iPad Air 2 Review

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It’s hard to deny the allure of Apple’s products. The company’s attention to design in the body and software interface of its tablets speaks to its dedication to manufacture the best product on the market for consumers. The iPad Air 2 lives up to these standards. This latest entry into Apple’s prestigious line of tablets has all the elegance of its predecessors, as well as ambitions to improve (perhaps too much in some areas and not enough in others).

It’s thinner and lighter, and adds a beefed up camera and processor as well as TouchID. However, Apple’s efforts to improve upon the first iteration and advertise better specs may have caused designers to pack the iPad Air 2’s chassis a little too tightly in the process.

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Design and Handling

The first thing you’ll notice is the iPad Air 2’s beautiful, minimalist design: A single button (complete with TouchID) and front-facing 1.2 mega-pixel camera adorn the white (or black) frame. The aluminum back wraps around to the front, slightly, accenting the white with a golden metallic shine (options also available in Silver and Space Gray). It’s gorgeous to say the least. The second thing you’ll notice is when you pick the device up–it’s a feather-weight compared to the original iPad line, coming in at 0.96 lb.

If you were to put the iPad Air 2 next to the original iPad Air, you’d notice it’s thinner as well—it may only be 0.05-inches difference, but it’s noticeable nonetheless. This light chassis angles the iPad Air 2 to appeal to travelers, though, it’s 10-inch frame may put it at odds for subway and standing bus commuters who may opt for a smaller package in the iPad mini or other 7-inch and 8-inch tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4.

The allure of its thin and light design is spoiled, however, whenever the speakers are in use. It’s not that the sound is bad, but I noticed when listening to a podcast or Taylor Swift’s bass-heavy “Black Space” song while I browsed, the vibration from the speakers was felt through half the tablet. It seems Apple tried to squeeze too much into a slim package.

Veteran iPad owners will notice Apple has removed one design feature—the side switch, which allowed users to lock rotation and mute the iPad. It’s a feature that will be missed, and may take a bit of getting used to.

The TouchID is a welcome feature that makes unlocking the tablet fast and easy. After spending a minute having my finger configured to use the TouchID, I was able to touch it and unlock the iPad Air from any angle—there was never an occasion when I received an error.

This fingerprint sensor will also allow you to open permission-only apps and configure the button to allow online Apple Pay purchases, making online payments quick and easy. Those looking to use the latter feature for touch-and-pay in physical stores will be disappointed to hear the iPad Air 2 does not come with the wireless protocol, NFC, which allows those transactions to take place. Nevertheless, shopping without having to type your password in every time alleviates the worry of remembering and provides a nice layer of security (especially during the holiday shopping season).

 

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Display

The 9.7-inch screen has a stunning 2,048 by 1,536 pixel resolution at 264ppi. Comic books that looked washed out on my ancient iPad 2 look gorgeous on the Air’s Retina display—words are sharper and easier to read, and colours are more vibrant. The display looks like its been laminated into the cover glass. Compare it to the older iPad 2 where the air buffer between the cover glass and the display is quite noticeable. I felt like on the iPad Air 2, I was touching the pixels directly.

Apple outfitted the iPad Air 2 with an anti-reflective coating as well, which is supposed to reduce glare when you’re sitting outside by 56 percent. You won’t be able to use the iPad Air 2 in direct sunlight, but on an overcast or partly sunny day I had no issue sitting outside reading or watching Netflix at 50 percent brightness.

Camera

The iPad Air 2 comes with an 8MP back camera—a bump-up from 5MP. While there’s some controversy among techies when it comes to using a tablet as a dedicated camera, it’s a debate happening between a vocal minority of enthusiasts. Apple knows what the majority of consumers want and it’s to take better photos with their tablet. Photo quality isn’t quite up to par with the iPhone 6, but it’s enough of a boost to warrant it as a plus for tablet photographers.

As mentioned above, the front-facing camera is 1.2MP. It’s not going to get any high-praise, but it does well for video chatting and FaceTiming with family and friends.

Performance and Battery

The Air 2 comes with a beefier 1.5GHz A8 processor (a 100MHz bump from the original Air). Even the GPU has gotten an upgrade, oh, and there’s 2GB of RAM.

Day-to-day use the iPad Air, coupled with iOS 8 handled beautifully. Apps didn’t quit on me or boot me out—a tendency among older iPads when the going gets tough. It’s a shame Apple doesn’t take advantage of multi-tasking the way the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 has. However, the iPad Air 2 makes up for it with apps running in the background and allowing them to be just a four-finger swipe away.

Games is in another camp all together. Its A8 processor is optimized for Metal—a new technology that allows developers to access the power of Apple’s GPUs. Software Engineering Craig Federighi was quoted as saying it provides “near bare to the metal access to the power of A7.” Just think of what it does for the A8.

After downloading Epic Zen Garden and Asphalt 8–Metal-made games—the effects became apparent. In Epic Zen Garden, frame-rates were good with only a few, minor stutters while exploring the interactive environment. The iPad Air 2 handled playing Asphalt 8 much better, from the cars to rain and lighting effects, the tablet never skipped a beat. I was able to drift and race seamlessly across the streets of Tokyo and Iceland. If you want to play the latest games that feature Metal, this tablet is the one to get.

Battery life doesn’t enjoy the same praise as the processor, however. It did well in the Netflix streaming test, lasting 11 hours and 5 minutes. In day-to-day use, playing a few games, streaming media, and browsing the web, the tablet averaged a little over three days. While that all sounds well and good, the battery inside the iPad Air 2 is actually 15 percent smaller than its predecessor. In an effort to make the iPad Air thinner, it sacrificed upgrading the battery life. The good news is you’ll have about the same battery life as the original Air, so no loss, just no upgrade.

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Conclusion

The iPad Air 2 is a great tablet, but it’s hardly worth running out and buying if you already own the original Air. If you’re new to the tablet space or a veteran owner of an older iPad, it may be worth considering the Air 2. It’s a tablet that’s all screen—or at least it’s light enough to feel that way. Media consumers, tablet photographers, and mobile gaming enthusiasts will see the iPad Air 2 as a welcome investment for all your media-consumption needs. Aside from a few minor issues (from trying to make the tablet too thin and light), the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablets you can buy.

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iPad Air 2
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Natalie Shoemaker

Natalie found her passion for writing about tech when she started with PCMag. She has also written for Geek, GDGT and TechnologyTell.

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