It's here - in fact, so is the iPad mini with Retina Display, as of this morning. But I haven't had the chance to look at one of those yet.
But I do have an Air in my hands. The first impression is how different it feels. It might sound a bit odd, but it actually feels more solid, as if there's very little air inside. I guess Apple couldn't really call it the Airless - indeed, it's called an Air because of significant slimming, as with Apple's ultra-thin laptop, the MacBook Air.
And the slimming is pretty impressive: it only weighs 468 grams, it's 28 per cent lighter than the previous full-size iPad and a very impressive 20 per cent thinner, at only 7.5 millimetres thick. And, overall, it's a smaller device since the bezel is slimmer - but the screen is the same size as the 4's. Overall it's 240mm long and 169.5mm wide, compared to the previous iPad's 242x185mm.
To the hand, that means most people can hold it easily in one - and one-handed use was one of attractive features of the iPad mini.
But the other news is that despite its weight-loss program, the iPad Air boasts cracking performance. In fact, for the last three years I've been warning people that iPads are not laptops, and please don't confuse the two. I'm not so sure I can say that with much conviction any more. Power-wise the Air is really getting up there. I Geekbenched it myself to a single-core score of 1480, and a multi-core score of 2690.
A few years ago I Geekbenched a mid-2007 iMac with an Intel 2-core CPU and 3GB RAM and it reached 2877 for Multicore ...
The model iPad Air I had to test lists as having a 1.37GHz ARM Processor, with two Cores, a Level 1 Instruction Cache of 64.0KB, L1 Data Cache of 64KB, and an L2 Cache of 1MB. RAM is 976MB. The iMac had 32KB L1 and Instruction caches.
The iPhone 5s I looked at two weeks ago Geekbenched at 1395 and 2497, so the Air is faster than that 64-bit beastie as well. There is a slight difference in CPU speed, true: the 5s has a slightly slower, 1.28GHz 2 Core processor vs the Air's 1.37GHz; they're both 64-bit.
The new Retina mini has the same 64-bit A7 chip as these other two recent iDevices, so all three are 64-bit. By the way, I Geekbenched an iPad 4th Generation to 766 single core and 1393 multi, so the Air is over twice as fast in raw processing.
You can check some Geekbenchmarks yourself at the Geekbench site.
It's only on the input side that things hold a more powerful iPad back from being a PC replacement. That and pure screen size, of course. A little screen for checking emails on is fine, and for a game or two, but serious computing requires serious desktop real estate. While the mouse/trackpad and keyboard combo might be imperfect remote-control devices, they sure give you a lot of control. There's a limit, so far, to what you can effect with direct touch. That's why humans invented remote controllers in the first place - from levers to light switches, being able to be here while affecting something over there has a lot going for it.
But interim measures don't seem to do it - not for me. I find a desktop with a touchscreen to be very cumbersome: a mouse, maybe, a keyboard, plus reaching out horizontally to touch a screen and the arm-strain and input confusion that results is a dog's breakfast. On a tablet, that's not so bad simply because the iPad is small enough to transition quickly between sitting up and lying flat.
Fortunately, on that front, I also had the good luck to be able to check out Logitech's latest FabricSkin' Folio cover for Air, just before it was available for sale. It was in a box with a sticker saying 'For iPad Air' in place over the printed-on 'For iPad 5th Generation', that's how new it is. I imagine a few third parties got caught out with Apple's surprise 'Air' moniker.
The Folio I got to try was immediately a more vibrant red than the Product (RED) Apple case I looked at, with a coarse weave to it. There will be several case offerings with keyboards, of course, but Logitech seems to have cornered the market in very thin yet stylish versions. The Air is held strongly, if rather improbably, by two top-corner clips and the keyboard has a slightly rubbery-feeling covering that feels good while being splash-proof.
Yeah, you can test that on your own iPad. But awesome for environments like kitchens.
It's coupled via Bluetooth. The case clasps to itself magnetically and there's no rim for the bottom edge to slot into to hold it up like a laptop screen, no - that's grabbed magnetically as soon as it's near the zone. With this quality of accessory, that would be the last time I toted my MacBook Pro to anything I just had to take notes at, phew!
There's also an even tougher aluminium version. Like Apple's cases, they sleep the device when you shut them, and wake 'em when you open them.
Apple has also released cases to suit these new iPads. iPads are a bit slippery, after all, and while they have solid-state (so less prone to knocks) storage and tough glass and metal construction, I've seen plenty of iPhones with cracks in them. Many would prudently choose to protect what they just handed over some cold-hard for. There's a Smart Case which covers both sides of the iPad, and a Smart Cover which hinges magnetically to one edge and only covers the glass.
Both use the sort of folding, Origami-style metaphor to stand, or at least prop, in a couple of ways. Am I the only one who can't do this? It always flops flat for me. The Cover is $59 for both models of new iPad; the Case is $119 and $129 for the mini and Air respectively. They come in several nice colours, plus beige. The case is made from aniline-dyed leather, in six different colours - this case rubs and wears a little in a way that's kinda personable. It has a soft, colour-matched microfibre lining like the Cover, but that's outer is polyurethane.
Drag the graphic on this page and you'll see how it's supposed to work.
This iPad is a huge step forward in a trimmer form. I love it.