Ipad Air 2 Review : Thinner, lighter, mightier

on Thursday, October 16, 2014
Thinner, lighter, mightier – looks like Apple’s done it again

You know what the iPad Air, the thinnest tablet Apple has made so far, the one that’s 20% thinner than its distinctly not-fat predecessors, never needed to be? Thinner. But that’s precisely what the iPad Air 2 is.
Thankfully, the 18% reduction in girth doesn’t appear to have come at the expense of power or battery performance: the new A8X chip promises more raw processing capability than the A7 it replaces, while Apple claims the iPad Air 2's battery life holds steady at 10 hours.
But what is it like beyond the spec sheet? We had an opportunity to go face-to-glass with the iPad Air 2 – and here are our early findings.


You can’t not be impressed by how skinny the 6.1mm thick iPad Air 2 is. When we picked it up, one 'hilarious' tech hack quipped ‘be careful not to cut yourself!’, although you clearly wouldn’t because it has the same curved edges of last year’s model.
Despite the thinness, its 437g heft (32g lighter than its predecessor) makes it feel robust, and familiar details abound, from the impeccably machined volume and power buttons on its right-hand side and top, to the micro-drilled speaker grilles at its base (now arranged in a single line rather than two).
When you tap the display the slight bounce of the last generation is missing, possibly because the display is now fused to the glass that covers it. It’s clear there’s no spare air in the Air 2. There is, however, a fair bit of vibration through the device when you crank the built-in speakers to full, although they go impressively loud considering the Air 2’s slender proportions.
It’s available in three colours – gold-ish, ‘space grey’ and silver. We’ll take the silver.


The iPad Air 2’s screen looked outstanding in the test conditions. It’s the same 264ppi, 2048x1536 resolution as ever, but its laminated construction makes the pixels feel that bit closer than before.
Even the anti-reflective coating, so often a broken promise, seems capable – certainly, while visible, the overhead lights in the demo area didn’t cause it any real trouble. Text remained readable at just about any angle we tilted it to, and colours only fluctuated at the most acute angles.
We have named past Retina Displays the best tablet screens available, and the iPad Air 2’s looks likely to continue the tradition. Will it top the Samsung Galaxy Tab S’ incredible OLED, or the Google Nexus 9’s impressive-sounding 8.9in panel? It lacks those displays’ outright resolution, but on this form we’d be amazed if it didn’t give them both a run for their money.


Apple spent some serious stage time extolling the virtues of the iPad Air 2’s rear camera. This re-worked 8MP assembly shoots 1080p video and 120fps 720p slow-mo, and supports iOS 8’s burst mode, panoramas (up to 43MP) and time-lapse video. There’s still no flash, but what we saw of the camera impressed us. The light in the demo area was poor, but the images we shot had acceptable levels of image grain and rendered colours accurately.
Clearly, we need to spend some quality time putting it through its paces. Yes, we will be that guy taking photos with a tablet, as if that’s a decent way to behave. The things we do for you. Burst mode extends to selfies, too: the 2MP camera up front can capture you striking a pose frame by frame. Why you’d want to is anyone’s guess. Kids today, eh?


The iPad Air 2’s newfound imaging prowess is largely due to its upgraded processing power: the new 64-bit A8X chip does the heavy lifting in that regard, and from what we’ve seen, it positively flies. Navigating through iOS 8 was predictably jerk-free, and apps and web pages loaded in a snap.
There are no apps yet built that really test the limits of the A8X, which is supposedly 40% faster than the A7 in the iPad Air and has 2.5x the graphics performance, but we did see a glimpse of additional capability: with both the A7-equipped iPad Mini 3 and iPad Air 2 running Asphalt 8 next to each other – and it looking pretty damn spiffy in either case – it was clear that the Air’s rendering was that bit smoother. When there are more games that make the most of iOS 8’s ‘Metal’ graphics architecture, and the processing grunt in the Air 2, we’re sure the difference will be even more stark.
The other key performance figure, battery life, is unchanged: Apple says you’ll get at least 10 hours of browsing time out of the iPad Air 2. We’ll test the claim when we get our hands on a review sample.
The iPad Air 2 also has the A8X motion coprocessor, which handles processing of all movement data, and now includes a barometer to measure elevation. This takes some of the work away from the relatively power-hungry A8X, and theoretically ups battery life. And it can presumably tell you when you’re on a mountain.


There are few items that can do more damage to one’s wallet than an iPad, at least when combined with a decent online shopping website and some crap on TV. The iPad Air 2 is now fully weaponised, featuring Touch ID fingerprint recognition with Apple Pay integration (one of iOS 8.1’s added features). That means that, if a site accepts Apple Pay, you’ll be able to part with the cash via credit cards stored in your Passbook app with the touch of a fingertip. (It’s US-only for now, but just you wait…)
In iOS 8, Touch ID also lets you open passworded apps – we saw it allow the demonstrator friction-free access to Evernote – and, as with iOS 7, unlocks the device itself, and lets you pay for apps, books and other goodies from the iTunes Store. Worthwhile features, all – although we’ve had issues with Touch ID’s consistency in the past, so hopefully it works better this time.
One lesser-known feature of the LTE version of the iPad Air 2 is its built-in multi-network SIM. This will apparently allow US and UK travellers to switch between contracts without digging the SIM out of its slot – a very neat trick for regularly country-hoppers eager to save on roaming costs. EE, AT&T, T-Mobile US and Sprint are the first partners. 


There will be little in iOS 8.1 that users of iOS 8 aren’t already familiar with, but the aforementioned Apple Pay is one neat feature. Elsewhere, the Camera Roll that was cruelly stolen away in iOS 8 is now back.
The headline features, though, are Handoff, which syncs actions and tasks between apps in iOS-running gadgets and those in OS X Yosemite computers (so you can start an email on one device and finish it on another), and Continuity, which lets you do neat things like answer calls coming into your iPhone from your iPad, and respond to texts from your Mac.
What we’ve seen so far of these capabilities is impressive, but we’re yet to give them the full once-over – so again, stay tuned for our comprehensive review.


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