Apple's just announced the $499 iPad Air at its event today in San Francisco, and we've gotten a chance to spend a few minutes with the new device. Long story short: it looks and feels like a larger (but not that much larger) iPad mini, and that's mostly a really good thing. It's really beautiful, with cleaner bezels, a much thinner profile, and sharper, boxier edges.
The 9.7-inch, one-pound, 7.5mm-thick device feels much better in one hand than it used to, though it's certainly not as portable as the iPad mini — which now has a 2048 x 1536 screen to match the Air's as well. Along with the new A7 processor and a handful of under-the-hood improvements, this is just about the upgrade we expected, but more than ever the iPad Air feels like you're just holding a big screen full of the internet. That's probably a good thing.
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Where we're perhaps most confused about the Air is its naming. There was a palpable tension in the room in San Francisco when the name change was revealed, as if an iPad Pro were imminent — and though Tim Cook and others spent time bashing the strategies of Microsoft and Apple's other competitors, it seems like a natural progression from the current lineup. Also confusing is the fact that the iPad 2 remains on sale for $399, despite woefully outdated hardware. Apple's known for knocking $100 off the price of its current model as it introduces the next one, but it changed the strategy significantly here. And when the 7.9-inch iPad mini comes with incredibly similar internals for $100 less, how does Apple differentiate its two products other than simply screen size?
But business and branding strategies aside, there's little doubt that the iPad Air is going to be even more powerful and much more portable than any previous 9.7-inch iPad. Both White and Space Gray iPad Airs look nice, the Space Gray slightly stealthier and the White a little more fun (and a little more prone to fingerprints, it looks like). They feel fast, though not noticeably different from the A7-powered iPhone 5S. Even despite a couple of surprising omissions, like a TouchID fingerprint sensor, this device deserves a new name: it feels completely different than the full-sized iPad once did. Apple's clearly trying to turn the iPad Air into a full-size device you're willing to take outside your home, and based on our first impressions we'd happily throw one in our backpacks today.