Ten years ago today, Apple revealed a tablet that it called the “biggest step yet in delivering the vision that is iPad”. It was called the iPad Air and it became the first tablet to receive a five-star rating on TechRadar.
So what was so special about the first-gen Air – wasn’t it just an iPad that had been on a crash diet? Kind of, but it also dramatically slimmed down the iPad’s bezels and price tag to make it a genuinely modern tablet.
Back in October 2013, we called it “as near to tablet perfection as you’re going to get” and the model that “finally nailed the tablet”. At the time, the iPad itself was only three years old and there was genuine competition from Android tablets like the Sony Xperia Tablet Z.
But the iPad Air reasserted Apple’s grip on tablets and, aside from a two-year hiatus between 2017 and 2019, the Air hasn’t really looked back. Now in its fifth generation, the iPad Air (2022) remains one of the best mid-range tablets around and there are now rumors of a 12.9-inch iPad Air.
While that sounds like a promising new spin on the series, should you still consider the original Air model on its tenth birthday? After all, you can pick one up for just $80 at Walmart (and for around £80 in the UK), which is tempting if you simply need a Netflix workhorse for traveling.
The short answer is, no, the first-gen iPad Air is no longer a good option. But that’s more to do with software than hardware – and it doesn’t mean there aren’t some real iPad bargains out there.
Air to the throne
Considering it’s now ten years old, the original iPad Air is impressively modern in hardware terms. It served its original buyers well for several years – and even after the arrival of the iPad Air 3 in 2019, we were still recommending it as a good affordable option.
This was partly because the first-gen Air was the first iPad with 64-bit processing, courtesy of Apple’s A7 chip. It coped pretty well with several versions of iOS (this was pre-iPadOS, remember) and delivered some impressive battery performance that lived up to Apple’s quoted ten hours.
While it didn’t have the best large-screen tablet display of its generation – falling slightly short of rivals like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S – its Retina screen was still excellent, despite the restrictive viewing angles and annoying reflectivity that were the norm at the time.
In fact, the iPad Air was such an all-rounder that it effectively took the baton from the standard iPad, which was then cast into the wilderness until 2017. But despite those impressive specs and dimensions – at 453g and 7.5mm thick, it’s not dissimilar to today’s Air – the original Air has run out of road when it comes to software.
Apple stopped supporting the first-generation iPad Air in 2019, which left it marooned on iOS 12 and unable to update to iPadOS 13. In the subsequent years, most app developers dropped their support for apps running on that older software – Netflix, for example, now requires iPadOS15 – which means the tablet is now severely limited in terms of apps and security.
So if you’re looking for a bargain iPad, which ones should you consider instead?
I’m holding the iPad Air # AppleEvent pic.twitter.com/aNzWqQRlwQOctober 22, 2013
The best alternatives
While today’s iPad Air (2022) is still one of the best tablets around and a good mid-range choice, it is quite pricey (starting at $599 / £569 / AU$929). The Air is now effectively a more affordable version of Apple’s iPad Pros, which means you’ll need to look elsewhere for a true bargain.
Step forward a couple of tasty pre-Black Friday deals that we’ve spotted recently. One is the 9th-generation 10.2-inch iPad, which you can pick up for only $249 at Amazon (the lowest price we’ve seen it for) or £319 from Amazon UK.
Looking for a smaller, travel-friendly tablet? You can also now get an iPad mini 6 for only $469 at Amazon (or only £527 on Amazon UK). The iPad mini 6 is certainly worth stretching to over the mini 5, although you can pick up refurbed versions of the latter for only $269 from Walmart or £339 from Apple UK.
The further good news is that you can now buy any of these iPads in peace, knowing that new models – including an iPad (2023), iPad mini (2023), and iPad Air 6 – now almost certainly won’t arrive until 2024. Despite recent rumors that those iPads could arrive this year, Apple instead updated the Apple Pencil this week.
So while it’s a fine day to celebrate the original iPad Air, ten years on from its debut, it’s also time to cross it off your shopping list. It’s simply too old to consider now, but it’s fortunately also a good time of year to pick up one of its affordable siblings as we head into the Black Friday sales.
You might also like
This post originally appeared on TechToday.