Hands on with the new iPad Air, iPad mini, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro

October 22, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple took the wraps off several updated versions in its tablet, laptop and desktop lines on Tuesday. Here's a quick look at how they all feel hands on, after short briefings at Apple’s event in San Francisco.

iPad Air: Apple’s newest iteration of its full-sized, 9.7-inch tablet, the iPad Air, is noticeably lighter and thinner than its predecessor — making it more comfortable to hold the tablet with one hand while using it.

That’s one of those small but significant differences that matter when consumers are choosing a tablet. The lighter weight makes it easier, for example, to read on the iPad Air while standing on a train.

The tablet also felt a bit snappier, thanks to the new processors, especially when Apple representatives walked through the new software updates for iLife and iWork. In iMovie, for example, it was super easy to drag and drop a 1080p stream to play right on top of another — making amateur videos look a little more professional. It’s not quite “prosumer,” and isn’t going to replace professional video products, but it is the kind of computing power that can make the average user feel more comfortable with editing software.

iPad mini (retina): The difference in the display quality is the real story here, and it’s immediately noticeable, as it was when Apple upgraded to retina display on the iPhone. The best, if somewhat overcirculated, comparison is that it’s like getting new prescription glasses: You could live without retina, but it's hard to go back once you’ve seen it. Since Apple was competing against similar tablets in this size category that had higher-resolution displays, it made sense to improve the mini’s screen quality.

Apple reveals a thinner, lighter and more powerful version of their popular iPad. (REUTERS)

Apart from the display, the new iPad mini weighs the same as the original, an Apple rep confirmed, and has more or less the same feel.

MacBook Pro: The MacBook Pro updates showcased here are as much about software as hardware, since most of the improvements to the laptops lie in bumped-up specs that are hard to see in a quick demo. Still, Apple has added an hour to its laptop battery life while lightening the weight, a welcome improvement for products designed to be portable.

With OS X Mavericks, the computers gain new apps such as iBooks and Maps, which both run smoothly on the souped-up devices. I’m a little skeptical that users will start dropping their tablets in favor of reading or navigating on a larger computer device, but they still have the option.

Mac Pro: Apple is happy to show off the raw computing power of this machine, which in the demo was running to 4K displays of video editing software without a stutter. The cylindrical shape of the Mac Pro is certainly a head-turner, even if people do joke that it looks like a trash can.

The Mac Pro packs a lot of power into a small space -- way more power than most the average user would need for regular Web surfing, word processing and general gaming. And at $2,999, Apple is clearly aiming this at users who need the mega boost for intensive video and audio editing.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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