I’ve had one week with the iPad Air 2 at this point, and because I use my tablet day in and day out, I can say it definitely feels like an upgrade over last year’s Air.
I honestly never felt that the initial Air needed to get thinner, but the Air 2 does set a new standard. Going from one device to the other is noticeable, but not shockingly so. It’s just something you get used to gradually. Another takeaway for me is the balance. There’s a 7% difference in weight between the old iPad Air and the new model, but I think the internals were likely re-balanced as well. The Air 2 feels just a little more comfortable and balanced in hand. However, if you’re looking for the drastic difference you’d felt going from an iPad 2 to an iPad mini, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.
The mute/lock switch was a casualty to the thinner form factor, and I used that switch quite a lot on my iPad Air. However, I’ve found myself already used to the change by now. I’m used to using Control Center on my iPhone for locking the device orientation, and it has quickly become second nature to do it on the iPad Air 2.
The Smart Cover and Other Air Accessories
It’s silly, but I didn’t really believe Apple when they said the Smart Cover would fit both devices. It just didn’t look like there was enough actual surface area for my existing Smart Cover to latch onto on the iPad Air 2, but it works perfectly. No weirdness or subtle adjustments necessary.
The Logitech Ultrathin I just reviewed also works with the Air 2, although the thinner profile means that the Air 2 rests at a more shallow angle by default. This means I almost never have to tilt the iPad back in the Ultrathin’s stand, since it’s already the perfect angle to begin with. As for the magnetic hideaway latch? That works perfectly with the Air 2, too.
Any plastic or leather cases that are suited exactly for the iPad Air will likely be a little loose on the Air 2, though.
Speed Increase and 2 GB of RAM
Last year’s Air still runs iOS 8 beautifully, but even so, there’s a noticeable uptick in speed on the Air 2 for things I do tens of times per day. Evernote feels lightning fast at accessing notes on the Air 2, which makes me love the iPad even more for getting work done. Some people have reported lower battery life on the Air 2, but I haven’t noticed it so far. This iPad still gets through a day of constant usage at work, and I get home with about 45% battery left.
The far bigger change is 2 GB of RAM. It’s a change I definitely notice on a daily basis, and it makes the iPad feel more like a computer than a mobile device.
Safari can now keep a good 8–10 tabs loaded at once, which is great. Depending on the kinds of apps I open, most of those tabs can actually stay open for the afternoon at work without having to reload. That’s such a marked difference from surfing on every iOS device before the iPad Air 2, and it’s a clear differentiator for this tablet as a different class of machine. The Air 2 feels a lot more reliable for my regular work schedule. This is, by far, my favourite change to the way the iPad works. It makes me glad that I held off upgrading my iPhone this year, since I’ll likely get the same 2 GB RAM experience on next year’s iPhone as well.
64 GB of Storage (up from 32 GB)
64 GB of storage is dangerous territory for me because it gets me thinking about 128 GB of storage for just $100 more. 128 GB used to be an extra $200 that I’d have to justify, but here I am with my 64 GB iPad Air 2 — this incredible machine — and I find myself eyeing the maxed out model just because it’s so liberating to have so much space. I plan to store some of my music on the iPad via iTunes Match, but I stream most of it through Spotify. Most of the storage will really be taken up by iCloud document files (like for Pixelmator), some movie files for editing on-the-go, and all of the pictures I’ve ever taken. The last part is really why I’m considering 128 GB, but before I take that leap, I’m uploading my entire collection of photos to iCloud Photo Library and trying out the “Optimize iPad Storage” setting.
The New Laminated Screen
It’s hard to show the difference between the two screens in pictures, but it’s easy to see in person. I haven’t used the iPad outdoors in bright sunlight, but there is a definite reduction in glare for indoor lights. It’s a lot like putting on a lighter pair of sunglasses: the reflections still show up on the screen, but they’re dimmer, allowing the content to shine through more.
This is one of those features that really should have debuted alongside the 5S last year, but it’s really great to have TouchID now. I do feel like my data is more secure on the iPad now that I’ve got a fingerprint scanner and a more complex passcode to lock my iPad down every time I turn the screen off.
The TouchID on my Air 2 actually works better than the sensor on my iPhone 5S. It recognizes my fingerprint every single time, even when my grubby mitts are sweaty (which they often are). The presence of any moisture on my hand convinces my iPhone that I’m a total stranger, but my Air 2 still knows it’s me, even through the sweat. That’s loyalty for you.
A Final Few Thoughts
As far as the Air 2’s hardware design goes, I’m really quite happy with it. The device is great to hold, the TouchID sensor is wonderfully reliable, and the extra 1 GB of RAM has already changed the way that the iPad feels for me. If you’re on the market for a 10-inch iPad, I heartily recommend the Air 2 over last year’s Air — especially since the difference is only $100 on a device that already costs a minimum of $400. 2 GB of RAM really does make browsing feel that much more breezy.
As a final thought, I’d like to echo what others have said on Twitter: there has never been a better time to buy the iPad mini 2 (previously “iPad mini with Retina Display”). As much as I love TouchID, I don’t think it’s worth the $100 premium in the iPad mini 3 over the iPad mini 2. If you’ve read this review and are feeling like the Air 2 might be too much machine for you, the iPad mini 2 is basically as fast as last year’s iPad Air, $200 cheaper than the Air 2, and still features a beautiful hi-res display. It’s definitely a strange year for the iPad lineup as a whole, but I think the Air 2 and the mini 2 are the clear choices for new buyers or users looking to upgrade.