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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.

Who should buy it?

If you already own an iPad Air, you're probably not in a hurry to replace it, and you shouldn't be. The iPad Air 2 is faster and takes better photos, but the iPad Air is still plenty capable. If you own a third- or fourth-gen iPad and managed to resist the iPad Air, the iPad Air 2 will feel like the huge step up that it is.

I still have a first-gen iPad kicking around my house, and the difference between that and the iPad Air 2 is like going from a rusty banana-seat bicycle to a Harley. It's remarkable how far the iPad has come in under five years.

What about the iPad mini?

Apple kept last year's iPad mini with Retina display in the lineup, dropping the starting price to $299 and rechristening it the iPad mini 2. The iPad mini 3 introduced alongside the iPad Air 2 doesn't have any new features besides the gold color (which is a color, not a feature) and the addition of Touch ID.

Now, Touch ID is great. I just got my first Touch ID button on my iPhone 6, and barely two months later I'm totally hooked. I recently had to use my iPhone 5s for a couple days and I was constantly trying to unlock it with my thumbprint, because Touch ID had completely overwritten six years' worth of muscle memory of sliding the screen and punching in my passcode.

But still. With no new camera, and no new chip, is the iPad mini 3 worth buying, since you can still get the iPad mini 2 and just deprive yourself of Touch ID? Not really. If you're in the market for a smaller tablet, I'd get the iPad mini 2. That feels like the base model now, with the Touch ID as a fancy add-on, like heated leather seats in your new car.

Apple is only offering the iPad mini 2 in 16GB for $299 and 32GB for $349, so get the 32GB version. The iPad mini 3 starts at $399 for 16GB, then jumps to $499 for 64GB and $599 for 128GB. So if you want more than 32GB of storage, I'd go for the more capable, better-future-proofed iPad Air 2.

Bottom line

All of Apple's tablets are great performers. Having five different models — in various sizes, both Wi-Fi only and with cellular — makes them more accessible than ever, since the price points range from $249 for the original iPad mini all the way to $829 for the top-end 128GB cellular iPad Air 2.

If you need a new iPad, go for the top of the line, the best one you can afford. People don't tend to update their tablets as often as their phones, and if you opt for a previous-generation iPad, you'll be left behind sooner when Apple stops supporting it with updates. Then again, if your iPad is only a year or two old, and runs iOS 8 just fine, maybe you'll want to wait a year — next year's iPad Air is bound to be even better.


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