Apple iPad Air 2 review: still a great tablet
It’s been more than two years now since the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, and it remains part of the range. The iPad Pro 9.7in may have taken over as Apple’s flagship full-sized iPad, but the Air 2 remains a viable option for tablet buyers on a budget.
The quick take: Who should buy the iPad Air 2?
iPads remain the best all-round tablet available, thanks largely to the quality of iOS and excellent selection of apps. You should only look at Android tablets if you’re either on a budget that doesn’t fit Apple prices, or prefer Android generally.
The harder question is whether you should buy an iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro 9.7in. This depends on one thing and one thing alone: price. If you want a 9.7in iPad but don’t want to spend more than £500, the Air 2 is your best (and only) option.
Stretch to £589 and you’ll get an iPad Air 2 with 128GB of storage and both Wi-Fi and 4G, so you can connect to the internet anywhere there’s coverage. By comparison, the 128GB 4G version of the iPad Pro will cost you an eye-watering £759.
If you have the budget, though, you’re better off getting an iPad Pro 9.7in in the long run. For that additional £170, you’ll get a better screen, much faster (and so future-proofed) device, and support for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.
So buy the iPad Air 2 if:
- You’re on a tight budget.
- You want a 9.7in iPad.
- And you don’t need those “Pro” features.
In depth: iPad Air 2 hardware
The design of the iPad Air 2 is essentially the same as the original iPad Air, although Apple managed to shave 1.4mm off the device’s thickness as well as 32g from its weight. At just 6.1mm thin, 240 x 169.5mm and 437g, this is a tablet you can easily hold and use in one hand.
Everything about it oozes premium quality, too, with a precision-cut aluminium case that’s as stunning as you’d expect from Apple, and colour options of silver, gold and “Space Grey”, all of which look terrific.
The iPad Air 2’s home button includes Touch ID, the fingerprint reader you can use to unlock the iPad, log in to some apps (I find it especially useful for password managers) and authorise online payments.
Apple has kept the same resolution as on previous iPads from the iPad 3 onwards: 2,048 x 1,536. This Retina-class screen has a pixel density of 264ppi and excellent colour reproduction, but it lacks the True Tone feature that comes with the iPad Pro 9.7in. True Tone uses ambient light sensors to automatically adapt the colour and intensity of the display to match the light in your environment, which means you get much better colour in all conditions. In short, if you want the best display, get the iPad Pro rather than the iPad Air 2.
Compared with Super AMOLED displays, which you’ll find on devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, the iPad Air 2 lacks a bit of verve, but in exchange, you gain brightness and colour accuracy. However, this remains a great screen by any measure.
Performance-wise, the iPad Air 2 is still perfectly acceptable. It uses the 64-bit A8X, a three-core chip clocked at 1.4GHz to 1.5GHz, coupled with 2GB of memory. When we first reviewed it, this made the iPad Air 2 the fastest tablet we’d seen, but it’s since been eclipsed by the iPad Pro series.
Having said that, performance is still great: it’s on a par with the Google Pixel C, and it’s better than rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 9.7 and the Huawei MediaPad M3. In short, it’s more than good enough for almost everything you’ll find in the App Store. If you want to push the boundaries of either games, video or photo manipulation, you’ll want the Pro, but otherwise the Air 2 is more than capable.
Apple has also slightly redesigned the volume buttons, housing them in a recess, rather than having each button poke through its own hole. There’s no difference in the feel, although the new design is a little more attractive and neater than the old.
Battery life, too, is solid. In our normal video-playback test, the battery lasted 9hrs 32mins running at a screen brightness of 170cd/m2. This is still a good result for a large tablet and ,although the Samsung Galaxy S2 and Google Pixel C both last longer, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Combined with its excellent standby time (the iPad Air 2 barely sips power while it’s at rest), you’ll find you don’t have to charge this tablet too often.
And yes, you do get two cameras: one front-facing, for video-chat apps, and a rear one for taking pictures. The latter is an 8-megapixel camera that’s good enough for everyday use in daylight but suffers badly in low light. The software includes the ability to shoot panoramas, a 10fps burst mode, and of course 1080p video.
iPad Air 2 software
Unlike the older iPad Air, the Air 2 is able to fully take advantage of the split-screen feature introduced with iOS 9, which lets you have two applications in view at the same time. Indeed, iOS (now at version 10) is a mature and fully featured mobile operating system with an extensive library of high-quality apps.
As with most things Apple, the iPad Air 2 works best if you already have other devices from the company. For example, Handoff is a feature that lets you begin work on one device and then “hand off” to the same application on another. Say you’re working on an email on your iPad. A little icon appears in the Dock on your Mac, and clicking this opens up the unsent email, even with the cursor exactly where you left it. Likewise, iOS has recently introduced a universal clipboard, allowing you clip something on your Mac and then paste it into an app on your iPad or iPhone.
iPad Air 2 alternatives
The iPad Air 2 may not be the flagship iPad now, but it still compares well with other tablets, both iPad, Android and Windows.
Google Pixel C: The best Android tablet of its size around at the moment, the Pixel C has the advantage of an optional detachable keyboard. However, although Android has made great strides, it’s still second best to iOS as a tablet operating system. A little pricier than the iPad Air 2 at around £479.
Apple iPad Pro 9.7in: If your budget can stretch to it, the iPad Pro 9.7in gives you a lot more features – Smart Cover and Pencil support, a much better screen, and a major upgrade to the camera and processor. But you will pay quite a bit more.
Microsoft Surface 3: The “forgotten man” of Microsoft’s Surface line-up, the Surface 3 is a Windows tablet that at £419 is only a little more expensive than the iPad Air 2. However, performance is a little lacking and it’s also getting on a bit now.
- Processor-Tri-core 1.5GHz Apple A8X
- Screen size-9.7in
- Screen resolution-2,048×1,536
- Screen type-IPS
- Front camera-1.2 megapixels
- Rear camera-8 megapixels
- GPS-Yes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
- Compass -Yes (Wi-Fi + Cellular only)
- Memory card slot (supplied)-N/A
- Bluetooth-Bluetooth 4.0
- Wireless data-4G (optional)
- Operating system-iOS 8.1
- Battery size-7,340mAh
- Warranty-One-year RTB
- Part code-Apple iPad Air