Apple didn’t invent the tablet category but it certainly redefined it when it launched the original iPad in 2007. At the time it was largely criticised as just being a big iPhone, but it was an immediate hit with consumers who found innovative ways to use it. Now, nearly every other electronics manufacturer has jumped on the tablet bandwagon, but the iPad still remains the most popular single model – in fact it’s also recommended by some Android fan sites!
Many of our readers might be asking why buy a tablet anyway rather than say a laptop? Well for many people, a tablet is much easier to use – you can pick it up and use it without having to wait while it powers up, you don’t need to learn how to use it (just touch the screen!) and you can do 90% of the things on a tablet that you can do on a PC – even adding a keyboard and hooking them up to a TV.
Apple’s iPad Air 2 was announced in October this year, and continues the same design ethos of the iPad Air, but is it any good? Here’s our quick-and-dirty review of Apple’s new tablet powerhouse.
Each successive generation (typically launched in October each year) has become progressively thinner, lighter, and more powerful, and the iPad Air 2 is no exception to this.
For the technically-minded, here are some of the key specifications for the iPad Air 2 (don’t worry if these don’t mean much, as we’ll go on to summarise all the features afterwards).
iPad Air 2 specs
- Size: 240 x 169.5 x 6.1 mm, 437g (Wi-Fi model) /444g (cellular models)
- Screen: 9.7-inch LED-backlit IPS LCD, 1,536 x 2,048 pixels @ 264 pixels per inch
- CPU: triple-core 1.5 GHz A8X custom CPU
- RAM: 2GB main memory + 16/64/128 GB storage
- Network: Wi-Fi only, or 2G + 3G + 4G LTE
- Camera: 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera
- Battery: 7,340 mAh
- Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.1
- Other: fingerprint sensor
When you first pick up the iPad Air 2, the first thing you’ll notice is how thin and light it is. Apple has somehow managed to make last year’s iPad Air even thinner this time around at just 6.1 mm. If you have never used an iPad Air but have had one of the older models such as the iPad 2, the difference is unbelievable, and it’s even noticeably more svelte than last year’s model which was already super thin.
In keeping with Apple’s 2-year design cycle in which the physical appearance is changed every 2 years, this time the overall style hasn’t changed much – it still has the beveled edges and aluminium finish (gold, silver, and grey), as well as the dual speaker grille and Lightning port on the bottom. However, gone is the mute/orientation lock button which used to sit next to the volume buttons. Presumably, Apple thought that this feature is already available in software and might be confusing for users.
The iPad Air 2 also gains the Touch ID fingerprint sensor on the main Home button, which is used to unlock the tablet (no need to enter a password) and also to authorise purchases from the app store and iTunes. It can also be used with Apple’s new Apple Pay payment system (but not yet in Thailand). Touch ID might sound like a gimmick, but it works amazingly well and extremely quick – hold your thumb to unlock and that’s it…the feature was first introduced with the iPhone 5s (after Apple bought a company called AuthenTec), and is now in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the iPad Mini 3, and the iPad Air 2.
The back of the iPad Air 2 is quite plain – basically just a big slab of aluminium with only the rear camera and rear microphone (there are two) breaking up the lines. On the Wi-Fi + cellular model, there’s also a plastic band across the top of the rear, which allows radio waves to pass through to the receiver inside. We can’t help thinking that for most people, the Wi-Fi only model is much better value simply because it’s more of a device that you would use at home.
The iPad Air was already one of the fastest tablets around. This is great for games and using graphically intensive apps. However, for most people who just want to do a bit of emailing and browsing the Internet, it also doesn’t harm to have an extremely fast tablet, as it means the device will last much longer and you’ll also have a much smoother experience actually using the tablet.
Without getting too technical, suffice to say that the performance benchmarks for the iPad Air 2 basically blows most other tablets out of the water (and if you don’t believe me, head over to AnandTech.com and check out their performance tests, where it comes out top in most of the categories), as shown by the chart on the right.
All that really needs to be said about performance is that the iPad Air 2 is a very powerful and capable tablet, that can handle anything that you can throw at it. No doubt some readers will counter that other tablets beat the iPad Air 2 in various benchmarks – it’s true that you can find some test scores where other tablets beat the iPad, but overall, Apple’s new tablet is undoubtedly one of the fastest that you can buy today.
For many people who don’t play games, performance is still important however simply because many of the apps you might download make use of 3D, and even browsing the Internet and writing emails can feel much more snappy with a beefier tablet.
The iPad Air 2 has a big, bright and gorgeous display. The resolution is very high which means that images are sharp and clear. While there are tablets out there which have even more pixels, the iPad Air 2 is certainly good enough for most people.
Some of the Samsung tablets use AMOLED screens (which tend to be brighter but sometimes over-saturated) but the iPad display does have a better screen than the iPad Air 1 – because the layers which make up the backlight, LCD and the touchscreen components are now much closer than before (Apple says there’s no air in between them anymore).
The iPad Air screen was already great (with 1,536 x 2,048 pixels), but the Air 2 has kept the sharpness which means deeper blacks and more vibrant colours. When viewing videos and pictures on the new model, the colours really pop out and come alive compared to the older version. There’s also a new anti-reflective coating which makes it easier to watch videos even when there’s a light on behind you.
Battery life is ever so important on a tablet, after all nobody wants to charge up every day. With the iPad Air 2, the battery life is more or less the same as the Air 1, despite being thinner which tends to mean a smaller capacity battery. The improvements in power consumption are largely from the A8X chip which powers the device, and in fact you can use the iPad Air 2 all day even for watching videos – Apple claims about 10 hours of video use or web browsing, but in our day-to-day usage (browsing, playing a few games, emailing, etc) we’ve only had to charge up every few days.
Here’s a chart that shows how the iPad’s battery stacks up against the competition:
As you can see it’s not as good as some tablets, but for most people’s normal use the battery life on the new tablet is very good indeed. For a lot of users, battery life isn’t really an issue because you’ll probably be using it at home or taking a charger with you, and it’s certainly not something that is as critical as a smartphone.
The iPad Air 2 runs apples mobile operating system called iOS, which now stands at version 8. So how is this different to other tablets? Most people will already be familiar with Android (Google’s equivalent system) and the two offer a different set of features as well as the overall look and feel.
If you’re new to tablets, many people say that iOS is easier to use and simpler, with less ability to customise what you can do on your device. In truth, iOS now offers lots more ways to customise the layout and behaviour, but it’s still true that if you prefer to tinker endlessly with your settings then an Android tablet may be better suited.
For anyone that has multiple Apple devices such as a Mac and an iPhone, the iPad Air 2 synchronises beautifully – contacts, tasks, bookmarks, photos, apps, just about everything! So if you’re already an Apple user, then the attraction of iOS should be apparent.
The idea of taking pictures on a tablet might seem ridiculous, but many people actually do want to.
Actually, it’s quite nice having such a large viewfinder with which to take photos, but it’s still fairly embarrassing whipping out such a large device to take a selfie, for example.
Nevertheless, Apple seems to have realised that tablets are used to take pictures and included some more advanced features this time around, such as slow motion video (at 120 frames per second, slower than the 240 frame per second that the new iPhones can handle).
Don’t expect anything remarkable with tablet photos, but the front facing camera is genuinely useful for FaceTime video chat. Our verdict of the camera is that it’s unremarkable, but gives good enough pictures for the occasional shot.
The iPad Air 2 keeps the same super-slim design of the original and improves upon it where it counts – we’re talking mainly about the incredible performance boost thanks to the A8X chip, and the addition of Touch ID fingerprint technology, which is a very welcome feature that just makes it easier to use.
The big question is whether you should buy one…if you already have an iPad Air, then it’s not worth upgrading just yet. However, if you have an older iPad or have never used one, then we can wholeheartedly recommended the iPad Air 2.
It’s thinner, faster, and better in every way. If you’re already an Apple user, then it’s pretty much a no-brainer, plus the fact that you can walk into any store such as PowerBuy, iBeat, or Banana IT in Thailand and try one out before you buy.
So why not treat yourself to a new iPad this Christmas?
One of the very best tablets you can buy. Premium design and feel, blazingly fast, and plays nice with all your Apple gear.