iPad Air Is a Smart Buy Even if You're Not Replacing Another Tablet

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-11-05

iPad Air Is a Smart Buy Even if You're Not Replacing Another Tablet

A few days after getting a new Microsoft Surface tablet delivered to my doorstep, I found myself at the local T-Mobile store buying an iPad Air. Yes, it does look as if I've gone tablet crazy, but the fact is that I use the Surface and the iPad for different things. Thus, when Apple announced the iPad Air, I knew it was probably time to move up.

What I ended up with is a 32GB iPad with the cellular data radios. I bought the Air at the T-Mobile store so that I could get a T-Mobile data account along with the tablet. Now that T-Mobile has eliminated international roaming charges and now gives you the first 200MB of data per month at no cost, there wasn't a good reason to stick with the other carrier I'd been using with my old iPad. What's even better is that the iPad Air has the radios it needs to work outside the U.S., and since I travel to Europe from time to time, this was a real plus.

But before you rush madly into buying an iPad Air, there are some things you should know. Perhaps the first thing you find out is that the Air is significantly different in size and weight when compared with its predecessors. It's about two-thirds the thickness of the previous iPad; it weighs only slightly more than half as much; and it's smaller, although the screen size hasn't changed.

Because it's smaller, your old iPad accessories probably won't work. After I bought the iPad Air, for example, I went downstairs at the mall in Fairfax, Va., to visit the Apple Store and buy Apple Care so when I destroy the first iPad (a common occurrence for me) I can get another one. While I was there, I asked the Apple salesperson whether my old Smart Cover would work on the new iPad. He said he thought it should, so I didn't buy another.

Turns out it won't work. The difference in thickness means the magnetic hinges on the old cover won't attach properly, and the difference in width of about a half inch means the cover would stick out on one side anyway. This is neither pretty nor useful. I ended up going back to the Apple Store the next day to buy the proper cover.

It's nearly certain that if you have a cover for your existing iPad, it's not going to work with an iPad Air, although there's no reason you can't try.


iPad Air Is a Smart Buy Even if You're Not Replacing Another Tablet

It could be that the Air will slide into one of the portfolio covers that include a keyboard and fit loosely but still work.

But there are more differences once you get past accessories and turn on the iPad Air. Apple included a much faster processor in the new iPad and also included a motion coprocessor. The combination makes the parallax effect provided by iOS 7 appear to work more smoothly and appears less likely to induce motion sickness.

For the most part, the faster processor doesn't have a lot of effect because so much of the iPad's speed is limited by the speed of the Internet connection. This means that the real delays in what you're trying to do with the iPad are happening in the cloud. However, there are exceptions. When I tried a couple of weather radar apps that I use for flight planning, I found that the animations started far more quickly and ran more smoothly than they had in my third-generation iPad.

The battery life with the iPad Air seems to be somewhat better, at least when it's in an environment with strong WiFi and strong Long Term Evolution (LTE) signals. While I haven't put either machine through an exhaustive test, I noticed that the old iPad ran out of battery power an hour or so before the iPad Air ran out. I should note that the old iPad isn't that old. Apple replaced it under warranty only a month prior to my buying the Air, so the shorter life on the third-generation iPad likely wasn't due to battery age.

There are other improvements. Apple has finally provided decent cameras for the iPad, for example. The speakers in the iPad Air seem to sound a little better, as well, although they still couldn't be accused of being high-fidelity.

When Apple releases a new device that replaces the previous model, there's always the question of whether it's worth spending the money to do the upgrade. In this case, I was replacing a third-generation iPad with one that had important features that I need, such as the improved cellular radios.

That justified the cost. But if I'd had a fourth-generation device, that might not have been the case. The fact that T-Mobile offers trade-ins on iPads does sweeten the deal somewhat. For me, the upgrade was worthwhile even without a trade-in. Whether it's worth it for you depends on your needs.


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