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Review: iPad Air 2 is the best tablet ever (until next year)

Susie Ochs | Nov. 13, 2014
It's a little thinner. It's a little lighter. It's a whole lot faster. All of this makes the iPad Air 2 both more of the same and better than ever.

It's a cooker

Even with a slimmer body, the iPad Air 2 packs plenty of punch. Its A8X processor clocked a Geekbench 3 single-core score of 1812 and multicore score of 4519. That multicore score is 70 percent faster than the iPad Air, which turned in scores of 1463 and 2652, respectively. The same A7 chip in that first iPad Air is also in the iPad mini 3 and the iPad mini 2, and their Geekbench 3 scores were comparable but just a little slower.

What does that all mean? The iPad Air 2 does everything faster. Apps launch faster. Resource-heavy creative apps like Photoshop Mix, Pixelmator, and iMovie finish their tasks in record time. I played Modern Combat 5: Blackout and Asphalt 8: Airborne (poorly) with next to no loading times and never a stutter or crash. Before this, I was primarily using an third-gen iPad, and the difference is striking.

It's a camera?!

Apple beefed up the photo capabilities of the iPad Air 2 as well, giving it an 8-megapixel iSight camera on the back, and a 1.2-megapixel FaceTime camera on the front. Photos taken with the iSight camera are crisper and more detailed than the 5-megapixel photos taken by the rest of the iPad lineup.

In fact, photos I took with the iPad Air are hard to distinguish from photos I've taken with my brand-new, 8-megapixel iPhone 6. The iPad Air 2 has many of the same camera features as the iPhone, designed to make it easy to shoot great-looking photos and videos: face detection, a f/2.4 aperture (the iPhone 6 is f/2.2), even 720p 120fps slo-mo video and burst mode for stills. The iPhone still outperforms it in low light, but the iPad Air 2 has a much better camera than last year's version.

Does that mean you'll want to actually use your iPad as a camera? Well, that's up to you. The big screen does make a nice viewfinder, and the new antireflective screen coating lets you keep shooting in bright sunlight. But compared to a cell phone or even an iPad mini, it's still awkward to use as a camera. I had trouble holding the thing still while I tried to tap to focus, adjust exposure, and hit the shutter button. It just felt so unnatural.

But as Apple pointed out when introducing the iPad Air 2, plenty of iPad apps use the camera, like apps that scan documents to PDF. And to be fair, shooting video with the iPad works very well — I got smoother footage than I'm using to getting with my iPhone since I could grip both sides while filming.


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