Apple iPad Air 2 (4G) review: Small tweaks, big difference

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Apple iPad Air 2
  • Apple iPad Air 2
  • Apple iPad Air 2
  • Apple iPad Air 2
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Thin at 6mm
  • Improved cameras
  • Finger scanner

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Apple locks its ecosystem

Would you buy this?

Apple started with the size of the iPad. The Air 2 retains its 9.7in, 2048x1536 resolution screen, although it rests in a body that is 6mm thin. Turns out Apple has shaved the Air 2 down by 19 per cent.

Making better technology more mobile is a big deal. It means the iPad Air 2 can tag along on more occasions, no matter if work or fun is on the agenda.

The sliming down process is fraught with pitfalls and obstacles. Batteries consume most of the space in a tablet. Apple had to shrink the battery’s size and capacity if the iPad Air 2 was to scrape in at the 6mm mark.

The Air 2 is an evolutionary tablet, and with each generation comes the expectation of more power. But increasing the Air 2’s power would lead to it demanding more from the battery. Somewhere between the needs of power and performance is a balance, a sweet spot, though it is flanked by fine margins of error.

Screens demand the most power. If there’s power to be salvaged, the odds are it can be from a display.

Specs for the iPad Air 2’s screen remain the same as its predecessor, and without a boost in colour gamut or brightness, it can’t take on the punchy screen found on the Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S. Apple has focussed instead on delivering the same quality screen without using as much power. One way the company has achieved this is by eliminating the air gap between the glass and the LCD display.

Fewer reflections now spoil the on-screen content as a result, and because light is less of a bother, content is visible at lower brightness levels. Not needing max brightness at all hours is an excellent way to soften battery consumption.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review: The busiest, biggest and best Samsung phablet

Going one step further is the effect this process elicits. There’s a sense what you’re viewing is plastered right on the outside. Your fingers touch icons, photos and songs, rather than being interrupted by a pane of glass.

The iPad’s screen doesn’t lead, but it is among the best on the market. People won’t mind the stagnant display because it’s now packed into the “world’s thinnest tablet”, and it manages this without taxing the battery life.

Good Gear Guide found the battery would last approximately three days with low-to-moderate use. Each day we would use the tablet for web-browsing, emails and to watch videos. Every second day we would squeeze in some gaming.

Apple hasn’t publicly shared the size of the battery; however, the tinkerers at iFixit found the new battery is 16 per cent smaller at 27.62 watts per hour.

The iPad Air 2 is the first tablet to pack Apple’s famed Touch ID finger scanner. The Air 2 awakens the screen and unlocks the iPad so quickly that it feels like one seamless motion.

Apple is building on the functionality of TouchID by enabling it to verify purchases from the App Store. Developers are following suit by using the biometric technology to secure their applications, such as Dropbox and Evernote.

Samsung’s Tab S is the only other tablet to feature a finger scanner. The iPad’s proves more accurate, although the Samsung rates higher on function. Swiping the Galaxy’s scanner switches user profiles.

Some protested the iPad Air 2 should have Apple Pay technology built in. The addition of near field communications (NFC), which is the technology behind tap-and-go payments, would be welcomed. Using an iPad for a transaction, however, would be less convenient than using a wallet.

Powering the iPad Air 2 is a custom 64-bit computing chip developed by Apple, known the world over as the Apple A8X. The A8X works in conjunction with a motion coprocessor called the M8 chip. Not much is known about the processors’ specs as Apple holds that information secret, though the company brags it is 40 per cent faster than the year old A7 chip.

Good Gear Guide has been using the Apple iPad Air 2 for two weeks. Throughout the test period the tablet hasn’t skipped a single beat. The experience is seamless, games are handled effortlessly and the slate takes multitasking in its stride.

A great deal of the iPad’s proficiency is sourced from Apple’s operating system. Jumping between Android and iOS tablets reveal more developers are tailoring their software to Apple’s slate. Google still has some work to do, even though the gap separating the two foes is shrinking.

The Apple iPad Air 2 benefits from features introduced in iOS 8. The tablet supports ‘continuity’, an Apple feature that makes it possible to start a task on one device and then finish it on another. Continuity goes so far as to relay iPhone phone calls to the iPad Air 2.

Read more: Samsung's Galaxy Alpha review: A peek into the Galaxy S6

Big improvements have been made to the iPad’s cameras. The rear 8 megapixel camera can capture photos as good as some smartphones, while the tablet has inherited the 1.2 megapixel camera found on the iPhone 6.

Apple envisages applications will take advantage of the iPad’s cameras, such as the home modelling app Homestyler, though we don’t doubt there will be one guy in the mosh pit of a concert holding up his iPad.

Taken with the Apple iPad Air 2
Taken with the Apple iPad Air 2

Taken with the Apple iPad Air 2
Taken with the Apple iPad Air 2

A 100 per cent crop of the photo above - Taken with the Apple iPad Air 2
A 100 per cent crop of the photo above - Taken with the Apple iPad Air 2

Panorama taken with the Apple iPad Air 2
Panorama taken with the Apple iPad Air 2

Final thought

The biggest problem with the new iPad Air is the old iPad Air, but it isn’t for people who already own an iPad Air.

The new tablet is for everyone else. Old iPad owners will take note of the drastic loss in weight, the speedier performance and the fine tweaks that contribute to its character. To these customers, the Sony and Samsung alternatives aren’t options at all.

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