Introduction

Another millimeter thinner, the new iPad Air 2 has a body that's even more befitting the ethereal moniker the iPad bears second year in a row. Outside of that little fact however, the changes may not be as easy to spot. And that's hardly a surprise.

Apple's laser focus on making the best tablet there is keeps the entire tablet industry moving forward. But in their camp, large strides are usually followed by baby steps and not all products end up as the breakthroughs we would have liked to see. One thing's for sure though, Apple certainly likes to keep us on the edge of our seats when it comes to what their next gen devices would look or feel like.



This year, the Air 2 is hardly hitting like an airstrike, but it still does a mighty fine job of keeping up the alpha male image. True, besides the slimmer profile the changes are hard to see. A nice exception is the screen, where the specs may sound the same on paper, but improvements are visible to the naked eye in terms of reflectivity and outdoor legibility.

The iPad Air 2 also has a better camera, an 8 megapixel auto focus unit, for what it's worth on a ten-incher, and as usual, Apple's latest and greatest chipset to make sure things are running faster than ever before.

So that about sums up the noteworthy things the iPad Air 2 brings to the table. But here's the cheat sheet of its key specs anyway and what we didn't quite like at first glance.

Key features

  • 3G/LTE 150Mbps model available as an option (comes with GPS/GLONASS)
  • 9.7" LED-backlit IPS LCD touchscreen, 1536 x 2048 pixels, ~ 264ppi; scratch-resistant, oleophobic coating, 56% less reflectance claimed
  • Thinner than ever at 6.1 mm and lighter at 437g
  • A8X 64-bit chipset (rumored as triple-core, 1.5 GHz SoC) with an M8 motion coprocessor with a barometer, 2GB of RAM
  • 16/64/128GB of inbuilt storage
  • iOS 8.1 with Continuity allows you to take iPhone calls and messages on your iPad
  • Stereo speakers
  • 8MP auto-focus camera, 1080p video recording at 30fps, 120‑fps slo‑mo, Burst mode, Panorama
  • 1.2MP 720p front camera with a larger f/2.2 aperture
  • 802.11ac Wi Fi connectivity
  • Dedicated secondary noise reduction microphone for FaceTime calls
  • TouchID fingerprint sensor
  • Four and five-finger gestures
  • Comes with premium set of free Apple apps - Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, Garage Band, etc.
  • Available in Gold color option for the first time

Main disadvantages

  • Hardware Mute/Rotation lock switch is gone for no practical reason
  • No microSD slot
  • Pricey storage upgrades, 32GB version should be standard for the asking price
  • No enhanced resistance to liquids or dust, while the competition has them
  • Tied into iTunes for uploading most of the content
  • iOS UI lacks proper screen size optimizations and looks the same on phones and tablets
  • No standard microUSB port
  • Wi-Fi-only version lacks a GPS receiver

Due to being slimmer, the iPad Air 2 has to make do with a smaller capacity battery. We guess, it's no less than an engineering feat, that Apple is able to offer the same battery life as last year's. But it also forces the question, why not keep last year's battery and offer longer battery life instead. Apple has its ways, we guess, some of their decisions are hard to comprehend by us, mortal users.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The Apple iPad Air 2 at HQ

Another change from last year is the intentional crippling of the iPad mini 3. The small and big iPads don't have the same internals anymore so if you are after the best iPad, there's no doubt which one that is. Seems like Apple didn't like the mini eating into the sales of the iPad Air.

If you are after an iPad, getting the latest and the biggest in the lineup is a no-brainer really. But before you fork out the cash, we'd like to invite you to watch the iPad Air 2 handle our obstacle course. Enjoy!

Retail box

The Apple iPad Air 2 comes in a typical Apple white box featuring a print of the tablet's profile on the top and iPad Air inscribed on the sides. To open the package you need to slide the box out from underneath the cover which happens in a slow, almost calculated motion. Any attempt to apply force may cause the iPad to slip out of its nest and hit the floor, ouch. That's what we did on our hands-on video but, fortunately, no harm done.

Inside the box, you'll find the tablet itself, some leaflets, a set of Apple stickers, a lightning cable and a two-piece A/C adapter (2.5A).

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 retail box

Design and handling

Once the short-lived unboxing excitement receded, the new Apple iPad Air 2 had all of our attention. The immediate reaction upon picking up the tablet was one of awe at its thinness. And that was before we even noticed the shiny new Touch ID home button.

Last year Apple released its first iPad with the Air moniker. It marked a significant move towards premium looks and comfort of handling. While the world seemed resigned to the idea that a 10" tablet (in this case an almost 10" tablet) just has to be unwieldy and awkward to hold for longer periods of time, Apple did away with the notion. The first iPad Air was 1.2mm shorter, 16.2mm narrower and 1.9mm thinner than its predecessor. And if that wasn't insane enough it was a whopping 183g lighter. This year, Apple's effort is more subdued but still keeping that same direction.

The Apple iPad Air 2 isn't new in terms of aesthetics but feels new in the hand. It's because Apple managed to shave another 1.4mm off its profile and further reduced its weight by 32g, rounding up to a very acceptable 437g (Wi-Fi version).

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 front

The Apple iPad Air 2 retains the core design and exterior features of its predecessor. It's still built around a 9.7" 1536 x 2048px LED-backlit IPS LCD. The edges are still precision chamfered and the corners still rounded off for a better grip and feel in the palm.

The back is still predominantly flat, but slightly curved towards the edges. The Space Gray is still just as silvery as before but Apple have a new Gold option for their iPad Air 2 as well.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 back

Last year Apple released its first powerful mini iPad which shared the highlights of the original iPad Air - the screen had the same high resolution, both tablets used the same 64-bit A7 chipset, size being the sole differentiator. This year, the new iPad Air 2 is clearly superior: it's slimmer (6.1mm vs 7.5mm) and has the better A8X chipset compared to the iPad mini 3 carrying over the A7 from last year. The Air 2 has 2GB of RAM (double that of the mini 3) and the only things the two tablets share, on the outside, are the Touch ID home button and the golden color option.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3

The design hasn't changed much since the original iPad Air but the second-gen device feels different. The new Apple iPad Air 2 is slimmer and lighter, while the Touch ID home button looks more elegant against the all-black front, a piece of flat sapphire glass within a metal ring.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air

Apple have kept the balanced design of its flagship tablet making the iPad Air 2 just as great to handle as its predecessor. The thinner profile and reduced size make the right kind of difference.

We like the fact that the iPad Air 2 is still just as rounded at the corners and just as flat on the back. The sharp chamfered edges give that "welcome home" feel that seasoned iPad owners will appreciate.

Apple iPad Air 2

Handling the iPad Air 2

The bezels on all four sides are not strikingly slim but not too wide either. The top and bottom bezels are a bit wider and offer just enough space for you to comfortably hold the iPad Air 2 landscape, without accidentally touching the screen.

Controls

Everything is where you'd expect it to be on the new iPad Air 2. The front holds the new 9.7" display which is a main reason for the 18% thinner profile. Apple laminated three screen layers into a single sheet, complete with an antireflective coating that promises a better viewing experience outdoors. Apple call this a fully laminated display.

Underneath the display is where the new home button is. The Touch ID is an elaborate fingerprint-scanning device. On the surface of it you have a laser-cut sapphire crystal top and stainless steel ring. The latter detects your finger while the sensor beneath the crystal scans the image and proceeds to unlock your device.

The Touch ID sensor can detect a fingerprint in 360 degrees meaning that every angle you go for will allow you to unlock the tablet.

There's also a new FaceTime HD front facing camera. It's the same 1.2MP unit capable of just 720p video but now has gotten a wider f/2.2 aperture that can let more light in.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The display and Touch ID

The left-hand side (portrait) of the Apple iPad Air 2 has no controls while the right features the volume rocker that's comprised of two metal buttons, each recessed into their own nest in the housing. They're easy to locate by touch and have nice press. The iPad Air 2 has mysteriously lost the mute/rotation switch above the volume keys. Where it used to be there's now one of the two available microphones. Speaking of which, the second mic is new for this generation of the Air and allows for ambient noise cancellation during FaceTime calls.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Top and bottom

The bottom is where the stereo speakers reside, each under its own grille. Their placement isn't ideal - one, they're on the same side and two, it's easy enough to cover one up with your palm when holding the device landscape to watch video.

The power button is in the top right, 3.5mm jack in the opposite corner.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The sides

The second microphone is on the back of the Apple iPad Air 2. It's a close neighbor of the new 8MP iSight camera which Apple is really proud of. It represents a 3MP bump in resolution but has the same aperture. What makes the camera different is the new Apple A8X chip and its image signal processor that allows improved face-detection, better noise reduction and 120-fps slow motion that wasn't available on the older iPad Air.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The back

9.7" laminated Retina display

The new Apple iPad Air 2 display is fully laminated, meaning its components (LCD, touch sensor and cover glass) have been molded into one and now have an antireflective coating that Apple claims will make this screen the least reflective ever.

The iPad Air 2 has the same screen size as the first ever Apple tablet, 9.7" of diagonal. The resolution has remained the same four generations in a row, 2048 x 1536px that break down to around 264ppi. Now, that's not quite the same as the 284ppi of the 8.9" Google Nexus 9, the 288ppi of the 10.5" Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 or the 324ppi of Apple's own 7.9" iPad mini 3 but is still more than good enough, viewed at an arm's length.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 display

Here's what the iPad Air 2 display looks like under a microscope.

The Apple iPad Air 2 showed solid numbers in our dedicated display test. Compared to its predecessor it offers a slightly decreased brightness at both 50% and 100% but also a slightly higher contrast ratio, which could be accredited to the new laminated display.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Apple iPad Air 0.19 181 968 0.53 508 964
Apple iPad Air 2 0.16 171 1045 0.44 458 1048
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 210 382
Apple iPad mini 2 0.2 167 835 0.56 450 804
Apple iPhone 6 Plus 0.17 208 1197 0.52 705 1361
Google Nexus 10 0.26 223 859 0.5 443 878
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet - - - 0.45 484 1076


Battery life test

Apple made the iPad Air 2 thinner and thus it has a smaller battery compared to the original iPad Air. But the result hasn't hindered battery performance too much. The video playback test showed an almost exact score. Web browsing was 1 hour worse compared to last year's model and generally behind the competition.

Web browsing

  • Apple iPad Air
    12:49
  • Apple iPad mini 2
    12:22
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
    12:05
  • Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
    11:46
  • Apple iPad Air 2
    11:41

Video playback

  • Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
    12:53
  • Apple iPad mini 2
    10:47
  • Apple iPad Air
    10:10
  • Apple iPad Air 2
    10:05
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
    8:25

Still the iPad Air 2 boasts respectable numbers, especially from a device so thin.

If you are interested how these results compare to other tested devices, check out our battery life test result table.

Our battery testing procedure is described in detail in case you want to learn more about it.

Connectivity

The Apple iPad Air 2 has much better connectivity thanks to some key advancements in chipset radios and Wi-Fi technology. First off, the new iPad Air 2 retains the MIMO technology (with dual antennas for better signal) and comes with Wi-Fi 802.11ac support that's more than twice as fast as before - up to 866 Mbps.

The Wi-Fi+Cellular iPad Air 2 has gained a speed increase too, now supporting up to 150Mbps of LTE downlink and support for a total of 20 LTE bands in all model variations.

Apple has designed its own SIM solution as well, dubbed Apple SIM. It allows a single carrier-agnostic SIM to connect to AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile in the US and Everything Everywhere (EE) in the UK depending on your initial setup (and contract, of course). The solution has seen resistance from some of the carriers though so don't expect it to work as advertised just yet.

Bluetooth 4.0 with A2DP and EDR is here and, complete with Wi-Fi, facilitating Apple's AirDrop, which can share docs and files across iOS devices and the latest Macbooks with OS X Yosemite. Using AirDrop for transfers to non-Apple certified devices is a no-go.

AirDrop is available in every share menu throughout the iOS 8.1. You can send pictures, videos, App Store and iTunes links, Notes, Maps links, all kind of files from file managing apps (i.e. Filer, Flash Drive, Air Disk, etc.), Office docs, and more. If there are people with an active AirDrop service around you, they will automatically appear in the dedicated AirDrop field. You just mark your files, select the recipient and hit the send key.

AirPlay can wirelessly stream your iPad Air 2 screen to an Apple TV, HDTV or compatible audio systems.

Regular USB mass storage isn't available but there's a workaround using the iTunes computer software. You can store whatever files you want on the iPad, but those are only made available to the app that you've dropped them onto. Good thing is you are not restricted to files compatible with the said app and you can simply drag & drop files that you would download on another computer later on.

The iPad Air 2 Wi-Fi + Cellular has a built-in A-GPS receiver with GLONASS support, but the Wi-Fi only tablet does not have it (this is standard for iPads).

Apple is continually improving its Find My iPad service. The iOS 7 update brought the so-called Activation Lock. This will not only protect your personal data but will also make your iDevice inoperable once wiped, unless you enter your Apple ID. This means the stolen or lost iGadgets will be of no use to thieves or finders. Of course, this protection is not bulletproof and experienced hackers will have a ball with your iPad, but this might as well make your Average Joe think twice about keeping the iPad to themselves.

iOS 8.1 on the iPad

The Apple iPad Air 2 runs on the latest version of iOS - 8.1 - but looks unchanged compared to iOS 7. It has a flat, colorful look with fresh icons and transparent elements throughout the OS. Here's a brief look at what iOS 8.1 looks like on the latest iPad.

The lockscreen is the same clean affair. It features a swipe to unlock and camera shortcut. A double press of the Home key will bring up the multimedia controls as usual. Lockscreen notifications are available as well.

You can passcode-protect the lockscreen but with the iPad Air 2 you can also finger-lock it thanks to Touch ID. The Touch ID sensor offers 360-degree readability translating into effortless scanning of your fingerprint. Apple has integrated Touch ID as an added security measure, but it'll still allow you to use your passcode as a backup form of validation. Enabling passcode is also a mandatory requirement in order to use Touch ID.

You can commit up to five fingerprint samples (yours or those of family and friends), which is cool for setting a limited list of people with access to your device. Apple warns that with all five fingerprint slots filled in, the Touch ID sensor operation may take a slight performance hit.

As of iOS 8 the Touch ID is available to developers and they can used it for third-party security layers and authorizations. The developers can't gain access to your actual fingerprints, nobody can. They just can use the Touch ID confirmation or denial services.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Lockscreen

Since the iPad Air 2 doesn't have NFC it can't be used for Apple Pay, sorry.

This is an iPad so all of your apps are on the homescreen, folders are available and there is the familiar dock that can take up to six shortcuts (by default there are four). Pages are available in the folders, each page can pack up to nine apps and there is no limit on the page count. Now you can finally put the Newsstand app away in a folder!

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Homescreen

Swiping from the top down will display the Notifications center which now has just two tabs - Todayand Notifications. The Today tab has the date, a summary of all events for the day, calendar day view, reminders and tomorrow's summary.

As usual, you can choose which apps you want to show up in the pull-down Notifications and in what order. The Today tab is customizable, and you can disable its elements one by one - everything but the date displayed at the top can be removed so it doesn't get in the way. You can even disable the Today tab altogether in the Notification Center for the lockscreen.

The second tab is reserved for notifications only. Other than that, the handling of notifications hasn't changed a bit. You can opt to disable a notification, set it to be a banner, which will shortly pop up over the status bar or an alert showing up at the center of the screen.

There are also options to disable badges on app icons or disable lockscreen notifications.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Notification center

Control center is the same with controls for music, volume slider, brightness slider, camera shortcut, timer shortcut, AirDrop menu and six toggles for Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb, Silent and Rotation lock.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Control center • Spotlight

The task-switcher interface is invoked with a double press on the Home key. All apps are presented with cards that you can swipe up to close. Each card has the respective app icon so you can easily recognize what's what.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Task switcher

Just like folders the Notification and Control Center colors are adaptive and they'll change depending on the background. They might be blue-ish on the homescreen, but light gray in the web browser, or dark gray in the settings, or green in the gallery, etc. Unlike the iPhones' keyboard, the one in the iPad is not semi-transparent, nor is its background adaptive.

The parallax effect is still present in iOS 8.1. Apple designed iOS on independent layers - background, homescreen icons, icon badges, and then app pop-ups. The iPad Air then uses its accelerometer and gyroscope to move layers independently and create an illusion of depth. The movement is very subtle. In fact, you might not even notice it if you are not looking for it, but it's there and it looks awesome once you start moving your device.

The parallax effect is not only available on the homescreen. You can see it in folders and in the pop ups that ask you for passwords or display notifications. Those pop ups by the way are also translucent and adapt their background color.

In case you don't like the parallax effect you can turn it off from the Accessibility settings -> Reduce Motion.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Transparency

Apple has added a few static wallpapers with iOS 8. The old ones are still here and you get the choice of dynamic wallpapers as well.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Wallpapers

The Settings menu has the same layout as in previous iPad versions - it's a split screen list of settings and is pretty neat to get around.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Settings menu

The banner notification is very subtle. If you receive a text in the middle of something, it will briefly pop up over the status bar and disappear in a couple of seconds, and not distract from what you're doing.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Notifications

Do Not Disturb mode is available on the iPad Air too. It gives users further control of notifications, or rather their suppression. If turned on, it will mute incoming FaceTime calls or alerts. You can allow FaceTime calls from your favorite contacts and have the option to set a specific time interval in which you won't get any notifications.

There's a dedicated toggle to activate the DND feature and it can be customized in the Notifications submenu. When Do Not Disturb is on, a crescent icon appears next to the clock in the status bar.

Since iOS 7 Apple ushered in its take on true background multitasking, aptly called Background App Refresh. The way it works is all apps will work in the background, but iOS will learn which one of them you use most often and when.

Let's say you open the Facebook app every morning and don't use it for the rest of the day. iOS will soon learn that and will optimize the app to work according to your schedule until you change it. This means most of the day and night the app will still be in suspend mode (push notifications will work of course), but iOS will run Facebook shortly before your alarm goes on and load all the content. That way when you open it, your news feed will be already updated.

Apps also update in the background when push notifications come in. All apps that use Cellular/Wi-Fi connection and can work in the background are listed under Settings -> General -> Background App refresh.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

DND mode • Background app refresh

The four/five-finger multi-tasking gestures are also available on the iPad Air 2. You can switch between the active apps using four (or five)-finger swipes. A similar swipe to the top will bring you the task switcher. Finally, you can use four (or five as it feels more natural) finger pinch zoom out. It will bring you the homescreen, while the app will go in background.

iOS 8 offers native integration with Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr but no new services, sadly.

Handoff and continuity

The new Handoff option is probably the most advertised iOS 8 feature. It allows you to start something on one Apple device and continue working on it on another. For example, you can start writing an email on your iPhone, get close to your Mac or iPad and you will be able to continue what you are working on from there. This works between iOS 8 running iPhones, iPods and iPads and Max OS X Yosemite powered Macs.

Apple iPad Air 2

And it goes beyond emails and messages. The continuity feature is available for Safari, Maps, Reminders, Calendars, Contacts, Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Any Wi-Fi enabled iOS 8-running iPad or a Mac OS X Yosemite is also capable of picking your iOS 8 iPhone calls up. You can answer and make calls on your iPad or Mac via your iPhone thanks to the Handoff feature - the only other requirement besides the OS version is that all devices need to be on the same Wi-Fi network.

 Apple iPad Air 2

Apple guessed that anyone making calls via Handoff will eventually need to send SMS/MMS/iMessages the same way, so the functionality has been implemented. Just open your Messaging app on your iPad or Mac and you can send whatever message you want thanks to your iPhone connection.

Finally, there is a new Hotspot feature that once enabled will automatically set up a mobile connection for your iPads and Macs. You don't need to do anything! Your iPhone will know when your iPad or Mac stop using the hotspot and will automatically turn it off.

Siri

The intelligent voice assistant Siri got better with iOS 8. Its most important new addition is the Shazam integration. There is no need to ask Siri to recognize a song - just open Siri and let it listen - then it will tell you the name of the song and will provide you with an iTunes link. Another new cool option is voice activation. If your iPad Air 2 is hooked up on a charger/cable you can summon Siri by saying "Hey, Siri".

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Siri

Siri can carry out commands affecting the iOS - it can turn Bluetooth or Wi-Fi on/off, increase brightness, play voicemails, check other people's social network status, play iTunes Radio stations, etc. It is a really powerful voice assistant capable of even POI search. Assistance with restaurant booking is part of Siri's set of skills. It will find you exactly the restaurant you are looking for and filter the results based on user reviews. You can run impressively detailed searches based on food type, location, outdoor, pool, price range, ratings, etc. This feature is not available in every country, though.

Siri also answers slots of questions and including game scores. History, stats, player bios, player comparison, teams, records, etc. Siri should be able to return most of the info right onto its own screen, without switching over to the browser. The same applies to movies. You will get all of your movie-related answers right inside the Siri window - anything about actors, directors, awards, movie stats, premieres and tickets, reviews, trailers, etc. Siri also comes with Wikipedia integration.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Siri

Finally, Siri in iOS 8 can take dictation in 24 new languages, which will spare lots of people some typing on the keyboard.

Apple's best chip yet - A8X

The Apple iPad Air 2 has the best chip to come out of Cupertino yet - a beefed up variant of the 64-bit A8 dubbed the A8X. The new chip has a triple-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz that's said to bring a 40% improvement over the previous A7. It also brings a 2.5x improvement in graphics performance. The RAM is, for the first time ever at 2GB.

Apple has developed its own api for gaming developers - Metal. It will allow devs to create apps with very little overhead.

So without any further ado let's jump straight into the CPU performance. We tested Geekbench 3 and Basemark OS II on the latest iPad and it managed to top both benchmarks with relative ease. The processor of the A8X was able to outdo the 64-bit Tegra K1 on the Nexus 9 tablet. Samsung's Exynos-powered Galaxy Tab S 10.5 was extremely far off the mark.

GeekBench 3

Higher is better

  • Apple iPad Air 2
    4464
  • HTC Nexus 9
    3470
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    3285
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    2925
  • Apple iPhone 6
    2924
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    2884
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    2881
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    2781
  • Apple iPad Air
    2388

Basemark OS II

Higher is better

  • Apple iPad Air 2
    1937
  • HTC Nexus 9
    1890
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    1509
  • Apple iPhone 6
    1252
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    1222
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    1181
  • Apple iPad Air
    1128
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    829
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    768

Graphics are extremely well handled on the iPad Air 2 as well. It outscored just about each and every one of its opponents only succumbing to the iPhone 6 in the GFX 3.0 Manhattan onscreen test which is understandable given the huge difference between the resolutions of the two devices.

What's most impressive is that Apple's slate was able to outdo the powerful 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K1 and its supercharged GPU, a feat that no other tablet managed so far.

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPad Air 2
    70.4
  • HTC Nexus 9
    60.2
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    44.6
  • Apple iPhone 6
    42.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    41.7
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    38.9
  • Apple iPad Air
    25
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    22.5
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    20.5

GFX 2.7 T-Rex (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPad Air 2
    52.2
  • Apple iPhone 6
    51
  • HTC Nexus 9
    46.2
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    27.4
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    26.4
  • Apple iPad Air
    21
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    14
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    13.6

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (1080p offscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPad Air 2
    32.6
  • HTC Nexus 9
    31.5
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    18.6
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    18.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    18.5
  • Apple iPhone 6
    17.7
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    5.6
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    5.6

GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 6
    29.2
  • Apple iPad Air 2
    24.7
  • HTC Nexus 9
    22.6
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    11.9
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    11.2
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    2.9
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    2.9

Basemark X

Higher is better

  • Apple iPad Air 2
    29753
  • HTC Nexus 9
    28244
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    20901
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    18684
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    18297
  • Apple iPhone 6
    17054
  • Apple iPad Air
    13597
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    6875

And finally we're looking at JavaScript performance on Mozilla's Kraken 1.1 test. Here the Apple iPad Air 2 was beaten by the HTC Nexus 9 running the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop. There isn't much between the two so both offer extreme browsing prowess.

We couldn't test BrowserMark 2.1 as the iPad Air 2 had an issue with its page and kept reloading so we cannot give a statement on HTML 5 performance just yet.

Kraken 1.1

Lower is better

  • HTC Nexus 9
    3953
  • Apple iPad Air 2
    4054
  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus
    4650
  • Apple iPhone 6
    4710
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (Exynos)
    4777
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 (Exynos)
    4927
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4
    5351
  • Motorola Nexus 6
    6088

The Apple iPad Air 2 is the best iOS performer to come out of Cupertino yet. The new A8X chipset is up there on top of the mobile chipsets and offers outstanding CPU and GPU performance alike. What's mostly impressive isn't the fps or scores you see above but the real life performance of the iPad Air 2.

It didn't once stutter or run out of breath. It didn't get too heated either and battery life wasn't too hindered by our intensive testing - top notch.

Contacts

The phonebook on the Apple iPad Air 2 has remained unchanged in iOS 8 but now you can opt not to show the contact photos in your Favorite tab. The logic behind the phonebook app is completely the same though, Blacklist is available too.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Contacts

As usual the phonebook offers Facebook and Twitter integration. After you set up your accounts the phonebook will automatically ask you to link your existing contacts with their social ones (if available).

The phonebook can search via the dedicated Search field at the top of the list of contacts or you can use the alphabetical scroll at the right.

Since iOS 6 your iMessage and FaceTime ID is joined and the phonebook will automatically detect if either service is available with each contact.

FaceTime HD

FaceTime works both over a cellular data or Wi-Fi. The service now offers voice calls too, in addition to video conference chats. With FaceTime audio calls and iMessages, iOS users won't need Viber as much to connect with other iOS users free of charge.

Apple iPad Air 2

FaceTime

The dual microphones on the iPad Air 2 combine to reduce noise during a video. If you're doing a FaceTime call and switch from the front-facing to the rear-facing camera the microphones switch so that your voice always comes in clean.

The Apple iPad Air 2 scored a very good mark in our loudspeaker test. It blasts audio from two speakers on the bottom of the slate and the sound is of very high quality. It's also deep to the point where it lightly shakes the tablet when audio is running.

Speakerphone test Voice, dB Pink noise/ Music, dB Ringing phone, dB Overall score
Apple iPad mini 2 65.7 62.1 72.3 Below Average
Google Nexus 10 68.3 66.1 67.8 Average
Apple iPad Air 67.9 65.9 76.6 Good
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 70.1 65.8 75.7 Good
Apple iPad Air 2 75.3 70.9 78 Very Good
Xiaomi Mi Pad 7.9 75.7 69.6 82.7 Very Good


iMessage

iMessage works on the Apple iPad Air 2. It has a very simple interface showing you the threaded conversations and tapping on a contact gives you the option to initiate a FaceTime call or video chat.

Now it's easier to attach pictures or video with the newly introduced recent row. It has about 20 of your latest images/videos in the gallery.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

iMessage

Naturally, the iMessage service is onboard. It lets you exchange instant messages between iOS 5 or later running iGadgets over Wi-Fi or 3G. You can send plain text as well as multimedia (pictures, sounds, videos) messages.

If you are texting someone with iMessage activated, you'll see a new Mic icon on the right. A tap and hold on the Mic will record a voice message and an upwards swipe will send it. If the person on the other end is on an older iOS version they will receive it as an .amr attachment and still be able to play it.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Voice messages

Mail and keyboard

The Mail app got a subtly refreshed interface too with some extra useful functions and gestures.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Mail

VIP lists are available - emails from people on the list will be delivered to a dedicated VIP mailbox and will appear highlighted in the regular inbox. You can also set a different notification regime for VIP emails - so they appear on the lockscreen, for example.

Moving on to the keyboard, which is also improved in iOS 8. It looks the same though it has been upgraded with predictive input called QuickType. Over time, the iOS will learn from your typing pattern, vocabulary, people you write often to and topics. It will eventually understand the subject of each thread and base suggestions on whether the communication is formal or casual.

Apple says the algorithm is really smart and understands everything and suggests prompt responses. Many competitive keyboards on other platforms are already doing similar things plus they are swype-enabled.

Siri-powered dictation is available pretty much in any app that supports keyboard input. You need just to hit the corresponding button on your keyboard and start dictating.

You can undock the keyboard, which places it dead center on the screen. You can then move it up or down, depending on what's underneath and where you would like to place it.

You can also split the keyboard in two by doing a simple pinch gesture on it or selecting it from the keyboard options. This is pretty useful in both portrait and landscape orientations if you have to type while holding the tablet - reaching the middle of the screen with your thumbs is hard, even when you hold the iPad Air in portrait orientation.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Keyboard

You can, finally, add third party keyboards to the Apple iPad since iOS 8. Below you can see Swiftkey but there are a number of others available.

Apple iPad Air 2

Third party keyboards

Gallery

Apple has upgraded the default gallery with a new Search option. The smart suggestions implemented within the new Spotlight and Safari browser work here too. You can search by place, date, people, nearby location, etc.

Just like before, images are organized by date and location, for those that have been geo-tagged. This view is called Moments. You can go a step back, to Collections view where you can better view your sorted photos into groups with labels and much smaller thumbs. Finally, there is the Year view. It squeezes your collection into tight grids for each year.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Gallery

There is a new default album called Recently Deleted. It stores your recently erased photos for 30 days before deletes them for good. Each photo shows the days remaining until deletion. It works like a recycle bin and, of course, you can restore the files you want.

Shared photos are available - the tab has all your Photo streams. Photo Stream, which acts like a social sub-network, works really well and is very simple to set up. You choose what pictures to share and which people to share with. Your buddies on the receiving end will be able to like them and post comments. You can invite users you want to share your Photo Streams with via email or get invited. If you are using the new Family Sharing options you can easily configure Photo Streams shared between your homegroup.

If your iCloud Drive is active you can gain access to your cloud gallery and browse it on the iPad Air 2 without the need of storing it locally. If you have opted to store everything in your iCloud Drive, you can save precious space and still have access to your images and videos. You'll need a working internet connection, of course, and the iCloud Drive free quota is only 5GB.

Viewing images on the Apple iPad Air 2 is a pleasure thanks to its superb display.

Apple iPad Air 2

Viewing a photo

One of the major new additions to the Photos app is the new integrated image editor. It supports standard features such as crop, rotate and filters, but it also offers advanced settings allowing full control over light (exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, black point), color (saturation, contrast, cast), black & white (intensity, neutrals, tone, grain). In case you aren't into meddling with your photos, you can use the new intelligent Auto Enhance feature, which will do things automatically for you.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Editing an image

Thanks to the new third-party access to the Photos SKD, now developers are able to add their own editing settings, filters, sharing options, among others.

Music

The music player hasn't changed its white, flat looks but has gained new functionality. You can create playlists, delete songs right from within the player and reorder tabs whichever way you like. Album view is available too - you access it by flipping the device landscape. It lists all the covers to the albums you have in your library. Tapping on an album thumb lists all the tracks in it.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Music player

The Now Playing screen hasn't changed in functionality neither is the settings. Even in its seventh major iteration iOS still fails to offer configurable equalizers.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Now playing • EQ

If you are logged in with an Apple ID that supports iTunes Radio, your iOS 8 music player will get an additional iTunes Radio tab. It's a music streaming service with the entire iTunes content available for streaming.

The stations are divided by genres, but once you add a station, you can choose to remove artists or add more songs from an artist/group. You can preview a station before adding it to your list.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

iTunes Radio

In case you like a particular song, you can buy it with just one tap. History is available and you can always return to buy songs later. A Wish List is available as well.

iTunes Radio is ad-free if you are using iTunes Match. Otherwise, every 7 to 10 songs are interrupted by about 15sec worth of commercials.

Videos

The videos app allows you to upload only supported formats via iTunes or purchase videos from the iTunes store. This is an extremely disappointing showing by a platform that is supposed to excel at multimedia consumption.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Video player

The lack of extra functionality is bad enough, but having to use just an extremely limited number of media formats or resorting to converting files, which is both slow and inconvenient is a real deal-breaker.

Apple iPad Air 2

Playing a video

Splendid audio quality

The iPad Air 2 has as great audio quality as we've come to expect from Apple's slates. Very loud and nicely clear it can please even the most demanding of users.

When used with an active external amplifier the iPad Air 2 has no weak spots to its performance - it posts excellent scores top to bottom and garnishes them with loudness way beyond the reach of most of its competitors. The solitary exception being the HTC Nexus 9, of course, which is arguably the only tablet to beat the latest Apple slate in the audio game.

Plug in a pair of headphones and you get a minor spike in stereo crosstalk, but no other degradation whatsoever. A solid effort indeed.

Check out the table and see for yourself.

Test Frequency response Noise level Dynamic range THD IMD + Noise Stereo crosstalk
Apple iPad Air 2 +0.01, -0.03 -93.9 93.9 0.0015 0.0065 -83.9
Apple iPad Air 2 (headphones attached) +0.04, -0.01 -93.8 93.8 0.0053 0.052 -69.1
Apple iPad Air +0.09, -0.29 -93.9 93.9 0.0016 0.0067 -89.9
Apple iPad Air (headphones attached) +0.05, -0.32 -94.0 94.0 0.0040 0.015 -66.2
HTC Nexus 9 +0.06, -0.01 -94.7 92.7 0.0054 0.015 -93.7
HTC Nexus 9 (headphones attached) +0.04, -0.04 -94.9 92.8 0.015 0.053 -71.1
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 +0.05, -0.01 -95.8 92.8 0.0030 0.0092 -96.4
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (headphones attached) +0.04, -0.02 -95.8 92.7 0.0098 0.013 -43.6
Google Nexus 10 +0.03, -0.04 -82.3 82.2 0.011 0.022 -81.4
Google Nexus 10 (headphones attached) +0.09, -0.24 -82.7 82.7 0.067 0.204 -77.9


Apple iPad Air 2 frequency response

Apple iPad Air 2 frequency response

You can learn more about the tested parameters and the whole testing process here.

New 8MP iSight

Apple took its due time on stage to describe all the ways in which it has upped its imaging game on the iPad Air 2. Boasting a sensor similar to that of its recent iPhones the iPad has finally moved on from 5MP and is now sitting at 8MP.

Apple claims the iPad Air 2 has an all-new sensor and the image signal processor in the A8X has been improved for better face-detection to keep more faces in focus and offers an improved noise reduction for cleaner images.

The camera can now do burst mode (10fps) and capture 43MP panoramas with dynamic exposure.

The viewfinder is improved courtesy of iOS 8. If you tap to focus the _phone_ will give you control over exposure through an up and down slider. This way you can cleverly add exposure compensation depending on the scene. You can lock the focus and exposure as well but that isn't new.

Everything is on the right side so that it would be easier to reach - switch to front facing camera, HDR and timer are above the virtual shutter and the carousel of shooting modes are below it. You can swipe between time-lapse, slow-mo, video, the default photo mode, square and pano. Finally you have the shortcut to get into the last captured images.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Camera interface

The Apple iPad Air 2 captures good 8MP photos. There's plenty of detail in the image and Apple's trademark mature processing is evident throughout.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 camera samples

Colors are warm although they aren't as saturated as those coming from an iPhone. The white balance was correct despite the overcast conditions in which we shot the images and the dynamic range appears very wide from light to dark areas of the frame.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 camera samples

Everything is sharp and the iPad Air 2 didn't missfocus once in our testing. There is a fair amount of noise, especially in solid colors but it's rendered fine and doesn't take away too much from the detail.

The HDR mode on recent iDevices continues to be unimpressive. The starting dynamic range of the images is quite impressive but HDR doesn't do much to improve it. Shadows are brightened a little but the highlights remain the same resulting in a very subtle (or even weak) HDR effect.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

HDR Off • HDR On

The front-facing camera has been improved as well. It has a wider f/2.2 aperture that lets in what Apple claims is 81% more light. The camera boasts bigger pixels so it's also better in low light. The sensor still has the very low 1.2MP resolution and only 720p video capture.

Here goes a sample. It's not too impressive in terms of the above mentioned resolution but the quality is there. The subject turned out impressively sharp.

Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 front-facing sample

Panoramas on the iPad Air 2 are every bit as impressive as those on recent iPhones. Just like them the Air 2 can go as high as 43MP. Panoramas turn out superb - there's more than enough detail, stitching is immaculate and dynamic exposure ensures that you won't get overblown areas of the image.

Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 panorama samples

Overall the iPad Air 2 marks a steady improvement in imaging for the iPad family. We really don't see a reason to up the resolution any further on a tablet as it isn't comfortable to take pictures or videos with. But if you're willing to try the iPad Air 2 is up to the challenge.

Slow-mo makes it to the iPad

The Apple iPad Air 2 boasts an improved video capture as well. Apple has added slow motion video at 120fps and time-lapse video.

The highest video capture mode is still 1080p at 30fps, sadly there's no 60fps mode. Standard videos are still quite good, we'd say on par with an iPhone 5 in terms of quality. Detail is plentiful and noise is kept in check.

Videos never dipped below 29-30 fps and videos remained smooth through and through. Audio quality in the video is the constant issue we have with Apple devices. You're stuck with mono sound at a lowly 64Kbps despite the iPad Air 2's dual microphones.

You can also download an untouched 1080p@30fps.

Safari

Courtesy of iOS 8 the iPad Safari web browser welcomes third-party developers too. It now supports extension access via its contextual menu. They will be able to auto-fill forms, use the Touch ID security features and translate webpages. It's up to the developers to come up with creative uses and hopefully we'll get a lot of those soon.

Other than the Safari extensions, Apple has improved its Private Browsing. It's more intuitive now and won't make you convert all of your currently opened tabs into Private ones.

As we mentioned in the user interface chapter, the smart suggestions from Wikipedia and the App Store/iTunes Store work within the Safari browser, too.

Apple iPad Air 2

Safari

Safari supports the iCloud keychain where you can store all of your passwords and credit card info (sans the security code). There is also a password generator available, in case you are out of ideas. What's good about this setup is that all your save content from the computer version of Safari is now available straight on your _phone_ as well.

In much the same way, iCloud syncs your opened tabs, along with offline reading. Safari also allows you access to your multimedia content without exiting the browser.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Safari

Much like before, if a page is compatible with the integrated Reader (most of the article pages out there are) you get a Reader button right into the address bar as soon as the page loads. The Reader strips the webpage of ads and makes the layout and font size more suited to a smaller phone screen.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Reading list • RSS

iTunes and App stores

The iTunes store is where you get music, videos, TV shows, movies, podcasts and ringtones. The tabbed interface is similar to that of the AppStore, divided into Music, Movies, Search, Tones and More.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

iTunes store

The App store on the iPad Air 2 has a better and smarter search with a new interface, App Bundles offered by devs, embedded videos in the app descriptions a la Google Play Store, and devs will be able to invite users to closed beta testing of future versions of their apps.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

App store

We've yet to see a beta section in the App Store making an appearance and how the beta app seeding will work. The promised App Bundles are already available though and many developers are now offering app bundles on discounted prices.

Other apps

Another upgrade that was well overdue is iCloud Drive. Apple has taken steps to evolve your iCloud Storage to a competitive cloud service to match Dropbox or OneDrive. Besides backing up your entire camera roll, it is instantly synced in the cloud and accessible from anywhere - your other iOS devices, Macs and PCs.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

iCloud

You can store any file on the iCloud Drive, not just pictures and videos, as any other services would allow you to. The Handoff feature relies heavily on the iCloud Drive - this is a document you've opened on your iPhone would be handed over to your iPad or Mac. If you don't use iCloud Drive this file continuity wouldn't be possible.

Naturally you can choose what files and app data gets synced in your iCloud Drive. There is an option to choose cellular data where a Wi-Fi connection isn't available.

Unfortunately, Apple is still only giving 5GB of cloud storage for free and some of it is already used by your iCloud backups. If you want more, you'll have to pay extra.

Apple iPad Air 2

iCloud Drive

AirDrop is naturally present on the iPad Air 2. It's a system-wide file sharing service between supported iDevices (including Macs running OS X Maverics and above), which needs to have both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on to work.

AirDrop is available in every share menu throughout the iOS. You can send pictures, videos, App Store and iTunes links, Notes, Maps links, all kind of files from file managing apps (i.e. Filer, Flash Drive, Air Disk, etc.), Office docs, and more.

If there are people with AirDrop service around you, they will automatically appear in the dedicated AirDrop field. You just mark your files, select people and hit the send key.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

AirDrop

Another major addition in the new iOS 8 is the Family Share setup and features. It allows up to six users to make iTunes, iBooks, and App Store purchases with a single credit card. Family photos, calendar entries and locations can also be shared.

The credit card owner and group admin may opt to authorize each purchase requested by other members in the group - i.e. your kids. Thus you have full control over the purchased content - same goes for sharing requests.

If Family Sharing enabled on a range of devices, you will be able to find each one of them on a map - handy if you want to know where your kids (or spouse) are at any time.

The clock and calendar apps are here. Clock can show you the time around the world, setup alarms, a timer and a stopwatch.

Calendar hasn't received any new functionality but remains great regardless. It can sync multiple calendar accounts at once, divide events by type (each type like Birthdays, Work, Family, etc. can be color-coded) and has the standard viewing modes - Day, Week, Month and Year. You also get an Agenda view under the search field which lists all the events in a timeline.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Clock • Calendar

Notes now give you rich text formatting while Reminders has remained the same. You can schedule reminders for a time and even place.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Notes • Reminders

The iBooks is now part of the iOS package and has lost its skeuomorphic design. Its interface mimics that of the App Store, but the first tab is still your virtual bookshelf.

Apple iPad Air 2

iBooks

With every newly activated iPad Air 2 you also get the complete iWorks suite including Pages (viewing, editing docs), Numbers (viewing, editing excel files), and Keynote (viewing, editing presentations).

Pages allows you to import, create or edit documents (DOC and DOCX are supported). It isn't as powerful as some of its Android counterparts, but it covers all the basics and will do an excellent job for most users.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Pages

Keynote opens and edits (PowerPoint) presentations. It has all the tools you'll need to create a decent presentation from scratch, including tons of beautifully designed themes. You get comprehensive editing options including adding multimedia, tablets, charts and customizable transitions.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Keynote

Numbers supports Excel files and also covers all major features you'll probably need - charts, formulas, tablet formatting, the lot. There are many themes that will help you quickly create complicated spreadsheets even if you don't know how to do a scatter chart (looking at how the templates work is a good way to learn).

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Numbers

You can easily import files via iTunes and use iCloud for backup and sync.

iTunes U is a very powerful app few people use on a daily basis. It has a priceless catalogue of courses and lectures from many Universities in the world on just about any science you'd want to get into and is worth checking out.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

iTunes U

Apple replaced Google with TomTom as map provider for the iOS native Maps application. It also offers voice-guided navigation courtesy of Siri. The navigation will work even on the lockscreen or in the background. Real-time traffic reports are available and Apple is also crowdsourcing the live traffic info anonymously from iOS users on the road. Turn-by-turn walking directions are available as well.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Maps

The 3D Flyover mode is a great bonus for your viewing pleasure. When you enable the 3D view (outside navigation) you will be able to explore cityscapes from birds-eye view. The currently available selection is quite limited, but more and more areas are joining Flyover in time. You can zoom, tilt and rotate using two-finger gestures to explore 3D landmarks rendered in real time.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Maps

The Wi-Fi only iPad Air 2 doesn't have a GPS so Maps is best reserved for indoor use and less so for navigating the great outdoors.

Photo Booth uses the new front-facing camera to create a series of effects. You can choose among them and the effect changes when you move your face in front of the camera.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Photo Booth

Final words

The above-9" tablet space has moved past great evolution and it offers mature products that are getting better and better. The iPad Air 2 is the descendant of the family that started it all and the perfect embodiment of the change.

Last year was about big changes highlighted in making everything smaller. This year continues the trend but in a more subdued way. The frame got thinner this time around, forcing the battery to shrink as well. Thankfully, Apple has kept the 10 hours claim true this year as well.

The iPad Air 2 is impressive and brings a lot of improvement but does so in a mature way. It's not the bold, drastic change its predecessor was. The iPad Air 2 has a Touch ID home button, A8X chipset, higher-res camera and a Gold option. At least those are the changes marked in bold.

There are more subtle changes in the iPad Air 2. There's an additional microphone in the place of the mute switch. The FaceTime camera has been updated, the display is now fully laminated and has an anti-reflective layer. All good but quite subtle changes.

Key test findings

  • Great build quality, refined design and thinner frame
  • Good display quality - has a higher contrast ratio but it's a little dimmer than predecessor
  • Battery life is very good, in keeping with the original iPad Air
  • Rather limited connectivity, sharing almost exclusive to the iOS/OS X ecosystem, no NFC and Apple Pay
  • Software is fast and fluid but not very customizable
  • Touch ID works flawlessly, adds a welcomed new level of security
  • A8X is the best chipset we've tested, highlighted by top CPU and GPU performance
  • Speakers are a tad better than the ones of the iPad Air, have a very high ringing volume
  • Uninspiring default video player, no subtitles support, extremely limited codec support
  • Splendid audio quality
  • Camera does a good job in good light, FaceTime HD camera uninspiring due to low resolution
  • 1080p videos are solid, but come out quite noisy; Slow-motion videos look great and are a lot of fun

All of this means that the Apple iPad Air is still very good and competitive. It's great for Apple and consumers when a year old tablet is still worth it.

The larger tablet segment is still densely populated with big names and Apple's own iPad Air does have a say in the conversation for best tablet out there. The iPad Air 2 has a more powerful processor, a much better graphics chip, a better camera, a thinner body, Touch ID and... a gold option. The iPad Air has the same size and resolution display, even if it's not laminated and costs €100 (also $100) less.

Apple iPad Air

Apple iPad Air

The biggest rival the iPad Air 2 has is the brand new HTC-made Google Nexus 9. It's smaller than the iPad in almost every way aside from the thicker profile. It boasts an 8.9" IPS LCD of the same resolution as the iPad Air 2. The chipset inside didn't prove to be just as good as the A8X in the iPad Air 2 but is still one of best and the slate is powered by the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop promising timely updates thanks to its Nexus moniker.

Choosing between the Nexus 9 and iPad Air 2 could play down to the choice of OS but the price is also due for consideration - €90 less for the Nexus slate.

HTC Nexus 9

HTC Nexus 9

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 and the Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1 are also perfectly good tablets. Their Wi-Fi versions use an inferior Exynos 5420 chipset but both have marginally bigger screens, and more importantly, substantially higher resolution 2560 x 1600px. The Tab S has an impressive Super AMOLED screen, so it's probably a better pick.

Anyway, both tablets have excellent cameras and are both light and thin to almost match the iPad. Samsung's Multi-Window also makes a proper use of the large screen by allowing you to run two separate apps simultaneously.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 • Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 10.1

The Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet is still a good slate to have. It boasts a good 10.1" FullHD display, good camera, capable Snapdragon 800 chipset and a frame as thin as the iPad Air 2's. The Wi-Fi only Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet costs significantly less than the iPad Air 2 and boasts water resistance as well.

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet Wi-Fi

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet Wi-Fi

The iPad Air 2 is a good advancement for Apple but marks a slight slowdown in terms of changes. Apple conquered the tablet space long ago and perhaps it now looks to carefully and delicately move forward for fear of tripping over and losing the gained ground.

Or perhaps this is just an incremental year for the iPad, the S model, the year where Apple gathers speed for the next unveil. It's a time-tested strategy for Apple when it comes to the iPhone lineup where the huge changes happen once every two years and perhaps next year we'll see a bold new iPad Air that's all about the features marked in bold.

In any case the iPad Air 2 is a great new tablet and one every iPad user can comfortably fall into love with. Apple made the right changes in the right way - all of which has lead to the best iPad ever all over again.

Retail box

The Apple iPad Air 2 comes in a typical Apple white box featuring a print of the tablet's profile on the top and iPad Air inscribed on the sides. To open the package you need to slide the box out from underneath the cover which happens in a slow, almost calculated motion. Any attempt to apply force may cause the iPad to slip out of its nest and hit the floor, ouch. That's what we did on our hands-on video but, fortunately, no harm done.

Inside the box, you'll find the tablet itself, some leaflets, a set of Apple stickers, a lightning cable and a two-piece A/C adapter (2.5A).

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 retail box

Design and handling

Once the short-lived unboxing excitement receded, the new Apple iPad Air 2 had all of our attention. The immediate reaction upon picking up the tablet was one of awe at its thinness. And that was before we even noticed the shiny new Touch ID home button.

Last year Apple released its first iPad with the Air moniker. It marked a significant move towards premium looks and comfort of handling. While the world seemed resigned to the idea that a 10" tablet (in this case an almost 10" tablet) just has to be unwieldy and awkward to hold for longer periods of time, Apple did away with the notion. The first iPad Air was 1.2mm shorter, 16.2mm narrower and 1.9mm thinner than its predecessor. And if that wasn't insane enough it was a whopping 183g lighter. This year, Apple's effort is more subdued but still keeping that same direction.

The Apple iPad Air 2 isn't new in terms of aesthetics but feels new in the hand. It's because Apple managed to shave another 1.4mm off its profile and further reduced its weight by 32g, rounding up to a very acceptable 437g (Wi-Fi version).

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 front

The Apple iPad Air 2 retains the core design and exterior features of its predecessor. It's still built around a 9.7" 1536 x 2048px LED-backlit IPS LCD. The edges are still precision chamfered and the corners still rounded off for a better grip and feel in the palm.

The back is still predominantly flat, but slightly curved towards the edges. The Space Gray is still just as silvery as before but Apple have a new Gold option for their iPad Air 2 as well.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 back

Last year Apple released its first powerful mini iPad which shared the highlights of the original iPad Air - the screen had the same high resolution, both tablets used the same 64-bit A7 chipset, size being the sole differentiator. This year, the new iPad Air 2 is clearly superior: it's slimmer (6.1mm vs 7.5mm) and has the better A8X chipset compared to the iPad mini 3 carrying over the A7 from last year. The Air 2 has 2GB of RAM (double that of the mini 3) and the only things the two tablets share, on the outside, are the Touch ID home button and the golden color option.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 vs iPad mini 3

The design hasn't changed much since the original iPad Air but the second-gen device feels different. The new Apple iPad Air 2 is slimmer and lighter, while the Touch ID home button looks more elegant against the all-black front, a piece of flat sapphire glass within a metal ring.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Apple iPad Air 2 vs iPad Air

Apple have kept the balanced design of its flagship tablet making the iPad Air 2 just as great to handle as its predecessor. The thinner profile and reduced size make the right kind of difference.

We like the fact that the iPad Air 2 is still just as rounded at the corners and just as flat on the back. The sharp chamfered edges give that "welcome home" feel that seasoned iPad owners will appreciate.

Apple iPad Air 2

Handling the iPad Air 2

The bezels on all four sides are not strikingly slim but not too wide either. The top and bottom bezels are a bit wider and offer just enough space for you to comfortably hold the iPad Air 2 landscape, without accidentally touching the screen.

Controls

Everything is where you'd expect it to be on the new iPad Air 2. The front holds the new 9.7" display which is a main reason for the 18% thinner profile. Apple laminated three screen layers into a single sheet, complete with an antireflective coating that promises a better viewing experience outdoors. Apple call this a fully laminated display.

Underneath the display is where the new home button is. The Touch ID is an elaborate fingerprint-scanning device. On the surface of it you have a laser-cut sapphire crystal top and stainless steel ring. The latter detects your finger while the sensor beneath the crystal scans the image and proceeds to unlock your device.

The Touch ID sensor can detect a fingerprint in 360 degrees meaning that every angle you go for will allow you to unlock the tablet.

There's also a new FaceTime HD front facing camera. It's the same 1.2MP unit capable of just 720p video but now has gotten a wider f/2.2 aperture that can let more light in.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The display and Touch ID

The left-hand side (portrait) of the Apple iPad Air 2 has no controls while the right features the volume rocker that's comprised of two metal buttons, each recessed into their own nest in the housing. They're easy to locate by touch and have nice press. The iPad Air 2 has mysteriously lost the mute/rotation switch above the volume keys. Where it used to be there's now one of the two available microphones. Speaking of which, the second mic is new for this generation of the Air and allows for ambient noise cancellation during FaceTime calls.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

Top and bottom

The bottom is where the stereo speakers reside, each under its own grille. Their placement isn't ideal - one, they're on the same side and two, it's easy enough to cover one up with your palm when holding the device landscape to watch video.

The power button is in the top right, 3.5mm jack in the opposite corner.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The sides

The second microphone is on the back of the Apple iPad Air 2. It's a close neighbor of the new 8MP iSight camera which Apple is really proud of. It represents a 3MP bump in resolution but has the same aperture. What makes the camera different is the new Apple A8X chip and its image signal processor that allows improved face-detection, better noise reduction and 120-fps slow motion that wasn't available on the older iPad Air.

Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2
Apple iPad Air 2

The back