It's been a long time since Apple delivered unto us a proper redesign of the iPad. The original, boxy first-gen tablet lived for about 11 months, replaced in 2011 by a far slinkier version. The tapered design language survived, more or less unchanged, for a further two and a half years — a lifetime in the consumer electronics world. That period was punctuated by two updates, bringing faster chips and a better display, but it's a full refresh we've all been waiting for — something to make the good old iPad look and feel truly new.
And here it is: the iPad Air. With this, the fifth generation of the iPad line, Apple has delivered a proper exterior redesign, crafting a substantially thinner and lighter tablet that finally eliminates the chunky bezels handed down since the first generation — at least on the left and right. But despite this significant exterior reduction, the iPad Air maintains the battery life of its predecessor and offers significantly better performance.
You could think of the iPad Air as a 20 per cent scaled-up version of the mini. Impressively, though, the iPad Air isn't 20 per cent thicker than the mini. In fact, at 7.5mm, it's only 0.3mm deeper — a massive 1.9mm thinner than the previous full-size iPad. Despite that, the tablet feels just as sturdy and rigid as before, not flexing a bit, even under rather aggressive attempts at twisting.
The iPad Air's weight is also closer to the mini than to its fourth-gen predecessor. Pick up an Air and you'll be reminded of the first time you held a mini: it's a "wow" moment.
If you found yourself tuning out the last few generations of iPad thanks to their extreme familiarity, it's time to get yourself dialled back in. The iPad Air is worth getting excited about. Although it brings no new functionality to the table, and we can't help being disappointed about the lack of Touch ID, the performance increase and solid battery life show that progress is still being made on the inside. It's the new exterior design, however, that really impresses. The iPad Air is thinner than any tablet this size deserves to be and lighter, too. The old iPad always felt surprisingly hefty — this one, compellingly lithe.
However, there is one tablet that's thinner and lighter still and yet holds the promise of great performance and build quality: the upcoming iPad mini with Retina display. At over AU$100 cheaper, it could prove the stiffest competition the full-size iPad has seen yet. Time will tell on that front (the new mini won't ship for a few weeks), so we'll withhold judgment for now.
If you're willing to consider a smaller tablet, hold off clicking "buy" for just a little while longer. If you're looking for a full-size tablet and don't mind paying a premium to get the best, this is it.
Read the full version of CNET's iPad Air review. We'll have local impressions after it is available in Australia.