First Impressions: IPad Air 2

The delivery guy knocked on my door early today with my iPad Air 2. I hadn’t initially planned to upgrade from the first iPad Air, but I decided to pass last year’s iPad on to my son, who was a couple of years behind. I didn’t see any really compelling reasons to upgrade from the previous model, and most users won’t find any either. The main new features on the iPad Air 2 are, for me, Touch ID and the thinner, lighter form factor. The display is also improved, but I’ll write about that later, when I’ve had more time to use the device.

I’ve been using Touch ID since the iPhone 5s was released, and I think it’s a brilliant technology. However, I’m not convinced that I need it on an iPad; for me, the iPhone is the device I carry with me all day, the one I often check quickly; being able to unlock it with Touch ID is wonderful. I use the iPad occasionally: to read, watch a movie or TV show in bed, play a game, or check email. But it’s not a device I use all day. I don’t mind tapping four digits to access it, but having Touch ID does make it a tiny bit easier to use.

The iPad Air 2 is clearly thinner than the previous generation, but I think Apple will have to stop obsessing about “thinness.” Sure, it’s nice for the device to be a bit thinner, and a bit lighter, but the difference is minimal. Holding each one in one hand, I can barely feel the difference in weight; unlike when I switched from the retina iPad to the iPad Air. As for the thickness, there is a clear difference. Here’s the iPad Air 2 on the left, and the original iPad Air on the right:

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The iPad Air 2 is a tiny bit thicker than the current iPod touch:

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They’re both listed as being 6.1 mm thick, but as you can see in the above photo, the iPad Air 2, on the left, seems to be a hair’s width thicker.

No matter, when you get to this thickness, it’s not much of a big deal. The iPad Air 2 can probably bend if you put it in a pocket, or in, say, a knapsack full of books, and, while Apple will probably keep thinning the iPad in future generations, there’s not much to be gained. Being less thick makes little difference now, and the weight gain would be minimal.

A quick comparison of the displays of the two iPad Airs shows a noticeable difference in gamma – the original iPad Air is a bit more bluish – and the iPad Air 2 doesn’t seem quite as bright. When I compare the two looking at an ebook, it actually seems that the viewing angle on the iPad Air (original) is better than that of the iPad Air 2, while Apple claims that the new model has “more vivid colors and greater contrast,” though it could be the anti-reflective coating that makes it look a bit darker.

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(Photos like this are never good enough to really appreciate displays; they are not focused directly on either display, but I think you can see the difference in brightness here.)

I’ve rarely used the camera on any of my iPads, so I won’t look at that now; I make shoot some photos later and see how they compare.

So the new iPad Air 2 is an excellent device. It’s light, thin, and the display is crisp. That display is a tad darker, probably because of the anti-reflective display, but that’s fine; anything to reduce reflections. If you have the previous iPad Air, I wouldn’t recommend upgrading, unless you absolutely want Touch ID. But if your iPad is a couple years old, and you use it regularly, you’ll find the weight difference between this model and any pre-Air iPads to be noticeable. Also, the new storage tiers make this a good upgrade; the iPad Air 2 cost a bit less than the original iPad, and this with twice the storage (64 GB vs. 32 GB on the iPad Air.)

The iPad remains a great device for doing all sorts of things. The iPad Air makes it better; but just by a little bit.

Note: Following a comment below, I checked with an app called System Activity Monitor to see how much RAM the iPad Air 2 has. It does, as rumors have suggested, have 2 GB:

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