DL Editor's Choice: Apple iPad Air 2

Just how do you make the best tablet in the world better?

Apple's iPad Air was Editor's Choice and Readers' Choice for Best Tablet in the 9-inch plus category, in the last Digital Life Awards.

So, for an encore, Apple just had to improve on the Air. And it has. So it is thinner. And faster. And lighter.

Think about it. The original iPad Air was already quite thin at 7.5mm, the same thickness as the iPad mini, and fully 20 per cent thinner than earlier editions of the iPad mini.

Now, Apple has put it on a diet and come out with the iPad Air 2. This is even thinner at 6.1mm, which is 18 per cent skinnier than the original, making it the world's thinnest consumer tablet. Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 10.5 is 6.6mm thick; and Sony's Xperia Z2 is 6.4mm thick.

The iPad Air 2 is as tall and as wide as the original iPad Air, but by some alchemy, it manages to weigh around 32 to 34g lighter.

In outward appearance, the iPad Air 2 is virtually indistinguishable from the original, with a similar aluminium chassis and chamfered edges. The smoothness and premium feel of an iPad remains, while the build is rock solid.

But as soon as you pick it up, you can immediately feel the difference in thickness. When I saw the first iPad, I could not help going "Wow!"

That was was 13.4mm thick. Now, four years on, you can stack two of the iPad Air 2 together and they will still be thinner than the original iPad. Here's the skinny: It's a full 1mm thinner than my iPhone 6 Plus.

On the other hand, you may not be able to tell that it is lighter than the original iPad Air, because the difference is minimal.

Still, the iPad Air 2 is really light for its size and metallic build. The heaviest model weighs only 444g.

Compare this with Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 10.5 Android tablet weighs 467g and Sony's Xperia Z2 tablet which weighs 439g.

Another difference you will notice in the iPad Air 2 is the metallic ring around the Home button. This signifies that it is the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, the most wanted feature, according to Apple.

The Touch ID is a feature I badly wanted on my iPad. So used am I to the Touch ID on my iPhone that I would put my thumb on the Home button of the original Air, foolishly waiting for it to unlock itself. So, it is refreshingly convenient to be able to skip entering a passcode on the Air.

On the downside, the iPad's mute/orientation switch - sited above the volume controls in earlier iPads - is gone. Sacrificed, perhaps, to keep the device as skinny as it is.

You can still mute the device by holding the volume-down button, and lock the display's orientation in Control Centre. The absence of the mute/orientation switch is an inconvenience, for sure, but one that may soon be forgotten.

The touchscreen of the iPad Air 2 is still 9.7 inches. It has a resolution of 2,056 x 1,536 pixels. But its fully-laminated design eliminates the air gap between glass and display - and makes the iPad Air 2 thinner.

More importantly, it has an anti-reflective coating that cuts glare by 56 per cent. When I put the iPad Air and iPad Air 2 side by side under bright sunlight, there was, indeed, much less reflection from the iPad Air 2. less apparent. The display of the original looked like a mirror.

In colour reproduction, I found the Air 2 to display less white than the original. But colour shift is minimal when the screen is viewed from the side. Brightness is quite consistent across the Air 2's display. And the same photos look sharper on the Air 2 than on the original.

Apple's chief marketing honcho, Phil Schiller, has described the iPad as the best viewfinder for composing photos and videos. While this "viewfinder" is certainly large and less reflective, I still think one looks ridiculous taking photos with a tablet this big.

Still, the rear camera has been upgraded with an 8-megapixel image sensor (from 5 megapixels) with support for panoramic pictures, burst shooting and slow-motion videos. The only thing missing is the iPhone 6's True Tone dual-LED flash.

Despite the boost in megapixels, the Air 2 captures no more details than the original does. But in terms of dynamic range, the Air 2 fares better, giving a better and smoother tonal range in the darker areas of images. Videos shot on the iPad Air and iPad Air 2 are equally sharp and of the same quality.

Apple has slotted a much faster processor in the form of a 64-bit A8X chip into the Air 2. The Geekbench 3 benchmark software shows the A8X to be a three-core 1.51GHz processor and the Air 2 has 1.94GB of system memory.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmark test, the Air 2 scored 1,812 in the single-core test and 4,544 in the multi-core test, as against 1,470 and 2,646 for the original Air.

In other words, apps that use multi-threaded instructions will run 70 per cent faster on the iPad Air 2 than on the original. Sony's Xperia Z2 tablet scored only 967 (single-core) and 2602 (multi-core) benchmarks.

In real life tests, the Air 2 took 6sec to load graphics-intensive game Infinity Blade III, whereas the original Air took around 7.8sec.

Playing the first-person shooter game Modern Combat 5 is as smooth as silk. The graphics look as good as if you were playing on a PC. The textures exhibited are the same as with the original Air, but the game feels faster and more responsive.

The Air 2 adds the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi. With the 802.11ac Wi-Fi router in my home, I did a Wi-Fi test using the Speedtest.net app with both the original and Air 2 simultaneously.

The iPad Air 2 clocked a download speed of 186.97Mbps and a upload speed of 229.81Mbps, versus the original Air's 104.84Mbps and 139.09Mbps.

In our intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi on and the display at full brightness), the Air 2 managed an impressive 8hr 15min before the battery went flat.

The Air 2 needed to be charged only every other day if I checked e-mail often, browsed Pinterest, flipping through Flipboard, surfed the Internet and read digital magazines.

And did I mention that the iPad Air 2 comes in gold as well? To match your gold iPhone. It also comes in space grey and silver. So the colour range is now exactly the same as that of the iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus.

Without a doubt, the Apple iPad Air 2 is the best tablet in the world with its thin lightweight sturdy build, nice form factor, fast performance and now addition security with the Touch ID sensor.

Even if you have the original Air, the even skinnier Air 2, with its improved performance and the addition of Touch ID, warrants an upgrade.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

TECH SPECS
Price
: From $688 (16GB Wi-Fi) to $1,148 (128GB Wi-Fi + 4G, version tested), available later this month
Operating system: iOS 8.1
Processor: A8X chip with 64-bit architecture, M8 co-processor
Display: 9.7 inches, 2,048 x 1,536 pixels
Camera: 8-megapixel rear camera, 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera
Weight: 437g (Wi-Fi), 444g (Wi-Fi + 4G)

RATING
Features
: 5/5
Design: 5/5
Performance: 5/5
Value for money: 4/5
Battery life: 4/5

Overall: 5/5


This article was first published on Oct 29, 2014.
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