Apple recently released the new iPad Air 2 tablet computer sporting a unique A8X processor, Touch ID and an improved iSight camera. Is the iPad Air 2 a game-changer, though?
While the tablet computing genre owes its origins to Microsoft and HP circa 2002 with a product that was a hefty piece of Windows hardware that would make even Chuck Norris nervous, tablet computing as we know it today arrived in the then slim and neat form of the original 9.7-inch iPad in 2010.
Back then it was a breakthrough device and we marvelled at how this ultra portable lightbox could be the saviour of magazines, TV, radio, games … you name it.
Hindsight is a great teacher and as Apple progressed with various generations of iPad, including a 7.9-inch iPad mini form factor, you have to give Apple credit for two things: the reinvention of what we consider “personal” computing and making powerful waves in digital photography and video.
The natural user interface could be used by anyone from the age of one to beyond 100 years of age – even my youngest cat jabs curiously at the screen.
As the devices get slimmer and more powerful, Apple has taken great care to update the iOS ecosystem without losing that simplicity and versatility that excited everyone with the first iPad in 2010.
First impressions: weight and display
The iPad Air 2 is the thinnest iPad that Apple has ever produced at just 6.1mm – 18pc thinner than its predecessor, the iPad Air – thin enough to almost hide behind a wooden pencil. The new generation comes in three metallic finishes: silver, space grey and gold.
If you study the device closely it has bevelled edges that Apple says were cut with a mono-crystalline diamond. Appearances-wise, the product reeks with opulence. It is pretty, prettier than anything out there on the market, and almost too pretty by far.
It weighs less than a pound, so the Air description is pretty accurate and even beside its sister device the iPad mini 3 it feels lighter. This gives you a pretty versatile sensation while the feel of metal in your hand makes it feel solid and tough.
Aside from the shiny cosmetic surroundings the most distinctive feature of the new iPad is of course its Retina display. If you swirl the device about in your hands you are immediately impressed by the parallax sensation – as if the images of icons exist on the top level of glass – you almost feel like you are looking into a stream and the app icons are leaves floating on top.
The Retina display consists of an LCD screen, a touch layer and a micro thin layer bonded together to create a single component with no air gap.
The display has 2,048 x 1,536 resolution, which makes it possible to present some 3.1m pixels.
Apple has also coated the display with its own designed anti-reflective coating that reduces glare by 56pc, which Apple claims makes it the least reflective tablet in the world.
iSight camera, time lapse and photo-editing tools
When Apple launched the iPad Air 2 a fortnight ago, the company boasted that the iPad is the best viewfinder in the camera market. While we like to joke in the office about the incongruity and how awkward people look taking pictures with tablet devices, you can’t deny a massive viewfinder does have its advantages.
The new iPad Air 2 with its new 8-megapixel iSight camera comes with all the new photo capabilities that came with iOS 8, including Time Lapse, Slo-Mo as well as the ability to stitch together 43-megapixel panoramics. An exciting new capability is burst mode which lets you snap 10 photos per second.
One of the interesting things about the new iPad Air 2’s burst mode is that as you shoot the iPad Air 2 analyses every shot in real-time, comparing sharpness and clarity.
The video capabilities on the iPad Air are also pretty exceptional. The device can shoot 1080p HD at 30 frames per second and you can also shoot in Slo Mo or time-lapse modes.
Slow motions shots can be recorded in HD at 120 frames per second in 720p resolution. A neat feature is the ability to record at standard speed and suddenly slow down to capture a section in slow motion.
Automatic video stabilisation keeps recordings free of bumps and shakes and you can edit your creation with the free iMovie app that comes pre-installed on the iPad Air 2.
One of the things that Apple has done very well is to come up with technically brilliant but extremely easy to use photo-editing software.
As well as adding various filters you can very easily edit and crop photos. This feature arrived with iOS 8 and while it works brilliantly on the iPhone it comes into its own on the iPad, which to all intents and purposes can be a multipurpose lightbox.
To sharpen images you can easily jump between Light, Colour and Black & White editing settings to create the perfect picture.
Battery and processor
What makes the iPad Air 2 unique in the entire line-up of iPad products is that this is the first iPad for which Apple designed a specific processor, the A8X.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The most obvious being to save real estate and make the devices as slim as it is, Apple would have had to reduce the size of the battery considerably.
Rather than lose battery power as a compromise for a lighter, slimmer machine, Apple has instead gone the other direction and thanks to the A8X processor the device is capable of 10 hours battery life. A win-win all round.
The A8X processor is built on second-generation 64-bit desktop architecture and delivers 40pc faster CPU performance than the A7 chip.
Graphics-wise the A8X chip improves graphics performance by 2.5 times that of the A7 processor that would have powered the original iPad Air last year.
Like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the new iPad Air 2 comes with Apple’s new M8 motion coprocessor chip which measures data from the accelerometer, compass, gyroscope to boost gaming experiences and perform dynamic mapping tasks.
As well as the slimmer profile and new materials, the most obvious thing that’s new about the iPad Air 2 is the inclusion of Touch ID, Apple’s proprietary fingerprint sensing technology.
On initial set-up, after a few goes of it scanning your fingerprint from a number of directions Touch ID can be used to make your device unique to you and you no longer have to put in a passcode or password every time you access the device or wish to buy apps or music.
One cool thing Apple did with the new iOS 8 rollout was provide developers with the ability to employ Touch ID with their apps, in effect making passwords redundant.
Verdict – the best iPad ever made … so far
Slim, beautiful and shiny the iPad Air 2 is probably the most perfect iPad ever produced. It is both light and powerful, versatile and sturdy and at a time when people are suggesting the tablet market has run out of steam.
If anything Apple has raised the bar for other tablet manufacturers. iOS 8 is at its most powerful. The new A8X chip results in a crisp and speedy experience as you shuffle through apps, while the dual Wi-Fi radios in the device allow you to draw down content pretty speedily.
The 10-hour battery life is also something to consider. While I can’t say I’ve run the battery down over a consistent 10-hour period, you could intermittently use the device over a period of days on a single charge and still be quite productive.
The only problem with the iPad Air is one that Apple has placed on its own head: how can you improve upon perfection?