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IoT
IoT
Mobile // Mobile Devices
Commentary
10/31/2014
11:50 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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iPad Air 2: My First Week

Apple's latest iPad is a fantastic device with some strong improvements over last year's model. But you probably don't need to upgrade if you're already using an iPad Air.

Apple iPad Air 2: Visual Tour
Apple iPad Air 2: Visual Tour
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

After spending a week with the Apple iPad Air 2, I'm mostly pleased with the updated slate. It has several key benefits over the iPad Air, but they're probably noticeable only to power users. Though it adds just enough new features to keep it at the top of the tablet hill, Apple's best tablet could be better.

Making a case for upgrading tablets every year is tough. Tablets don't undergo as much abuse as smartphones do. While phones are often jammed in pockets, people who carry tablets typically tote them in backpacks, briefcases, or purses. Many tablets, in fact, rarely leave the safety of a coffee table.

My point is that there's nothing wrong with the iPad Air I bought last year. It still functions perfectly, despite the fact that I've carried it all over the world and use it every single day. So what's there to like about the iPad Air 2? Here are the pros and cons as I see them.

Pros
Hardware: No other manufacturer makes a tablet that's as classy as the iPad. The aluminum materials, quality of manufacturing, and overall design are truly impressive. The Air 2 is 18% thinner than the iPad Air, and it's easy to notice this difference when the two tablets are side-by-side. The Air 2 is also lighter than its predecessor, but the difference in weight is imperceptible. The Air 2, in short, is a pleasure to use.

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Screen: The iPad continues to have one of the best displays available on a tablet. It maintains the same 9.7-inch dimension and 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution of last year's tablet. That's not as many pixels as Samsung's latest tablets, but Apple applied a non-reflective coating to the Air 2 that makes it much easier to see in a wide variety of lighting. For example, I had no problem reading the AIr 2 while sitting on a bus in the middle of the day. In contrast, the iPad Air had reflections all over the screen, forcing me to find a better viewing angle. It's a minor improvement, but a welcome one.

Cameras: Taking photos with a tablet may still be somewhat taboo, but if you have to do it, you may as well do it with the Air 2. The 8-megapixel sensor is far superior to the iPad Air's camera. Focus is sharper, and it shows dramatic improvement in low-light photos. I can't say I really condone serious tablet photography, but few tablets match the photo quality produced by the Air 2.

Performance: The Air 2 features a tri-core A8x processor with M8 coprocessor, a dynamic duo that destroys the iPad Air's A7/M7 combo. In real-world tasks such as photo and video manipulation, the Air 2 was appreciably quicker. Intensive apps such as GarageBand and iPhoto responded without hesitation. And don't even get me started on games. The Air 2 is the best gaming tablet on the market, hands down.

Touch ID: I didn't think I'd care much about a fingerprint sensor on my tablet, but it turns out I do. I find it much more convenient for authenticating iTunes purchases than typing in my password. It helps that Apple has improved the Touch ID -- it is much faster and more accurate than the sensor on last year's iPhone 5s.

Continuity: One of the key features of iOS 8 is continuity. It allows you to send iMessages and answer calls directly on your iPad rather than having to use your phone. There were several occasions during the week when it was more convenient to answer a call on the iPad rather than dig the iPhone out of my pocket.

Cons
Battery: Apple claims the Air 2 provides the same 10 hours of battery life of the iPad Air. That's true for general usage such as surfing the Web, browsing social networks, or creating documents. I noticed a decrease in battery life, however, when watching HD video. The Air 2's smaller power cell comes up short, in my opinion. Further, I think it's fair to ding Apple for failing to improve battery life. Why is 10 hours the gold standard? Why not push it to 12 hours?

Multitasking: Apple can't claim the iPad is the best working tablet available if it can't truly multitask. Both Android and Windows tablets can run two apps at the same time, allowing users to move content between them easily. The iPad cannot do that. It's long past time Apple allowed the iPad to run multiple apps together, especially if it wants to sell the tablet to business users.

Storage: The iPad Air 2 is available in 16-, 64-, and 128-GB variants. It does not support removable memory cards. The issue here is pricing. Tablets should no longer be limited to 16 GBs at the low end. High-def movies, music, apps, and photos consume a lot of storage. The 16-GB Air 2 may seem like a bargain at $499, but it isn't going to match most users' storage needs. Apple should offer a 32-GB option at $499, but instead, the company clearly expects customers to spend an extra $100 for the 64-GB model. Padding profits much?

Speakers: I really enjoy watching video on the Air 2. It's a rotten shame, then, that the tablet doesn't include stereo speakers. Many of today's high-end tablets (think Nexus 9) do offer stereo speakers, which vastly improve the experience. If you want a stereo experience on the iPad, you'll need to plug in headphones. It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it would enhance casual video consumption.

Multiple Accounts: Tablets are for sharing, but not everything should be shared with all users. The Air 2 does not support multiple users, which means parents need to be careful of what they consume on the Air 2. Though parental controls are available, it would be much better if the Air 2 supported a Kid Mode or Guest Mode that allowed the main users to log out and offer restricted access to the tablet. It's long past time Apple resolved this.

In sum, I like the iPad Air 2 and will keep it because I value the improvements Apple made to the tablet. However, it's hard to say the improvements are truly worth the $500 upgrade price over last year's iPad. If you're still using a 2nd-, 3rd-, or 4th-generation iPad, the Air 2 is definitely worth the upgrade. But if you're already using an iPad Air, it's probably not worth the upgrade unless you plan to sell your existing tablet to make up for the cost of the new one.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
12/1/2014 | 11:47:05 PM
Re: bargain
tjgkg, 

It's nice you noticed the difference. Also, networks in Europe are constantly being updated, so that also influences when you have a newer model of hardware. 

-Susan
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
11/24/2014 | 1:44:31 PM
Re: bargain
@Susan: You are so right. I just got back from Europe with my iPad Air and the wi-fi performance was better than last year with the other model but not great. And it was more fussy than my Galaxy S4! Can't wait to see what next year brings.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/6/2014 | 1:59:29 AM
Re: bargain
Mak, -- It has been quite an interesting adventure. The test ends today at midnight. :) -Susan
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/6/2014 | 12:14:55 AM
Re: bargain
Susan. It'll be interesting to know how the test turns out.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 2:06:49 AM
Re: bargain
Mak, I see. Well, about an iPad replacing a laptop for some kinds of work I am running a test about that as we speak. We'll see to what conclusions I will arrive in just a few days' time. :) -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 2:03:05 AM
Re: bargain
tjgkg, -- Every next version will always be better. :D -Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
11/4/2014 | 1:57:58 AM
Re: iPad for sharing?
GAProgrammer, -- I don't think Apple has the obligation to think its products in the same way other manufacturers do. That has never been Apple's policy and I believe it's just fine. iPads are expensive toys for 4 and 7-year-olds. For them, you could choose one of the many cheap tablets that are available on the market for less than $200. I believe I have seen some for less than $100, too. Kids don't need all the functionality of an iPad. If you are willing to share your devices with other memebers of your family that's another story and it's a personal choice, I believe. I would never share my devices with anyone else. For me, they are personal objects and I don't like others messing up with my personal stuff. As I said, it's a personal choice. One thing is clear, a tablet manaufatcurer can decide what kind of product wants in the market. You can choose an iPad, or you can choose another tablet from another manufacturer that have thought tablets can be shared devices instead of personal ones. -Susan
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 4:52:28 PM
Re: bargain
@Susan

I believe a tablet is not a laptop or desktop replacement, therefore paying $500 is too much money for it, whether is an iPad or an Android.
In my opinion, unless we're talking about a 2-in 1 or a Surface 3 Pro, a tablet can't replace a computer just yet.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 4:39:20 PM
Re: bargain
I agree. The 16gb version is very expensive. The 128gb version is priced a bit better. Still I have an iPad Air that i bought just 8 months ago, there is nothing here that screams out upgrade now. I like a lot of the features but i think next years' version will be better. This irregular release of the iPads is going to drive more people away.
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
11/3/2014 | 4:05:43 PM
Re: iPad for sharing?
While I agree that Apple didn't think of it that way, ask anyone who has a family and they will tell you EVERYONE uses them. Multiple users are the norm for tablets, especially the ones that sit at home all the time. Amazon and B&N got this part right - Apple did not.

No WAY am I dropping $2000 to let the other 4 people in the house use my iPad. Especially when one is 4 yrs old and one is 7 years old.
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