Apple’s iPad needs little introduction having single handedly started and re-invented the tablet market four years ago. These days there are several other contenders in the space such as Android and Windows RT but Apple is still the largest single manufacturer and controls over a third of the market. The iPad Air is the most recent fifth version of the iPad and was announced in October 2013 and was November 2013.
The iPad is a rectangular touch screen tablet computer that runs Apple’s iOS mobile phone and tablet operating system. Each successive generation has gotten a little faster and smaller and the iPad Air is no different being the lightest and most powerful iPad to date.
Size: 240 x 169.5 x 7.5 mm
Weight: 469 g (Wifi) 478 g (Wifi and cellular)
Colour: Space grey or Silver
Processor: Apple A7 64 bit cpu with a 1.4GHz dual core and a m7 motion co-processor
Operating System: iOS7
Network: Cellular version covers a wide range of GSM, CDMA and LTE frequencies, including those used in the UK
Display: 9.7″ diagonal 2048 x 1536. This is therefore 264ppi and a 4:3 aspect ratio
Camera: Front 1.2MP and rear 5.0Mp
Connectivity: Lightning connector that plugs in to USB.
Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0
Battery: Non-removeable 8800 mAh
Older generations of Apple products needed a PC or Mac to set-up and get the most out of them, but the Air can be set-up and run entirely on its own. As an internet connected device it needs an internet connection to get the most out of it, but apps can be downloaded and run offline without net access.
The Air charges via a Lightning cable plugged into a USB port and it should be noted that it will not work well with many computer USB ports as they are too low voltage to do any more than a very slow trickle charge. It is however supplied with a wall wart charger that will work quickly.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
Visually the iPad Air is very simple. A very thin rectangular slab with one side made of glass and one made of metal. It has one obvious button in the centre front and the glass side is the touch screen. It also has three buttons and a slider that are the power button, volume up and down and a mute slider. Finally it has a 3.5m headphone jack and a lightning cable port. These buttons and ports are all on the edges of the device and can be difficult to locate until you get very used to using the home button as a reference point.
iOS has a number of built in accessibility features, from a visual point of view most notably the Siri voice control service and a screen reader. The operating system is completely accessible with a visual impairment as navigation can be done entirely with audio alone.
Audio & Accessibility
The Air has stereo built in speakers located to each side of the lightning connector at the bottom of the device (in portrait). They are of reasonable quality but are not as good as they could be at higher volumes. If you plan to use the iPad to listen to music I would recommend an external speaker system, probably using the built in bluetooth.
The system has two built in microphones on different ends of the device and uses noise cancelling technology to decrease interference and background noise. It works well both when using speech recognition and recording.
The operating system has no audio requirement to use although individual apps may.
Input and Touch
Apples’ iPad Air feels extremely light to hold but feel almost too narrow to hold comfortably in one hand. Its metal back and edges make it sharper and harder to use than you would expect, but if this is an issue it is easy to resolve using a case. There are many stands available on the market to hold and position it ergonomically for those who cannot or prefer not to hold it.
The device’s touch screen is multi touch and recognises gestures. There is some debate as to how intuitive the gestures are. Some people love them whilst others (myself included) find them annoying. Some can be disabled but unfortunately not all. Alternative control systems are Bluetooth, often using a keyboard case, and a switch system that is built into the OS and also supports external switches. Finally a number of functions can be voice controlled although again these are limited to those provided by Apple.
The physical buttons on the sides can be tricky to use with limited mobility. The global mute slider is tiny and quite hard to push particularly when the iPad is inside a case. The power button is easy to access without a case, but most cases make it harder to find and press. The volume buttons are small but responsive and volume can also be adjusted via Settings using the touch screen.
Ease of Use
On its first use the iPad Air needs an internet connection to set-up and can be paired to an external PC or Mac to use as a backup. This initial set-up is straightforward and should only take a few minutes. Longer term iOS’s simple functions are straightforward to use and quite intuitive; my three year old can use the iPad touch screen to navigate and access her content independently. If the iPad is used as Apple designed it to be used, it is an intuitive delightful process, but if you need or want to do anything more flexible outside of the intricately designed package, it quickly becomes hideously complicated.
The iPad Air is an excellent 10″ tablet and arguably the best tablet available on the market at the moment. It has a very good range of apps, it’s light, beautifully designed, easy to use and has a great battery life. If you are using the fourth generation iPad, the Air is a little slimmer and slightly faster, but not worth upgrading to, but if you are using an older version, it is definitely worth a close look.
The built-in accessibility features are excellent and if it does what you need it to do out of the box, it is an extremely accessible tablet. If you need it to do something else, it can be very hard to customize beyond the scope envisioned by Apple. It isn’t for everyone, but for the right person using it as intended, it can be a delight to own.
The iPad Air was released in 1st November 2013. The review is based on the 64 gb version.