Apple's new iPads are impressive, but there's plenty of potential for next year's models. Here's what we like and don't like about the iPad Air and new Mini.
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There's a lot to like about the Apple iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display. Both tablets, which go on sale next month, offer a nearly identical feature list -- which means they also share the same faults. Here are the pros and cons of Apple's new iPads.
-- Retina Displays.
Both the iPad Air and iPad Mini now include Apple's high-resolution Retina Display. With 2048 x 1536 pixels, they are capable of displaying full HD content and offer incredible pixel density. The Mini's screen offers a staggering 326 pixels per inch. There are other tablets out there with more pixels, but Apple's LCDs are some of the best available.
-- 64-Bit A7 Processors.
In a somewhat surprising move, the iPad Mini with Retina Display jumped from the older A5 processor straight to Apple's top-of-the-line A7 chip. From Apple's perspective, this is likely a cost-cutting move (the iPhone 5s also has the A7) due to the benefits of bulk ordering and consolidating on a single architecture. Apple's new processor has been tearing up benchmark tests and outclasses many of the chips powering other smartphones and tablets. Packing the A7 in both its new tablets make them attractive indeed.
-- LTE Support.
Apple increased the number of LTE bands supported in the iPad Air and iPad Mini. In fact, Apple's two top-of-the-line iPads now support more LTE bands than any other consumer electronics device. That means world travelers will be able to access faster mobile broadband is more places around the world. Importantly, most of the bands used in North America, Europe, and key Asian countries are onboard.
Apple surprised everyone by announcing that its OS X 10.9 Mavericks operating system would be free. The company didn't stop there -- it also made its core iLife and iWork creativity and productivity suites free. Before Tuesday, apps such as iPhoto and GarageBand cost $5 each, and Pages, Keynotes, and Numbers cost $10 each. Offering these apps for free is a nice gesture on Apple's part, and it will let iPad owners get more work done and have more fun with their tablets.
If you don't mind having only 16 GB of storage and no cellular data, the starting price of the iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display is just palatable, at $499 and $399, respectively. Apple set the tone for tablet pricing back in 2010 with the first iPad but has since lost its price advantage to competitors. Further, adding more storage and LTE radios is outrageously expensive -- going from 16 to 32 GB costs $100. (Google charges only $40 to make the same jump in storage with its Nexus 7 tablet.) Charging $130 to add an LTE radio is tantamount to usury. An iPad Air with 128 GB of storage and LTE costs a whopping $929.
-- Multiple Accounts.
Android tablets can be customized to support multiple accounts. That means more than one person can use the device, and each can have their own preferences and settings. This is something that iOS 7, more so than the iPads in general, needs to adopt. It makes the most sense, however, for tablets to gain such a feature, as they are more likely to be passed between family members.
-- No TouchID.
It really is a shame that Apple didn't add its TouchID fingerprint sensor to the new iPads. It is one of the few truly unique features of the iPhone 5s, allowing users to secure their device with their fingerprint. It seemed a natural evolution to include the same technology in its tablets, but apparently not this year.
Apple's tablets are certainly powerful, but they still don't always play well with others. For starters, Apple uses its own proprietary port for charging and data syncing. That means consumers are forced to buy Apple's cables and accessories, made specifically for the iPad. The iPads don't offer user-expandable storage like many other tablets do. There's also no support for USB-based peripherals such as plug-in mice and keyboards. (However, the iPad does support Bluetooth keyboards.)
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