As we approach the holidays, Apple has launched a new iPad as expected. As one might expect from the name, the iPad Air 2 is more of an evolution of the original iPad Air than a clean-sheet design. This doesn’t mean that there’s little to talk about though, as Apple has gone a long way to improve every aspect of the iPad Air with this iteration. However, with this generation Apple seems to be under fire as Google attempts to push into the premium tablet space with the Nexus 9.

Without question though, the iPad line defines what an ARM-based tablet is. The iPad Air 2 is undoubtedly a part of this lineage with its focus on a large touch-screen display. This level of design minimalism is responsible for at least part of the original reaction to the tablet as a “large phone”. However, by virtue of its sheer size there are new possibilities opened up in terms of content consumption and even content creation. In the basic definition of a tablet, the iPad Air 2 definitely fits. There’s a new SoC, more RAM, a better display lens, new cameras, and an even thinner design, but all of these things don’t change the fact that this is a 9.7” display that can only be interacted with through a touchscreen. In the interest of saving space and time, I’ve included a spec sheet below to cover all bases.

  Apple iPad Air 2
SoC 3x 1.5 GHz CPU A8X
Display 9.7" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Network WiFi only or 2G / 3G / 4G LTE SKU
Dimensions 240 x 169.5 x 6.1 mm, 437g WiFi, 444g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear Facing with F/2.4 aperture, 1.3MP FFC
Battery 7340 mAh (27.62 Whr)
OS iOS 8.x
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS

As with any other mobile device, one of the most immediate impressions one can form is that of design. This may be one of the most important areas as well, because every mobile device is constantly held or otherwise handled. These devices tend to be deeply personal as well, which means that there’s a great deal more emphasis on industrial design than a desktop tower that gets shoved into a dark corner for five years at a time.

To this end, the iPad Air 2 does quite well. The design is definitely separate from the iPhone 6 line, as the metal chamfer remains, but the form continues to be quite pleasing. On the front face of the tablet, we see a single 1.2MP camera, the display, and the home button which has TouchID built in. The glass is flat, which makes it seem noticeably different from the iPhone 6 line in that regard as it meets the chamfered edge of the back cover rather than making a seamless curve. The radius of the curve is also noticeably different as a result, simply curving in towards the center of the device rather than curving out of the device. If anything, this does make the iPad Air 2 feel a bit thicker in the fingers but the device overall is still incredibly thin.

Speaking of the back cover, there’s really almost nothing to speak of on the back cover. There’s the 8MP camera and a microphone hole, but not much else other than the large plastic RF window on the top edge of the tablet. The curve of the sides does make it seem like there’s a great deal more on the back cover though. Other than the RF window, there’s a power button and 3.5mm jack on the top of the tablet. Next to the power button are the volume buttons, but curiously no mute/lock rotation switch for this generation. I suspect that the reasons for this deletion are primarily due to user confusion, although my experiences are purely anecdotal in this regard. Finally, along the bottom of the device we see the Lightning port and two speaker grilles.

Overall, the design of the iPad Air 2 is impressive. The thin feel is really quite impressive when compared against other devices, but the weight no longer feels quite as incredible as the original iPad Air when compared to the iPad 4.

Outside of the physical design, Apple has also included a selection of two cases which include the smart cover and case, which are mostly unchanged from the previous generation except to fit the iPad Air 2. I don’t have much to complain about here although the smart case has a bit more flex on the sides than I’d like. The smart cover does have enough strength in the magnets to hold the tablet by the cover, although I wouldn't recommend doing this.

Apple’s A8X SoC: Bigger and Badder
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  • Reckoning - Friday, November 7, 2014 - link

    That's cool. Enjoy having a slower device because of your prejudice and ignorance.
  • blackcrayon - Friday, November 7, 2014 - link

    Well you almost get your wish, the Nexus 9 seems fine in benchmarks but it lags as if it offers half the performance... Count me in the list of people who use software on a device other than the "OS".
  • darwinosx - Friday, November 7, 2014 - link

    Poor hughlle knows nothing about iOS and probably not much about Android. The Nexus 9 has been trashed in one review after another including Android sites like Android Police.
    What do you like about Android? The malware? The inferior app quality? I know, Google monitoring and selling to advertisers all your activity! Awsum! Maybe fragmentation? How about terrible build quality and support? So much to like....
  • sonicmerlin - Friday, November 7, 2014 - link

    I'm curious if lollipop finally got rid of android's lag and garbage collection stuttering. Otherwise I'll stick to iOS.
  • NEDM64 - Sunday, November 9, 2014 - link

    Lollipop can't get rid of garbage collection alone, all apps would have to be rewritten.
  • rdjg22 - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    Yes, because Android is so optimized for tablets. I'm an android fanboy too when it comes to phones (N5 is my daily driver), but you'd have to be a blind and dumb fanboy to think android offers a better tablet experience.
  • KoolAidMan1 - Tuesday, November 11, 2014 - link

    You choose an OS with substandard apps, weak developer support, and almost no tablet optimized apps over a platform with faster hardware and better apps in every single category?

  • TechShark - Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - link

    amazon has the iPad Air 2 for $50 off.
  • JRX16 - Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - link

    I played around with a Nexus 9 recently and found it disappointing. You couldn't pay me to take that over an iPad Air 2. Browsing a graphics heavy website like The Verge was almost impossible, the lag and stutter was unacceptable and made it unusable. With so much power, something is dramatically wrong with either Android or Chrome that it can't handle a website that an old iPad 4 handled with ease. Also, stock Android Lollipop has zero tablet features so it has no benefits over iOS. At least Samsung adds things to make use of the larger screen like split screen multitasking or windowed multitasking. But then their tablets are terrible in terms of performance and battery life. Can't win. The iPad remains king because it gets so much so right.
  • bmbw2010 - Friday, November 7, 2014 - link

    I'd love to see what performance they could get out of an A8X in Apple TV hardware, with some higher clock speeds and better cooling.

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