Before the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, I'd have been hard pressed to predict Apple's improvements.
I wondered if Apple might have shaved some weight off, added some bits to the camera, shoved an upgraded processor in there (or at least matched that of the iPhone 6) - but that seemed like a very middling upgrade.
But somehow, the combination of the above, plus the improved screen and Touch ID, has created a very complete package. Not one that I'd ever recommend to those that have the iPad Air, but definitely a brilliant jump for anyone coming from the iPad 3 or earlier.
- Thinner, lighter and even more premium
Apple showed off its improvements to an already-impressive tablet by lasering through the pencil it used to demonstrate the thickness of the iPad Air. While the width is obviously a design element, it's worth reiterating here as it's a really key feature of this tablet.
The 437g weight is more important than the thickness, in fairness. The width of the thing is largely unnoticeable in the hand, especially when we're talking millimetres, and is more of a marketing tool.
But the lower weight, combined with the smooth, ceramic-style back, makes the new Apple iPad Air 2 feel like a really premium product.
On top of that, it's closer than ever to perfect when it comes to being a laptop replacement when teamed with a Bluetooth keyboard. The reduced weight and thickness enhance the tablet's elegance and portability, and that pushes the iPad Air 2 further into consideration.
Touch ID and Apple Pay
On the iPhone, Touch ID is a brilliant addition. It's a way to add a passcode without really noticing it's happened, and (when widely implemented) will allow you to pay for things on the go without your credit card around.
This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a really great addition to the mobile ecosystem.
I'm not as bothered about it on the iPad Air 2, mostly because I don't feel the need to secure my tablet as much as my phone. I take it out of the house less, I pull it out of the bag less, and generally don't worry about security on it as much.
It's still a great feature - I was confused when Apple didn't include it on the original iPad Air - but given the fact that the iPad is an unwieldy substitute for a credit card, it's not vital here.
It's a nice-to-have feature, rather than a crucial one. Apple is making a big deal about the fact you can secure apps with it as well, but this is only useful if you want to secure certain apps (which, admittedly, some people will want to do - it's more convenient to only have the key things locked down).
It would be nice to have the Mail app use Touch ID, and then I could get rid of it on the lock screen. I'm already considering turning it off, as it's more cumbersome to press given the dimensions here, and the fact the tablet mostly stays at home.
Apple Pay has now launched in both the US and UK. You can use it on the iPad Air 2 but only on purchases within the App Store itself: don't go lugging it out of the house and try to buy your shopping with it.
- Excellent all-round performance
- Better efficiency = better battery life
The A8X chip is screamingly fast, according to Apple, and nothing I've been able to do on the new iPad has suggested otherwise.
It's hard to know how to really push a tablet with this kind of power, as the likes of Real Racing or Sky Gamblers have always looked rather good on the larger screen.
And even though this is second (and a bit) generation 64-bit architecture from Apple, which does have some efficiency upgrades, we're still light years away from that being a useful addition, when really all it does right now is make apps a bit bigger and take up more room internally.
The big change here appears to be to the battery life - it's no coincidence that the graphical capabilities of the Air 2 are 2.5x that of the Air, and that means stuff can be run more efficiently.
There's also the ability to use the touchscreen more effectively - the response time of the touch is much increased here, and browsing with the iPad Air 2 is a pleasurable experience.
That's not directly linked to the chipset at the heart, but it does help.
All new screen
- Our favorite feature: brighter and more vibrant
- Better outdoor performance with reduced reflectivity
The new screen technology on the iPad Air 2 is one of my favorite changes here. The improvement in thinness is negligible, the camera superfluous, but the screen of a tablet is something that always needs refining. I love it when brands show ambition, whether they do it by increasing the resolution, the contrast ratio or the brightness.
The iPad Air screen was pretty neat in itself, with resolution of 1,536 x 2,048. The Air 2 has kept that sharpness, but because the internal layers of the screen are laminated together, there is less air between the components (in fact, Apple says there's no air whatsoever) which leads to deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Pictures really come alive when viewed on the iPad Air 2, markedly so compared to its predecessor.
The other benefit of that compressed screen is that it reduces reflectivity - combine that with the anti-reflection coating, and watching films with a light behind you isn't impossible.
Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies
Laboratory testing at DisplayMate Technologies compared the iPad Air 2 with its predecessor, as well as the iPad Mini 3 to explore the difference. As you can see from the graph above, the average screen reflection on the iPad Air 2 is down to 2.5 per cent compared to the 6.5 per cent recorded by the iPad Air.
Similarly, the iPad Air 2 more than doubled the score of its predecessor when it comes to contrast rating for high ambient light.
Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies
Apple would like you to believe that you can watch anything without difficulty, but that's not the case. However, the reflections are much diminished, and it's a satisfying step forward on the screen front.
- Nice pictures, but nothing special
- Now does slow motion video capture
I'll return to this in more depth later in the review, but it is one of the key features. Apple has bundled an 8MP iSight camera on the rear of the new iPad Air, and thanks to the A8X chip, the tablet can now also take slow motion video, like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
The new resolution does produce nicer pictures, and the ability to time lapse or see bigger panoramas is a plus, but I'm still not bothered by the additional technology stuck on the back of the tablet.
However, if you're one of those people that finds it acceptable to use a tablet as a camera in public, this is the best and most feature-rich option from Apple. Doesn't mean you should use it, though.