Apple iPad Air 2 Review: Should You Upgrade?

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Performance: Battery LIfe & Camera

From a user's standpoint, it doesn't seem like Apple has ever taken the iPad all that seriously as a picture taking device. The original iPad didn't even come with a built-in camera, and while the second generation iPad added front front and back lenses, they were both pretty crappy at best. It wasn't until the third generation iPad debuted that the camera optics became serviceable, though certainly not excellent.

How are things today? Let's have a look, starting with FaceTime HD camera.

Apple iPad Air 2 FaceTime HD Inside Apple iPad Air 2 FaceTime HD Outside

According to Apple, the FaceTime HD lens has a larger f/2.2 aperture that's supposed to let in 81 percent more light, along with an all-new sensor, though it's still a 1.2-megapixel shooter. However, it's capable of taking single-shot HDR photos and burst selfies, and benefits from improved face detection, just like the iPhone 6 models.

While well short of being a specular camera, the FaceTime HD lens is easily sufficient for video conferencing chores, especially on a casual basis with family and friends. In the shots above, you can see how the FaceTime HD camera handles low-light situations (left) compared to a well lit environment (right).

8MP iSight Camera

We're more impressed witn the 8-megapixel iSight camera on the rear of the iPad Air 2. Paired with a dedicated image signal processor in the A8X chip, the new sensor finally graduates from being an afterthought to a thoughtful feature that's worthy of praise.

As far as tricks go, it supports time-lapse video recording, 120 frames per second slo-mo, shooting in burst mode, 43-megapixel panoramic photos, and more. But it's the quality of photos that the iSight camera with an f/2.4 aperture takes that sets the iPad Air 2 apart from its predecessors in the photography department.

Apple iPad Air 2 Pumpkin Photo Apple iPad Air 2 Tree Photo Apple iPad Air 2 Closeup Photo
Apple iPad Air 2 Pumpkin HDR Photo Apple iPad Air 2 Tree HDR Photo Apple iPad Air 2 Closeup HDR Photo
Regular photos on top row, HDR photos on bottom row

While it may seem unwieldy to bring a 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 to your kid's recital or soccer game, if you happen to have it with you -- perhaps you packed it away on an extended hiking trip or are traveling across the country -- you'll be able to take high-quality photos that are nearly on par with your iPhone 6. Whereas in the past you might have found yourself apologizing to viewers ("Sorry about the quality, I took these with my iPad"), the iPad Air 2 will have you bragging about them. Even extreme closeup shots come out looking pretty good, especially with HDR turned on.

Battery Life

In order to make the iPad Air thin enough to hide behind a pencil, Apple had to use a lower capacity battery, dropping down from 42.5Wh to 32.2Wh. And for the iPad Air 2 to be even thinner, Apple again had to sacrifice battery capacity, this time going down to a 27.3Wh battery pack. Despite the shrinkage, Apple claims the same battery life as before:
  • Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
  • Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using cellular data network (Wi-Fi + Cellular model)
So, what's the real? The bad news is battery life isn't unchanged like Apple says it is. Whereas we managed to stream Netflix at 50 percent brightness for 12.5 hours on the iPad Air, the same test exhausted the battery pack at around 10.5 hours on the iPad Air 2.

The good news is 10.5 hours is still a long time, and even longer than Apple claims. Plus, you have to leave a little bit of wiggle room for margin of error -- there's no "50 percent" setting for the brightness. Instead, you have adjust the brightness slider halfway, and it's possible one or both tests weren't set at exactly the halfway point. However, that's picking nits and still wouldn't account for a full 2-hour discrepancy.

Bottom line -- battery life is still quite good, and of course will vary depending on what you use the iPad Air 2 for. Gaming will tax the battery faster than less stressful tasks, while you can do things like watch movies or listen to music all day long.
 

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