud here, but I invite you to go and use it for yourself, as despite there being no tutorial, there's very little here that the novice user won't be able to pick up.

I would like to give a special mention to the 'five finger pinch' if you've not used it before on previous iPads. Make sure it's enabled in Settings->General, and then simply pinch in with four or five fingers in any app to return to the home screen. You'll be trying to do it on your phone before you know it, such is its simplicity.


Tech Specs

Product TypeTablet
Flash Memory Capacity16 GB
Processor ManufacturerApple
Graphics Controller ManufacturerImagination Technologies
Graphics Controller ModelPowerVR G6430
Wireless LANYes
Optical Drive TypeNo
Maximum Battery Run Time10 Hour
Backlight TechnologyLED
Product FamilyiPad Air
Front Camera/WebcamYes
Operating System PlatformiOS
ColourSpace Gray
Operating SystemiOS 7
Brand NameApple
Form FactorSlate
Processor Speed1.30 GHz
Processor TypeA7
Screen Size24.6 cm (9.7")
Screen Resolution2048 x 1536
Weight (Approximate)453.6 g
Cache1 MB
Processor CoreDual-core (2 Core)
Display Screen TypeActive Matrix TFT Colour LCD
Display Screen TechnologyIn-plane Switching (IPS) Technology, Retina Display
WWAN SupportedNo
Wireless LAN StandardIEEE 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth StandardBluetooth 4.0
Multi-touch ScreenYes
Rear Camera Resolution5 Megapixel
Height238.8 mm
Width167.6 mm
Depth7.4 mm
Screen ModeQXGA
ManufacturerApple, Inc
Product ModelMD785LL/A
Product NameiPad Air Tablet
Product LineiPad Air
Aspect Ratio4:3
Manufacturer Part NumberMD785LL/A
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.apple.com/uk
Marketing Information

All-new design. A ton of advanced technology. In just one pound. You have to hold iPad Air to believe it. It"s just 7.5 millimeters thin and weighs just one pound. The stunning Retina display sits inside thinner bezels, so all you see is your content. And an incredible amount of power lies inside the sleek enclosure. So you can do so much more. With so much less.

Limited Warranty1 Year