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iPad Air: Lighter, faster

The iPad Air is noticeably lighter than its predecessors.

Apple engineers shaved just short of a third off the weight of the earlier version; the 9.7-inch Air weighs only a pound.

Those 6.4 ounces make all the difference when, as you recline while reading or watching a movie. The weight reduction and a 20 percent slimmer profile provide other benefits, too. My messenger bag strap didn't dig into my shoulder as deeply when my iPad was in it. My hand didn't cramp up while grasping the iPad Air for an hour while watching movies or playing games.

The iPad Air faces tough competition from Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1, Microsoft's Surface 2 and Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX. Google has a new Nexus tablet in the wings.

The iPad Air will also compete against its little brother, the iPad Mini.

So how does the Air stack up? Compared with the Mini, the question really boils down to size. If all you want to do on a tablet is read books or watch movies, the smaller screen is excellent, and you can save $100 (the cheapest model of the Air costs $500. The new Mini costs $400). But I use the iPad for work, reading documents and occasionally even editing or writing. I also use it as a second screen on my desk for research on the web. The extra real estate provided by a larger screen matters at the office.

If you decide you need the bigger screen, you will find a lot of benefit in the iPad Air. In addition to being light and slim, it loads apps and web pages quickly — faster than the old iPad, because Apple tailored software to mesh with the custom A7 processor and vice versa.

It easily runs for 10 hours on a charge, and sports two antennas to pull in Wi-Fi signals faster than the old one did.

But do you need to plunk down $500 or more for an Air if you already have an earlier version of the iPad? Notice I used the word "need." Even though I love shiny new objects, I really can't tell you to replace your old iPad; the improvements on the new one are incremental, not revolutionary.

If you've never had a tablet, though, the answer is different. A tablet, especially this iPad, is a delight to use and will bring you more hours of enjoyment than any other electronic device I know of.

Apple sells the iPad Air in four levels of storage. The basic Wi-Fi only model costs $500 for 16 gigabytes and steps up $100 for each level: 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB. It's another $130 if you want a device that also works over a cellphone network.

So which model do you want? One bit of advice hasn't changed from the PC era: Buy as much storage as you can afford.

Compared with the other tablets on the market, Apple still holds the edge. It might be a tougher call if the competition were significantly cheaper. But the Surface 2 at $450 and the Galaxy Note at $550 aren't bargains. And they are heavier and lack the wide variety of apps.

Also, their core software isn't updated as frequently or as thoroughly as that from Apple.

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX costs $380 and is a fine device for reading and watching movies, but it shares the same disadvantages as the other iPad rivals.

Apple upped the ante a bit by giving away six apps to buyers of the iPad Air: iMovie and iPhoto, to manage and edit videos and photos; Pages, to handle documents; Numbers, for spread sheets; Keynote, for presentations; and GarageBand, for creating music. Those are some of the most popular apps in the App Store and worth $45.

Complaints:

• I would like to be able to read the screen in direct sunlight while wearing polarized sunglasses. If ever there was a device made to use outdoors in a park or a beach, this is it.

• I would also love to see a customizable keyboard that lets me move the @ and # characters to the most-used keyboard.

Choosing between iPad Air and Mini

The only difference is the size. The Mini's screen is 7.9 inches on the diagonal, compared with 9.7 inches for the iPad Air. It weighs about three-quarters of a pound, a quarter-pound less than the Air. The Mini is $100 cheaper in all configurations.

To decide, ask yourself: What will you use it for? Is it just for fun — reading and watching movies? Then get the Mini. But if that is all you are going to use it for, also consider the Amazon Fire HDX. It has a vivid 7-inch screen, though it is longer and narrower than the Mini. It lacks the huge catalog of apps and the games of the iPads, but it is also cheaper, starting at $244. But if you think you are going to do any work on your tablet — typing in particular — consider the bigger version.

iPad Air: Lighter, faster 12/01/13 [Last modified: Sunday, December 1, 2013 6:55pm]

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