The iPad Air went on sale today at the Apple Store and at a number of large retail stores. Earlier today, but not too early, I made my way to Best Buy. If not for the five employees surrounding the iPad counter, one holding an event balloon, you wouldn’t know this was a launch event. In all fairness, customers usually flock to an Apple Store and there were lines at these locations around the world. I have a feeling that today’s lines were more a product of ritual, than concern over limited supply. The Best Buy location I visited this morning had plenty in stock and in my town. Our local Apple Store always seems to have more inventory and it’s typically the best bet for getting a product that’s short in supply. This leads me to believe that supply of the iPad Air isn’t an issue. I suspect that will be an entirely different story when the iPad mini with retina releases later this month, where I’ll once again find myself camped out. Having secured the new iPad Air, here’s my unboxing video and first impressions of the new slimmed-down full-sized 9.7-inch iPad.

iPad Air

When you first hold the iPad Air, the reduction in weight is immediately noticeable when compared to the 3rd and 4th generation iPads. This feels more like a member of the iPad mini family, but maxi-sized. There isn’t a worst name than iPad Maxi, so iPad Air it is, a name that conveys big changes to the full-sized iPad design. When Apple released the MacBook Air, it was game-changing. The weight compared the MacBook and MacBook Pro was significant. The iPad Air changes are not as significant. While appreciable, the iPad mini is still lighter and you can feel the difference.

iPad Air vs iPad mini

My primary iPad is a first generation iPad mini, so coming back to retina is like turning the lights back on. Everything is sharp and crystal clear. Colors are brilliant and photos look amazing.

iPad Air vs iPad mini

The iPad Air is fast, thanks to the A7 and M7 processors. iOS 7 moves at a very fast clip and fluidity of movement through the UI is smooth. Using the guts of the iPad 2, it would be unfair to even compare it the first generation iPad mini. Those who upgrading from mini to mini retina will feel this speed change. I’ve seen complaints of performance problems from iPad 3 owners running iOS 7. This group, familiar with the bigger 9.7-inch display, will gain a thinner, lighter and faster iPad.

iPad Air back

I’ve only had the iPad Air for a few hours, most of which have been spent behind the camera. I look forward to putting it through the paces. By that I mean spending some quality couch time. There’s plenty to like here and bringing the mini design to the 9.7-inch iPad certainly gives it a much needed slimming down. The new iPads are remarkably similar, with the only difference being display size, which either makes it incredibly easier or more difficult to decide on one. If Apple had dumbed down the mini, it would be another checkbox next to the Air. That’s not the case. The decision now comes down to big or small and whether going big is worth $100. I’m leaning one way, but it’s far from an easy decision.

iPad Air sideview

Did you pick up an iPad Air? What’s been your experience? Leave a comment or better yet, jump in the iPad Air forums and sound off!