The iPad Air is the biggest update to the design of Apple's 9.7in tablet since it was first announced in 2010; the first round of reviews claim it to be the best iPad to date, and despite its higher price than Android rivals, the best tablet on the market.

iPad Air

Apple's biggest change for its fifth-generation iPad is its size; while the Retina display stays at 9.7 inches, the width of the chassis has been cut by 16mm to produce a much thinner screen bezel and a similar shape to the iPad mini.

Brad Molen - Engadget

"Yes, as strange as it may sound, the latest iPad is actually just a larger version of the 7.9-inch mini. It's as if the smaller device was a pilot test for Jony Ive's new design language. Calling it the Air was fitting indeed, since it's ridiculously small and light compared to previous models....just hold the Air for a minute and then pick up an older iPad; the difference is immediately noticeable."

As for performance from the iPad Air's new 64-bit A7 processor, also used by the iPhone 5s, Molen said the speed increase is minor when opening apps, but intense games and apps like iMovie run more smoothly than on last year's iPad 4.

"Apps load a little quicker than they did before, but the areas where you'll notice the biggest improvement involve more intense, processor-heavy activities."

Stuart Miles - Pocket-lint

Praising the reduction in weight compared to the iPad 4, Miles says: "The Air is considerably lighter than the previous iPad devices that came before it, weighing in at between 496-478g depending on which model you opt for - 4G connectivity and larger storage capacities add a couple of grams."

Despite the iPad Air's Retina Display now being nearly two years old, Miles reassures potential buyers:

"The screen in the Air is as good as ever. It's the same as that used in the iPad 4, so it's not a brand new, higher resolution offering, but the 2,048 x 1536 pixel resolution is sharp at 264ppi.

"If you're worried that the thinner frame will be harder to hold without affecting the screen with fingers in the way, then don't be. Apple iPad mini users will tell you there is no problem here and the Air feels similar in this respect...The screen also feels hollow to tap on, more so than the original iPad models and more akin to the feeling we get tapping on the iPad mini. It's not bad, it's just different."

Summing up, Miles says the Air is "the best iPad the company has ever made. It's light, it's thin, it's fast, it's amazing," but admits the lack of a Touch ID fingerprint scanner means the tablet has "no stand out feature".

David Pogue

Agreeing with Miles, former New York Times technology writer Pogue says:

There's no gotta-have new feature - nothing on the level of the Retina screen, Siri voice recognition, or even a fingerprint reader. 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.

Users of older iPads, or those new to the tablet market, however, will find the Air "a fantastic leap into the future."

Addressing how similar the second-generation iPad mini - with Retina screen and A7 processor - is to the Air, Pogue admits the smaller 7.9in tablet "in many a more attractive's like owning a cocker spaniel instead of a Saint Bernard."

To conclude, and in a nod to the ever-improving competition, Pogue says:

"No longer alone in the marketplace, no longer the only right choice, no breakthrough new features. But it's smaller, lighter, and faster than ever, with a much bigger catalog of apps-and much better ones-than the competition. If you want a big tablet, this is the one that will make you happiest."

Walt Mossberg - AllThingsD

Despite being thinner and lighter, Mossberg found the iPad Air to match the battery life of older iPads.

"In my tests, the iPad Air far exceeded Apple's claim of 10 hours of battery life. For over 12 hours, it played high-definition videos, non-stop, with the screen at 75 percent brightness, with Wi-Fi on and emails pouring in. That's the best battery life I've ever recorded for any tablet."

After a week of use, Mossberg said the iPad Air is "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."

But Mossberg accepts the iPad range isn't perfect:

"They are pricier than many competitors. Samsung's Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 can be bought starting at $360. Dell has just introduced a new small tablet, the Venue 7, for $150. And iPads can get even more costly once you start adding features, because Apple charges hefty prices for extras like cellular connectivity and more storage."

Despite its high price, and lack of Apple-made accessories, Mossberg concludes: "If you can afford it, the new iPad Air is the tablet I recommend, hands down."