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Every time Apple releases a new version of the iPad, it gets harder to review. Here’s a good starting point: the iPad Air is the best tablet in the world. That’s not even a subject for debate, unless you’re the most ardent of Android afficionados, in which case you won’t be reading this; you’ll be too busy chewing your knuckles and trying to hack into the Pentagon. In fact, the previous generation iPad – now discontinued – is still better than anything else out there. So: five stars, job’s a goodun. I’m off home.
Except it’s more complicated than that. Firstly, Apple’s hardware and software is so tightly integrated that it’s hard to speak about one without mentioning the other. The new iLife package (now free) is exceptional but it’s not iPad exclusive; you can get it on iPhone and Mac. There are some great features that work exceptionally well on the iPad – the ability to swipe to change image saturation is nothing short of brilliant – but it’s not an exclusive feature.
The second difficulty is that the iPad isn’t judged only on its merits; it’s not just about what people want, but how much it surpasses expectations. People want to be amazed.
So what is amazing about the new iPad?
• The build: The most noticeable and (for now) most important change is the construction. Apple has outdone itself. To squeeze in all the extra features in the previous generation New iPad, which is now the Old iPad, Apple made its flagship device fatter and heavier. This time it’s doubled the processing speed and still shaved the depth down to just 7.4mm. If achieving the ideal thickness was a space-race between manufacturers, Apple has just planted its flag on the moon – it doesn’t get any better than this. Make it any thinner and it will blow away and go soggy in the rain. It also weighs just 478g – and you really notice it. The iPad Air feels closer in weight to an e-reader than it does the previous generation device. You could use it all day without any discomfort.
• The Processor: The iPad Air is fast. In graphics-heavy apps, you will see some very smooth rendering. In real world tests against the old iPad, though, I didn’t see a massive difference – there just aren’t enough apps out there to really stretch it. But there will be – and when there are, you’ll be glad of that A7 chip.
So it’s perfect, then? Not quite. The thumbprint scanner on the iPhone 5S is so good I now find myself constantly hovering my thumb over the home button, wondering why it won’t unlock. Entering my password seems like a monumental task. It was fine before and now it’s not. Thanks Apple. Why is it not included? Who knows: it will definitely be on the next generation, though.
The other drawback is again a comparison to the iPhone 5S, which introduced slo-mo video and “burst mode” pictures to its 8mp camera. The iPad Air sticks with the 5mp camera without any fancy new bells and whistles, which is disappointing. Again: bet your bottom dollar you’ll see these introduced around May next year.
So it’s not perfect; brilliant, but not perfect. But it gets five stars anyway, because it’s miles better than anything else out there. Yeah, I know, yawn. This is as boring for me as it is for you, OK?