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The New iPad Air: This Is It

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As one of the tech journalists lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Apple's pre-Christmas line-up, I got to get my hands on a the new iPad mini with Retina display and the new iPad Air, which is due to go on sale on 1 November.

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Both are lovely, but it's the iPad Air that is grabbing all the headlines, and rightly so.

Don't get me wrong - the iPad 3 and iPad 4 (both officially, and annoyingly, called the "new iPad") were good devices for their time - the Retina display is so darn amazing that it marks a clear delineation into pre- and post-retina phases of the iPad's evolution. However, both models had their drawbacks, which only really revealed themselves through days and months of continual use. They were both slow to charge, which sounds like a minor complaint, yet it rankles, and as any divorced person will tell you, it's the little things that matter in a long term relationship.

The problem with iPads is that it is like entering a relationship. We use them so much, and we want to use them wherever we are. The last thing you want to have to do is be plugged into a charging cable because you're dipping under 10% battery life again. Charge them overnight and you just about get to 100% charged by the time you want to use them again in the morning, but who can remember to plug their iPad in before they go to bed every night? In contrast the iPad 2 seemed to fill its battery charge in just a couple of short hours.

The last two iPads were also a bit on the heavy side, which made them feel a bit cumbersome in your hand, and more so in your bag. One of the things people loved so much about the iPad mini was that it felt so portable compared to the full size iPad. Of course, iPads are still a lot lighter than notebooks, but if you want to throw one in your bag to carry around all day then every gram of additional weight matters.

For these two reasons I often found myself reaching for my old iPad 2 instead of the iPad with the better display when I was going on a trip, just because it somehow felt easier. I knew I wouldn't have to charge it as often, and it wouldn't weigh me down, even if it was only the psychological perception of lightness you need while travelling.

The first thing that hits you about the iPad Air is that it feels noticeably lighter in your hand, yet still rigid enough that it's not going to snap or break easily when dropped. It's like an expanded iPad mini - the bezel around the edge of the screen is much smaller than the old iPads, and it's super thin. It's faster, too. You don't notice this in every day use but apps will be developed that can really push what you can do on an iPad. Take the new update to GarageBand, for instance, which turns your iPad into a 32 track-recording studio. You're going to need some serious processor power to play back all those 32 tracks flawlessly and at once - something the iPad 2, for instance, isn't up to. For that you'll need the power of the new A7 chip.

If you buy an iPad Air you also now get a raft of free software that you used to have to buy - iPhoto, GarageBand and iMovie, plus a free office suite in the shape of Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Of course, I couldn't test how fast the iPad Air charged during my short hands-on. Apple quote the same 10-hour battery life as the previous model, but I hope it's faster to charge, because everything else about the iPad Air is perfect. The new form factor just feels right and it's light enough that you can kick back on the sofa and use it with ease, and it will be perfect for taking on trips. With the release of iOS 7 and the iPad Air it's quite possible that the perfect storm of hardware and software have coincided to really deliver on the promise the iPad always offered.

If you've been waiting for Apple to really do something that makes it worth upgrading your iPad, then get your credit card ready, this is it.

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