Apple iPad Air review: Even better with iOS 10

£399
Price when reviewed

The iPad Air has been superseded by three new models – the iPad Air 2, the iPad Pro and the iPad Pro 9.7 since it first came out in 2014, and Apple no longer sells it on its website. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore it completely, though.

The iPad Air 2, iPad Pro and Pro 9.7 are superior devices, but the original iPad Air is still no slouch, and if you can get hold of it secondhand for a good saving over a new device, it’s still a very capable tablet.

Importantly, it’s still on Apple’s roster for software updates. The next big overhaul is iOS 10, which is due to roll out on 13th September, and it brings with it a whole host of updates and improvements to everything from the lockscreen to the Maps and Photos apps.

Even Siri gets an overhaul with the added ability for app developers to hook into the voice-powered personal assistant. Soon, iPad Air owners will be able to command Siri to search Spotify for their favourite band’s music.

It’s important to know, however, that not every improvement in iOS 10, and for that matter future updates, will be available to the iPad Air. One such update is Split View, a feature first introduced in iOS 9 alongside the iPad Pro, that allows two apps to be displayed alongside each other at the same time when the tablet is held in portrait mode. Although the feature was supported as far back as the iPad Air 2, the original iPad Air missed out, and that continues to be the case in iOS 10.

If you plan to use your iPad for work, that might be a consideration before you go looking for a second-hand tablet.

If not, read on to learn why we loved the original iPad Air, or click here to jump to our iPad Air 2 review and find out why it’s even better than the first.

Apple iPad Air: Design

Apple has gone back to the drawing board for the iPad Air – the full-sized, 9.7in iPad is a dead ringer for its little brother, the iPad mini. It has the same chamfered metal edges around the glass front; those edges are now more aggressively rounded than on the iPad 4; and discrete volume buttons have replaced the rocker switch of old. In our view it’s a marginally more attractive device, especially in the moody Space Grey livery (it also comes in silver), but there’s not much in it.

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The headline is the reduced weight and size of the iPad Air. At 469g, the Wi-Fi iPad Air is a significant 28% lighter than the equivalent iPad 4, and it’s thinner and narrower across its waist. Hold each in succession and you notice the difference immediately.

In isolation, the weight reduction is less noticeable, but the slightly more compact dimensions make a material difference to the way you handle the Air. It’s now possible for people with large hands to stretch their fingers across the back and grip the iPad in one hand. This isn’t something we’d recommend you do for any length of time, but it gives you an extra option.

For the most part, you’ll grip it by the edge, with a thumb resting on the narrower bezel. This isn’t as much of a bind as you’d think: while reading a book in the Kindle app, for instance, you can rest a thumb in the margin without anything untoward happening, and the same goes for the browser. In our time with the tablet so far, the Air’s narrow bezels haven’t proved a problem.

Apple iPad Air: Battery life and performance

In realising the new design, Apple has reduced the capacity of the battery by 23%: it drops from a huge 43Wh to 33Wh. Yet remarkably, this hasn’t had a negative impact on longevity. In our looping video test, with the screen calibrated to a brightness of 120cd/m2 and flight mode activated, the Air lasted 12hrs 55mins – 43 minutes longer than its predecessor.

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Clearly, the Air is a much more efficient tablet. According to Apple this is due in part to the low-power M7 processor, which takes over the role of handling data from the tablet’s various motion sensors (the accelerometer, the gyroscope and the compass).

A pleasant side effect of having a smaller battery is that the iPad takes less time to charge. Using the supplied AC adapter, the Air charged from 0% to 100% in around four hours. In the same time span, the iPad 4 hit only 80%. This may be a result of the more potent charger, too: the adapter bundled with the Air delivers DC current at 2.4A, compared to the 2A of the previous effort.

Performance, too, has seen a significant boost, with the same dual-core, 64-bit, 1.4GHz A7 CPU as the iPhone 5s on board. In every benchmark we ran, this helped the iPad Air stretch out a significant lead on the iPad 4, which is no slouch. It’s also faster than every Android tablet we’ve tested recently (you can find comparative results in the table below).

In real-world terms, that means swift load times for apps, slick menu and web-page scrolling and sumptuous graphics in games. In Asphalt 8: Airborne, one of the most demanding games around, there’s a slightly smoother frame rate than on the iPad 4, and the particle effects and high-resolution textures are stunning.

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Detail

Warranty1 yr return to base

Physical

Dimensions169 x 7.4 x 240mm (WDH)
Weight469g

Display

Screen size9.7in
Resolution screen horizontal1,536
Resolution screen vertical2,048
Display typeIPS
Panel technologyIPS

Core specifications

CPU frequency, MHz1.4GHz
Integrated memory16/32/64/128GB
RAM capacity1.00GB

Camera

Camera megapixel rating5.0mp
Focus typeAutofocus
Built-in flash?no
Front-facing camera?yes
Video capture?yes

Other

WiFi standard802.11abgn
Bluetooth supportyes
Integrated GPSyes
Accessories suppliedLightning cable, USB charger
Upstream USB ports0
HDMI output?yes
Video/TV output?no

Software

Mobile operating systemiOS 7

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