Second take: The iPad Air sets a new benchmark for performance and style

Its faster, lighter and thinner than any of its predecessors

Since the original iPad was introduced three and a half years ago, Apple has churned out five iterations of its benchmark tablet -- and said last month it has sold more than 170 million of them. The latest generation, the iPad Air, arrived Oct. 22 and improves on every aspect of what was great about those earlier iPads. (Apple even addressed the biggest concern with every post-iPad 2 version: weight.) From the iPad mini-inspired frame to the fast 64-bit A7 chip and architecture, the new iPad Air is a stunning improvement on what was already a rightfully successful tablet.

iPad Air in white
The iPad Air in Silver and White. (Image: Apple)

I've now had my iPad Air for almost a month, having picked up a 128GB unit, in Space Gray, on the day they arrived in stores. Unlike some past iPad launches, this year's rollout went smoothly. Apple stores and other retailers had ample supplies on launch day, which may have contributed to the lack of long lines usually associated with Apple hardware releases.

In my first look at the trimmer, slimmer iPad, I focused on weight and on how that has affected my use of iPads in the past. In essence, I always gravitated to the lighter device, grabbing my iPad 2 instead of the heavier, Retina-display iPad 3. What the iPad 2 lacked in display and updated architecture, it more than made up for with battery life and lighter weight. Once the iPad mini was released late last year, I ditched the iPad 3 entirely, selling it to a friend.

Lesson learned: When it comes to the iPad, lighter is better.

A game-changer

With that particular point in mind, it's clear now that my initial impressions were correct. The one-pound iPad Air is a game-changer.

Unlike last year, when the then-new iPad mini and the iPad 4 looked like distant cousins, the 2013 iPad Air and and the newest mini look like two versions (big and small) of the same tablet line. The Air, with its 9.7-in. screen, is very much a scaled-up iPad mini -- and that's a good thing. As the market for smaller tablets has exploded over the past year or so, the mini has proved to be popular. The iPad Air is only about 5 oz. heavier than the iPad mini with Retina display, only a couple of inches taller and about an inch and a half wider . That should help the Air sell well, even to customers who weren't looking for the larger-screened tablet.

In fact, the Air looks like it weighs more than it does. From the unibody aluminum frame to the chamfered edges around the glass display, the solid and high-quality construction always leaves people surprised when they pick it up. The very first comment volunteered by every person that checked out my iPad Air was about how light it is.

As with previous full-size iPads, the Air is built around the display. And what a display it is. With a resolution of 2048-x-1536 pixels, the high-resolution Retina screen packs 264 pixels per inch. (That's about a million more pixels than a traditional 1080p HDTV.) It's not as dense as the iPhone or the iPad mini Retina, but it's more than detailed enough to qualify as high resolution. The dense pixel layout makes individual dots of light difficult to discern with the human eye; the results are on-screen fonts that appear as smooth as those in a high-quality, backlit magazine -- and photos, as well as HD movies, that look fantastic.

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