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Apple iPad Air Tablet Review

New iPad: a breath of fresh Air.

November 11, 2013

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Science Introduction

So you've read that the iPad's an imperfect, but ultimately great tablet—now it's time for me to show my work. Unlike my former math teachers, you don't need to suffer through chicken scratch. Below are some helpful graphs and guides to show you more about the 2013 iPad Air.

Screen Performance

One of the best

Aspect aside, the scree of the iPad Air is something to behold. It does have some struggles in the brightness department, but the crisp screen nevertheless has some of the most accurate color performance on the market today. A 2048 x 1536 pixel screen gives the iPad Air a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch—which is more than your eye can resolve past distances of 12 inches away from your pupil.

In our labs, we measured a screen that had no trouble conforming to the Rec. 709 standard of color space, minor deviations in the blues notwithstanding. Tablets typically bomb this test badly, so a tablet that does even as well as the worst TVs is notable, and the iPad has a beautiful display.

iPadAirGamut.png
This color performance is close to that of an HDTV.

The good results don't stop there, either. This iPad has a black level of 0.38 cd/m2 (very dark for a tablet) and a peak brightness of 439.53 cd/m2 —giving it a contrast ratio of 1157:1, which is on the wide side for tablets. On top of all that, it transitions through greyscale values near-perfectly, with a gamma slope of 2.19 and no visible errors.

iPadAirContrast.png
Right at the top, the iPad Air has great contrast.

If you're the type of person who wants to take this thing outside, be aware that it's very reflective. The iPad Air doesn't do much to diffuse light patterns, so expect a sharp reflection thrown back at you. This is very common for tablets, but it's still something to watch out for—try to avoid bright sources of direct light and you should be fine. The Air's screen will throw 13% of all light shone on the screen, with 7% thrown directly back at your eye.

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Aspect

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

Not many people remember this, but the iPad was not the first tablet. In fact, tablet PCs were tried in the late 90s with resistive displays, and were treated much like traditional computers. Not that there's anything wrong with that (the line of Surface tablets is proof of this), but media-based computers with a touch control scheme are a completely different animal, and pose different problems to user interface than traditional desktop computers. Namely—the tablets we see today rely almost solely on a completely different mode of interaction than a cursor and physical input device.

Apple sticks with a 3:4 aspect ratio—the same used by letter paper. Tweet It

So why does that matter? Tablets force traditional content (movies, text, games) into your hands. This is a challenge, obviously, because not all the content you enjoy on a tablet is meant for tablets. The challenge? Your device must change the content's size. Though software can handle many of these problems fairly well nowadays, that wasn't always the case.

Since then, services like Netflix, YouTube, etc. have made video consumption not only much easier, but far more common. Because of this, Android and Windows-based tablets shifted to a wildly different set of aspect ratios, eventually settling near the Euclidian ideal 8:5 "golden ratio" to effectively display a large range of content in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Using a combination of layout choices and user-reactive design, these tablets are able to make the most of their screen real-estate without being too cumbersome to reach necessary controls—a problem tablet developers are still figuring out. These differently-aspected screens can display web content fairly well, and video content is kept with minimal wasted screen area or dramatic rescaling. Yet the difficulty of comfortably interacting with tablets by hand remains a challenge.

GR2.jpg
An "ideal" tablet screen ratio is around 8:5 if you follow the Golden Ratio.

Apple has instead stuck with a 3:4 aspect ratio with its iPad—the same aspect used by letter paper. When the first iPad originally launched, it was largely used for surfing the web, so the 3:4 ratio was a logical choice—it fit print material very well, and high-res video content wasn't as ubiquitous back then. Nowadays, this aspect ratio poses a problem: Though easy to control, the iPad isn't ideal for video content; it's still fantastic for reading and websites, but watching video is a bit of a sore spot because the effective screen area is cut by 11.6 square inches (unless you cut the edges off your video content).

The iPad Air isn't ideal for 16:9 HD video content. Tweet It

There are arguments against changing this from a developer's standpoint: namely that changing screen sizes leads to unnecessary fragmentation. For a long time, this was a horrible problem in the Android universe, and that's definitely something that Apple was very smart to avoid altogether. However, now that screen and resolution standards are many years out from holding to a 4:3 aspect ratio, do you bite the bullet and make the change? Signs point to no.

Processor

Leaner, meaner

Unlike most tablets, Apple's goals with the new A7 processor weren't merely to push performance: Apple wanted to do it with an absolute economy of power as well. To that end, both iPad Air and newest iPad mini were imbued with a processor that uses far less juice with the hopes that it would give battery life a boost. If our test results are any indication, Apple managed to balance both goals admirably.

The A7 lags only a little bit behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 found on the Nexus 7. Tweet It

That new processor isn't the most powerful, nor does it draw the least current. However, it does strike an impressive balance: It lags only a little bit behind the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (found on the Nexus 7), which is still extremely good. This processor is no slouch even if it isn't the latest-and-greatest, and it enables you to have a nice battery performance to boot.

There are widespread reports of frame-rate issues when really taxing the tablet with graphics-heavy applications, but that's something that happens on most ARM-based tablets anyways. The truth of the matter is that you're unlikely to notice this much unless you really push this thing to the limit; casual use will be nearly flawless.

Battery Life

In it for the long haul

By using a more efficient processor and limiting the continuous power draw of RAM by keeping the memory at 1GB, Apple has managed no small feat in battery life. Especially considering Apple clipped the battery's wings, as it were—the Cupertino computer giant shipped the iPad Air with a battery 8,827 mAh instead of the 11,560 mAh monster the 4th generation iPad had.

Our concerns about battery life were warranted. Tweet It

In our labs, the wafer-thin wonder showed us that our concerns about battery life were warranted despite the boast of lower power consumption. No matter how efficient that processor is, the iPad Air's backlight sucks down a lot of juice. With all wireless disabled and other processes closed, the iPad Air only squeaked out 7 hours, 9 minutes watching video. Perhaps due to the bright white screen, the Air was only able to read War and Peace for 6 hours and 40 minutes continuously with the same settings.

That result isn't very surprising (or inspiring), but you may be able to get a bit more life out of the battery if you turn the brightness down. You might find 300+cd/m2 in your face a little painful at night, so I'd suggest either turning on auto brightness or just dimming the screen when you can.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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