PROS / The Apple iPad Air 2's solid aluminum body is durable and excellently built.
CONS / While the Air 2's processor is still fast enough for most home users, it no longer provides best-in-class performance.
VERDICT / With its premium components and great build quality, the iPad Air 2 is capable of handling work and play without a misstep.
At first glance, the Apple iPad Air 2 is closer to a refresh than a dramatic upgrade of its predecessor. The tablet computer has the same slim design and aluminum backing used on the first iPad Air. Despite the lack of major upgrades, the Air 2 holds a spot as one of the best tablets on the market.
The iPad Air 2 is built on Apple's A8X chip, which replaces the A7 chip used in the company's previous generation of iOS devices. While it's no longer Apple's top processor, the Air 2 still outperformed numerous competing tablets in performance testing from our colleagues at Laptop Mag. In Geekbench 3, a benchmark test designed to measure a computer's processing performance, the iPad Air 2 produced a score of 4,547. Similarly, the iPad Air's score of 21,660 in graphics benchmark 3DMark handily placed it in the upper tier of our evaluated tablets.
While these scores are slightly outclassed by more current tablets, the Air 2 showed it still has excellent specifications during our hands-on testing. The tablet smoothly switched between tasks like web browsing and games. In "Epic Zen Garden," a high-end iOS gaming tech demo, we could navigate through the in-game world without any technical hiccups or performance slowdown.
The Air 2 is also a strong performer in Laptop Mag’s battery test, although the tablet isn’t without its limitations. During Laptop's testing, in which a tablet loops through webpages at a constant brightness, the Air 2 lasted for nine hours and 20 minutes before powering down. While this mark is in line with Apple's advertised Wi-Fi browsing battery life of up to 10 hours, the iPad Air's battery is a step behind other multimedia tablets that tout battery lifespans of more than 10 hours.
Apple relies on the same 2048 x 1536 Retina display that past iPads were built around, but the Air 2's display remains an exceptional performer for a variety of tasks. In our testing, onscreen text cleanly displayed, and high-resolution photos had vibrant color reproduction. The Air 2's display was also a reliable performer in Laptop's benchmarking testing. The Air 2's display had a brightness rating of 368 nits, which was comparable to other premium tablets. Nits are a measurement used to evaluate the screen’s brightness level.
Even with the tablet computer's 9.7-inch screen, it sports a weight of only 0.96 pounds. While it's not the lightest in comparison to other 9-inch tablets, the Air 2 has a thickness of only 0.24 inches. In hands-on testing, we found the Air 2 to be sturdily constructed and easy to handle thanks to its rounded edges.
Apple's iPads have generally been shining examples of high-end tablet performance, and on the strength of its numbers, the Air 2 is still a worthy member of the iPad family. While the Air 2 shows its age compared to the best tablets, it has much to offer home users thanks to its solid battery life, compact dimensions and strong performance ceiling.