There’s a shiny silver version of Apple’s iPad arriving brand-new in the stores in spite of the usual round of January sales elsewhere. The ‘Air’ in iPad Air means that this new, top-of-the-line, full-size iPad is thinner and lighter than ever. Does it live up to the hype? Fresh out of the box, the iPad Air certainly gives the impression of being solid in spite of its lightness, considering it weighs but a single pound. If you’re used to previous models of the iPad, the iPad Air truly does feel light indeed, having shaved about a half pound off the previous model’s weight. App. 9.5″ x 6.5″ in dimension, it is also slightly smaller than the previous model of iPad, although there’s been no sacrifice of screen size. Apple’s engineering wizards narrowed the side bezels so that it now appears like the richer baby-brother of the iPad Mini. Fully loaded the Silver iPad Air comes in at US$649.99. Minus the photography accouterments it can retail for as low as US$499.99.
The screen view is sharp. Up front on the top edge sits a subtly emplaced FaceTime HD camera along with the usual ‘home’ button at the bottom. The top rear has a microphone, in addition to the one on the top edge for Siri and dictation, along with a rear-facing still and video camera. At the top edge, along with a secondary microphone, is the on-off switch and headphone port (a much better place than the usual bottom edge as with most devices). On the upper left edge sits a screen-orientation lock and volume buttons. On the bottom edge is a lightening port with two stereo speakers. In addition to the dual microphone, input options include a multi-touch screen, M7 motion coprocessor, proximity and ambient light sensors, a three-axis gyroscope, an accelerometer and a digital compass. You know, just in case you’re completely lost.
The iPad runs the newest version of Apple’s operating system, iOS 7. The new version took a few days to get used to; it definitely features great stuff, including better multitasking, AirDrop and Control Center. Immediately after you’ve set up, the Setup Assistant offered to download Apple’s full suite of iLife and iWork, normally expensive apps that are free for new device owners. These include standard iPad apps like FaceTime, Maps, Mail, Safari, Game Center, Newsstand, the iTunes Store, and Pages, a word processor; Keynote, a presentation app, Numbers, a spreadsheet program, iPhoto, a very slick photo manager, iMovie, a home movie editor, and GarageBand, a music creation program. There are many others I haven’t gotten around to yet. One small negative is that a user’s manual is not included. It has to be downloaded (for free) from the iBook store.
So, really, the main thing you want to know is, just how fast is the A7 chip with its 64-bit architecture in the new iPad? I downloaded both the highest of last season in the NHL and Frax, a beautiful fractal design generator, in order to test the speed of the new iPad. The new device scrolls through incredibly complex fractal landscapes with absolutely no delays or stutters whatsoever and the hockey pucks flying at me made me feel like Cory Crawford plucking rubber bullets out of the air like child’s play for the Blackhawks.
The rear-facing camera on the iPad Air is the same as on previous models. The still camera may only power up to only 5 megapixels in resolution, but the colors are marvelous. The camera’s HDR mode is now easier to control for taking pictures in high-contrast light. What’s new, however, is the front-facing 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera, which has been upgraded with a new sensor, making for bigger pixels, and backside illumination for better low-light performance. I tested out the gyroscope and the accelerometer using the ‘virtual-reality’ apps Photosynth and the spectacular Panorama while I rode passenger in an accelerating car and made an almost seamless 360° panorama right out of something you might see in National Geographic.
Finally, I can sync the iPad with iTunes on my Mac through Wi-Fi, although this is not entirely wireless as this feature requires the iPad to be connected to either the computer or to a power supply through its lightning connector. Accept no substitute! Go for the real deal.