Review: iPad Air 2 
Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 9:01PM
Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla in Apple Beat, Apple iPad Air 2, Apps & Launches, Breaking news, Buyers Guide, Canada, Enterprise, Events and Launches, First Looks, Mobile, News, Opinion, Product launch, Public service, Tablets, iOS 8, iPad apps, tablets

Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

The iPad Air 2 packs an impressive amount of computing power in a device that’s barely as thick as this month’s issue of The New Yorker, it is also the most connected tablet, and one of the fastest Internet and LTE data devices available today.

Since 2010, Apple’s iPad has kicked off a revolution in mobile tablet computing, attracted an army of failed copycats, expanded its product line into the iPad mini, and sold over 225 million units. 

That’s no small feat for a product that had to reinvent tablet computing from the ground up, and which created its own business, largely in the shadow of the highly popular iPhone and its iOS operating system. Here's what I think of the latest iteration of the world's most successful tablet.

What has worked so well for Apple is that the iPad has grown its own ecosystem of iPad-specific apps (675,000 of them). 

Even holdouts like Microsoft and Adobe have recently rushed their bread-and-butter apps  (MS Office and Creative Cloud, respectively) to the iPad, understanding that by not doing so, they would miss out on a large part of their user base. 


iPad hasn’t only found itself in enterprise and education, it’s an established product that is supported by thousands of apps, accessories and new modes of usage. Apple loves to show how the iPad has outsold PCs from various competing manufacturers and this trend continues even as overall iPad sales themselves seem to have plateaued to some extent. I think the real reason for this is that iPads aren't devices users feel they need to change every year or even every other year. 

We have a 2011 vintage iPad 2 at our house (one of the first in Canada, as I lined up in Buffalo for 11 hours to get it a month before sales started in Toronto) and with iOS 7 apps, it still works great for basic tablet functions. I have various competing tablets from the same period and not only are they mired by old, unupdateable software, they can't run many recent apps. They're expensive paperweights.

Last year’s iPad Air took the form-factor to a thinner and even lighter level while adding 64-bit processing power and even more functionality with iOS 7. 

For 2014, the iPad Air 2 continues on this path with an even thinner and lighter design, a virtually gap-free laminated display and a new anti-glare coating. 

But obviously, that’s not all. 


Apple has included Touch ID across the iPad line, not for Apple Pay in retail stores (the NFC chip needed to make that work was not included in the tablet line), but still enabling purchase verification with in-app and online purchases. I also like that Apple doesn't have to differentiate its tablets as consumer or pro. It's an iPad Air, you can use it anywhere you want.

The iPad Air 2 weighs less than a pound, it approximates the weight and feel of larger eBook readers, it is 6.1 mm. thin, the slimmest tablet shipping in the market today. 


All this ‘thinnest and lightest ever’ talk sounds trite, but you only need to pick up this tablet to realize that it isn’t all hype, iPad Air 2 is really is a marvel from an engineering standpoint.

I enjoyed using the iPad Air 2 for reading my NextIssue  magazine subscriptions and found that it was more comfortable to hold in one hand than previous iPads. This is remarkable considering it is a ultra-thin yet full-sized 9.7-inch tablet. 

How thin is thin? You can stack two iPad Air 2’s on top of each other and they will be as thick as the original iPad. There’s a definite yearly target to getting the iPad as thin as possible, and this year’s version is a notable improvement. 


While many worry that this obsession with thinness might compromise build quality and structural integrity, the iPad Air 2 feels reasonably tough, although maybe something about the gold finish of my review unit made me treat it with a little bit of extra care. It certainly doesn’t feel as hardy as, say that iPad 2 (which has survived a year of abuse in the hands of my exuberant toddler), but is reassuringly resilient for something that's so thin.

It's easy to think that thinness is simply achieved simply by making the body thinner, but Apple's also done some nipping and tucking in the display department.

The new Retina Display is impressive from every angle and is, for me, the biggest selling point if I was in the market for a new tablet. 

Apple fused what was three display layers into one, making it flatter and more reflection free. They also worked on improving colours and contrast while adding an anti-reflective coating. This all works to give the iPad Air 2 unprecedented clarity in all but the very brightest direct lighting conditions.

Photos and videos have always  looked good on the iPad's Retina Display, but as a result of the new display, even text looks crisp and clear even in lower font sizes. Viewing angles are also improved as well as glare reduction which is noticeably down.

The new Apple A8X processor has a 40 per cent faster CPU which means graphics are snappier specially for games. Even basic functions feels sprightlier when you multitask or open games and apps that usually take a while to load on older devices. Early benchmarks show the iPad Air 2 simply obliterating the competition in terms of raw performance. 

Image from Appleinsider

For regular users, speed increase is very palpable when skimming through the app icons on the screen, moving through the menu system to change settings and the overall responsiveness of apps. 

I think that what really sets the iPad Air 2 apart from any other tablet out there is the speed of its data and WiFi connectivity.   

Thanks to advanced 802.11ac Wi‑Fi technology and MIMO support, access and downloads can be twice as fast and as fast as to 866 Mbps. The  Wi‑Fi + Cellular models are packed with advanced technology, offering speeds up to 150 Mbps — a 50 percent increase over previous models and the most LTE bands in the market at 20.


No other tablet maker focuses on the wireless access capabilities more than Apple does (that’s why they’re often the go-to device for users who want a connected tablet that’s independent of a phone). This is specially compelling for enterprise use and for companies where iPads have replaced notebooks for field operatives that need connected computer to run dedicated apps but also need to dial back home to servers and systems.

Apple has also made it easier for iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 users to pick and choose carriers by including an innovative carrier hopping Apple SIM in the US and the UK.

This new technology makes the included SIM smart enough to hop on to any existing wireless provider at the user’s behest. It is also a great way to grab a limited prepaid data plan when travelling. I think it is the future.


Speaking of travelling, that is one of the few instances users will use their iPad to take photos (ok, maybe not). The camera department of the iPad Air 2 has been reasonably upgraded in every way and for users who rely on their tablet for Facetime, taking and sharing photos. 

The new 8 megapixel camera brings parity between the iPad Air 2 and the iPhone so users now get all the definition as well as the features available on the iPhone with the iPad Air 2 camera. The ability to shoot advanced panoramas, time-lapse video and burst mode (at 10 photos per second, DSLR level performance) are enabled by the A8X and M8 co-processorchip.

That's lot of photographic range for images as well as for HD video. On board, too, are the various effects found in the iphone like slo-mo, time-lapse, burst mode and timer mode, which are welcome additions to any avid shooter's arsenal.


The iPad Air 2’s battery life is still astounding at around 12-hours between charges. Way beyond the 10-hours promised by Apple and ideal for long jaunts on planes, trains and automobiles.

Touch ID, now available across all iOS device lines (except iPod Touch), brings additional security to the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, but can’t be used for Apple Pay in retail locations because it doesn’t have an NFC Chip. What it does have, however, is the ability to make online payments and in app purchases possible using the the Touch ID feature and a credit card on account.


I found setting up Touch ID to be easy and straightforward, similar to how it is on the iPhone. It certainly is a better way to access the device without having to type a code each time specially since tablets are two-handed devices by nature.

The iPad Air 2 packs an impressive amount of computing power in a device that’s barely as thick as this month’s issue of The New Yorker, it is also the most connected tablet and one of the fastest Internet and LTE data devices available today.

All of these features, improvements, and refinements make the iPad Air 2 not only the best overall tablet in the market today, they cement its place as an ultraportable PC-alternative that’s powerful enough to integrate with enterprise, education and really, anywhere basic personal computing is required.


The thinner design and lighter weight might make some users feel a bit insecure in terms of requiring a case to protect the iPad

Being a device that people will want to take everywhere does pose its challenges. The competition’s got water and dust resistance in some of their devices, which would have been amazing, but that doesn’t seem to be viable because of the way the iPads are made and materials they use. 

 

Getting a good protective case or cover is paramount in ensuring the iPad Air 2 is well protected. Now, more than ever, we have a tablet that so thin it can easily slip off from tables or between clumsy fingers.  

Personally, I find the iPad Air 2 a delightful companion. Having made the iPad a key computing, entertainment and work device since the first version shipped, I am extremely familiar with what it has to offer.

I seriously doubted Apple could get thinner and lighter than the original iPad Air, yet they did, and only in a year’s time. More importantly, they did this  while maintaining the ever important battery life and making it even more powerful.


Since trying the iPad Air 2, I’ve relegated all my eBook reading from my Kindle Paperwhite and Kobo readers to their corresponding iOS apps. I’ve devoured dozens of magazines on NextIssue, I’ve rediscovered my artistic inclinations with the Paper and Sketches apps and I’ve even been even more motivated to write articles and prose on Pages and Word apps using my Belkin QODE Keyboard.

The iPad has always been about ‘making the technology disappear,’ while giving users the most immersive experiences possible. The iPad Air 2 does this so well. It seemingly vanishes when you don’t need it, yet has the power to do so many things well when you need it to. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

Article originally appeared on Reviews, News and Opinion with a Canadian Perspective (http://www.canadianreviewer.com/).
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