The definitive iPad Air review roundup

iPad Air review

Reviews for the new iPad Air are in and they are glowing. Ahead of the tablet’s launch on November 1st, reviewers have published their thoughts on Apple’s latest full-sized tablet, highlighting its reduced weight, speed, and overall performance. Is this the iPad you should get or should you wait for the Retina iPad mini? We’re not so sure, but hopefully the reviews we’ve collected below help you make that decision.

Engadget

Surprise: the iPad Air is the best iPad we’ve reviewed. In addition, though, it’s also the most comfortable 10-inch tablet we’ve ever tested. Not every manufacturer can produce a thin and light device without also making it feel cheap or flimsy, but Apple nailed it. Factor in a sizable boost in performance and battery life, and the Air is even more compelling. The last two iPads served up relatively few improvements, but the Air provides people with more of a reason to upgrade or even buy a tablet for the first time.

TechCrunch

When Apple introduced the iPad mini, I feel in love and felt that I’d never be swayed back to the other side. The iPad Air makes the argument anew that there’s still room for big tablets in people’s lives, and it might just help usher in an era of computing where households own more than one kind of iPad, and PCs are harder and harder to find.

AnandTech

The iPad Air is the most significant upgrade to the 9.7-inch iPad in its history. It’s lighter, more portable, more usable and faster than any previous iPad. It doesn’t fundamentally change what you can do with a tablet, but if you’re in the market for one the iPad Air really is the best iPad to date. Competition is definitely more stiff among the smaller tablets thanks to the Nexus 7, but in the nearly 10-inch tablet space it seems like Apple is going to continue to enjoy a great position there.

DaringFireball

For anyone who doesn’t truly take advantage of the capabilities in Mac OS X (or Windows) that aren’t available in iOS, the iPad Air is a superior portable computer to a laptop in nearly every way. Smaller, lighter, simpler, more fun. And now, with the iPad Air, in many cases it’s even a faster device. Note too, the simple fact that the high-end iPad Air, with cellular networking and 128 GB of storage (the configuration I tested), costs $929 — only $70 less than the base model MacBook Air. The new iPad Air is a full-fledged competitor to laptops.

AllThingsD

But this new iPad Air just kept going, clocking a battery life of 12 hours and 13 minutes, which exceeded Apple’s claim by more than 20%. The company says its A7 chip, combined with the fact it controls its own operating system, gives the new iPad the ability to tailor under-the-hood processes so unneeded drains on the battery can be minimized.

Bottom line: If you can afford it, the new iPad Air is the tablet I recommend, hands down.

The Loop

When I first picked up the iPad Air, I noticed how light it was. I mean really light. In reality, Apple shaved about half a pound of weight off the new iPad compared to the previous generations. That may not seem like much, but when the old iPad only weighed approximately 1.5 pounds, knocking off half a pound is significant.

TechPinions

The iPad has proven to be more than just a simple consumption device. A lot of that has to do with the breadth and depth of apps particularly in the creative arts for the iPad. While it is true that existing iPad owners benefit from all the software advancements I mention above, the new design of the iPad Air and the power of the A7 make it more usable than ever. And for most, this may be the only personal computer they really need.

The Verge

It feels like Apple’s lead over the tablet competition is so massive that the company is simply letting the iPad’s core strengths and superlative hardware sell themselves instead of aggressively pushing it into new use cases and scenarios. Let’s call it the College Freshman Test: until Junior and Sally can head off to State with an iPad Air instead of a MacBook Air, it’s going to take a lot more work to evolve the iPad into a true primary computing device.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro

During yesterday’s Apple keynote, one announcement stuck out to me more than any: The iPad Air. Not so much the device itself, though it is an amazing product, but the name. Apple purposely changing the name from iPad to iPad Air is likely suggestive of where the iPad line is headed. Right now we have two categories of iPad:

  • iPad mini – The iPad that’s geared more towards consumption
  • iPad Air – The iPad that gives you everything the mini does, but also allows you to do some productivity

When I say the iPad Air lets you do productivity, I don’t mean that the Mini is incapable of being a productive machine. Rather, that the screen size on the Air allows for a much better experience. We all know that the new Retina iPad mini quite literally has the same specs as the iPad Air. Both have Apple’s custom A7 chip. Both have 2048-by-1536 resolution displays. But with the Air, you’re getting a 9.7-inch display compared to the Mini’s 7.9-inch display. This makes for a totallydifferent experience.

But why would Apple purposely name the larger iPad the iPad Air? The only reason I can think of is because they’ve got something else coming in the future: The iPad Pro.

To be clear, I have no idea whether this is really happening, but it only makes sense to me. If the iPad mini is mostly a consumption device, and the iPad Air offers some productivity in addition to consumption, it makes sense that a third iPad would offer what both the Mini and the Air do, but also provide a pro experience. What do I mean by “pro experience”? Here are a few things:

  • A Larger, higher resolution display. Like, say, 12-inches as we’ve heard about
  • A Surface-like keyboard attachment (not sure about this anymore)
  • A Wacom-like screen digitizer (also found in the Surface Pro)
  • Pro apps lik Final Cut, Aperture, etc
  • SD Card slot

If Apple were to make an iPad Pro, these are the types of things I’d expect it to have. After all, it would be geared towards pros. Real pros. Like soon-to-be Mac Pro buyers. I don’t think it would be cheap either. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if it started at around $899.

Of course, this is all speculation and only time will tell if this becomes a reality. But make no mistake, Apple didn’t call the larger iPad the iPad Air for no reason.

The case for weakening iOS App Store sales

We have seen a pretty significant drop in sales over the past 12 months in the iOS App Store. I spent much time first beating myself up over not adjusting faster and then forgiving myself and trying to understand why it occurred. I have come to four conclusions of what could be impacting our sales:

Increased Competition: We were, for the longest time, the king of iPad calculators but the number of apps available specifically for iPad has increased over the past year. In particular, HP launched its 12c version specifically for iPad and we worked with DEWALT to build a version for construction, eating into our finance and construction sales. This caused a little softening in the second quarter but wasn’t enough to make us worry. We did play with pricing in the summer to see the impact, something I still mean to write about here. The bottom line on that one: more unit sales, less revenue, not worth it.

App Store Changes: With the release of iOS 6 in October, Apple changed the App Store’s presentation. I think this had two effects:

  1. It emphasized apps named the same as their search terms and
  2. It changed how far into any search results a customer was willing to go

For the former, apps named “checklist” or “calculator” are overemphasized in the App Store as those are terms people search for. In our case, almost every one of our powerOne apps has a competitor named by the search term: mortgage calculator, finance calculator, scientific calculator, etc. Since Apple emphasize exact name matches, these apps always end up at the top of the list. Regarding the latter, the shift from a list of apps to cards means customers don’t look at more then the first couple of apps. Previously it was easy to look at 25 or 50 options quickly. (Image from VentureBeat.)

 The case for weakening iOS App Store salesShift to International Markets: US smartphone market penetration now exceeds 50%. I believe this means that products primarily geared around the US market will see slowing sales. Apps who have broad appeal beyond US borders should do better, although Europe too is at or near 50%. powerOne apps are heavily geared around both US mathematics and English language.

Shift to Consumers: I also believe we are experiencing a shift from professional customers to consumer ones. The earliest adopters of iPhone and Android smartphones were, logically, professionals. They could write off the price of the expensive phones plus had the most need to carry portable computers in their pockets. They were also trained for years by Palm and BlackBerry to think about pocketable computing. Our products are heavily geared toward professionals, many of whom have already bought a powerOne product. As the new smartphone buyers become more consumer-oriented, there is less need for productivity apps and thus our sales weaken, even as the entire App Store’s sales escalate.

This, of course, is all speculation. There is no way of really knowing what has happened. If I was a betting man, though, I’d bet on a combination of these factors.

How to get unlimited talk, text, and data for $30 a month on an iPhone

iPhone unlimited talk

Remember when your cell phone bill was $30 – $40 a month? If you do, you probably weren’t using a smartphone.

It’s no surprise that our phone bills have increasingly become more expensive over the past decade. Today, you can’t really own a smartphone unless you’re willing to shell out at least $70 a month. And even then, it usually means that you’re making some sacrifices to your data plan, your minutes, or your text messages.

I wanted to figure out how to own a smartphone, and pay as little as possible to use it without worrying about overages. After digging around I figured out a way that costs only $30 bucks and gives me unlimited everything. Yes, that’s right. Unlimited talk, text, and data. How did I do it? Read on and find out.

Here’s what you’re going to need:

  1. T-mobile prepaid plan
  2. Google Voice
  3. Talk-a-tone app

The first, and arguably the most important part of achieving this is the actual plan, which is where T-mobile comes in. What many of you probably don’t know is that T-mobile offers a $30 a month pre-paid plan (scroll to the bottom) that includes unlimited data, texts, and 100 minutes. Keep in mind that they only promise 4G/LTE for the first 5GB of usage, but for me that’s fine. I’m usually within Wi-Fi and in the 6+ years of owning a smartphone, I’ve never really gone over 5GB.

The second ingredient needed is a Google Voice number. Google Voice serves two purposes: First, it allows you to have a phone number that’s carrier agnostic. By having a phone number hosted by Google, you can forward any number to call your Google Voice number. In fact, you can port your current number over to Google Voice if you want – something I did. Just be aware that if you do that, and you’re under contract, you’ll have to pay your current carrier an early termination fee. Google does a good job explaining this in their video. I’ve embedded it below.

The second reason for Google Voice relates to the third piece of the puzzle: Talk-a-tone. Talk-a-tone is an app that allows you to login into your Google Voice account to make calls and send texts over WiFi or data without using minutes. The app doesn’t have the best UI, and I’ve had calls break up a couple of times, but overall it gets the job done. What’s cool is that if you’re using an iPhone and you’re running iOS 7, you can further reduce your need for Talk-a-tone by using FaceTime audio with your other iOS buddies. Where Talk-a-tone really comes in for me is when I need to make a regular phone call to a non-iOS device (not very often).

There is one small caveat to going this route and that’s in the cost of the phone itself. If you’re going to go this route, you’re likely going to have to buy a phone off-contract. For iPhone users that means spending a minimum of $549 if you want a 5c and $649 or you want a 5s. For Android users, there are some great options out there. You can pay $599 for a Google Play Edition HTC One or S4, or you can buy Google’s flagship Nexus phones which start at $249. The Nexus 5 isn’t too far away and if Google prices the phone the same way they did the Nexus 4, then you’re in business.

I’ve been doing this for the past 3 months and I have nothing but good things to say. I live in a well-covered T-mobile area and I tend to get roughly 20mb/s down and 12mb/s up. For $30 a month it’s hard for me to complain.

How to get unlimited talk, text, and data for $30 on an iPhone

iPhone unlimited talk

Remember when your cell phone bill was $30 – $40 a month? If you do, you probably weren’t using a smartphone.

It’s no surprise that our phone bills have increasingly become more expensive over the past decade. Today, you can’t really own a smartphone unless you’re willing to shell out at least $70 a month. And even then, it usually means that you’re making some sacrifices to your data plan, your minutes, or your text messages.

I wanted to figure out how to own a smartphone, and pay as little as possible to use it without worrying about overages. After digging around I figured out a way that costs only $30 bucks and gives me unlimited everything. Yes, that’s right. Unlimited talk, text, and data. How did I do it? Read on and find out.

Here’s what you’re going to need:

  1. T-mobile prepaid plan
  2. Google Voice
  3. Talk-a-tone app

The first, and arguably the most important part of achieving this is the actual plan, which is where T-mobile comes in. What many of you probably don’t know is that T-mobile offers a $30 a month pre-paid plan that includes unlimited data, texts, and 100 minutes. Keep in mind that they only promise 4G/LTE for the first 5GB of usage, but for me that’s fine. I’m usually within Wi-Fi and in the 6+ years of owning a smartphone, I’ve never really went over 5GB.

The second ingredient needed is a Google Voice number. Google Voice serves two purposes: First, it allows you to have a phone number that’s carrier agnostic. By having a phone number hosted by Google, you can forward any number to call your Google Voice number. In fact, you can port your current number over to Google Voice if you want – something I did. Just be aware that if you do that, and you’re under contract, you’ll have to pay your current carrier an early termination fee. Google does a good job explaining this in their video. I’ve embedded it below.

The second reason for Google Voice relates to the third piece of the puzzle: Talk-a-tone. Talk-a-tone is an app that allows you to login into your Google Voice account to make calls and send texts over WiFi or data without using minutes. The app doesn’t have the best UI, and I’ve had calls break up a couple of times, but overall it gets the job done. What’s cool is that if you’re using an iPhone and you’re running iOS 7, you can further reduce your need for Talk-a-tone by using FaceTime audio with your other iOS buddies. Where Talk-a-tone really comes in for me is when I need to make a regular phone call to a non-iOS device (not very often).

There is one small caveat to going this route and that’s in the cost of the phone itself. If you’re going to go this route, you’re likely going to have to buy a phone off-contract. For iPhone users that means spending a minimum of $549 if you want a 5c and $649 or you want a 5s. For Android users, there are some great options out there. You can pay $599 for a Google Play Edition HTC One or S4, or you can buy Google’s flagship Nexus phones which start at $249. The Nexus 5 isn’t too far away and if Google prices the phone the same way they did the Nexus 4, then you’re in business.

I’ve been doing this for the past 3 months and I have nothing but good things to say. I live in a well-covered T-mobile area and I tend to get roughly 20mb/s down and 12mb/s up. For $30 a month it’s hard for me to complain.