It was hard to see how Apple could improve on the first iPad Air – arguably the finest tablet ever produced.
And then it went and did so with the iPad Air 2. You can talk all you like about what counts as “too thin” but there’s no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate. Plus, unlike the iPhone 6 Plus it doesn’t bend either!
Not only that, but the relentless desire to make the thing thinner has resulted in a better screen too, as the layers that make up the backlight, touchscreen digitizer and LCD screen are so close that Apple now claims there is zero air in between them.
The result? A less reflective display that looks brighter and more colorful. And it really is.
There’s the question of where the iPad Air 2 sits in the market, as it’s US$499 (£399, AU$699) for the basic version, and you can pay up to US$829 (£659, AU$1,119) for the fully specced, Wi-Fi + 4G model.
But while that cost is high, it’s no more than is being charged by Samsung or Sony for their comparable tablets.
Of course on contract it’s ridiculously expensive, but then again I think most people will still want to buy the iPad Air 2 as a sofa-dwelling device, so the 4G option isn’t going to be the real reason you buy this tablet.
I’ll get onto the design in a moment – but it’s worth noting that the design alone is a good reason to pick up the new iPad Air 2. It’s super light, amazingly slim and will delight over and over again for the first fortnight of ownership, before you slip back to the standard tech nonchalance that creeps over us all eventually.
Did the iPad Air need to get thinner and more powerful? Not really – I’m already struggling to find must-have reasons for the improved A8X chip beyond a much faster interface and the promise of better apps and games to come – but once you actually handle the new iPad Air 2, you’ll be sold.
At 6.1mm thick, the Apple iPad Air 2 is easily one of the slimmest tablets on the market. It’s not actually the thinnest, but we’re at the point now where fractions of a millimetre really don’t matter.
Thinness for its own sake can be an error – there is a point of diminishing returns where only marginal improvements can be achieved, at the cost of structural integrity, battery life and overall performance – but Apple hasn’t reached that point yet.
The iPad Air 2 feels like a very solid tablet that can be held easily for hours without it getting uncomfortable. The iPad Air was hardly a big tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S matches the iPad Air 2 in weight, if not thickness.
Where the Apple device wins though is the overall packaging. Samsung’s option is good, but clearly an assemblage of distinct parts. The plastic back, the larger-bezelled screen and the rim are all competing parts, where the iPad Air 2 is a complete package, smooth and easy to hold in one hand.
I was almost loath to put it in a case – it needs to be protected if you’re going to be running it around town, as that back and chamfered edges will scuff up eventually – but if you’re going to be a sofa-warrior with your new tablet, the Smart Cover will do just fine and won’t obscure the impressive design.
The sad thing here is the loss of the silencing switch, which has departed due to size restrictions. Apple would argue that this is because the new Control Center makes the option available throughout the OS with just a flick of the hand, but in truth I’m really going to miss being able to silence the tablet without even looking.
The power button remains at the top and the volume keys have shuffled a little upwards now free of the silence key, but otherwise the only real design changes are the speaker grill at the bottom of the tablet (now a single row of holes, rather than the two before) and the Touch ID on the home key.
You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air without a spotter’s guide, but the iPad Air 2 has a deeper black bezel which helps enhance the picture – plus it now comes in gold to join space gray and silver.
The camera stays where it has been, both front and back, with the new 8MP iSight snapper not jutting out as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The fact no tablet camera needs to be that high res, nor should people be taking pics with a tablet anyway, is something to discuss in another article.
Does the iPad Air 2’s design warrant the high price tag? Yes, more than any other tablet on the market. It brings a premium build, quality finish, great looks and while it doesn’t need to be this thin, the structure doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the actual performance of the tablet, and does add something in the palm.