The 9.7-inch iPad has been resurrected.
After more than a year and half of mediocrity, Apple finally made its largest iPad worth hauling around. That's my impression after using the Air for a month.
I say mediocrity because the iPad 3 (the first Retina iPad, released in March of 2012) and the iPad 4 (released in October of 2012), were compromised by the extra weight and thickness needed to support the early Retina displays. (Dare I say kludgy about an Apple product?)
Specifically, Apple's early Retina iPad displays required a relatively large backlight apparatus and, concomitantly, more battery power to keep the display lit for the roughly 10 hours of rated battery life.
With the Air, you get a slim, one-pound design with the same -- or better -- battery life, faster processor, and great screen.
That's all I will say on those subjects, however, because I risk repeating ad nauseam what many reviews have said already.
The one-month mark: It takes a lot of day-in-and-day-out use to really get a feel for a device.
In the case of a tablet, that means, for me, tossing it (preferably gently) onto sofas and beds, dropping it into bags, toting it into coffee shops, occasionally hauling it out of a backpack during a hike, using it in the car (preferably not while driving), doing work at airports (or any place where you may have a lot of time to kill), and, of course, using it on the sofa.
This is where the Air's design makes a difference. As is the case with smartphones, small variations in weight can be critical because many people grab, tote, haul their tablets hundreds of times a week.
And it all adds up over a month. Verdict: I won't miss my iPad 4.
And here's another seemingly small but important factor that adds up over time: the way the weight is balanced when holding a tablet for long periods.
I came to prefer my Nexus 10 over my iPad 4 because the Nexus' weight (about 0.1 pounds less than that of the iPad 4) is better distributed across the device, making it easier to hold for lenghty periods.
My conclusion: the iPad Air is now a lot closer to matching the Mini in portability.
Air vs. Mini: Which brings us to the burning question: Is the Air a better tablet than the iPad Mini Retina? After all, the Air is more expensive ($100 more), which implies more value.
Let me put it this way: Whatever was holding back the iPad 4 (which I touched on above) has been fixed.
That alone makes the Mini a little less compelling than before. It's not a night-and-day difference between the two devices anymore.
I'll add this too: When I'm doing work on a tablet, I prefer a larger screen like the Air's or the Nexus 10's. So, I think, for people who use their tablet as a productivity device, the Air has an edge.
That said, as with the original Mini, its combination of portability and usability (read: apps) is unmatched. And the Retina screen is just icing on the cake.
Verdict: the Air for work, the Mini for just about everything else.