Apple iPad Air 2 Review: Should You Upgrade?

Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: Make no mistake, there's a clear separation in performance between Apple's iPad Air 2 and the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus. There's also a gap in horsepower compared to most other mobile products, regardless of platform. Armed with a custom A8X SoC and an upgrade to 2GB of RAM, the iPad Air 2 came out fast and furious by taking the top spot in our SunSpider and Browsermark benchmarks. And what's not shown on the graphs is a new level of stability when opening a bunch of tabs -- reloads are less common and we didn't experience any crashes to the Home screen.

Let's be careful not to pigeonhole the iPad Air 2 as a glorified web browsing device, it's also adept at playing games. It gave NVIDIA's SHIELD tablet a run for its money by posting a higher average framerate in the offscreen T-Rex test in GFXBench, and the same goes for the Fill Rate test. It wasn't until we turned our attention to Futuremark's 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test that the iPad Air 2 took a backseat to the SHIELD tablet. Still, Apple's slate finished in second place and proved that it has the muscle for high-end mobile gamin.

We always have a tough time drawing up a definitive conclusion about Apple's iPad tablets, and that's because there's so much to consider. On its own, the iPad Air 2 further refines Apple's already best-in-category tablet. We can hear the grumbles and groans, but bear with us. For the first time in the history of the iPad, we don't have a wishlist of features for Apple to consider for the next generation. That doesn't mean there's no room for improvement or that Apple shouldn't continue to push the envelope, but in terms of the overall package, the iPad Air 2 is what a tablet should be. It's fast and powerful with its A8X chip, it has sufficient RAM (2GB, up from 1GB in the original iPad Air) to handle next-generation apps and power surfing habits (we like having lots of tabs open at the same time), it's photo and video recording capabilities are as good as any tablet out there, battery life is exceptional (even if it is down from the iPad Air), and it's even thinner and lighter than before.

We haven't talked about the many subtle additions, such as the new Touch ID sensor, gold color option (gold is best!), faster Wi-Fi, universal SIM card, new barometer sensor, gapless display, superior storage options (Apple replaced the 32GB option with 64GB, and slotted the 128GB model into the 64GB pricing tier, so it's $499 for 16GB, $599 for 64GB, and $699 for 128GB), and the many enhancements to iOS 8. Heck, these days you don't even have to touch iTunes if you don't want to -- you can backup the iPad Air 2 to iCloud and extract photos to your Windows desktop using Explorer.

In case it's not clear, there's a lot to like about the iPad Air 2, though not everyone should rush out and buy it. In fact, there are some distinct instances where purchasing an iPad Air 2 doesn't make a lick of sense. Do you currently own the first iPad Air? If so, keep enjoying your tablet, it's a very good one. No, it's not as good as the iPad Air 2, but after only a year on the market, it shouldn't feel long in the tooth. As much as Apple has tried to groom its users to buy into its yearly upgrade cycles, avoid the temptation and wait at least two generations for a more noticeable impact.

Those of you considering Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 or a similar productivity tool should probably stay away from the iPad Air 2 as well, or at least you should if you're looking to buy a hybrid work machine capable of having fun during the evening hours. There are exceptions, such as music buffs, artists, and other content creators, but for the most part, the iPad Air 2 is an entertainment device. Note to Apple -- there's nothing wrong with that, so embrace it.

For just about everyone else, the iPad Air 2 should be on your radar if you're in the market for a tablet. There are cheaper alternatives in the Android camp, and some are pretty good options, though none are clearly better than the iPad Air 2. Luckily, we still live in a world where brick and mortar stores exist, so don't feel compelled to take a leap of faith. Head down to your local Apple Retail Store or Best Buy location and test drive an iPad Air 2 for yourself. It won't take long to see why we consider this one of best tablets on the market, even if it's not the best option for everyone.

  • Slimmer than a shaved pencil, lighter than a pound
  • Sleek design and now comes in gold
  • Fast A8X SoC, 2GB of RAM, and new storage tiers
  • Upgraded cameras are finally worth talking about
  • Lots of little upgrades, such as the Touch ID sensor and barometer
  • Yet again, pricing remains the same
  • 1-year hardware warranty (none of this 90 days nonsense for a premium device)
  • While battery life is as advertised, it's less than the previous iPad Air
  • Isn't built for productivity
  • C'mon Apple, start including Beats earphones!

Related content