Apple iPad Air 2 Tablet Review
The iPad Air returns with more power at the expense of battery life.
Though by outward appearances the iPad Air 2 is extremely similar to its predecessor, performancewise that isn't the case. Poorer battery life and a not-too-different screen performance point to stagnation in design—but there is an ace up the Air 2's sleeve. That ace is a new processor that mops the floor with every other tablet on the market.
To get the boring stuff out of the way first, this screen is extremely similar in almost every regard to that found on the iPad Air. Really, it's almost stunning how identical it is in many ways. The black level is nearly identical, the peak brightness is very similar, and the pixel density is identical at 266 PPI. Seriously—compare for yourself.
Digging into the numbers a bit, the contrast ratio is a bit narrower (standing at 1106:1), though the black level sits at an acceptable 0.37 cd/m2. Peak brightness is still a retina-singeing 409.12 cd/m2, still acceptably strong for a brightly-lit room. Gamma is near-perfect at 2.22, and really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the screen performance here.
It does lag behind OLED screens, but therein lies the difficulty of being a market-leader: Everyone and their grandmothers are going to compare your product to the individual best accomplishments of others. It might be true that this is the last LCD panel we see in an iPad, because frankly, OLED is the way of the future. When we start seeing tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S outperforming televisions of a similar price, it's time to hang it up and adjust your strategy.
Color performance, much like the black and white, is virtually the same. A decent white point is accompanied by properly saturated colors with the exception of somewhat shifted blues. Not a huge deal, but not perfect either. Samsung, Google, and Windows have all sailed past the iPad in terms of color performance here, so it's odd, but not terribly worrying.
Apple elected to stay the course with a 4:3 aspect ratio, and it seems to work for them. Google's latest Nexus tablet even uses this aspect ratio after several devices using the 16:10 golden mean screen size. However, this does mean consequences for certain types of content. Video will have letterboxing, comic book pages will be inefficiently scaled, and the dead-center of the screen will be hard to hit in landscape orientation.
Microsoft mitigated some of these issues by switching to a 3:2 aspect ratio—the same used by 35mm film—but their Surface Pro 3 has a 12" screen. Definitely not the screen size you think of when looking for a travel buddy unless you need a tablet to be a laptop too. In the interim, 4:3 should be fine for most users.
Now for the fun stuff—I'm gonna throw a bunch of numbers at you all at once, but it's going somewhere—I swear.
The Apple iPad Air 2 has an extremely powerful processor/co-processor tandem, and it's unbelievable how far behind it leaves devices of old. Much hullabaloo was made about the Tegra K1 when it came out because of its graphics prowess, but the Apple A8x keeps pace—and overshoots it in some regards.
Honestly, with the rise of more graphics-intensive mobile games, I'm not too surprised that Apple is complementing their advantage in the mobile gaming realm, and it's a smart idea. Android isn't exactly a pushover when it comes to appealing to gearheads, and "strangling the baby in the crib" is a rather effective long-term strategy when it comes to giving your competition a knockout punch.
So it's true that the A8x lags a little behind in processing power when it comes to graphics, but the gap between the A8x and the Tegra K1 isn't all that huge. It's also hard to ignore that comically high Geekbench score—which encompasses raw computing power. Sure, it may not translate to games, but day-to-day operations and huge files can be churned through like they were nothing.
So the iPad Air is tops when it comes to processing power, has a decent (if aging) screen, and double the RAM of its predecessor—how does the battery hold up?
Not well, is the short answer to that question. As discussed on the front page, the iPad Air 2 only lasted 5 hours and 37 minutes playing back video at full brightness, while cranking out 6 hours, 1 minute reading eBooks. Whether it's due to the new software, or the hilariously overpowered processor, it's clear that the new Air is less potent when it comes to battery life than its predecessor.
Browsing the web with tough assets ripped down the battery in 5 hours, 10 minutes. That's not so bad, all things considered—but you might be in for a bit of a surprise if you're stuck on the couch all day. You can absolutely milk more screen time by turning down the brightness, but if you're on the subway or at a cafe, that could mean reflectivity problems.
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