The iPad Air was a substantial advancement for the iPad line offering a thinner, lighter, and faster version. A year later, we have the iPad Air 2, which builds upon a great base, and still finds a way to add a number of new features once again. The iPad Air 2 feature set is spelled out in Apple’s marketing materials with a 6.1mm thickness that is is 18% thinner than last year’s model, A8X chip, anti-reflective screen, 8MP camera, and TouchID. The differences are clearly stated, but the question is if that’s enough to upgrade your existing iPad, or pick one up for the first time.
The first thing you notice about the iPad Air 2 is that there doesn’t appear to be much there when you when first pick it up. After using the iPad Air for the past year, not once did I ever think that it was too thick, too heavy, or anything other than relief at how much less there was compared to previous iPads. Somehow, Apple has made the iPad Air 2 even thinner, and while 18% doesn’t seem like much, it sure feels significant in the hand. The 6.1mm thickness is a more surprising number compared to 7.5mm of the iPad Air, 7.1mm of the iPhone 6 Plus, and 6.9mm of the iPhone 6. That thinness isn’t just a number, but your hand wraps around more of the device, and it makes it easier to hold for longer sessions.
Not only is the device thinner, but it also appears to be substantially lighter even though the tech specs indicate the iPad Air 2 is only 0.04 lbs lighter. It might be that the weight is in a thinner package, so there isn’t as much density. No matter the reason, holding both the iPad Air 2 & iPad Air at the same time in different hands shows just how much lighter it is. As thin, and light as the iPad Air is, number 2 is to the point that I can’ imagine a thinner iPad. The device is so thin that you can feel the vibration of the speaker when watching video, or playing games. It almost feels like a haptic screen when you’re dragging your finger across the screen in a game with the screen vibrating as you go. The iPad Air 2 isn’t actually that much more than a piece of glass, and yet there’s more function to that form.
The A8 chip offers up substantial gains on the iPhone 6/6Plus, and now there’s the A8X on the iPad Air, which also supports quad core graphics. Not only that, but it’s a 1.5GHz tri-core chip with 2GB of RAM, which all taken together offers quite a powerhouse for the iPad line. The benefits aren’t that obvious yet as the iPad Air never had a problem running anything in the App Store. The iPad Air 2 is more future proof though, and it was easy to tell that rendering in Pixelmator, iMovie, and Action Movie FX was quicker. Deluxe 3D games are just the slightest bit more silky smooth. One of the most noticeable aspects is using Apple’s multi-touch gestures with a four finger swipe to switch between apps. The apps now offer instantaneous interaction as soon as you switch, which is the first time I’ve noticed that on iPad.
The iPad Air 2 features the same 2048 x 1536 retina display that we have seen since the third generation, but there’s an all new construction. Apple has combined the LCD, touch sensor, and glass into one piece, while offering an anti-reflecting coating on that new glass. Apple claims there’s 56% less reflection, and while that number sounds good for marketing, the question is what that means to the eyes. In all honesty, Apple isn’t lying, as there’s practically a night, and day difference meaning that you have preferred to use existing iPads at night, but can now use the iPad Air 2 during the day. Glare, and reflection have plagued the iPad since the first generation, and it seemed to be a problem that you just had to put up with. The new display is a great sight to see even in direct sunlight where every pixel seems just as crisp as in the house with the lights off. Holding both the iPad Air, and iPad Air 2 out in the sun it’s a stark reminder of just how reflective past iPads have been whether you’re watching a dark movie, or trying to read a book.
It’s so much easier to see your content under all lighting conditions, and you don’t even need to crank up the brightness to achieve that. The main takeaway is that you will want to bring your iPad with you more often since you don’t need to put up with sun glare, or low visibility in bright conditions. Not only is the screen less reflective, but it seems that you’re closer to the actual pixels thanks to the combined glass layer. Everything seems crisper, with more vivid colors as there’s less between you, and the actual pixels. It’s the same retina display, but it feels like an all new iPad to look at with the screen enhancements of the iPad Air 2.
Every iPhone review has a section for the camera, but not so for the iPad. That changes with the iPad Air 2, as Apple has finally updated the 5MP offering to 8MP to bring it on par with the iPhone 5. That means the iPad camera can actually pinch hit when that’s all you have. The most noticeable benefit is when using apps that access the camera. The iPad is so much better to edit photos and videos on, but the camera hasn’t been able to supply the photos, and videos. That officially changes with the iPad Air 2. The quality is on par with the iPhone 5 camera, and that’s a big advancement for the iPad. You also get access to slo-mo, time lapse, 43mp panoramas, and burst mode for the first time on iPad.
Apple hasn’t done anything to overcome the stigma of taking photos with iPad, but as long as you’re not too self conscious, you can benefit greatly. Another benefit of iPad photography, is that you get a big beautiful 9.7” viewfinder to compose your photos, and videos. That includes manually setting focus, and exposure at two points in iOS 8, or third party camera app. The improved screen visibility mentioned above also comes into play with the camera, since it’s now easier to see in bright lighting conditions. That 9.7” viewfinder is that much better with less reflection, and more vivid colors.
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about TouchID. It’s still nice to have on iPad to unlock the device, confirm App/iTunes Store purchases, unlock supported third party apps, and make purchases in Apple Pay updated apps. The third party app integration for Mint, Day One, 1Password, and similar entries offers a nice boost to TouchID. Also, I never locked down an iPad before, so that’s an added benefit too.
New features taken together:
Each feature alone is nice to have, but not super enticing. They all do combine together quite well though to really entice you to use the iPad more. The thinner design, and improved screen make it easier, and more enjoyable to take with you more often. The improved camera, and faster processing introduce more capabilities. It’s all about getting you to use the iPad more, as Apple has continued to refine their tablet offering to the best point yet.
Apple claims the same ten hour battery life, while teardowns indicate a smaller capacity battery in the iPad Air 2. In my testing, the iPad Air 2 battery is nothing different than any other iPad I’ve used. I opened it up on Wednesday, and haven’t charged it since then while extensively testing it for this review. Two days later, the device is still at 45%, so again it seems iPad battery life is something you don’t really worry about, which is all that matters.
The iPad Air 2 ships with iOS 8.1 to first, and foremost give you Continuity/Handoff with iPhones running iOS 8.1, and compatible OS X Yosemite Macs to transfer what you’re doing between devices. The third party extensions for TouchID, camera/photos, sharing, and keyboards are all nice to have on iPad. iCloud Drive may be the best addition to easily add files to iPad, and then get them back out to your computer. Health, Messages, and Apple Pay aren’t as beneficial on iPad, and it’s also worth noting iOS 8 is all well, and good on iPad Air, with nothing specific to iPad Air 2.
The only real drawback of the iPad Air 2 comes down to software, as Apple has released an amazing piece of hardware. Rumors teased of split screen multi-tasking on the iPad, and the A8X chip plus 2GB of RAM sure make it seem possible. New apps like Pixelmator show a lot of power, but there are still iOS structure limitations on what photos you can truly compose. The existing software limitations of the iPad to date are still present on the iPad Air, so that it’s still not a complete computer replacement for many users.
As many advancements as the iPad Air 2 has on the hardware front, it still feels as though we’re waiting on the next evolution of the iPad. Apple continue to refine the device they released in March of 2010, rather than taking the iPad to the next level. That progression will only come from software, and that’s the main hold-up from full appreciation of the iPad Air 2.
Upgrading from the iPad Air:
This is the toughest question, as the iPad Air didn’t suddenly become worse because the iPad Air 2 exists. There’s no doubt that Apple improved upon the iPad Air in very meaningful ways to make you want to, and have the ability to use the iPad Air 2 in more ways on a daily basis. With that said, iPad Air owners aren’t missing out on any software advancements, and can be perfectly content for at least the next year when a new iPad comes. Although, the anti-reflective screen, and thinner profile really are appealing upgrades. The power, and camera boosts along with TouchID round out a very enticing upgrade. iPad Air owners can get by, but there’s definite value in this upgrade cycle.
The iPad Air 2 is obviously Apple’s best iPad to date, but it’s more than that. It’s a device that you will want to use more, and longer with the thinner, and lighter form alongside the easier to view screen under all lightning conditions. All of the new features combined together make for the most future proof iPad to date as it’s so capable in such a streamlined package, and that won’t change for years.
The iPad Air 2 ($499 & Up) is Apple’s most immersive product they have yet made as there isn’t much to hold besides the glass, while at the same time you’re closer to the increased power in what is there.