The iPad Air: One month in, a tote-worthy tablet

After toting the iPad Air around for more than a month, I can say without reservation that the 9.7-inch Apple tablet is reborn.

iPad Mini, iPad Air, and iPad 4.
iPad Mini, iPad Air, and iPad 4. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

iPad Mini Retina (front) and iPad Air.
iPad Mini Retina (front) and iPad Air. Brooke Crothers
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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