Review iPad Air 2: slimmer, faster, better – it’s all true.


Best iPad? Best tablet! Ever.
Best iPad? Best tablet! Ever.

At just 6.1mm thick, it’s hard to believe a device this slim can do anything, but it’s packed with high-tech, Apple-developed goodness and a remarkable new chip.

Speeds and timings — Startup time is not such a useful test any more, since iDevices keep apps running in a sort of memory, and that can slow start-up time, but in these examples I quit everything with the double-click of the Home button trick and swiping all the app panels upwards (just threw that in there to make sure everyone actually knows this is how you really quit apps – pressing the Home button once just hides apps, it doesn’t quit them). The two iPhones have the same CPU, as do the two minis.
Start-up from completely off
iPhone 6 — 23.05 seconds
iPad mini 2 — 26.72 seconds
iPhone 6 Plus — 30.61 seconds
iPad Air 2 — 31.99 seconds
iPad mini 3 — 37 seconds

Geek bench 3 does a better measure, and also uses criteria that are as meaningful for other platforms, so genuine cross-device performance can be indicated.
When the iPhone 6 models arrived with their A8 CPUs, they were clocked as being quick compared to the 5’s A7:
Model                                                        Single Core Multi-Core
iPhone 5 16GB 1.3GHz A6, 1016MB RAM: 717—1304
iPhone 5s 64GB 1.28GHz A7 1000MB RAM: 1395—2497
iPhone 6 128GB 1.38GHz A8 988MB RAM: 1631—2925
iPhone 6 Plus 218GB 1.37GHz A8 976MB RAM: 1618—2901
But iPad Air 2 (but not the new mini 3, unfortunately) has an even more powerful chip: the A8X. That presents the fastest ever CPU in an iDevice, and in fact in tests it beats all the other tablets too, for example LaptopMag, also using Geekbench 3, clocked the iPad Air 2 notched 4,547: over 1.5X higher than the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (2,776 with its ‘octa-core Exynos CPU’) and more than 1000 higher than the Tegra K1-powered Nvidia Shield Tablet (3437).

iPhone 4, by the way (in my test back then in 2010): just 378! My own Geekbench 3 score of an iPad Air 2 was confirms LaptopMag’s figure: 4549. The single-core speed was 1812, a couple of hundred above iPhone 6: only just over 11% better – but the multi-core score is almost 57% better – quite dramatic. This A8X chip is 64-bit (of course – Apple’s are still the only smartphones and tablets that are 64-bit) and has an extraordinary 3 billion transistors on it. It’s also three-core, and the Air 2 has 2GB RAM – a real advantage.

Blue is single-core, green is multi
Blue is single-core, green is multi

Apple reckons this puts it into the desktop computer class and … that’s actually true: I Geekbenched a new iMac in mid 2007 that only showed half that score, at 2877! A 2010 MacBook Pro 13-inch running an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU at 2.66GHz (it had one processor and two cores) was under the iPad Air 2 figure at 3963 – lots of people are still happily using this level of power on their desks.

New retina display for the Air 2 has three layers fused into one, it's thinner, has more vivid colours and greater contrast and a new antireflective coating, giving iPad Air 2 the least reflective
The new retina display for the Air 2 has three layers fused into one, it’s thinner, has more vivid colours and greater contrast and a new antireflective coating

In real use on the Air 2, your drawing programs no longer show any perceptible lag then you use your finger or a stylus to draw lines and curves, which is a boon. Games really pop, thanks to the very-high-definition screen which has an impressive brightness and viewing angle compared to the last model. Its anti-glare quality actually puts it in a better class than the Sapphire surface Apple was rumoured to be considering as a touch-surface on something smart. Movies also look sensational: airline monitors are miles behind in quality and you’ll get a far better experience loading a new Retina iPad up with some movies and watching them on long plane rides, not to mention way better audio quality and comfort. Spec-wise, it’s 9.7 inches diagonally, with 2048×1536 pixels total resolution (3,145,728 total pixels).
Apple claims the graphics in the Air 2 is a full 2.5 times faster, with wireless twice as fast. Apple also claims 10 hours battery life, apparently because the M8 motion co-processor takes the measuring overhead away from the A8X. There are five censors for the M8 to monitor, after all: gyroscope, barometer, compass, GPS and accelerometer. That takes quite a load off the A8X. Apple’s figures are all on the Apple site, of course.

Other advances and changes — the camera is better than Air 1’s, giving you a level of use and quality more like the iPhone 6s’. I still laugh when I see people shooting pictures and videos on large iPads, but if that’s you, sorry – and at least you going to get better results now. Both new models have Touch ID, and you can enter more than one print, so you’re not limiting it to one person’s use. One thing that’s missing is the Mute switch, sacrificed to help slim the device. You can achieve the same from Control Center anyway, I guess, but it’s going to take a second or two longer.
I don’t get to compare this to other tablets, because A I don’t want to use them, and B I don’t have the resources, but Macworld UK has done so, and makes the point that although Android smartphones can draw from an excellent range of apps, there’s a “lack of productivity apps optimised for tablet in the Android world”. Macworld UK has a sister publication called PC Advisor which gets to test other devices, so they get to compare. Macworld also found the iPad Air 2 beat everything else in hardware, too. It’s just faster. It’s also almost 2mm slimmer than the Nexus 9, even though the Air 2’s display is slightly bigger, although the iPad Air 2 weighs a few grams more. Design and build is rated the same – if you like or need comparos, this is a good read.

Conclusion — for serious work or serious entertainment, this new iPad is in a class of its own. It’s both staggering and impressive that something this slim can be so powerful. Apple has done it again.

What’s great — Fast, slim, powerful, gorgeous display
What’s not — Er … well, it’s not cheap, but it’s a very similar in price to any competitor’s tablet that even comes close. So no worries on the price front. I’m not impressed with the new gold colour though. There’s probably a market for this, but to me it’s just tacky.
Buying advice: unbeatable — If you are serious about your iPad, this is the must-buy model. But don’t bother with the 16GB, you’ll fill it in no time flat.

iPad Air 2, RRP $729 (16GB wifi), $899 (64GB wifi) $1049 (128GB wifi); wifi/cellular 16GB $749, 64GB $1099 and 128GB $1249.

Note — I’ve not noticed the ‘0% interest for 6 months’ deal on the Apple NZ online store before. 

Next: iPad mini 3: a decent mini iPad if you want a mini, but well behind the iPad Air 2 in specs and barely a step up from the 2.

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