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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.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
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.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read
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