The iPad Air 2 took Apple's thinnest and lightest full-sized tablet ever and made it even thinner and lighter. It also laminated the screen to make the pixels look like they were floating inside the glass, added Touch ID, and 8 megapixel iSight camera, and introduced the Apple A8X — a custom three processing core, eight graphics core chipset so powerful it made even recent ultrabooks nervous. But Apple themselves have told us technology alone isn't enough. What matters is what we can do with it, where, and how well. Back in October we did a full iPad Air 2 review. Now we're revisiting that review three months later.
Rene: The iPad Air 2's design is so perfectly minimalist I'm not sure where Apple could take it next. Two-dimensional? Like the original iPad Air, the thinner bezels on both sides make it easy to hold and type in portrait orientation, and the 9.7-inch screen makes it feel bigger than my big screen TV when I hold it close to watch video. Thanks to it being even lighter, I can also hold it close to watch video longer. That's the real win here — with thinness come lightness and with lightness comes usability. The iPad Air 2 is the most usable full-sized iPad ever, and that's saying a lot.
Ally: For the most part it looks and feels just like my iPad Air. Except Touch ID! Yay! Although the weight and design are near perfect, I still wish the curved glass on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus had made its way to the iPad Air 2 as well.
Ren: I'll return to what I said when I first picked up the Air 2: It's the first ten-inch iPad that doesn't immediately make me long for its smaller cousin. I've been an iPad mini devotee for the last few years, but the Air 2 is light and portable enough to make me rethink that decision. I've even been carrying it around with me when I take my 11-inch MacBook Air around town; I'd previously been convinced I wasn't ever going to take a 10-inch iPad along with an 11-inch computer again.
Rene: I wasn't sure how much I'd really notice the improvements to the iPad Air 2 display. On paper things like lamination, anti-glare, and dual domain pixels all sound technobabblingly cool. In real life, though, it turns out they're just as cool. The laminated display is the biggest difference. Like iPhone before it — and the Retina iMac at the same time as it — the laminated display makes the pixels look like they're in the glass. The difference is phenomenal. It doesn't look like a screen. It looks like digital paper. Seeing it on the iPhone 6 Plus is impressive. Seeing it on the iPad is immersive.
Ally: Ugh, it's so great. I didn't know how big of a different the laminated display would make but honestly, everything looks so much more vivid and sharp. Not only that, viewing angles are better too.
Ren: Gosh, but the display is still really beautiful three months in. I love the glare reduction and the laminated display, and colors just look extraordinary on the device. The iPad has always been great for television and gaming, but I find myself taking a step back to acknowledge and admire just how nice everything looks — especially in weird lighting that would have caused glare issues on previous iPads.
Performance and battery life
Rene: I called the Apple A6X a beast and the Apple A7 a monster. If I'd known how quickly Apple would be ramping up their chipsets, I would have started smaller, or spent more time researching appropriate sounding mythical monikers. Because the Apple A8X is a beastly monster compared to what came just last year. The iPad 3 felt like it was in redline all the time. The iPad Air 2 (iPad 6) feels almost impossible to get into the yellow. The biggest question I have now isn't how much it can do, but how will software evolve to take advantage of what it (and its immediate successors) can do?
That aside, the 2GB of RAM means more browser tabs stay loaded and more apps stay in memory for longer. As to battery life, it's been fine. I wish I could give a better answer but thanks in part to the iPhone 6 Plus having pulled some of my tablet time away from the iPads, and the consistent 10-hours of battery life Apple's always hit with the iPad Air 2, I find myself seldom if ever worrying about it running down. Once a week or so I plug it in our of habit and, unless I'm watching massive amounts of video all in one sitting, it's fine for the rest of the week.
Ally: I don't do anything that remotely puts the processor to the test but I can make a goat or any other small animal completely disappear from a photo in Pixelmator, and that is freaking awesome. I recently took a trip to Europe and on the way back my iPad Air 2 lasted an entire 8 hour and 40 minute plane ride. Not only that, I had 43% left after landing. And that's all after streaming a movie, playing a few games, listening to music, and editing a couple photos.
Ren: I haven't played many high-intensity games to put the A8X chipset through its paces, but as someone who frequently does a lot of photo work on the iPad, I've been wowed by its speed in apps like Pixelmator. That repair demo was impressive on screen, but more impressive is the fact that I can repair a part of an image on my Air 2 faster than I can on my Macbook Air. Like Rene, I'll go with "consistent" for battery life… I rarely run my iPad from 100 to 0 in a single sitting, and I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of battery it holds over when I've put the device away for a few days and come back to it to edit photos or play some Hearthstone.
Touch ID and Apple Pay
Rene: Last year it took me over 10 seconds to unlock my original iPad Air. 6 seconds to realize it didn't have Touch ID, 1 second to curse, and 3 seconds to swipe over and enter my passcode. This year, thanks to Touch ID, my iPad Air 2 often unlocks before I have time to remember it has Touch ID. (Apple ID, on the other hand, still gets the last laugh because now it takes me 6 seconds to remember the sleep wake button is still on the top, not on the side like the iPhone 6 Plus…)
Apple Pay — wait for it — hurry up and go international.
Ally: I haven't used Apple Pay on my iPad. But I am sure it makes purchases faster for apps that support it. I am enjoying it on my iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Touch ID however, you are so fancy and I am so glad you finally joined the iPad party.
Ren: Touch ID, you are my favorite. I am so glad you're on the Air 2 now. Though I really do think Apple should make you input both thumbs for an iPad, given how often the ID sensor ends up next to the thumb you forgot to encode. I only had my left thumb mapped for the first few weeks, and was constantly picking up the iPad backwards with the sensor next to my right thumb. Silly first world problem? Absolutely. But given that I've no other complaints about Touch ID...
Apple SIM and connectivity
Rene: Just like there's no Apple Pay in Canada yet, there's no Apple SIM in Canada yet. My carrier SIM works just fine, though, and on occasion I still get over 90Mbps of blessed LTE in my living room or at the coffee shop. Wi-Fi has been working similarly well for me. I hadn't been using my iPad as a Wi-Fi hotspot as much, since the iPhone 6 Plus battery had me using it instead, but I've gone back to it lately and thanks to Instant Hotspot it's working better than ever.
Ally: I use AT&T and my Apple SIM didn't work. I just ended up swapping the SIM out of my original iPad Air. Sad face.
Ren: The Apple SIM is super-nifty, and it's given me a chance to try out both T-Mobile and Sprint — two carriers whose networks I'd never used before. I'm annoyed that AT&T sim-locks and Verizon's not interested in the program at all, but baby steps.
Rene: Before Ally can get her mean, so very mean, shots in on iPad photography, I'm going to once again stand up and defend anyone taking a photo with whatever device they happen to own. iPad photography is a thing. Learn to love it, selfie sticker!
Thanks to the 8 megapixel iSight camera, a first for the line, the iPad Air not only takes convenient photos, it takes pretty good ones. I'll still default to my iPhone 6 Plus for almost all my photographic needs — it's a better, more ergonomic camera and I almost always have it with me — but when I want a giant view finder or I want to a photo of my iPhone, my iPad now lets me do that just fine.
Ally: Maybe one day iPad picture takers won't make me want to cry. However, that day is not today. It's still awkward and weird to me. But if you're one of them, the iPad Air 2 takes more than decent photos and that's a first for the iPad in my book. Either way, I may still judge you if you do it. That being said, selfie sticks for life yo.
Ren: In a pinch, I had to take a photo on my Air 2 for an iMore article and… it actually came out pretty well. Unsurprising, since the camera optics are much improved. I'm glad I have it available for emergencies, but I still don't see myself using the iPad Air 2's rear camera any time soon. Front is great for FaceTime, though I admit I tend to use FaceTime more on the iPhone than I do the iPad. (Something about the iPhone being less likely to drop on your face mid-conversation.)
Rene: Extensions are great, handoff is great, Workflow is genius, and Pixelmator is fantastic. Three months later, however, I'm anxious for more apps like Pixelmator. I feel like the iPad Air 2 architecture offers so much potential and we don't have enough apps that really take advantage of it. Maybe that's because iOS needs to grow to take advance of the super-computers in our hands, maybe that's because the App Store needs to be changed to better incentivize big, hairy, audacious apps, and/or maybe that's because developers are still figuring things out. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, the iPad Air 2 for the first time has me asking — what's next when it comes to mobile software?
Ally: I agree with everything Ren and Rene have already said. MOAR APPS PLEASE!
Ren: I agree with Rene. Where's Final Cut Mobile, Apple? iMovie's improvements are great, but I want an editing app with a bit more power. Let's pro up this thing.
Rene: I haven't been using much if any accessories with my iPad Air 2. I've got a Smart Cover on it for when I take it out of the house, but other than that it's been au naturel. Anyone have any must-try accessories they'd recommend?
Ally: I use a Smart Cover and that's it. I'm looking into testing out some keyboard covers so stay tuned for that. As for a stylus or other kind of drawing and sketching apparatus, I can barely draw a stick figure so I've never really used them or depended on them in the way Ren does.
Ren: Styluses are always my iPad accessory of choice, though Apple's display redesign meant that a lot of the Bluetooth ones need new models made for the Air 2 to work well. Ten One's Pogo Connect is still functional, as are many of the non-Bluetooth models like the Adonit Jot Pro.
The bottom line
Rene: Three months later the iPad Air 2 hardware is as if not more impressive than I first thought. It's so good, even with all the advances made in iOS 8 — extensibility, continuity, metal, etc. — it feels like the software now has to step up its game. I don't at all mean it needs to become a desktop or do things in a desktop way. That would be a step back. Here, it feels like there's an opportunity for accessible mobile technology to take its next step forward. Based on recent rumors, it feels like Apple's been working on just that.
Otherwise the iPad Air 2 is the closest thing to the internet and apps barely contained in an ultra-thin sheet of glass. It remains not only easy and powerful to use, but a pleasure to use.
Ally: The iPad Air 2 is my favorite iPad yet. My hope for next year is that I can see some of the same performance come to the mini. As much as I like the weight and feeling of the iPad Air 2, I sometimes find myself missing the iPad mini's ultra portable size.
Ren: It's fast, it's portable, and it's reliable: Three buzzwords that also happen to be a hundred percent true when it comes to the Air 2. I'm incredibly satisfied with Apple's latest iPad, both on the software and hardware side. I wish the company would make its screens slightly easier for stylus developers to build upon, but otherwise, it's a stellar product and a worthy successor to the iPad Air.
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