If my third-generation iPad and my iPad mini had a baby, and if the proud parents were lucky enough to realize the dream shared by all parents that their child be even smarter than they are, the result would be the iPad Air. I've been using an iPad Air extensively for the last three days, and it truly combines the best features of the iPad and the iPad mini, plus offers more. This is an amazing product, and it is hard for me to imagine any lawyer not finding a lot to love about the iPad Air.
The marquee feature of the iPad Air — the reason for the word "Air" in the title — is that it is light. The technical specifications will tell you that the iPad Air weighs 1 pound versus the 1.3 pounds of a third generation iPad and the 1.4 pounds of the fourth generation iPad. Expressed in terms of a percentage (about 25% lighter) that sounds substantial, but a difference of 0.3 or 0.4 pounds may not seem very large.
Trust me, the difference is substantial. For the last year, I've used both a third generation iPad and an iPad mini so I know what it feels like for an iPad to feel lighter, and the iPad Air feels much more like an iPad mini than an iPad. Indeed, it almost feels the same weight as the iPad mini. I know that is just an illusion — the iPad Air weighs a pound and the iPad mini weighs about two-thirds of a pound — and perhaps the illusion comes from the extra weight being distributed across a larger surface area? Whatever the reason, it is so nice to get the advantages of a full-sized iPad screen in a device that weighs almost as much as an iPad mini.
What does it mean to have an iPad that is so light? It means that when I went to go fetch my iPad Air to use while watching the Saints game yesterday, I was half-way back to my TV when I stopped, thinking that I forgot to get my iPad, only to look down in my hand and notice that it was indeed there. It was just so light it didn't feel like I was holding an iPad. It means that when I hold up my iPad Air for a long period of time to go through emails or read documents, my hand no longer gets tired the way that it would with the iPad 3. It means that I can hold the iPad Air with one hand much the same way that I often hold my iPad mini. It means that the iPad Air is much less noticeable when you are carrying it in a briefcase or a purse.
Another way to say all of this is that the iPad Air removes any of the awkwardness of holding a full-sized iPad, which is really saying something because for years I've loved a full-sized iPad over a laptop computer because the iPad is so much lighter and easier to work with.
Of course, you could always get the weight advantage with an iPad mini, and I love my iPad mini, but it is far less useful for work. For one thing, I miss the Retina screen on my mini, although fortunately that will be fixed when the new mini comes out later this month. Second, much of the work that I do on my iPad involves working with documents. Whether I am reading and annotating a PDF file in an app like GoodReader or iAnnotate or PDFpen, reading and highlighting a transcript in TranscriptPad, looking at a Word document in Documents to Go, creating a document in Pages, or spending a lot of time reading web pages in Safari, my eyes are much happier when I use the larger screen. Having the exact same screen size in a lighter package is truly the best of all worlds.
Easier to Hold Design
The weight makes a big difference when you are holding an iPad Air, but the hardware design also makes the iPad Air much easier to hold than the iPad. If you have ever used an iPad mini, you've probably noticed the edge. Unlike the tapered edge of the iPad, the iPad Air follows the iPad mini design of a 90º edge with rounded corners, and it feels much better in your hands. It makes the iPad Air feel like a true tablet.
I presume that I will grow used to it over time, but for now, every time I start holding the iPad Air I find myself thinking how much nicer the edges feel in my hands.
I suspect that most attorneys will, like me, primarily use an iPad at the office or at home where Wi-Fi is available. Faster download speeds are always better, and I've seen faster Wi-Fi speeds than ever before with the iPad Air. I suspect that part of this is because the iPad itself is faster, part of this is because of a better Wi-Fi radio, and part of this is because the iPad Air includes two Wi-Fi antennas and can use both of them at the same time using something called MIMO (multiple input multiple output) for up to twice the 802.11n Wi-Fi performance when used with a compatible router.
Whatever the reason, the Wi-Fi speeds in my office are fantastic. I ran numerous speed tests at the same time with both my iPad 3 and my iPad Air next to each other. In my office, my download speeds on the iPad 3 ranged from 14 Mbps to 32 Mbps, and my iPad Air download speeds were about twice as fast, ranging from 42 Mbps to 54 Mbps. Upload speeds ranged from 10 Mbps to 23 Mbps on the iPad 3, and from 23 Mbps to 54 Mbps on my iPad Air. Here are some typical examples, with the iPad Air on the right:
(The reason for the time differences in the above photos is that I had not yet told the iPad Air that I was in New Orleans, so it was displaying Pacific Time while my iPad 3 displayed Central time. The tests were run at exactly the same time.)
Other times, when I wasn't doing a side-by-side comparison, my results on the iPad Air in my office were even higher. In one test, I saw download speeds of 79 Mbps and upload speeds of 50 Mbps. Wow!
At home, my Wi-Fi is provided by an Apple AirPort Extreme (4th generation). MIMO support was added to the AirPort Extreme in the third generation (released March of 2009), so the difference between the iPad 3 and the iPad Air on my home Wi-Fi was similar to what I saw in my office, although the overall speeds were lower. On my iPad 3, when in the same room as the AirPort Extreme, I typically see download speeds of 15 to 25 Mbps, and on the iPar Air, I typically see download speeds of 40 to 50 Mbps.
These results are not just academic. The speed is easily noticeable when you use the iPad Air. It was especially nice to see large documents on Dropbox or iCloud download to my iPad so much faster, but it was also nice to have Safari show pages so much faster. Even small speed increases can have a big impact on how it feels to use a device, and so when the iPad Air gives you big speed increases, it can make a big difference in your productivity.
But perhaps more important are the results I saw in a room at the other end of my house where I typically have trouble getting a good Wi-Fi signal, and where tests revealed numbers like this:
Speeds of 0.37 Mbps down and 0.13 Mbps up are slow enough to make it difficult to get work done with an iPad 3. The iPad Air speeds in that same room of 2.71 Mpbs down and 0.34 up are not great, but they are good enough for me to get work done. Thus, not only does the iPad Air give you the opportunity to see faster Wi-Fi speeds, it can even make the difference between getting a strong enough signal to get work done and having the Wi-Fi be so slow that you are frustrated in your efforts to be productive.
The iPad Air has the same A7 chip as the iPhone 5s, except that it has a slightly faster clock speed. As a result, this is the fastest iOS device that Apple has ever sold. This means that in every day use, the device seems much more responsive. And for app developers that push the limit of the A7, you can see some truly amazing results. For example, the game Infinity Blade III looks cinematic — so much so that I'd like to think that every time I was defeated by an opponent, it was because I was so dazzled by the beautiful background artwork that I didn't see the sword coming for me. Sure, that's the reason.
Much like faster Wi-Fi, overall device speed is important because it allows you to keep working without being distracted by delays. Unlike on my iPad 3, I haven't had any problems with apps on the iPad Air keeping up with me, and switching apps is smoother and faster.
I know that the iPad Air has dual microphones, which should help to reduce background noise and improve Siri dictation. In just the last three days of testing, however, I haven't noticed much of a difference, perhaps because I rarely dictate to my iPad in a noisy environment.
I also know that early reviews of the iPad Air touted excellent battery life. However, I haven't run any vigorous battery tests this weekend, nor have I had a reason to pay much attention to the battery life in my casual usage.
I haven't discussed the improvements to the iPad camera because I almost never use the camera on my iPad except for FaceTime video chat and the occasional scanning of a document, and even for document scanning I usually prefer to use the iPhone.
The model that I purchased was the Wi-Fi only, black (Apple calls it Space Gray) model with 128 GB. This is the top-of-the-line Wi-Fi model and costs $799. My iPad 3 has 64 GB, and I now have enough files in my Dropbox that I sync to GoodReader, enough photographs and home movies of my kids, and enough apps that I was starting to find that 64 GB was tight, especially if I wanted to load up movies and TV shows to watch on a trip. It wasn't that long ago that I was telling people that I found it hard to believe that any attorney would need 128 GB on an iPad. I'll find out over the next year whether 128 GB is an excessive luxury or whether it adds real value, but I'll admit that I'm an edge case and I suspect that 32 GB is sufficient for most attorneys.
I didn't spend the extra $130 (plus monthly fees) for a model with a cellular radio because I find that there is usually Wi-Fi available when I want to use my iPad, and even when there is not I have tethering enabled on my iPhone and that works fine for me. I feel like I am somewhat in the minority; it seems that most of the attorneys I know don't have tethering enabled and instead buy the cellular version of the iPad, and I'm sure that for many folks that makes good sense. I can also see the logic in getting an iPad Air with cell service from a different company than the one that you use with your iPhone so that if you ever find yourself in an area where your iPhone gets a bad signal, you could still use your iPad Air on another network.
Right now, my only complaint about the iPad Air is that I wish that it included the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that is in the iPhone 5s. Perhaps Apple will add that in the 2014 model of the iPad Air.
Note that if you have hardware for a previous model of the iPad, it might not work with the iPad Air. For one thing, unlike the iPad 3 and prior models, the iPad Air uses a Lightning connector, not the old 30-pin connector. Moreover, the iPad is thinner and has a smaller bevel (similar to the iPad mini) so cases and other devices made for the precise size of a prior model of the iPad might not work. For example, the Stabile PRO that I reviewed a few months ago works fine with the iPad Air, except that the (optional) Grapple PRO accessory that holds the iPad firmly in place only works when the iPad Air is in portrait orientation. Fortunately, many iPad accessories (like speakers and many keyboards) use Bluetooth and don't require the iPad to be a specific size, so those accessories will work just fine.
I use my iPad every single day for work and most every weekend and night for work and pleasure. Having a model that is faster, lighter, and easier to hold will make a big difference for me every time I use it, and I am very happy to now be using an iPad Air. Of course, an iPad Air costs between $499 and $929, which is enough money that I know that most attorneys won't upgrade every time a new model comes out. Last year, I bought an iPad 3 in early 2012, but I skipped the iPad 4 which came out in late 2012. But if you are ready to upgrade, this is an excellent time to do so. The iPad Air is a tremendous leap forward from previous models.
Of course, the new iPad mini with a Retina display will come out in a few weeks. As noted above, I think that many attorneys would get more value out of the larger screen when working with documents etc., but if you think that a smaller screen and smaller device works better for you, the good news is that just about all of the advantages of the iPad Air apply to the new iPad mini too — better Wi-Fi, faster A7 processor, and all in a very light device (although the new iPad mini is just slightly heavier than the 2012 model to accommodate the Retina display).
And finally, about half of all U.S. attorneys already have an iPad, but if you were waiting to get your first one until there was a new model, boy are you in for a treat.
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