Thinking thin: Apple’s iPad Air 2 reviewed

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A new year means a new iPad, and here we are with another model ready for consumers to take home. Is the latest iteration Apple’s best, and does it have what it takes to survive the onslaught of tablet competitors heading its way?


It’s hard to believe, but it has actually been a little over four years since Apple decided to remake the tablet computer in a way that actually succeeded, with the result being the iPad.

We’re several generations in now, and in this latest version — what is essentially version six of the 9.7 inch Apple tablet — we’re seeing some updates that on paper will look more like evolutionary ones thanks to the changes in processor and such.

There’s a new iPad every year, though — sometimes two per year — and this time, there’s a new processor inside the Air 2, with a slight deviation on the A8 found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in this model, called the A8X. Like the iPhone models, this is a 64-bit chip that works alongside a motion coprocessor called the M8.

Storage in the tablets echoes what it does in the new phones, too, so there’s no 32GB model anymore, rather a choice between 16GB, 64GB, and 128GB with no upgradeable storage in either.

Apple’s latest version of iOS runs here, with iOS 8 included on the iPad Air 2 out of the box.

Wireless technology also follows suit from the phones with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 included in both of the main models, though there are variants with cellular as per normal with Apple, and these work with 4G LTE on Category 4 and below in this country. GPS is also included, as is assisted-GPS (A-GPS).

Cameras are included as well, with an 8 megapixel shooter on the back — no flash — and a 1.2 megapixel camera on the front, each capable of shooting video, though Full HD on the back and standard HD (720p) on the front.

This sits under a 9.7 inch screen In-Plane Switching screen running a resolution of 2048×1536, delivering a tablet friendly Retina equivalent for the iPad at 264 pixels per inch, with a gap-free screen just like how Apple is using on its iPhone models.

The body housing this technology changes a little as well, keeping with the aluminium material for construction, but putting it on a slight diet with a thinner body, bringing the tablet from 7.5mm down to 6.1mm, while the weight is cut down a good thirty grams from 478 to 444.

Apple’s Lightning charge and data transfer dock is also included, found at the bottom of the tablet, while a 3.5mm headset jack sits up top.

Three buttons can be found on the iPad Air 2, with a power button along the top on the right, volume buttons (two, technically), and the main home button on the front of the tablet, which now features Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner, a first for the iPads.

The mute switch is now missing from the iPad, though, found in the previous iteration, but missed this time around.


Out of the gate — err, box — it might not seem like much has changed, because if you look at this design, and you look at the old design, they’re more or less the same.

In fact, they look exactly the same, with another Apple repeat in effect, taking last year’s industrial design and repeating it. Sort of.

Truth be told, it may look close, but the Air 2 is a thinner product and a lighter tablet, simply because it can be, a change which may mean a slew of new tablet cases could find their way out (we tested it, though, and you don’t necessarily need new cases, as many will fit).

In the hands, the Air 2 is very light, and looks remarkably thin, and thanks to the continued use of metals in the body, feels as solid as it looks. The only use of plastic in this bad boy is along the top whereby the antennas for either WiFi or WiFi and 4G have a place to stay.

There are some obvious upgrades, though, some which Apple users have been crying out for, in much the same way as they have been crying out for bigger screens on the Apple iPhones.

Those features include the faster WiFi, which now rolls around and includes support for 802.11ac just as more networking companies are beginning to embrace it for the mid-range, beyond that top-end router you have to spend close to $300 on.

Bluetooth 4.0 is here, too, left over and great for people using wireless headphones and speakers.

Apple’s excellent Retina screen is also here, with Apple keeping the same 2048×1536 panel used on its previous Air, but removing the gap between the panel and the screen in the process, bringing that colour closer to the surface, and generally making the colours pop out more.

Granted, the new Air doesn’t have quite the same pixel clarity of Samsung’s Tab S, but we’re not sure that’s a pixel difference most are likely to see, and both screens look amazing, even when compared side by side.

But while it might not seem like the screen has changed dramatically, we can tell you that the screen’s responsiveness has changed a fair bit, with more pick up of what your fingers are doing, so much that we were able to type this review on the screen of the iPad, something we haven’t tried for a while, as previous versions — and tablets made by other companies — have never been fast enough to keep up with our fingers.

That means this is probably the first time where you may not need a proper physical external keyboard, though you can still use one, if you choose, as only that will deliver the full on click clack tactile feedback that the iPad ‘s touchscreen simply cannot deliver.

But an increase in touchscreen pickup is impressive all the same, and bodes well for those totally dependent on touching the screen often, such as in typing, taking notes, drawing and digitally painting, and even the games where lots of touch amount to lots of interactivity.

Also updated are the specs, and while it might seem like an obvious inclusion, it’s not one that has happened across the board.

Even in sunlight, the iPad Air 2 screen appears to perform well.