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First Impressions: Apple iPad Air 2 Tablet in Review

Daniel Schmidt (translated by Andreas Osthoff), 10/26/2014

Slimmed down. The second generation of the iPad Air got even thinner. The new Apple A8X triple-core processor is a surprise. Not only the additional core makes the iPad the new performance reference, but also the powerful GPU. Many details have been improved, but the battery is smaller. Update 10/26: Measurements for the display and the power consumption

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It is here! The new iPad Air. We want to give you our initial impressions of the review sample before the in-depth review follows in a couple of days. The big changes are happening on the inside. The predecessor is still the tablet reference and we expect nothing else from the Air 2. Apple put some work into that, listened to some feedback and once again significantly improved the performance. The battery runtimes are supposed to be identical. The issues of iOS 8 are supposed to be fixed by iOS 8.1, but we already had problems with the first benchmark.

The biggest competitors for the iPad Air 2 are probably the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.5Sony Xperia Z2 TabletMicrosoft Surface 2 and the upcoming Google Nexus 9.

Initial Impressions

The new iPad is now available in gold as well.
The new iPad is now available in gold as well.

The case of the Apple iPad Air 2 does not really differ from the predecessor. It is only slightly thinner with a height of 6.1 millimeters vs. 7.5 millimeters. It is also slightly lighter and only weighs 444 grams in the heavier LTE configuration. The aluminum body feels good in the hands and is a haptic highlight. Less convenient are the sharp edges that create the transition to the screen. Potential buyers shouldn't worry about the torsion resistance. We are pretty sure you can bend the Apple iPad Air 2 if you try really hard, but that shouldn't be a problem during everyday use.

Apple also improved the connectivity and finally introduces ac WLAN for its tablet. The LTE modem only supports transfer rates of up to 150 Mbps (Cat. 4). We would have expected the newer Cat. 6 standard, which can be twice as fast, from a high-end device. Bluetooth 4.0 is not up to date anymore, either.

NFC is not officially included, but the iPad Air has the NFC chip, only without the according antennas. This means you cannot use the tablet to pay in a store, but it seems that the NFC chip is required for Apple Pay. The security was also improved by Touch ID, which means that Apple's fingerprint scanner is now available in the tablet as well.

Size Comparison

Cameras & Multimedia

Improved: New main camera on the iPad Air 2.
Improved: New main camera on the iPad Air 2.

Something changed in regard to the cameras. The front camera is the usual FaceTime version that we already know from the iPhones, but the main camera was improved significantly and now takes pictures with up to 8 MP. It seems that Apple uses a combination of the cameras from the iPhone 5s and 5c since the aperture (f/2.4) is similar to the 5c, but the camera of the iPad Air 2 can record slow-motion videos with up to 120 fps. This means it probably cannot keep up with the camera of the iPhone 6, but at least it is flush with the case. There is still no additional light or flash.

Panorama shot with the iPad Air 2 (40 MP, f/2.4, ISO 1000)
Panorama shot with the iPad Air 2 (40 MP, f/2.4, ISO 1000)

Display

The thin case requires new display technology.
The thin case requires new display technology.

According to the specifications, the display did not really change. It is still a 9.7-inch screen with 2048x1536 pixels. However, Apple says they reduced the distance between the panel and the glass. This was actually a criticism in the review of the iPad Air where you could quickly see a ghost effect. A short test already shows that this issue was almost completely eradicated.

Otherwise, we will have to wait for the measurements to see if there are further differences. We hope that the color-space coverage in particular has been improved if Apple wants to compete with Samsung. We will publish the first results in the following days.

413
cd/m²
422
cd/m²
438
cd/m²
412
cd/m²
423
cd/m²
446
cd/m²
425
cd/m²
413
cd/m²
447
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 447 cd/m² Average: 426.6 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 92 %
Center on Battery: 423 cd/m²
Contrast: 693:1 (Black: 0.61 cd/m²)
ΔE Color 2.86 | 0.4-29.43 Ø6.2
ΔE Greyscale 2.37 | 0.64-98 Ø6.4
88% AdobeRGB 1998 (Argyll 3D)
Gamma: 2.43

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Color Management
Color Management
RGB ColorChecker
RGB ColorChecker
AdobeRGB ColorChecker
AdobeRGB ColorChecker
Grayscale
Grayscale
Saturation Sweeps
Saturation Sweeps
Apple iPad Air 2
PowerVR GXA6850, A8X, 128 GB eMMC Flash
Apple iPad Air
PowerVR G6430, A7, 16 GB eMMC Flash
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
Mali-T628 MP6, 5420 Octa, 16 GB eMMC Flash
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
Adreno 330, 801 APQ8074AB, 32 GB eMMC Flash
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
HD Graphics 4400, 4300U, Hynix HFS128G3MNM
Screen
22%
-4%
-1%
-26%
Brightness middle
423
473
12%
290
-31%
461
9%
355.3
-16%
Brightness
427
442
4%
291
-32%
437
2%
338
-21%
Brightness Distribution
92
90
-2%
87
-5%
89
-3%
91
-1%
Black Level *
0.61
0.41
33%
0.59
3%
0.33
46%
Contrast
693
1154
67%
781
13%
1077
55%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *
2.86
2.82
1%
2.37
17%
3.55
-24%
4.72
-65%
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *
2.37
1.45
39%
2.03
14%
2.58
-9%
6.53
-176%
Gamma
2.43 91%
2.47 89%
2.45 90%
2.78 79%
2.17 101%
CCT
6941 94%
6768 96%
6521 100%
6342 102%
6707 97%
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)
88
100
14%
59.37
-33%

* ... smaller is better

Performance

The fastest GPU is inside the iPad Air 2.
The fastest GPU is inside the iPad Air 2.

The manufacturer surprised us a bit with the Apple A8X processor. The Californians actually waived the dual-core chips and now integrate a triple-core processor clocked at 1.5 GHz. The amount of memory was doubled to 2 GB. The advertised performance advantage of 40% is easily surpassed in the multi-core tests, but the advantage is not as big in the single-core benchmarks.

Apple claims that the GPU performance compared to the first iPad Air was improved by 150%. We cannot confirm this statement yet, but the performance advantage is definitely enormous and can even beat the Tegra K1. We are actually not quite sure what GPU is used by Apple. The most probable speculation is the PowerVR GX6650; maybe we will have a definitive answer in a couple of days.

Geekbench 3
32 Bit Multi-Core Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
2712 Points ∼9%
Apple iPad Air
2687 Points ∼9%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
2327 Points ∼7%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
3495 Points ∼11%
32 Bit Single-Core Score (sort by value)
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
920 Points ∼19%
Apple iPad Air
1479 Points ∼31%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
915 Points ∼19%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
1127 Points ∼23%
Linpack Android / IOS
Multi Thread (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
2428.68 MFLOPS ∼82%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
770.167 MFLOPS ∼26% -68%
Apple iPad Air
977.31 MFLOPS ∼33% -60%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
600.237 MFLOPS ∼20% -75%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
726 MFLOPS ∼25% -70%
Single Thread (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
1021.11 MFLOPS ∼100%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
382.801 MFLOPS ∼37% -63%
Apple iPad Air
557.99 MFLOPS ∼55% -45%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
347.856 MFLOPS ∼34% -66%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
673 MFLOPS ∼66% -34%
3DMark
1280x720 offscreen Ice Storm Unlimited Physics (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
10379 Points ∼12%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
14333 Points ∼17% +38%
Apple iPad Air
8520 Points ∼10% -18%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
16678 Points ∼19% +61%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
21086 Points ∼24% +103%
Microsoft Surface 2
12692 Points ∼15% +22%
1280x720 offscreen Ice Storm Unlimited Graphics Score (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
31542 Points ∼6%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
13791 Points ∼3% -56%
Apple iPad Air
18868 Points ∼4% -40%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
19518 Points ∼4% -38%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
39590 Points ∼7% +26%
Microsoft Surface 2
14812 Points ∼3% -53%
1280x720 offscreen Ice Storm Unlimited Score (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
21707 Points ∼9%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
13908 Points ∼6% -36%
Apple iPad Air
14858 Points ∼6% -32%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
18806 Points ∼8% -13%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
33129 Points ∼14% +53%
Microsoft Surface 2
14281 Points ∼6% -34%
Basemark X 1.1
High Quality (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
29502 Points ∼67%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
7846 Points ∼18% -73%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
12943 Points ∼29% -56%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
28746 Points ∼65% -3%
Medium Quality (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
41488 Points ∼92%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
17779 Points ∼40% -57%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
25299 Points ∼56% -39%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
36584 Points ∼81% -12%
BaseMark OS II
Web (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
1263 Points ∼62%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
820 Points ∼40% -35%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
863 Points ∼42% -32%
Graphics (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
4920 Points ∼17%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
1032 Points ∼4% -79%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
8065 Points ∼28% +64%
Memory (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
832 Points ∼13%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
468 Points ∼7% -44%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
596 Points ∼9% -28%
System (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
4104 Points ∼25%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
1555 Points ∼9% -62%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
1012 Points ∼6% -75%
Overall (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
1967 Points ∼23%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
886 Points ∼10% -55%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
1431 Points ∼17% -27%
Peacekeeper - --- (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
2750 Points ∼44%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
851 Points ∼14% -69%
Apple iPad Air
1855 Points ∼30% -33%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
873 Points ∼14% -68%
Microsoft Surface 2
791 Points ∼13% -71%
Octane V2 - Total Score (sort by value)
Apple iPad Air 2
10512 Points ∼21%
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5
4588 Points ∼9% -56%
Apple iPad Air
5113 Points ∼10% -51%
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
4127 Points ∼8% -61%
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W
6777 Points ∼14% -36%
Microsoft Surface 2
3368 Points ∼7% -68%

Legend

 
Apple iPad Air 2 Apple A8X, PowerVR GXA6850, 128 GB eMMC Flash
 
Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 Samsung Exynos 5420 Octa, ARM Mali-T628 MP6, 16 GB eMMC Flash
 
Apple iPad Air Apple A7, PowerVR G6430, 16 GB eMMC Flash
 
Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 APQ8074AB, Qualcomm Adreno 330, 32 GB eMMC Flash
 
NVIDIA Shield Tablet P1761W Nvidia Tegra K1, NVIDIA Tegra K1 Kepler GPU, 16 GB iNAND Flash
 
Microsoft Surface 2 Nvidia Tegra 4, NVIDIA GeForce Tegra 4, 32 GB eMMC Flash

Energy and Battery Runtime

The runtime of the Apple iPad Air is supposed to be up to 10 hours if you browse the web via WLAN. The runtime is one hour shorter when you use the LTE connection. We will check Apple's claim over the next few days since both the processor and the graphics solution are much more powerful, but the battery capacity was reduced by 15% to 27.6 Wh. This means Apple had to reduce the power consumption of the panel dramatically to meet the advertised runtimes.

Power Consumption
Off / Standbydarklight 0 / 0.1 Watt
Idledarkmidlight 1.2 / 5.1 / 5.4 Watt
Load midlight 7.9 / 11.1 Watt
 color bar
Key: min: dark, med: mid, max: light        Voltcraft VC 960

Preliminary Verdict

The iPad Air 2
The iPad Air 2

The Apple iPad Air 2 leaves a great first impression with small drawbacks, even though this is complaining on a very high level. We don't expect any bad surprises during the review, but the latest device from Cupertino won't surpass the display of the Galaxy Tab S 10.5. In terms of performance, it will be neck and neck with Nvidia's Tegra K1 SoC.

As usual, Apple follows its own path and therefore it shouldn't be a surprise that you don't always get the latest communication modules, USB or even a slot for memory cards. The configurations were adjusted to the iPhones and the 32 GB version is not available anymore. The entry-level price was raised by 10 Euros (~$12). Still, the iPad Air 2 is a good package and definitely feels very good in terms of ergonomics and design. The tablet is on a good way to defend its top position.

We will update this article over the next couple of days and add our latest insights, measurements and benchmarks. Stay tuned!

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > First Impressions: Apple iPad Air 2 Tablet in Review
Daniel Schmidt, 2014-10-26 (Update: 2014-10-27)
Andreas Osthoff
Andreas Osthoff - Senior Editor Business
I grew up with computers and modern consumer electronics. I am interested in the technology since I had my first computer, a Commodore C64, and started building my own PCs after that. My focus here at Notebookcheck is the business segment including mobile workstations, but I also like to test new mobile devices. It is always a great experience to review and compare new products. My free time is filled with a lot of sports, in the summer mainly on my bike.