Apple iPad Air review: the ultimate iPad, for better or worse

The iPad Air. (ALAIN MCKENNA/QMI Agency)

The iPad Air. (ALAIN MCKENNA/QMI Agency)

Alain McKenna, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:30 PM ET

Incredibly light and thin, the new iPad Air is, without a doubt, the most impressive iPad so far. It perfectly embodies Apple's philosophy: superb design, impeccable software and high-end performance. Will consumers be willing to pay?

Because the iPad Air, launched November 1st, it also carries what is apparently becoming Apple's trademark stubbornness: a high retail price (it goes from $519 to $949, depending on internal storage and LTE connectivity), a closed ecosystem and an OS which, despite the many improvements brought in with iOS 7, still lacks some of the ingenuity, if not the refinement of rival software, such as Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows 8.1.

The price structure is not a problem in itself, but more and more lower-priced Android tablets can now deliver an acceptable level of performance and versatility. The demand for smaller-sized tablets also seem to indicate that the iPad Mini HD, due late November, might become Apple's most popular tablet this Holiday season.

The iPad Air's large, 9.7-inch screen "parallax effect" is pretty nice. The icons and the background image move at different speeds - which creates an illusion of depth attractive to the eye. But static icons and lots of unused real estate on the home screen gives the impression this OS is stuck in the past decade (which it kind of is).

Tim Cook, Phil Schiller and Jony Ive will cringe at the very idea, but Apple's tablet looks more and more like a blown-out iPhone, just like those Android tablets they use to make fun of on stage…

MOST VERSATILE TABLET ON THE MARKET

Of course, hundreds of thousands of applications specifically created for the iPad move this issue to the background, because in the end, it's what you can do with your tablet that matters. And in this respect, the iPad Air is second to none.

Except maybe the iPad 2, which Apple still sells, and which still features the iPod's 30-pin connector, still used by so many iPad accessories sold today. Affordable adapters solve this problem, but it's one at a time: HDMI out, USB in, etc.

Under the hood, the iPad Air's all-new A7 chip and M7 coprocessor combo (similar to the one used by the iPhone 5S) makes this device very very fast. Combined with Apple's new and free iWork and iLife apps, you can create and edit full HD videos without a glitch, piece together multimedia slideshows in seconds, and generate fully interactive graphics out of mere numbers on a chart.

Apple says the iPad's WiFi connection is improved to a theoretical 300 Mbps. It also offers better range, which is the real benefit here: weak WiFi signals in coffee shops and airport lounges are now easier to find and connect to. The cameras are better too, which is good when videochatting through Facetime or Skype, but taking photos with an iPad is still very awkward.

On the gaming side, renderings are sharper than ever, loading time between levels is cut down by half, even on some of the most demanding games, and the device's accurate and responsive movement sensors make it a very effective portable console.

Mobile gamers will be happy, enjoying a weight of only 469 grams with an unchanged battery life of about 10 hours of constant use.

A HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE IN ITSELF

Throw in a Bluetooth wireless keyboard cover with that iPad Air and you get the perfect replacement for a laptop: performance, battery life, versatility, it's all there athough it might end up costing you the same - if not more - than a new PC.

And that might be the biggest hurdle when purchasing this tablet: for most consumers, it also implies buying new accessories and spending more to get additional storage. If only Apple offered 200 gigabytes of iCloud storage to go along with its iPad, the way Microsoft does with the Surface 2…

On the upside, with the holidays around the corner, there will be no shortage of great gift ideas: a cover, an audio dock, an HDMI adapter.

alain.mckenna@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @mcken


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