The iPad Air: One Month and Still Wowed
Do you know that feeling you get when you sit down for a good meal in an expensive restaurant and every moment of the experience just feels right? Those nights that begin with a wait staff telling you about the specials with such care and attention that they could make a helping of spam slapped on a crust of burnt toast sound like it would melt in your mouth? Then the aromas of the food, the wine you chose, the mix of tastes that cross your palette all combine to make you feel like you’ve gotten more than your money’s worth. Even better, are those delectable dining experiences that don’t leave you feeling like you’ve eaten too much. Perfect meals, perfectly balanced, leaving you perfectly fed, and ones that we would love to recreate every time we sit down to eat.
Those are the experiences we measure all meals against until we have one that tops it. Well, taste and smell may not be the governing senses when you use an iPad Air (or any Tablet), but other senses, especially touch, do come into play. These are devices that are meant to be touched, fondled, manipulated, and held close. How they feel in your hands is as important as how they work with the software designed for them. After spending a month with the iPad Air, my judgement is that this is the best Tablet I’ve held and manipulated in my hands for any purpose I’ve tried to use it for. I’d go so far as to say the iPad Air is the best Tablet on the market today. To extend the dining analogy, Apple has designed and delivered a complete and exquisite feast that will be difficult to duplicate from any other source, maybe even from Apple’s own kitchen.
Look and Feel
We talk about out of the box experiences (OOBE) when we talk about gadgets all the time and the Internet is filled with anxious bloggers unboxing new devices. Sometimes those early impressions say that a device feels great in the hands and sometimes not. Often, after using a device for awhile those first responses are added to and/or amended. I can say the iPad Air still excites me each and every time I pick it up as much as it did before removing the plastic it came wrapped in. The perfectly balanced weight and size feels not only perfect but accomplished. It somehow makes you yearn for more. Comparing it to other Tablets I’d say the difference is like sitting down at a nicely dressed linen table compared to take out.
Read: iPad Air Review
When I first opened up the iPad Air I was immediately struck with how different and how wonderful the device felt in my hands. I’m sure in my brain, the sensation was directly related to how much I had handled and used full-sized iPads in the past. Even given the semiotic expectation Apple had dressed its latest iPad in by naming it the “iPad Air” didn’t prepare me for how light and perfectly balanced this new iPad would feel in my hands. I’ve touched a lot of Tablets and only a few have given me that same response of feeling something new and different. This was one of those magical moments. For reference sake, the few devices that also give me that feeling were the HP tc1100 Tablet PC, the HP 2710p Tablet PC, the first iPad, and the first Nexus 7. Each of those experiences told me I was in for something special. I was and I know I am again.
It is difficult to walk the line between overstating and understating this feeling. It is certainly emotional. That means different individuals will have different emotional responses to the same stimuli. But when a gadget just feels so right in your hands that every other gadget you use or touch feels simply functional, there is some sort of secret sauce brewing in the kitchen. I often contrast my feelings about the iPad Air with those about the also new iPad mini with Retina Display.
The smaller iPad is a great device, but I do not have the same emotional response when I pick it up. It works brilliantly for what I use it for, but by comparison it feels like really good comfort food at my favorite diner, compared to a rare night out at a special restaurant. I also can’t erase that initial impression that came when I took the iPad mini with Retina Display out of the box. It felt surprisingly heavy for its size. Certainly it is a cliché that first impressions matter, and this one seems to travel with me every time I pick up the iPad mini with Retina Display. I said then that the this sense of extra weight and density would probably diminish with time. It hasn’t for me.
But the other sensation that hasn’t yielded in a month of usage is just how right picking up and using the iPad Air feels. I think that sensation has gotten even stronger. I use a lot of devices through the course of a day and week. There are periods of time where I force myself away from a device to stick with another device to give it a fair shake. This has been a difficult month for that exercise. I keep being drawn back to the iPad Air. I’ve literally had to resort to putting the device in the other room at times to keep me from picking it up on a break.
My thoughts and feelings about the iPad Air aren’t just about how good the device feels in my hand. Apple’s iOS devices have been the cream of the crop when it comes to multi-touch and how they work when your fingers touch, slide, and zoom Apps and content across the screen. That continues with the iPad Air. Touching any control, or swiping any page up or down is as natural as flipping a page in a book. It feels like cutting a perfectly cooked cut of meat and the slices just slide off the bone in front of the blade. The response is so automatic it almost seems like there is a prescient engine hidden somewhere inside that knows what my fingers want to do immediately before they begin to execute the command from my brain. Although we have continued to see the rise of processing power and speed, I find it hard to imagine that Apple (or anyone) will be able to noticeably top this sensation by any great measurement in the future.
Again, comparing how well touch works on the iPad Air with the iPad mini with Retina Display, things are just as snappy on the smaller device, but often the smaller touch targets on the iPad mini with Retina Display just don’t seem to respond as accurately and often require an additional tap. I’d even go so far as to say that iOS 7 seems to have been designed more with the iPad Air in mind than it was for the iPhone 5s and the iPad mini with Retina Display. While it works well on those two sister devices, everything from touch responsiveness to animations, to the ultimately cheap parallax trick, seems to make more visual and tactile sense on the iPad Air than they do on the smaller devices. I’d venture to say that the performance of the iPad Air has reached such a level that the only thing holding it back might be broadband and WiFi speeds, given how much of what we see on the screen comes to us through the Internet.
And then there’s the Retina Display. It’s not new for the iPad Air, having joined the iPad lineup with the iPad 3 and the iPhone 4. I’ve not been that impressed with Apple’s Retina displays as a feature for a couple of reasons. First, with my eyesight the difference has been negligible unless certain lighting conditions are present. Others obviously feel differently. Second, the trade off with performance and power, though not huge, has been an issue. On the iPad 3 and iPad 4 you could just sense that there was a lot going on behind the scenes to move those pixels across the Retina Display. I don’t get that feeling with the iPad Air.
The Retina screen is making more of a visual impact with me than it has previously, regardless of lighting conditions. I have no idea why this is. My eyesight is certainly not getting any better. But I notice the difference that a Retina display provides more keenly and more often with the iPad Air than I have with previous or contemporary iOS devices.
There’s not much to say here. I have not run any loop tests to see how long the battery lasts. On the days I’ve used the iPad Air heavily from early morning to earlier the next morning I’ve yet to see the battery level drop below 24%. Battery life isn’t an issue.
Complaints and Niggles
I don’t have complaints or nagging problems with the iPad Air. Those that I do have I lay at the feet of iOS 7 and not the device. Like many I’m experiencing more system crashes with iOS 7 than I’ve seen on any previous iOS device. I don’t just see this on the iPad Air, I see it on the iPad mini with Retina Display and the iPhone 5s. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not a fan of the desire for so much white in iOS 7. On the larger screen of the iPad Air, all of that white space just seems excessive. I also think the tendency towards white icons can leave home screens looking as blotchy as a linen table cloth after some one has been splashing marinara sauce around. I also think the gray on black look for some menu controls needs sharper contrast, even more so on the larger screen. Again, these are small niggles.
Price and Value
Having just passed through the weekend when some are willing to discount precious family time in order to save a few dollars on a gadget I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about price. Each year’s new iPad line of Tablets can easily be looked at as premium purchases. With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 the iPad’s have the highest starting price of the current crop. The iPad Air starts at $499 for a 16GB unit but if you add storage capacity and LTE capability the dollar signs can quickly add up. When money is an issue that’s important certainly. That said, in considering my gadget purchases, I like to look at the value offered for the price I’m paying. Increasingly, that’s about things intangible more than it is about feature sets and specs, because let’s face it, for many consumers most Tablets will serve their needs just fine these days. That’s a good thing.
I look at the price I pay for an iPad in the same way I look at going out for an expensive meal. We don’t do that often. Maybe once every three months or so. It’s a special thing for my wife and I. When we do choose to do so we expect a great experience, not something we can easily get in a multitude of restaurants on any given evening. I have no problem thinking of the iPad as just such a premium purchase and so I’m willing to spend the extra bucks to make that purchase. That position is even stronger after using the iPad Air for a month. I feel like I get my money’s worth every time I pick up the iPad Air to use it. I can feel the quality of the design and engineering in my hands before I’ve even unlocked the device to get some work done or play around a little. I can feel that the folks at Apple understand what this device is supposed to feel like in my hands and have worked hard to achieve that. Your experience and expectations may be different. But those are mine.
Today vs Tomorrow
As much as I enjoy the iPad Air today I’m really looking forward to what the next few months will bring. The 64 bit architecture and new instruction set should allow developers to create some fascinating new Apps and twists on older ones that I think will make the iPad Air the most future proof iPad yet. By future proof, I mean that the original iPad Air, (you know there will be a next one) will most likely be one of those rare mobile devices I won’t look forward to recycling in order to get the next version. Apple may have built itself a trap here, as I think many will feel like the iPad Air could last through two or three new product cycles. This will be interesting to watch.
In covering mobile gadgets for quite some time now I’ve gotten used to the fact that we see new devices that will range from the bad to mediocre to good, and only occasionally will we see one that is truly spectacular. The iPad Air, in my opinion, is one that is truly spectacular. I find it tough to imagine how Apple can top the iPad Air going forward, but I’m not paid to do that kind of imagining. Many of the good, and even some of the mediocre mobile devices can serve well enough to justify a purchase. But when that rare device comes along that makes me excited to reach for it, and continues to provide that first look magical feel each and every time I use it, I know that this is a device and an experience worth hanging on to. I also know that my judgement of other devices will always be tempered by how I feel about interacting with this excellent device.
Certainly, that’s a subjective view point. I do get paid to offer those. Your mileage may indeed vary, as the saying goes. Regular GBM Readers know I’m not usually as effusive with praise over any new device like I am with the new iPad Air. Maybe, somewhere that means something to someone. We all respond differently to many diverse experiences in life. And as in dining, one man’s dining delights may give another heartburn or a sleepless night. The only sleep I loose over the iPad Air is not wanting to turn it off while reading or viewing video in bed.