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

Michael deAgonia | Nov. 21, 2013
It's faster, lighter and thinner than any of its predecessors

About that Wi-Fi: This is the first iPad to sport dual antennas and support MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) technology for better wireless throughput. That's most notable on Wi-Fi access points that utilize the latest wireless standard, 802.11ac. (Apple's new Airport Extreme base station supports 802.11ac.)

What does that mean in the real world? To find out, I downloaded the popular game Infinity Blade 3 on the iPad Air and my old iPad 2. The 802.11n-capable iPad 2 is no slouch when it comes to wireless speeds (scoring 32.51Mbps download/4.10Mbps upload in my tests), but it's no iPad Air, either. The Air scored 43.05Mbps for downloads, 21.29Mbps for uploads. To download and install the 1.56GB Infinity Blade 3 took 19 minutes, 56 seconds on the iPad 2; the iPad Air managed the same feat in just eight minutes and 13 seconds.

64-bit zoom
Another plus: This is the first 64-bit tablet, utilizing the architecture Apple engineers custom-developed and shipped with the iPhone 5S. Unlike the iPhone 5S, space isn't as constrained in the iPad and so Apple engineers have clocked the A7 processor slightly higher, making the iPad Air the fastest mobile device Apple has ever shipped. Naturally, the iPad Air runs apps faster than previous iPads. But when an application has been written to take advantage of the 64-bit architecture, the real-world benefits are readily apparent; I've seen twice the performance as before when using such apps.

One app I use by Bad Robot — it's called Action Movie FX — allows me to add a bit more fun to my family's home movies. As a test, I recorded a 10-second video clip and added an effect at the end, timing how long each iOS device needed to output the new video. The iPad 2 took 21.58 seconds; the 2012 iPad mini took 21.33 seconds; the iPhone 5S finished it in 9.10 seconds; a new iPad mini with Retina display took 9.09 seconds; and the iPad Air finished the job in 7.53 seconds. I'm not sure whether Action Movie FX has been updated to include 64-bit support — there's nothing in the documentation that says it has — but the performance gains using A7-chip devices are obvious.

The iPad Air also features a much improved graphics core; Apple says it delivers up to twice the performance of previous generations. There is a noticeable improvement to details and fluidity in games that have been updated to take advantage of the new hardware; even games that haven't been updated run more smoothly than ever.

The iPad Air now sports the same M7 coprocessor introduced in the iPhone 5S; the M7 enables the tablet to capture and track motion data. While this technology is best utilized in fitness apps, applications like Maps can also use it to determine whether you're walking, running or driving, and to deliver the right information to you based on that data.


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