23 November 2017

New tablet on the block

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The iPad Air is noticeably lighter than its predecessors. If you are the least bit interested in the new tablet computer from Apple, you probably already know that.

The company’s engineers shaved just short of a third off the weight of the earlier version; the 9.7-inch Air weighs only a pound.

What you may not know is this: Those 6.4 ounces make all the difference when, as you recline while reading or watching a movie, you conk out and the iPad falls forward to bonk you on the nose. The Air won’t hurt you the way the old iPad did.
 
The weight reduction and a 20 percent slimmer profile provide other benefits, too. My messenger bag strap didn’t dig into my shoulder as deeply when my iPad was in it. My hand didn’t cramp up while grasping the iPad Air for an hour while watching movies or playing games.

But is Nose Bonking Reduction enough to justify buying a new iPad if you already own one of the 170 million iPads that have been sold over the last three and a half years? And if you have never bought a tablet computer, is this the one that persuades you to fling your laptop aside like crutches at a faith healing and embrace a new era?
When the iPad Air went on sale recently around the globe, it faced its toughest competition yet - from Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1, Microsoft’s Surface 2 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX. Google has a new Nexus tablet in the wings.

The iPad Air also competes against its little brother, the iPad Mini. Later in November, Apple will begin selling a new version of that tablet, which comes with a high-resolution 7.9-inch Retina screen and the same faster processor found in both the Air and the new line of iPhones.

So how does the Air stack up? Compared with the Mini, the question really boils down to size. If all you want to do on a tablet is read books or watch movies, the smaller screen is excellent, and you can save $100 (Rs 6,265)  (the cheapest model of the Air costs $500 (Rs 31,327). The new Mini costs $400 or Rs 25,062). But I use the iPad for work, so, the extra real estate provided by a larger screen matters at the office.

If you decide you need the bigger screen, you will find a lot of benefit in the iPad Air. In addition to being light and slim, it loads apps and web pages quickly - faster than the old iPad, because Apple tailored software to mesh with the custom A7 processor and vice versa.

It easily runs for 10 hours on a charge, just as Apple promises - despite the battery’s smaller size and the increased demands put on it. In my test of pretty heavy use, it downloaded and played three hour-long episodes of “Game of Thrones” and a few hours of music. I scrolled through Twitter and Flipboard, played games and perused the web. That’s almost a typical day for me and my iPad. It will get you through a normal day and then some with no worries.

The iPad Air also sports two antennas to pull in Wi-Fi signals faster than the old one did. Called MIMO for multiple-input and multiple-output, these antennas make a noticeable difference when your fast Wi-Fi signal is weakest, like in a back bedroom or the basement. (You’ll have to have a recent MIMO compatible router to see the magic, though.)

But do you need to plunk down $500 (Rs 31,327) or more for an Air if you already have an earlier version of the iPad? Notice I used the word “need.” Even though I love shiny new objects, I really can’t tell you to replace your old iPad; the improvements on the new one are incremental, not revolutionary.

If you’ve never had a tablet, though, the answer is different. A tablet, especially this iPad, is a delight to use and will bring you more hours of enjoyment than any other electronic device I know of.

Apple sells the devices in two colours - black and white. The company, though, calls them Space Gray and Silver because that’s the colour on the back of the tablet.

(What can I say? It’s a quirky company.) It also sells covers in six colours for $40 (Rs 2,506.) and cases, also in six colours, for $80 (Rs 5,012). You can assume stores will soon be stuffed full of covers and cases of various materials and designs from many vendors to fit the new specs of this version.

Apple sells the iPad Air in four levels of memory or, as it is better to think about it, storage. The basic Wi-Fi only model costs $500 (Rs 31,327) for 16 gigabytes and steps up $100 (Rs 6,265) for each level: 32 GB, 64 GB and 128 GB. It’s another $130 (Rs 8,145) if you want a device that also works over a cellphone network.

So which model do you want? One bit of advice hasn’t changed from the PC era: Buy as much storage as you can afford. If you were merely an economically rational animal, you would buy the 128-gigabyte model because storage gets cheaper as you buy more. But rational economic animals also have budget limitations.

You can certainly save money by getting the Wi-Fi-only model. Public Wi-Fi is nearly ubiquitous these days. Also, the amount of storage matters less in general because you can store so much in the cloud, in Apple’s iCloud or services like Dropbox or Google Drive.

You can also free space on an iPad or iPhone by killing off apps; Apple remembers what you own and lets you download it again free at any time. So you can juggle apps if you skimp on storage; it’s just not very convenient.

Still, you may need more storage than you think. Apps keep getting bigger; Infinity Blade, a popular game, gobbles up nearly one gigabyte. Apple’s operating system also continues to grow. When a digital magazine can easily contain 225 megabytes of data, it doesn’t take long to top off the device. The agony comes when you are binge-viewing and need to download several serial episodes. An hourlong show can be 2.5 gigabytes. If you aren’t binge-viewing, you will be. If you are doing it now, you will be doing more. Plan for that.

Compared with the other tablets on the market, Apple still holds the edge. It might be a tougher call if the competition were significantly cheaper. But the Surface 2 at $450 (Rs 28,194) and the Galaxy Note at $550 (Rs 34,460) aren’t bargains. And they are heavier and lack the wide variety of apps.

Also, their core software isn’t updated as frequently or as thoroughly as that from Apple, which has made it a practice to regularly update its operating system for nearly all its customers so it feels as if you are getting a new tablet or phone when you update.

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX costs $380 (Rs 23,808) and is a fine device for reading and watching movies, but it shares the same disadvantages as the other iPad rivals.
Apple upped the ante a bit by giving away six apps to buyers of the iPad Air: iMovie and iPhoto, to manage and edit videos and photos; Pages, to handle documents; Numbers, for spread sheets; Keynote, for presentations; and GarageBand, for creating music. Those are some of the most popular apps in the App Store and worth $45 (Rs  2,819).
 
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