Apple released the latest version of its flagship iPad Friday, reducing its size and weight but keeping the screen the same size as prior versions.
The new device is called the iPad Air, and it weighs in at just slightly over a pound – almost a half pound lighter than the previous iPad. The weight of the new unit is also more balanced, making it more comfortable to hold in either hand. Apple also took some design cues from their iPhone 5 and iPad mini products and slimmed down the tablet’s profile by reducing the width of the side bezels. The thinner and lighter form factor makes it easier to hold while still maintaining the same screen size as prior iPads.
That weight loss also includes the glass touch panel that’s part of the display. Tapping on the center of the screen results in a springy, almost hollow feel that makes the device feel more fragile than prior iPads that used heavier glass.
Under the hood Apple has significantly updated the processor, with CNET reporting the new device achieving an 80% performance increase in benchmark tests over the iPad 4 that was released in February of this year. Those same tests indicate the iPad Air is five times faster than the 2nd and 3rd generation devices. The new iPad uses the same A7 processor found in the iPhone 5s.
So is it worth an upgrade? This new iteration of the iPad doesn’t bring much in the way of new features – in fact there are no significant new features at all beyond the reduced weight and form factor. It is a major step up from the iPad 2 due in large part to its high resolution display, but owners of last year’s 3rd generation device and this year’s iPad 4 may not find a compelling “must have” feature to justify the investment in the iPad Air.
The bigger upgrade will be the new iPad Mini Apple plans to release later this month. The Mini will have the same innards as the new Air, but with a smaller 7.9 inch high resolution “retina” display with over 20% more pixels per inch as compared to the Air. This will be a significant performance and display quality improvement over last year’s model.