iPad Air 2 Review: Worth The Upgrade?

iPad Air 2 ReviewThe iPad Air 2 debuted in October 2014 with prices ranging from £399 for the base 16 GB model and rising to £659 for 128 GB with the cellular option. This review features the 64 GB Wi-Fi model in Space Grey, priced at £479/$599 US, and is the model we’d recommend – although of course in whatever colour you prefer.

The Air 2 is a thing of beauty. Few technology products can instil a genuine sense of joy upon the user, but the Air 2 can. At just 6.1mm thin and weighing 437g (that’s less than a pound) it’s an engineering marvel. The problem is, so was the first iPad Air. So what’s changed?

Well, it’s 18% thinner. 8.5% lighter. It has Touch ID for fingerprint recognition. An anti-reflective coating on the screen. A slightly improved camera. RAM is doubled to 2 GB and the iPad Air’s A7 is upgraded to the latest A8X and M8 motion coprocessor.

The A8X is probably the most note-worthy upgrade but doesn’t really have a significant impact. In most benchmarks, the A8X is approximately twice as fast as the older A7. Doubling the performance is incredible and a rare feat in recent times – but will you notice? Not really, apps do load a tiny bit faster, but we’re talking about a less than a second difference – only noticeable when side side-by with its predecessor.  It will add a few frames per second to graphically intensive apps, but in real-world usage and without relying on frame-rate counters or numerical benchmarks, there is little real difference between the Air and Air 2. This will always be the case though, very few app developers will design their product exclusively for the newest hardware. Therefore at this stage and in this respect, the Air 2 doesn’t really gain anything over the Air. Although in the years to follow, it may become more of an issue as older hardware becomes less supported.

So let’s move on to something that is noticeable. Touch ID. First seen on the iPhone 5S, it remains the industry lead in responsive fingerprint recognition for consumer products. Nothing else comes close, Samsung’s attempt to use similar technology in their Galaxy S5 device proved just how far ahead Apple is in this regard. It’s easy, fun and actually useful. Registering single or multiple fingers takes a couple of minutes, and from there it’s less than 2 seconds to start and unlock your iPad using the Home button.

Does it make your iPad more secure? Maybe, perhaps if you didn’t like the inconvenience of inputting a passcode, you may be happier to use Touch ID – giving you at least some protection. However, beyond this it doesn’t make your iPad any more secure as the passcode option still remains as the backup, so it’s still only as secure as a passcode lock has ever been. But it’s a step forward.

One area that definitely hasn’t been upgraded, again, is the battery. In fact, it has actually been reduced in capacity from 8,600 mAH in the Air to 7,340 mAH in the Air 2 – most likely a necessary reduction to allow for the thinner design. On paper, this would indicate a significant reduction in battery life but fortunately in practice, this is not the case. Battery life remains about the same as the Air – around 10 hours with normal use on Wi-Fi and with screen brightness at 60%.  This is still very good though and in normal use, you’ll probably only charge the iPad twice a week.

Reducing the battery capacity and still doubling performance is a credit to the Apple engineers – but we still haven’t seen an iPad that offers longer battery life since the iPad 2. This is one of the most important features for many people, but continues to take a backseat to thinner design and more powerful processors, the latter of which isn’t a particularly important, or even noticeable, for the majority of users.

The display on offer is still the same beautiful 9.7” 264PPI, 2048×1536 panel. Factory calibrated, Apple’s IPS displays are consistently among the best in the industry and never fail to impress producing both vivid and accurate colours in addition to fantastically wide viewing angles.

Par for the course? Not quite. The Air 2 features a new anti-reflective coating that, as it says on the tin, reduces reflections and glare. This benefits both indoor and outdoor use with light sources being perceptibly less distracting. When the screen is off, and placed side-by-side with the Air, the difference is clear. The Air 2 has a darker, slightly blue-tinted and as a result more premium looking colour to the display, compared with the more standard yellowy/brown of the Air. However, this is limited to when the screens are off and, except for the not in-significant reduction in reflectiveness, doesn’t translate to a superior screen in any other way. That is by no means a complaint, but the coating is fundamentally just anti-gloss, and doesn’t purport to improve the display in any other way – and it doesn’t. It just so happens to look nicer, when off, next to the Air.

The only other tablet that compares in term of display quality is the similarly priced Samsung Galaxy Tab S.

Moving on to the camera. The Air 2 features an 8-megapixel iSight camera, an improvement on the original Air’s 5. In addition, the Air 2 boasts a 120fps slow-motion mode, although the effect isn’t as impressive as it is on the iPhone 6 and 6 plus which go further and offer 240fps, but it’s a still a fun feature.

The front-facing camera remains 1.2MP but uses a slightly larger f/2.2 aperture, allowing more light in and consequently less noise in photos.

The images taken with the Air 2’s rear camera consistently beat the original Air in terms of accurate colour reproduction, sharpness and reduced noise. It’s an evolutionary improvement, notably better but by no means a game changer.  Even the front-facing camera produces a richer, less noisy image. It’s definitely one of the best cameras on a tablet and makes face-timing all the more enjoyable.

That being said, you still have to consider the importance of a camera on a tablet – but that’s a discussion for another time.

The design of the speakers have been altered, now only a single line of 28 machine-cut holes for the speaker grille briefly separated by the lightning port. Sounds are punchy and dialogue is relatively crisp. The Air 2, again, offers some of the best speakers available on a tablet but is facing competition from the stereo speakers featuring on newer Sony devices including the 8” Z3 tablet compact. In fact, the iPad Air 2 does feature stereo speakers but the separation is poor as they are positioned mere centimetres from one another – it is ostensibly stereo sound, but is only ever coming one direction, and can be easily muffled by the user’s hands. I look forward to future iPads that take a leaf out of Sony and HTC’s design book with regard to stereo speaker placement.

The iPad Air 2 is pre-installed with iOS 8, but can be further updated to the current 8.1.3 software as of February 2015. The pros and cons of iOS are well-known and are divisive. Many love the simple, easy to use and smooth nature of the user interface – others are frustrated by the closed app system, the difficulty in transferring files compared with android tablets and reliance on Apple services including iTunes. This is an issue of personal taste, and will be a familiar consideration for anyone who has used to Apple device.

The iPad Air 2 is the best tablet you can buy. Despite being only a modest improvement over the already impressive Air in practical terms, the combination of a beautiful thin & light design and a simple, smooth user experience makes it a joy to use.

With apps becoming larger in size as they utilise the more advanced hardware, I highly recommend opting for the 64 GB version. Considering the lack of expandable memory, 16 GB is just too small and will actually only provide around 11 or 12 GB of usable storage space.

In conclusion, if you own an iPad Air there is no real need to upgrade; wait for the Air 3. Anyone else though should seriously consider it.

If you’re interested in buying the iPad Air 2 – check out the link below!
US:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OTWPS52/?tag=the0a2e-20
UK:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00ORHKVQA/?tag=the0b7-21

 

(Note: Top 6 pictures from iPad Air 2. Botton 6 from original iPad Air).

Check out the video review here:

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