By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 30, 2013

FORTUNE — On Oct. 22, the day the iPad Air was unveiled, Apple (AAPL) handed out a bunch of review units.

When the news embargo lifted Wednesday at 9 p.m. Eastern — a day and half before the device was scheduled to go on sale — the company got what it was hoping for: A flood of positive reviews.


Walt Mossberg, All Things D: Speed and Power Packed Into a Thin iPad Air“I’ve been testing the iPad Air for about a week and found it a pleasure to use. This new iPad isn’t a radical rethinking of what a tablet can be, but it’s a major improvement on a successful product. It is the best tablet I’ve ever reviewed. That isn’t just because of its slimmer, lighter design, but because Apple boasts 475,000 apps optimized for tablet use — far more than any other tablet platform. (The iPad also can run all of the million or so apps available for the iPhone.) By contrast, the vast majority of apps available for rival Android tablets are just stretched versions of phone apps… Bottom line: If you can afford it, the new iPad Air is the tablet I recommend, hands down.”

David Pogue, A note from Pogue: The Pogue Review: iPad Air. “This time around, there’s no gotta-have new feature—nothing on the level of the Retina screen, Siri voice recognition, or even a fingerprint reader (like the one on the iPhone 5s). That big public yawn must drive Apple’s engineers crazy. The thing is, making the iPad smaller, lighter, and faster without sacrificing battery life or beauty is a tremendous achievement. This isn’t a device that sits or hangs in one place its whole life. It’s not a microwave or a TV. You have to hold this thing while you’re using it, and carry it around when you’re not. So size and weight matter a lot. Still, at $500, an iPad probably doesn’t need replacing every year or even every other year; if you have a 2012 or 2013 model, stick with what you’ve got.”

Damon Darlin, New York TimesLighter and Faster, It’s iPad Air. “The iPad Air is noticeably lighter than its predecessors. If you are the least bit interested in the new tablet computer from Apple, you probably already know that. The company’s engineers shaved just short of a third off the weight of the earlier version; the 9.7-inch Air weighs only a pound. What you may not know is this: Those 6.4 ounces make all the difference when, as you recline while reading or watching a movie, you conk out and the iPad falls forward to bonk you on the nose. The Air won’t hurt you the way the old iPad did.”

Anand Lal Shimpi, AnandTech: The iPad Air Review. “It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the 10-inch tablet market was done for, with all interest and excitement shifting to smaller, but equally capable 7 or 8-inch tablets instead. It also seemed like 15-inch notebook computers were done for a couple of years ago, then Apple launched the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. In a similar vein, last week Apple introduced the iPad Air. A significant re-imagining of the original 9.7-inch iPad, the Air breathes new life into the platform.”

Jim Dalrymple, The Loop: Review. “I must admit, at first I was wondering if the new iPads Apple had on display at the [Oct. 22] event were prototypes—empty fakes that didn’t actually work, but showed what the form-factor would be like when they were released. I’m pleased to say that they were the real thing.”

Ben Bajarin, Techpinions: A Truly Mass Market Personal Computer. “The iPad Mini weighs .69 pounds and the iPad Air weighs 1 pound. But when you hold them at the same time the weight difference feels negligible. The iPad Air distributes its weight in a way that holding it and using it feels about as light as the iPad Mini. The iPad Air is easily the best designed iPad yet.”

Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch: Apple Makes Big Tablets Beautiful All Over Again“When using the new iLife and iWork suites, performance is considerably bolstered by the 64-bit retrofits they got with their recent redesigns – everything feels faster and more responsive. 64-bit processing doesn’t mean that every app necessarily gets a 2x boost in performance over those made for the traditional 32-bit architecture used in previous iPads, but it does mean that software made for those processors will feel even more instantly responsive than it has in the past.”

Clayton Morris, Fox News: Size now matters. “My biggest disappointment with the Pad Air is the lack of Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint sensor. Once you use it you’ll never want to peck out a passcode again. I see Touch ID as one of the most important technological breakthroughs of 2013. It’s both a testament to how well it works on the iPhone 5s and how difficult the technology was to pull off for one product, let alone two different iPad sizes. Apple sells millions more iPhones than they do iPads, so it’s no wonder Touch ID didn’t make it onto the tablets. Still, I’m disappointed.”

Edward C. Baig, USA Today: Thin iPad Air is most tempting tablet yet. “This latest full-size Apple tablet is the most tempting iPad yet, better than its already best of breed predecessors, superior still to each and every rival big screen slate that I’ve tested. Apple dominates the tablet apps ecosystem. Its tablet remains the easiest to use. But rivals are closing the gap with clever features that I wish Apple would adopt. And even for Apple aficionados, the iPad Air isn’t a must-do upgrade.”

Harry McCracken, Time: iPad Air Review: Apple’s Full-Sized Tablet, No Longer So Full-Sized. “Nobody needs to pitch a tent in front of the local Apple Store to be the first on the block with a 64-bit iPad: The real point of Apple’s speed improvements for iOS devices is about allowing developers to write ever-more ambitious apps in the future, not correcting an existing deficiency. As usual, it didn’t occur to me that my old iPad might be the least bit poky until I tried the new iPad. I did, however, notice that the Air was snappier in some instances, including when it chugged its way thorough the animated effects in iOS 7′s interface.”

Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg: Office Work. “The touch-screen-optimized productivity apps, which include a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software, are a shot across the bow of Microsoft (AAPL). The company has been working on an iPad version of its Office software but has so far released only a limited, disappointing iPhone app. The Apple apps work the way Office should. Using Pages, the equivalent of Microsoft Word, I was able to create and edit a document that I saved to Apple’s iCloud service and opened on a Mac. I also shared it with a non-Apple-using colleague. By clicking on a link, he opened the document in his browser, using a Web-based version of Pages to make changes I could immediately see on the iPad. You can do stuff like this on Microsoft-powered devices too — but it costs you $100 a year for the subscription version of Office. Here, it’s free, as are the latest versions of iPhoto and iMovie.”

Tim Stevens, CNET: Thinner, lighter, faster, bestThe good: The iPad Air delivers more performance and comparable battery life in an attractive and impossibly thin-and-light package. An improved front-facing camera makes FaceTiming look better, and the Retina Display still looks great. The bad: The Touch ID fingerprint scanner, introduced on the iPhone 5S, is sadly absent here, meaning you’ll still have to type in a passcode with every unlock and a password with every purchase. Starting at $499 for 16GB, it’s still expensive compared with the competition. The bottom line: Functionally, the iPad Air is nearly identical to last year’s model, offering only faster performance and better video chatting. But factor in design and aesthetics, and the iPad Air is on another planet. It’s the best full-size consumer tablet on the market.”

Brad Molen, Engadget: iPad Air review. “Despite its petite size and lightweight build, it doesn’t feel at all flimsy. The unibody aluminum chassis is just as solid as on older iPads. The sides have a blunter edge this time around, so you get more of a grip than the gradually sloping edges on previous models; and Apple has added chamfered, diamond-cut edges that form a boundary between the bezel and the rest of the tablet’s body, which gives it a premium look. In our experience, however, the downside to chamfered edges is that they’re often susceptible to dings and scratches.”

Matt Warma, Telegraph: Apple’s finest tablet. “In a stroke of marketing genius, a largely similar product is now rebranded, making it easier for consumers to notice that they don’t have the latest model.”

Vincent Nguyen, SlashGear: Battery. “Apple quotes up to 10 hours of WiFi-connected browsing, video, or music from a full charge of the iPad Air, or alternatively 9 hours over a cellular connection. In practice, though, and with mixed use, we were blown away by just how long the iPad Air can last. From a full charge, after more than 7 hours of frequent use – browsing over WiFi and cellular wireless, playing video files and music, and using apps and FaceTime – and almost 14.5 hours of standby, the iPad Air still had 77-percent of its battery remaining. Even when we purposefully tried to run the battery down, playing video and keeping the screen active, the iPad simply ran and ran.”

John Gruber, Daring Fireball: The iPad Air. “It does take a while to charge, even when using the included 12-watt power adapter. It took about an hour to go from 37 percent to 66 percent, and about 90 minutes to go from 66 percent all the way to 100. But charge it overnight and you should easily get a full day of active use or several days of casual use out of it. Starting with the original model in 2010, Apple has seemingly been unwilling to bend on a floor of 10 hours of battery life, and the iPad Air maintains this pedigree.”

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