Often, when Apple releases a product with a new form factor, their goal is smaller and faster. On Nov. 1, the iPad Air arrived in stores with this goal reached.
Retaining the 9.7-inch screen of its predecessor, this new entry to the iPad family is just a little bigger and heavier than the mini models of the iPad. Weighing just one pound, it’s 1.9 mm thinner, and nearly half a pound (0.43 lb.) lighter than the iPad 4th Gen. A direct comparison of size and heft is remarkable, and the slimmer form factor is immediately noticeable, making for a much-improved user experience.
Aside from the size and weight difference, the iPad Air has a new look, with the slimmer bezel being the noticeable difference. The back aluminum case is just a larger version of the iPad mini, and the chamfered shiny edges are like those on the iPhone 5 and 5s. Speakers have been relocated to the bottom edge, straddling the Lightning port, and the volume rocker button is now two separate buttons. An additional mic has been added for noise cancellation, but more differences exist “under the hood.”
The biggest upgrade to the iPad Air is the inclusion of the Apple A7 chipset, the same one that arrived with the iPhone 5s. With 64-bit processing, this gives the Air a great deal of performance improvement, making it twice as fast as the last iPad. The M7 coprocessor helps with sensor input and sharing tasks, keeping that same battery life we’ve come to expect and appreciate from an iPad, even with the smaller size.
Another improvement is the inclusion of a multiband radio for cellular connectivity. Previously, there were multiple models of iPad for the various cellular providers, but now, one model accommodates all the different types.
Every iPad is “unlocked” by default, meaning that by switching SIM cards, you can hop between different carriers with the same model. The Wi-Fi antenna is also improved so that faster speeds (up to 300 Mbps) are attainable.
The two available colors, silver and space gray, give the iPad Air a sleek and svelte profile. Storage options are the same as in previous incarnations, with units available in 16, 32, 64 and 128GB options.
You can also choose between Wi-Fi-only and cellular-enabled models, with a $129 price difference between the two. I opted for a 64GB space gray model with LTE service, and I decided to try out a new carrier for this new iPad Air. T-Mobile has LTE speeds in Lake Charles and a number of other areas, but a couple of things swayed me to their service.
T-Mobile has a new way of pricing their tablets: You can get an 16GB iPad Air or iPad mini for $0 down and payments of $26.25 per month for 24 months. If you do the math, that equals the price of a new unit. For someone who uses LTE on their device, this is a no-brainer.
You can choose how much data you want to purchase each month. There’s no contract, though if you cancel your data service, you will need to pay the balance.
If that’s not sweet enough, T-Mobile also gives you the first 200MB of data for free. On LTE speeds, that’s not a lot, but free is always a welcome way to start a month of cellular data.
Overall, this new member of the iPad family is a welcome addition. My “old” iPad 3rd Gen wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture, but the lighter form factor and faster performance started to change my mind. And with the new program T-Mobile is offering, my iPad’s fate was sealed.
If you’re in the market for a new tablet, the new iPad Air is an attractive and powerful option that I highly recommend.