• Apple iPad Air review
  • iPad Air versus iPad 4
  • The iPad Air is slimmer and space grey-ier than the iPad 4
  • Stereo speakers straddle the iPad Air's Lightning port
  • Ooh, what a lovely back the iPad Air has
  • The iPad Air has the best screen of any tablet
  • The iPad Air has the best screen of any tablet
  • The 4:3 screen ratio makes the iPad Air great for reading
  • The iPad Air's 64-bit A7 enables new djay 2 features
  • Infinity Blade III has better graphics on iPad Air and iPhone 5s
  • Photo on iOS 7 is brilliant
  • You'll wonder how you ever lived without Control Center
  • The Today part of Notifications is weak compared to Google Now
  • Editing HD video in the iMovie app is an absolute dream
  • Editing HD video in the iMovie app is an absolute dream
  • With Garageband you can record up to 32 tracks on 64-bit iPads
  • The iPad Air's lovely lines leave no room for connections
  • The iPad Air has one of the best tablet cameras
  • 5MP is plenty for a tablet camera
  • iPad Air review

Air. Any Apple fan knows what the word signifies: light, slender and shiny, with an extra sprinkling of Cupertino design magic.

And sure enough, the Air moniker now applies to the best-looking full-size iPad yet. Essentially it’s a 9.7in version of the iPad Mini, a 7.5mm sliver that weighs just 469g in its Wi-Fi version. It's slimmer, sexier and Space Grey-ier than its full-size predecessors, but with no compromise to either performance or battery life.

The Airification process has resulted in the most portable 10in tablet money can buy, which means there are few places you can't take it, and with new, more potent versions of iWork, iLife and iCloud, there should be fewer things you can't do with it, too.

On the other hand, it's still got the same old Retina Display of its forebears, there's no shout-out-loud new feature inside it, and anyone can lose a few pounds, can't they. So, do the changes add up to a dramatically improved iPad experience? You're just about to find out.

DESIGN AND BUILD: Airs and Graces

iPad Air versus iPad 4
The iPad Air is slimmer and space grey-ier than the iPad 4
Stereo speakers straddle the iPad Air's Lightning port

Next to its predecessors there's no mistaking the iPad Air. Thanks to the liberal fat-trimming, its front is almost entirely screen. There’s still room to rest your thumbs on what remains of the bezels (in case you mistrust Apple’s thumb rejection tech, which helps prevent hand-resting from becoming accidental input), but while the screen has the same 9.7in span it always did, the Air feels much smaller than previous iPads.

It’s also the new champion of tablet hardware design. Cool aluminium, almost unbroken lines (curse you, 3.5mm jack) and perfectly drilled speaker grilles make for a familiar and elegant look. It’s the kind of object you’ll caress for no reason, and while we might glance lustily at the spun metal of the Asus Transformer Pad, or the sleek black plastic of the Google Nexus 7, we’d ditch either in a heartbeat for an Air.


The Air comes in black and “Space Grey” or white and silver but, contrary to rumours, there’s no gold version. Despite the skinny 7.5mm form, there’s no flex to it, but its back and sides will scratch up if you look at them angrily just as the iPad Mini's or iPhone 5s' do, so you’ll want to look after it.

Over the course of a movie or gaming stretch, you'll appreciate how light the iPad is compared to iPads 3 and 4, too. In fact, at 469g (Wi-Fi model; 478g for the 4G version) it’s a mighty 28% less hefty. 

Design-wise the only cause for disappointment is that the iPad Air’s home button doesn’t play host to the Touch ID fingerprint scanner debuted on the iPhone 5s. The Air has the 64-bit brain necessary for the encryption, so to our minds it’s an odd omission. Let’s regroup and carry on.

Display: Stop Counting Pixels

The iPad Air has the best screen of any tablet
The iPad Air has the best screen of any tablet
The 4:3 screen ratio makes the iPad Air great for reading

Pixel density zealots may scoff at the Air’s unchanged Retina Display specs, but this is still the best screen we've ever encountered on a tablet. The 9.7in 2048x1536 IPS display provides vivid but accurate colours with superb contrast and on-point viewing angles, all in a big, bold 4:3 ratio that's perfect for the web, email, e-books and apps.

So, although the Asus Transformer Pad’s 2560x1600 display beats the Air’s on paper (299ppi to the iPad’s 264ppi), when everything from crisp 1080p rips to YouTube videos look more true to life and dynamic on the iPad, we stop counting pixels. No matter what you chuck at it, the Retina does the job brilliantly.

The App Store is also chock-full of Retina-res software and games to really show the device off. The iPad is also one of the only slates, alongside this year’s Nexus 7, to get lush 1080p streaming via Netflix. 

(A minor aside: despite talk of anti-fingerprint coatings, our Air is just as smudge-prone as every other touchscreen out there - carry a cleaning cloth if you want the glorious screen to stay that way.)

iOS 7 - still simple and beautiful

Photo on iOS 7 is brilliant
You'll wonder how you ever lived without Control Center
The Today part of Notifications is weak compared to Google Now

iOS 7 looks predictably lovely on the iPad Air.  But as discussed in our full iOS 7 review, there are loads of improvements to discover once you’ve stopped cooing over the icons, design tweaks and animations.

The Photos app offers overviews of huge libraries in just a few taps and scrolls, long-pressing words in Safari brings up definitions, Contacts, Notes and the Music app have all been cleaned up, and the music player controls in Control Center work brilliantly with everything from Podcasts to YouTube.

Control Centre is also where you’ll find AirDrop, and despite not yet enabling iPhone/iPad to Mac sharing, it remains an NFC-alternative with terrific potential.

And, of course, there’s still iTunes and the App Store – the biggest and best-curated digital shops available despite fierce competition from Google Play and far less fierce competition from the Windows Store. The biggie here is that when Apple innovates, developers tend to pay attention, which bodes well for a future of apps that really make use of the Air’s (and iPhone 5s’) 64-bit A7 chip.

Our disappointments regarding Notifications and Control Centre not matching up to Android’s comparable features remain, and we still believe iOS needs more customisability and ‘live’ information, but for style, slickness and simplicity it’s way out in front of rivals.

iLIFE: more creative, more free

Editing HD video in the iMovie app is an absolute dream
Editing HD video in the iMovie app is an absolute dream
With Garageband you can record up to 32 tracks on 64-bit iPads

Now that iLife costs not a penny, we thought it was worth giving the three apps that constitute it a once-over.

Everything in iLife, Apple’s creative app suite, has been redesigned for iOS 7, with iPhoto and iMovie in particular getting a facelift. Editing HD video in the iMovie app works like a dream – it’s missing some audio ducking, title timings and clip timestamping but is otherwise laden with features and proves a brilliantly simple and quick way to make and view edits, and projects are synced between iPad, Mac and Apple TV in the ‘Theatre’ page so you can continue or show off your work on another device. iPhoto has also been tweaked with a fresh look, intuitive editing tools and seriously speedy applications, crops and effects. 

Garageband looks familiar, albeit a little more two-dimensional than before, but the new version has plenty of neat tricks such as recording up to 32 tracks on 64-bit iPads (16 elsewhere), dragging and dropping tracks from iTunes into the sampler and using audio from other iOS apps as new instrument tracks. On iOS it’s still very much an on-the-go music sketchbook to feed into the full version of Garageband or Logic Pro, but in-progress tracks can be uploaded to iCloud or shared with AirDrop. 

With everything now free with newly bought iPads (although the full Garageband instrument set costs £2.99 as an in-app purchase), Apple’s taking the creativity fight to Google and Microsoft. And for serious productivity you’ve got iWork...

iWORK: more productive, more free

iPad owners, get ready to start using iWork in your daily life. Why? For a start because it’s now free with new iPads - and free is a lot less than £6.99 x3, which is what the full suite used to cost. But also because Pages, Numbers and Keynote docs have got a whole lot more useful now that Apple’s opened them up to the world for collaboration via the iCloud editor.

It’s no Google Drive yet, but anyone with an iPhone, iPad, PC or Mac can now open a link to iCloud docs created in iWork to view and make edits – no iCloud account required. It’s currently a beta feature and can be a little slow (Safari works best, unsurprisingly), but it’s a start. Android has been left out in the cold in terms of cloud-based editing, but links to download documents and spreadsheets can be sent to anyone. Links are sent via Mail, Messages, Facebook, Twitter or AirDrop and with one-click saving to iCloud.

It’s all built for 64-bit, redesigned to look fresh enough for iOS 7, and there’s a smattering of new features, such as a context-aware sidebar in Pages, interactive charts in Numbers that update smoothly in real-time (just make cell changes to see them dance) and extra transitions for Keynote presentations.

If it wasn’t for the lack of an official keyboard dock, this increased propensity for productivity could put Apple’s own MacBook Air in jeopardy. As it is you’ll still want a laptop, Chromebook or hybrid for long stretches of word processing and the like, but there’s no denying the extra (free) features make the iPad a very potent work companion right out of the box.


The iPad Air's lovely lines leave no room for connections

The Air’s sleek design comes at a cost, and that’s connections: apart from a headphone socket, there’s just the Lightning connector. Your only choice for connecting anything else is one of Apple’s Lightning adapters, which cost an additional S$28-S$68 depending on whether you want HDMI, SD card or a direct camera connector. That might grate with anyone who’s used to a free and easy Transformer tablet with a full SD card slot in the dock, or the USB 3.0-rocking Surface 2

So, Apple - how about an official keyboard accessory to rival the thunk and snap of Microsoft’s sensorific Touch Cover 2? Or the battery-boosting Transformer dock? Both look frustratingly unlikely; we suspect Apple is more than happy pointing workaholic gadget fans towards the sleek MacBook Air and allowing third-party manufacturers to cater for our keyboard needs.

CAMERAS: Best in Class

The iPad Air has one of the best tablet cameras
5MP is plenty for a tablet camera

As far as we’re concerned, people who use tablets as cameras need a stern talking to - and it seems Apple agrees. Unlike the iPhone 5s, the iPad Air (and impending iPad Mini Retina) retains the 5MP back side illuminated sensor of its predecessor and lacks fancy features such as burst mode and slow-mo.

And yet it is still one of the best tablet cameras we’ve seen. The Air’s main snapper captures more detail than rival tabs, making for sharper, clearer shots. The colours aren’t as accurate as the best smartphone cameras, including the iPhone 5s’, but it’s a respectable back-up.


The iPad’s 1.2MP front-facer shoots slightly smudgey indoor selfies, but things look clearer during Skype calls. The placement at the top of the screen in portrait makes it a bit awkward when held in landscape (or when using the Smart Cover/Case as a kickstand), but the iPad’s picture is brighter than that of the Surface 2’s camera despite Microsoft’s trumpeted exposure-adjusting tricks.

BATTERY LIFE: 2 day is a good day

Retina display. Most powerful Apple chip ever. Skinny 7.5mm frame. Decent cameras. It'd be fair to expect Apple's engineers to cave and wail, “Please don't hurt us Mr Cook, but we had to lose a couple hours' battery life.”

And yet the iPad delivers true gadget stamina.

We had to do a double-take at our battery percentage a couple of times because we’re so used to iPhones and MacBook Pros tearing through charge like the Stuff team tears through Skittles. But like the heftier iPad 4, this is an all-day tablet – as long as you’re not foolhardily running on full brightness the whole time. During the course of a week, as we got over hammering the Air with downloads, apps and games and settled into a normal routine, the iPad lasted a day and a half to two days.

It even held up when we were using the Air as a personal 4G hotspot, and consistently hung on to the last 5-10% for hours at a stretch. Unlike its predecessors, which crammed in more capacious batteries, it doesn’t take all night to re-juice either. Stay tuned for a HD video rundown test versus times from its Android and Windows 8 rivals.


iPad Air review

Calling this the iPad Air initially seems a gimmick: a marketing ploy designed to invoke the excitement and thrill of an all-new product, when in fact so much is carried over from previous iPads. But the truth is that the iPad Air actually is as dramatic a product update as its name suggests.

It’s not simply the smaller and lighter form. Or the increased processing power and battery life. Nor is it the improved and now freely bundled iLife and iWork apps.

It’s the way those three elements of portability, power and productivity combine that make this the most useful and usable tablet Apple has ever made. There are other tablets that are more portable, more powerful, or better suited to productivity, but none manage to combine the three as effectively as the iPad Air.

We’re not saying it’s necessarily for everyone - some will continue to resist Apple’s enclosed ecosystem and limited connections, while others will balk at the huge price of the higher capacity versions - but for the vast majority this is the tablet we’d recommend over others, and that’s why it replaces the iPad 4 at the top of our list of the best tablets in the world.

But what of the iPad Mini Retina? It’s got the same power, the same apps and is even more portable, so is it simply a case of deciding whether your priority is screen size or portability? Quite possibly, but we’re going to have to wait a few more weeks to find out. Boy, waiting really is rubbish, isn’t it?

Stuff says... 

Apple iPad Air review

The Retina display, iApps and skinny-as-a-Mini build join forces to make this the best tablet money can buy
Apple iPad Air review
Good Stuff 
Screen pumps out luscious colours
Prettier and more portable than rivals
Ace App Store and free Apple apps
Ushers in dawn of 64-bit software
Bad Stuff 
Lack of ports, adapters are pricey
iOS walled garden may frustrate you
Not a complete laptop replacement
More capacious versions are expensive

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