IRL: the iPad Air

Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: the iPad Air

By now, we've written nearly everything there is to say about the iPad Air, but that doesn't mean we can't revisit it here in "IRL." In particular, our own Jon Fingas bought one to see if it was lighter and faster than his third-gen model. Surprise: it is.

I like big-screen tablets, but I'm not a fan of the bulk that comes with them -- a 1.5-pound slab isn't especially comfortable to hold during an hour-long reading session. That's why I leaped on the iPad Air when it launched this fall. In theory, it's a large tablet that's as nice to hold as more compact devices, including the iPad mini. But does it really defy the laws of physics?

Almost. The Air isn't quite weightless, but it's still wonderfully compact and light. I have no problems holding the tablet while I'm reading a couple of book chapters or playing an involving game. I can even thumb type with it, which wasn't realistically possible with previous full-size iPads. It's hard to imagine going back to any heavier slate after this; I'd rather carry an Ultrabook instead, since the added weight at least comes with more functionality.

The Air is also one of the quickest mobile OS tablets I've used. Web browsing is about as fast as you'd expect from a desktop, and most current apps don't seem to faze it. I just wish developers would make better use of the A7 chip; right now, the best showcases for its processing power are media editing tools and intensive games like Infinity Blade III. iOS 7 runs smoothly and is certainly easy to use, although I've very occasionally seen the iPad crash without warning. It's clear the software is still rough around the edges.

If there's any major concern, it's simply that the iPad Air won't sway those who want a more PC-like experience. If you want to view more than one app at a time, you'll have to get a suitably equipped Android or Windows tablet. There also aren't any widgets, live tiles or other elements that would make better use of the screen real estate. While the iPad is excellent at most everything it does, there's room for it to do more.

-- Jon Fingas