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Apple iPad Air 2 review: Thinner and better




Without paying much heed to the notion that users are not keen on picking up big screen tablets, Apple decided to give its larger tablet an overhaul, making it more easy to lug around and upgraded the internals with a faster processor. Is the iPad Air 2 the best 10-inch tablet money can buy? We try to find out in our review...

Design

The iPad Air was sleeker than all the previous iterations taking a cue from its portable laptops playbook (the Air suffix is used with the Cupertino giant's ultra compact MacBook notebooks). The Air 2 goes a step further and is 1.4mm slimmer at 6.1 mm and 32gram lighter than the iPad Air, at 437gram. Barring that, the design has not been altered much.



The iPad Air 2 might weigh less and look slimmer, but it feels as solid as its predecessors. It features a unibody aluminium chassis that exudes a premium feel. Just like its predecessor, it sports metal buttons as opposed to plastic. The volume rocker (comprises two separate keys) sits at at the right edge and offer great tactile feedback without being wobbly. The mute/screen-rotation lock key has now been removed in order to facilitate the thinner edges. We don't really miss this button on the iPad.

The Power/ Screen lock switch sits at the top along with the 3.5mm headset jack. The bottom edge features two stereo speakers and a lightning connector port. The speakers offer good quality, loud sound output.

The usual Home button is placed below the display, surrounded by a metal ring to facilitate the Touch ID fingerprint integrated with it.

Just like the iPad Air, there's no slope at the edges and the frame just rounds subtly. The iPad Air 2 now comes in a Gold colour variant and the tablet's back is now Gold, Silver with a White front panel or Space Gray with Black front panel.

The iPad Air 2 also features chamfered edges at the front, just like the iPhone 5 and 5S, in line with the premium design elements.

At the back, you'll see an upgraded 8MP camera, the shiny reflective Apple logo and iPad branding, and two microphones (one for noise cancellation). The dual microphone setup helps in enhancing the quality of sound while making Internet calls via FaceTime or other video calling apps.

The dimensions-to-weight ratio of the iPad Air 2 makes it easy to lug around and hold, compared to other 10-inch tablets. It's now more convenient to read an ebook or watch a movie on the iPad.

Display and Camera
The iPad Air 2 sports a 9.7 inch Retina display sporting a resolution of 2048x1536pixels and pixel density of 264ppi. The screen specifications are similar to that of the iPad 4 but Apple has given the iPad Air 2 a brand new panel. The screen is thinner as Apple has fused three layers (touch sensor, LCD panel and cover glass) into one fully-laminated layer, which results in colours that look much more vibrant and greater contrast.

Apple has also added an anti-glare coating on the screen of iPad Air 2 and claims that it reduces glare by 56%, thus making it the least reflective tablet in the world. The screen makes the iPad Air 2 the best device for consuming content. It's a joy to watch HD movies and read e-books and magazines on the tablet.

The 8MP rear camera on the iPad Air 2 does a decent job if you use it to capture images in daylight, however, images shot indoors in artificial light and low-light look slightly grainy. It can be used to shoot video of 1080p resolution.

The image quality can be compared to the iPhone 5 but low light photos were underwhelming.

The 1.2MP front camera is just functional and is good for FaceTime video chats. We're not sure if a large number of users would capture video or images with a 10 inch tablet, as it's a bit cumbersome. Having said that, the iPad Air 2 still does a decent job for that occasional click or two.

Processor, Performance and Battery Life
The iPad Air 2 has got a major upgrade when it comes to the internals. It's now powered by Apple's A8X chip which is based on 64-bit architecture. This is an improved version of the chip that powers the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and Apple claims it delivers better performance than its predecessor without sacrificing the battery life. The chip processes applications 40% faster and renders graphics 2.5 times faster, but still ensures average battery life of 10 hours.



As we mentioned in our previous reviews, the speed bump is not related to the processor being 64-bit. Though it lays the foundation of the future; the 64-bit architecture will help in better memory management and will work in tandem with apps optimized for it as they're made available.

The iPad Air 2, just like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, also features the M8 co-processor which dedicatedly handles the task of measuring data from motion sensors like the accelerometer and gyroscope without involving the main processor, leading to better battery life. It also has the ability to recognize different kinds of motion through this data. The data is more accurate and can be used by fitness tracking apps and health apps such as pedometer apps. The Air 2 also comes in a 128GB storage variant in case you wish to store all your media.

Apple claims that the iPad Air 2 offers a battery back-up of up to 10 hours if you surf the web on Wi-Fi, watch videos or listen to music. While Apple has reduced the size of the battery with the Air 2 (27.3 watt vs 32.4 watt), the battery back-up claimed is still the same. We'd say that this estimate is quite accurate and and even with continuous HD video playback, the iPad Air 2 will survive for 10 hours. It will last one and a half to two days with moderate to heavy use, connected to a Wi-Fi network.

We did not encounter any issues while connecting to Wi-Fi networks and got stable, fast connections.

We got a Wi-Fi only variant as our review unit but the iPad Air 2 is also available in cellular (3G) models. It's worth pointing out that unlike the iPad Ait, the iPad Air 2 does support the existing 4G Indian frequency band (Band 40 - 2300MHz).

iOS 8
The iPad Air 2 runs on the most recent iOS 8, the newest version of Apple's mobile OS. Visually, the OS is still very similar to iOS 7, but under the hood there are a number of changes. iOS 8 delivers a more intuitive user experience with new Messages and Photos features, predictive typing for Apple's QuickType keyboard, third party-keyboards support, Family Sharing, a new Health app, and iCloud Drive to store files and access them from across different devices.

At this time the main software feature that makes use of big display is landscape mode. The iPad Air 2 offers a landscape mode home screen allowing users to browse through installed apps even when they hold the tablet horizontally.

This is limited to some native apps including Safari, Messages, Mail, Calendar, and Settings, among others. The Safari browser displays full browser tabs while messaging apps offer a two pane UI with message previews. Similarly, other apps display more information, spread out horizontally compared to their portrait avatars. That's pretty much about it.

iPad Air 2's improved camera leverages iOS 8 to offer HDR, burst mode with 10 frames per second, and self timer in addition to the Slo-Mo slow motion video mode and time lapse mode.

We still feel that some UI elements such as the Notification Centre take up too much of screen space and look awkward. Apple still doesn't offer native apps for Calculator, Weather, Compass or Voice Memos, which are bundled with the iPhone.

With iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, Apple has made switching between iOS and Mac devices more seamless for users who use both platforms. iPhone owners can answer phone calls on their Mac or iPad, and even send SMS messages from any of them. They can start writing an email on one device and seamlessly continue on another through Handoff. We were able to use handoff, and receive calls on our iPad through our iPhone. You need to be on the same Wi-Fi network and signed-in to the same iCloud ID on both devices for this feature to work. For a detailed look at iOS 8,

Touch ID
The iPad Air 2 is the first iPad to sport a biometric fingerprint sensor that Apple likes to call Touch ID in line with its primary function of acting as an additional security layer. The Touch ID is integrated with the Home button through a scratch resistant sapphire glass. While Apple already offers a 4 digit passcode lock to protect the iPad, the Touch ID offers a simple, yet effective way to authenticate the phone for unlocking it, or while purchasing content from the App Store and iTunes Store.

It's worth pointing out that you'll still need to set-up a pass code and verify at at certain times, in addition to verifying the biometric fingerprint.

Up to five impressions of fingers (including thumbs) can be added. This means that you can also add finger impressions of different individuals, in case more than one person uses the phone.

Apple's newly introduced Apple Pay mobile payments system is also supported through the Touch ID for purchasing apps and for online transactions but the absence of NFC means it can't be used on retail terminals. Apple Pay is not available in India at this time.

Verdict
The iPad Air 2 is sitting on the king's throne in the tablet kingdom. It is still the best 10 inch tablet available in the market. Its new sleeker design and compact form factor are reasons enough for picking it up over any Android or Windows tablet, but more than that it's the app and content ecosystem that makes it much superior when compared against the competition. Flagship 10-inch Android tablets from the likes of Sony and Samsung are more expensive, and lack tablet optimized apps.



We still feel that Apple could do better in making the tablet a true multi-tasking device. A split screen functionality and floating mini apps could help in leveraging the big screen real estate in a better manner. This is one area where we feel Apple could do more.

The starting price of Rs 35,900 appears to be high, but unlike a smartphone which users may replace in an year, the refresh cycle for tablets is longer. So when you invest in an iPad Air 2, you get a device that offers a great experience in terms of both content consumption and creation.

We don't see a reason to upgrade if you already own an iPad Air. Even the iPad 4 offers a decent experience so you could hold your purchase for another year if you were planning to upgrade.

In case you still find the tablet too big, we recommend the iPad mini with Retina display aka iPad mini 2 (Related read - Don't buy iPad mini 3, iPad mini 2 is just as good).

The original iPad Air with 16GB storage is now available at a starting price of Rs 28,900, so if you wish to save some money and don't care about playing games with high-end 3D graphics or a super sleek form factor, it's still a great buy.

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