Apple’s got two new iPads out, and I finally got to play with both of them this past weekend at my local Apple Store. Here are my thoughts after about 10 minutes with each device.
Note: For this post, I’ll be shortening both iPad names to just “Air” and “Retina Mini.”
Lighter than Air
The first thing you notice about the Air is what’s not there. At just 1 pound (1.05 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model), Apple has cut nearly a half-pound of weight from the previous generation. The bezel has been trimmed down as well, making it look much more in line with the aesthetics of the Retina Mini.
Being used to a 4th generation iPad, picking up the Air felt like I had just witnessed a magic trick. My brain thought the amount of force needed to lift the device was much more than was actually required. It’s the kind of change in weight that can completely alter how one would conceivably use the product. For instance, the reduced weight drastically helps better position the Air as a reading device; one you wouldn’t mind holding with a single hand for an hour or so.
The new hardware feels sublime to hold, and I feel Apple has now reached a design in parity with the Retina Mini; a design they’ll stick with for the foreseeable future.
Although the Air is a great improvement on the previous generation, the new Retina Mini is, in my opinion, the perfect iPad.
Although nothing has changed in regards to form or weight, the addition of a Retina Display has completely changed the game. Photos, app icons, and — most importantly — text now look crisp and sharp. If you come from any other Retina devices (iPhone 4 and up), your eyes will no longer burn with the pain that is looking at a lower-resolution display.
Other than the Retina Display, there are no visible changes to the hardware design. The only actual change is an increase in thickness of about 0.3mm, but it’s impossible to notice unless you inspect the previous generation and the Retina Mini side-by-side.
The original iPad Mini was a winner and, for me, the iPad that Apple always wanted to build. With the new Retina Display and internal specs to match that of the Air, Apple is now, essentially, selling one iPad, but in two different sizes.
iOS 7 and Touch ID
Unfortunately, iOS 7 still has some work to do before it’s really ready for the big screen. In my brief tests, there were some noticeable instances where transitions acted weirdly, particularly with the parallax effect on the home screen wallpaper. I’m sure these things will be ironed out in future updates, but it’s still slightly disappointing that the iOS experience isn’t as great for the iPad as it is on the iPhone.
An omission, if you can even call it that, from this year’s iPads is any form of Touch ID, leaving any new iPad owners without the ability to authenticate via their fingerprint. I don’t know why it wasn’t included, possibly due to part constraints, but I do know that not having Touch ID on an iPad would annoy me much less than not having it on my iPhone. The iPad home button is nothing special, but then it was never marketed as such to begin with.
What to buy
If you’ve never owned an iPad before, or your last one was a 3rd generation model, now is a great time to be checking out the new hardware. Between the Air and the Retina Mini, the decision truly comes down to what you plan on using the iPad for. If you plan on doing a lot of typing and don’t want to buy a wireless keyboard, I’d push you in the direction of the Air, as the extra space makes for a much nicer on-screen typing experience. However, if your main use will be reading, playing games, or just browsing the web, I think you should check out the Retina Mini. The smaller size and weight make the Retina Mini an ideal travel companion, and the Retina Display provides a fantastic experience for consuming media.
Although the lack of Touch ID on either device is unfortunate, it’s omission shouldn’t sway any potential buyers. The Air and Retina Mini are, by far, the best tablets Apple has ever produced, and either one would make for an excellent investment.
—Thursday, 14 November 2013