Hands-on thoughts on the iPad Air and iPad mini with retina display

So Apple’s(s aapl) big fall event is over. It was packed with product updates across the entire Apple line: Pricing and availability on the new Mac Pro, MacBook Pro upgrades, improved apps and of course, the new iPads.

I spent a brief time with both the new iPad Air — no, I didn’t see that product name change coming either — and the iPad mini with retina display. Both are impressive updates but for different reasons. Here are my first impressions of both devices; don’t consider this a full product review as that requires far more than 30 minutes of time with either of these.

Let’s start with the new iPad Air. The name change is due to the new iPad going on a diet. This new model weighs one pound and the weight drop is immediately noticeable as soon as you pick up the device. For a reference point, the iPad 2, which Apple is still selling, weighs 1.33 pounds. Overall the device is slimmer and slightly smaller as well. I noticed the thinness — about a 20 percent reduction — more than the minimal size difference of the device. The smaller bezel takes its cue from the iPad mini and there’s still plenty of room for my thumbs.

iPad Air

Inside is the new A7 chip and if you’ve seen any speed increase in Apple’s iPhone 5s, you know what to expect. The native Apple apps open super quick and there’s no lag when scrolling or paging through content in Pages or iPhoto. You tap and the device responds. Obviously Moore’s Law is at work here, but it helps that Apple has rewritten its native apps for 64-bit compatibility to be fully optimized with the A7 chip. Developers will be doing the same over the next year, so the iPad Air is likely only going to get better until the next model arrives.

iPad air pics

While the A7 and other new internals are important to this product, the size and weight difference may be the bigger story here. In my opinion, the iPad Air is more portable than prior models as a result. I typically carry tablets smaller than the iPad for this reason, but I can see myself thinking harder about that in the future.

That brings me to the iPad mini with retina display. I currently use a 2013 Nexus 7 tablet because of the 1920 x 1080 resolution of the 7-inch display. In fact, I sold my original iPad mini to get the Nexus 7; my tired old eyes appreciate high pixel density. Well, if my eyes could talk, they’d tell me to buy the new iPad mini. The display is incredibly vivid, crisp and bright. The feeling I got when looking at the display was the same feeling I had when I first saw the original retina display iPad. The difference is tremendous.

ipad mini imovie

Playing with the device gave me the same impressions as the new iPad Air when it comes to performance, so I won’t belabor the point and rehash it all. Suffice it to say, the little iPad is just as quick as its big brother but in a smaller package. Again, Apple’s native apps really shine here and it’s interesting that every year a few more “traditional desktop” features get pushed to the mobile apps.

I can already say that I’d be happy carrying either of the new iPads with me on the go. I previously thought the 9.7-inch iPad was too big for toting around all the time, however the new design has me rethinking that. Of course, the new iPad mini already fits the bill for portability and has all of the bells and whistles as the bigger iPad, including the higher resolution screen.

So for those considering a purchase, it may come down to personal preference and budget. There’s a $100 price bump moving from the iPad mini to the iPad Air; not to bad. And both devices get iLife and iWorks apps for free. That’s not a true price drop on the device, but it makes the cost a little more appealing if you plan to use the apps. It’s also a smart move on Apple’s part since its tablets do cost more than most comparable slates.

Overall, the two new iPads have compelling new hardware components and features. The weight reduction of the iPad Air combined with an upgraded processor makes a good product much better. Adding the same chip and a new retina display to the iPad mini for just $70 more than last year’s model is a huge deal. I’ll have more to say after spending more time with both devices, of course. For now, I’m walking away from Apple’s event very impressed with the new iPads.