There is just one question an iPad Air review really really needs to answer. And I’m afraid that after three days of playing with the space gray iPad Air review unit Apple shipped me on Friday, I just don’t know.
That question, of course, is: Should I buy it?
While I’m very tempted, I currently own a white iPad 2, which I have been perfectly satisfied with, and which I bought on the first day of its release to remedy the iPad 1′s inexcusable lack of a forward-facing camera.
Does the iPad Air’s 64-bit A7 chip, its svelte one single solitary pound of weight, its smaller footprint with the same screen size, and its deliciously-chamfered edges merit the same rush on Fort Knox?
Should you buy it?
I’m not sure.
Apple makes life difficult for itself by creating amazing products. And while some generational leaps are amazing and demand an immediate charge to the piggybank, others are less inspiring. For iPhones, jumping from the 3GS to the 4 was a big deal. So was going to the 5, whether you were at the 4 or the 4S. For iPads, moving to retina was a big deal, but honestly, without a magnifying glass or a close three-to-four-inch inspection, the difference is a bit hard to see.
Frankly, Apple introducing the iPad Mini was a bigger deal, because it promised an iPad you can hold in your hand all day.
And that’s the biggest test, which is why I spent large chunks of this past weekend flat on my back on the sofa, staring at the 2,048-by-1,536 pixel 9.7″ screen of the latest iteration of Apple’s big-boy iPad, holding it, and holding it, and holding it some more. The iPad 2′s 1.34 pounds do tend to drag on my not-quite-Samson-like arms, and watching long stretches of a movie, or reading a long book, becomes tedious. The question I tried to answer this weekend was: Is the same true for the .34 pounds lighter iPad Air?
Hence the couch time — I, clearly, make great sacrifices for science.
Light as Air?
The answer is that, yes, the lighter iPad Air is easier to hold in the hand, and the arms grow less tired. The smaller size also helps, but the small bezels also present a challenge: There’s less room to hold the thing without introducing spurious commands and accidentally pausing the movie, turning the page, or buying the $300,000 Lamborghini on eBay Motors.
It’s not as simple or easy or effortless to hold as the .75 pound iPad Mini. And not as easy as some smaller Android alternatives — I’ve been playing with a jailbroken Kindle Fire for the past few months as well, and the small size, grippy surface, and light weight have all been big positives. The Air, however, clearly is lighter than the 1.19 pound Galaxy Note 10.1. The almost 1.5 pound Microsoft Surface 2 isn’t even in the ballpark.
I will say this: The 43 percent bezel that allows Apple to provide the same screen size as the original iPad with significantly less width and height does enable two-thumb touch typing while holding the device in both hands, something my medium-sized hands couldn’t do comfortably with my iPad 2.
One takeaway, though, is that I expected the iPad Air to include Apple’s new TouchID sensor, which allows you to sign in to a protected iPhone 5S without tapping in your password.
I’ve gotten used to that feature, and now it seems awkward, annoying, and a little antiquated to have to manually enter a code word or phrase. And if you want the advantages of Apple’s new iCloud-based Keychain, which allows you to have unique, hard-to-crack passwords across iPhone, iPad, and laptop or desktop, you must have a passcode on your device.
Rubber, meet road
The question becomes: Do you want all that the iPad and Apple have to offer — great OS, simple syncing, unmatched app and media ecosystem — in a large, full-sized tablet package?
If you do, buy the iPad Air. You’ll be in good company: There are plenty of people who have already made that price/value comparison, and they are lining up to pay.
If you want all that in a form factor that you’re going to use for hours to read books and watch movies, buy the iPad Mini.
And if you don’t want all that, well, you’ve got a world of Android alternatives to choose from, including some great Nexus options from Google that won’t come burdened with crapware and proprietary gewgaws from other manufacturers, and will get updated to the latest versions of Android just as soon as possible.
But will I — who has invested in the Apple ecosystem, who uses a MacBook Air, who can provision a new phone or tablet with all my apps and media in a few minutes, automatically, by signing in with my Apple ID — buy the iPad Air?
Like this story? Want to learn more? On April 14-15, our fourth annual VentureBeat Mobile Summit will tackle the eight biggest growth opportunities in mobile today. The invitation-only Summit will gather the top 180 executives at the scenic Cavallo Point Resort in Sausalito, Calif., to discuss issues like this. Request an invitation.