As we approach the holidays, Apple has launched a new iPad as expected. As one might expect from the name, the iPad Air 2 is more of an evolution of the original iPad Air than a clean-sheet design. This doesn’t mean that there’s little to talk about though, as Apple has gone a long way to improve every aspect of the iPad Air with this iteration. However, with this generation Apple seems to be under fire as Google attempts to push into the premium tablet space with the Nexus 9.

Without question though, the iPad line defines what an ARM-based tablet is. The iPad Air 2 is undoubtedly a part of this lineage with its focus on a large touch-screen display. This level of design minimalism is responsible for at least part of the original reaction to the tablet as a “large phone”. However, by virtue of its sheer size there are new possibilities opened up in terms of content consumption and even content creation. In the basic definition of a tablet, the iPad Air 2 definitely fits. There’s a new SoC, more RAM, a better display lens, new cameras, and an even thinner design, but all of these things don’t change the fact that this is a 9.7” display that can only be interacted with through a touchscreen. In the interest of saving space and time, I’ve included a spec sheet below to cover all bases.

  Apple iPad Air 2
SoC 3x 1.5 GHz CPU A8X
Display 9.7" 2048x1536 IPS LCD
Network WiFi only or 2G / 3G / 4G LTE SKU
Dimensions 240 x 169.5 x 6.1 mm, 437g WiFi, 444g LTE
Camera 8MP Rear Facing with F/2.4 aperture, 1.3MP FFC
Battery 7340 mAh (27.62 Whr)
OS iOS 8.x
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS

As with any other mobile device, one of the most immediate impressions one can form is that of design. This may be one of the most important areas as well, because every mobile device is constantly held or otherwise handled. These devices tend to be deeply personal as well, which means that there’s a great deal more emphasis on industrial design than a desktop tower that gets shoved into a dark corner for five years at a time.

To this end, the iPad Air 2 does quite well. The design is definitely separate from the iPhone 6 line, as the metal chamfer remains, but the form continues to be quite pleasing. On the front face of the tablet, we see a single 1.2MP camera, the display, and the home button which has TouchID built in. The glass is flat, which makes it seem noticeably different from the iPhone 6 line in that regard as it meets the chamfered edge of the back cover rather than making a seamless curve. The radius of the curve is also noticeably different as a result, simply curving in towards the center of the device rather than curving out of the device. If anything, this does make the iPad Air 2 feel a bit thicker in the fingers but the device overall is still incredibly thin.

Speaking of the back cover, there’s really almost nothing to speak of on the back cover. There’s the 8MP camera and a microphone hole, but not much else other than the large plastic RF window on the top edge of the tablet. The curve of the sides does make it seem like there’s a great deal more on the back cover though. Other than the RF window, there’s a power button and 3.5mm jack on the top of the tablet. Next to the power button are the volume buttons, but curiously no mute/lock rotation switch for this generation. I suspect that the reasons for this deletion are primarily due to user confusion, although my experiences are purely anecdotal in this regard. Finally, along the bottom of the device we see the Lightning port and two speaker grilles.

Overall, the design of the iPad Air 2 is impressive. The thin feel is really quite impressive when compared against other devices, but the weight no longer feels quite as incredible as the original iPad Air when compared to the iPad 4.

Outside of the physical design, Apple has also included a selection of two cases which include the smart cover and case, which are mostly unchanged from the previous generation except to fit the iPad Air 2. I don’t have much to complain about here although the smart case has a bit more flex on the sides than I’d like. The smart cover does have enough strength in the magnets to hold the tablet by the cover, although I wouldn't recommend doing this.

Apple’s A8X SoC: Bigger and Badder
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  • darkich - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    What a disaapointing review.
    After all of this waiting I was expecting some deep chip architecture dive, something we havent read in other reviews ,but NOTHING here came across as new and interesting.
    Also, it was written rather poorly ,with a lot of grammar mistakes and bad, half hearted sentence structure.

    And this was supposed to be the review highlight of the year on AT.
  • wyewye - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    Joshua, this article is horrible:

    1. Extended use of "aforementioned" when refering to stuff you dont know and already mentioned, like some magic "arhitectural" benefits.

    2. There is no need to inflate the article by saying the same thing over and over again.

    3. "In the basic definition of a tablet, the iPad Air 2 definitely fits." - No shit sherlock the ipad is a tablet - what is this, retard bingo?

    4. You randomly switch sorting order of the graphs so the better is no longer on top, conveniently when Apple performs weaker.

    5. On every set of tests that Ipad Air 2 performed mid to low compared to competition, you still present a missleading summary that Ipad was the best.

    6. For every weakness of the iPad Air 2, you try to find excuses.

    Yes the iPad has both advantages and disadtantages. Try to maintain some reasonable level of objectivity, there are way too many fanboi "reviews" out there.

    Since when AnandTech does asskissing "reviews"? Bring back Anand before the site dies!
  • konradsa - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    Disgruntled Nexus 9 owner? :-)
  • konradsa - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    A lot of people at the mac rumors forum are complaining about a) distortion on screen when pushing on back and b) excessive vibration due to speakers when watching movies or playing games. Bad enough many are returning them again.

    Can you comment on that? Could you compare the cellular and Wi-Fi versions and see if they behave differently with respect to a) or b)?
  • JoshHo - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    I can confirm that both of those are present on the cellular version that we were sampled, but distortion from pressing on the back is something that I've noticed on multiple devices this year. The vibration effects are definitely strong but this really isn't an issue.
  • Morawka - Sunday, November 9, 2014 - link

    in order to create distortion from pushing on the back, you have to put significant force on my ipad air 2 wifi 64gb

    Your not going to see distortion just holding it and moving it around, or swapping hands. You have to actually try and push hard.
  • mrex - Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - link

    sorry, but that was the first thing i noticed when i picked up the device. Swapping or even moving my hands positions caused distortions on the screen. I checked both units in the store and both suffered this issue. i dont know about the vibration, because there were too many people to test the sound quality. the distortion was enough for me and didnt buy it. ill check later if apple has fixed it (secrectly as they do). but now, its only place is on a table at a store...
  • tralalalalalala40 - Thursday, November 13, 2014 - link

    Any case will dampen that. You use cases to keep the ridiculously high resale value...
  • mrex - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    the lack of info makes me wonder, if anandtech site is just another bitch in apples stall nowadays. no mention the strong vibration... no mention screen distortions which is visible and terrible when keeping it on your hands. it is time to remove anandtech site from the serious reviewers list... seems to be too much connection with apple nowadays to be able to do trusted reviews? :/
  • Ilias78 - Saturday, November 8, 2014 - link

    Anand became an Apple employee - what did you expect, negative reviews from Anandtech? No way

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