Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Review: UPDATED: Nexus 9

Introduction and design

  • Update: Nexus 9’s price drop at stores and Android 5.1.1 Lollipop update are now reflected in our review.

Google’s Nexus 9 is the Goldilocks of pure Android tablets and, for the most part, designer HTC succeeds at making a device that’s "just right" next to anything but an iPad.

It’s not as big as the seriously outdated Samsung-made Nexus 10 and not as small as the ASUS-crafted Nexus 7. It’s the silver bullet tablet entry that costs a little more of your hard-earned gold.

There’s a specs bump behind the 8.9-inch display to help justify the launch price of $399 (£319, AU$479) for the space-limited Wi-Fi-only 16GB model, though I prescribe the 32GB Wi-Fi-only option with more internal storage.

Nexus 9 review

When it comes to the new specs, I’m talking about the latest Nvidia 64-bit processor, a decent 2GB of RAM, dual front-facing speakers and a decent battery to keep it all up and running for a little over nine hours.

Even with those internal specs, Nexus 9 has a hard time measuring up to the iPad Air 2 in almost every category. Its own Android competition includes the Samsung Tab S, which flanks Google’s 9-inch option with 10.5- and 8.4-inch sizes, and the sleek Sony Z3 Tablet Compact.

What Nexus 9 has going for it more than hardware is the fact that it’s the biggest and so far one of the few ways to drive headfirst into the Android 5.0 Lollipop update along with the Nexus 6. Even better, it’s been upgraded to Android 5.1.1 and will be among the first with Android M later this year.

Price and updates

However, it’s still worth paying for the 32GB Wi-Fi model for the extra space since there’s no microSD slot. It’s $479 (£399, AU$589), while the 32GB LTE variant is $599 (£459, AU$719).

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 became the first Android 5.0 device when it launched late last year, and it spearhead Android 5.1.1 when the update launched in March. It brought back the silent mode that Lollipop axed. But more importantly, the new operating system makes the tablet more stable than it was eight months ago.

Rumor has it that it won’t have a Nexus tablet successor this year, so this hardware was built to last. Don’t expect the software updates to stop there, as Google prepared Android M. That makes it a sweet enough Google tablet in more ways than one, and enough to be among the best tablets for 2015.

Nexus 9 review

Design

It’s about time HTC engineered a Nexus tablet or any modern-day tablet for that matter. After all, the crafty designers at the company brought us the polished-looking HTC One M9.

No surprise, the Nexus 9 includes a metallic frame around the perimeter of this larger device. It’s nice as long as you don’t expect that all-metal design to continue around back.

This year’s tablet sticks with a soft, rubberized back cover – the same one that’s adorned by the smaller Nexus 7. It’s not an all-metal HTC One M8 equivalent, but it is easier to grip.

Nexus 9 review

And grip matters here. The Nexus 9 weighs in at a 0.94 pound (425g), which isn’t heavy, but a tablet with an 8.9-inch display should theoretically be a lot lighter than the 9.7-inch iPad. Yet Apple’s device weighs almost as much: 0.96 pound (437g).

It does suck up fingerprint grease like nothing else, and accidentally lay it on some cooking fat in the kitchen and that sheen might never come off.

The weight and size gap between it and the 0.64 lbs (290g) Nexus 7 is also fairly pronounced. Nexus 9 measures out to be 8.99 in. (228mm) tall, 6.05 in. (154mm) wide, with a 0.31 in. (7.95mm) depth, which is thicker than both the new iPad and Nexus 7.

Nexus 9 review

I would have liked to see better buttons on the Nexus 9 rim. Having tested the Nexus 6 and the new Moto X before that, I’ve come to appreciate the power button accented with ridges that don’t feel so cheap.

That was a smart Motorola design choice that helped me differentiate between the tiny volume rocker and even tinier power button in the dark.

Thankfully, it’s not always imperative to find that itty-bitty power button when the tablet is lying flat on a desk. A new "double tap to wake" feature conveniently wakes the Nexus 9 screen. HTC One M8 has the same knock-twice-to-wake perk, but it’s even more useful on this larger, weightier device.

No more awkwardly clutching the rim to press the tiny power button.

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9’s trio of colors include a premium-looking off-white called lunar white, the tan-colored sand and a fingerprint-attracting matte black, dubbed indigo black. All look and feel resilient enough to adventurously go without a cover.

The only thing I feel as though I need to protect against is lodging dust in the speakers slots. There are two dust-collecting traps at the top and bottom of the tablet that also happen to contain powerful front-facing speakers.

Nexus 9 review

The speakers slots don’t have me worried, though. It’s the lack of a micro SD card slot that is the biggest design omission. There’s no expandable storage whatsoever, meaning the 16GB model is going to be a tough sell if you use even a little bit of non-streaming multimedia.

I’ve actually come to expect this on many Android tablets (although usually the mid-range ones), so once again, the extra cost of the 32GB model is the only way to safeguard yourself from larger apps or big HD movie libraries.

Key features

Display

Nexus 9 is a new 8.9-inch display size for Google’s Nexus range. It’s a few tenths of an inch smaller than the iPad Air 2, but happens to be the same resolution as Apple’s 9.7-inch tablet.

Nexus 9 review

In fact, it’s Google’s QXGA-level slate that actually has a few more pixels per inch packed into its 2048 x 1536 IPS LCD screen.

That’s why it’s surprising that there’s no comparison: the new iPad has a richer display in a side-by-side test. Apple’s thinner, gap-free screen improves everything for better results.

The Nexus 9 is, frankly, uninspiring. The display quality watching HD movies isn’t impressive and nothing gave me that ‘wow’ factor like the first time I saw a QHD screen on a phone. It’s high res, but the color reproduction and contrast ratios were distinctly average.

nexus 9 review

I also found minor, but noticeable backlight bleeding around the bezel, which made the Nexus 9 picture quality less uniform when watching full-screen videos – or as full-screen as videos could get. Nexus 9 has a 4:3 aspect ratio that makes it more useful for productivity. The video-friendly 16:9 Nexus 7 now seems very narrow, but it’s a better fit for movie watching.

Nexus 9 review

With more height in landscape mode, it’s a two-handed device with additional headroom to read text. That’s great for surfing the web or editing a document. The screen size makes sense for work, even if the technology behind it doesn’t shine as much.

Android Lollipop

Google went from incremental updates like Android 4.4 KitKat to the full Android 5.0 with Lollipop, and the new operating system is pre-installed on the Nexus 9. This was the first device on which you could play with all of its new features, though it’s starting to trickle out to other devices now.

More stability can be found in the Android 5.1.1 over-the-air update that started reaching this Google-powered tablet in March. Silent mode returning is the most significant change, making it easier to use the volume buttons to toggle the phone volume on and completely off – not just down to "vibrate only."

Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 is also more reliable now that with the latest version, making the tablet more reliable than when it first came out of the box. Early adopters had to suffer through some software bugs, hard resets and memory leak problems.

All of the rest of changes from KitKat to Lollipop are realized immediately. The new unified look, "Material Design," is bright and colourful within Google’s operating system as well as its own apps. It’s almost a complete overhaul like we saw when Apple moved from iOS 6 to iOS 7.

Added conveniences like lockscreen notifications and priority mode are welcomed answers to existing Apple features, and I couldn’t be happier. Something that iOS devices don’t have is the double tap to wake the screen idea that’s borrowed from HTC’s flagship smartphone.

BoomSound speakers

Even though the all-metal design wasn’t carried over from the HTC One M8, at least the powerful BoomSound speakers point the audio in the right direction and sound just as good as on the phone.

Nexus 9 review

Unlike the Nexus 7 and iPad Air 2, these speakers aren’t facing the back or at the bottom of the tablet. YouTube videos at least sound better than they look on the 4:3 Nexus 9 display.

This makes audio from movies, games and music clearer on this tablet than anything else I’ve tested. For once, I wasn’t reaching for my Astro A38 Bluetooth headphones right away.

Magnetic keyboard attachment

This Keyboard Folio accessory wasn’t available for me to test with the Nexus 9 review unit and the Google Play Store only recently put it up for sale, so you couldn’t try it either, at least up until a few days ago. However, it’s a sold-separately productivity perk that may factor into your tablet-buying decision.

Nexus 9 review

The keyboard case folds at two angles and never needs to be plugged into the USB port. It connects wirelessly through Bluetooth and uses NFC to easily pair up. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the mechanical keys, which have 1.4mm of travel and include a Google search key – no surprise there.

Now that it’s out, I’ll test out hundreds of keystrokes for a future update to determine whether or not this business-focused add-on mounts a real challenge to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 keyboard attachment. Or if it’s better than the run-of-the-mill cheap alternatives sold on Amazon. Google’s version is $129 (£110, about AU$151), which means its targeted at serious on-the-go typers.

Interface and performance

Nexus 9 marks everyone’s first lick at Android 5.0 Lollipop and the Android M beta, and all of the software update stand to be more exciting than the hardware specs bump.

That’s because the new operating system fixes a handful of the problems I’ve had with prior Android versions, and it sports a cleaner look – just enough to stay fresh next to Apple’s forthcoming iOS 9 update.

Interface

Google’s "Material Design" dials things back for a flatter, geometry-focused interface, one that pops off the screen with a more colourful palette. It’s bold and refreshing.

Nexus 9 review

Android Lollipop features have you do more tapping too. In addition to the aforementioned "double tap to wake," its new "tap and go" concept makes it easy to set up or restore a new device from an older one. Back-to-back, two devices transfer all data through NFC and take Android Beam to the next level.

Manually waking the screen isn’t even necessary on this tablet. Lockscreen notifications show up by default and briefly brighten the display. Don’t worry: Just in case you like to pretend people are peeking into your life via glimpses at your tablet, these automatic alerts can be blocked on a per-app basis.

A similar option comes to the all-new, system-wide Priority Mode that acts as Google’s more advanced Do Not Disturb feature. It can silence the tablet indefinitely or in intervals that range from 15 minutes to 8 hours. Certain apps can be set to function in this night-time-friendly mode, which makes paying for inferior third-party apps irrelevant.

Nexus 9 review

Quick settings are easier to access through an all-in-one menu within this pure Android version of Google’s operating system. Swiping down on the Nexus 9 screen just once will display notifications. Swiping down again or swiping down with two fingers initially reveals quick setting controls.

This menu within a menu is a much better way of organizing everything compared to prior Android tablet setups. Before, the notifications menu appeared when swiping down on the left side of the tablet and quick settings showed up when swiping down the right side. This was hit or miss when holding a tablet – especially the narrow Nexus 7 in portrait mode.

Nexus 9 review

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and airplane mode are joined by new switches including flashlight, display slider and Google Chromecast cast screen. Sadly, the quick settings can’t be changed or moved. Likewise, the battery percentage is hidden in this second menu. There’s no way to make it appear in the first swipe-down menu or, better yet, system tray next to the vague battery drain icon.

Performance

HTC outfitted this year’s Nexus tablet with an all-new heart that’s care of Nvidia’s K1 Tegra processor, a switch from the typical Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset that I’m used to finding behind tablet displays. The good news is that it’s still a 64-bit system on a chip.

Coupling the Tegra K1 with the new Android Lollipop that takes advantage of such 64-bit architecture makes the new Google tablet a good bet for the future. The two together will result in more powerful and useful apps going forward.

Nexus 9 review

Sure enough, Nexus 9 benchmarks indicate that behind the unexceptional display is a more than powerful chipset, as shown by its GeekBench 3 results. Tests indicated that the tablet averaged a 3326 multi-core score next to the iPad Air 2‘s 4500 multi-core score.

As a dual-core processor, the Tegra K1’s single-core GeekBench 3 score actually surpassed that of the new iPad. The Nexus 9 averaged a 1939 single-core score, while one core of iPad’s three-core processor averaged an 1815 score in similar tests.

But as future-proofed as the Nexus 9 CPU may be, there’s only 2GB of RAM backing it up. It won’t really be able to fully take advantage of the 64-bit ability, but will have some slight performance enhancements. It’s actually only a dual-core CPU, but don’t let that put you off as the overall benchmarking numbers for this tablet have remained impressive.

Nexus 9 review

I do have to note that I ran into a few performance hiccups with our review unit including unregistered touch abnormalities and slowdown when there were only a few tasks going at once. Google has promised that it fixed these Nexus 9 problems in a last-second firmware update that made it to the end-consumers device. As of Android 5.1.1, this issues have been resolved.

Media

The Nexus 9, despite my screen quality criticisms, plays movies just fine. In fact, the Play Movies app is already sporting the new Material Design. It provides simple movie recommendations and seamlessly links right to the Play Store’s Movies & TV section. The red-and-white colour scheme pops nicely and matches the unified look of other Android Lollipop apps.

Nexus 9 review

Streaming Django Unchained, currently the most popular selection on Netflix, proved that the Nexus 9 has more than adequate brightness levels and a solid contrast ratio. However, the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in which this movie was shot doesn’t convert well to the 4:3 display.

Nexus 9 review

Like on the similarly shaped iPad, app developers are making the best of it. For example, on Netflix, the movie title, Chromecast cast button and volume controls appear along the top to take up that large black void. Scrubbing through the timeline and the 30 second rewind button line the bottom. Don’t worry, all of the controls fade away if the screen isn’t touched for five seconds.

Games are a mixed bag. Some stretch to meet the new full-screen standard and it shows. Other games have been made with the new aspect ratio. The more that Nexus 9 finds its way into mobile gamers’ hands, the more that game apps are likely to adapt to the 4:3 high-resolution screen size. It’s just now becoming prevalent among tablets.

Nexus 9 review

Google Music goes all-orange, but features a similar unified design that can be seen on the app and all-you-can-eat music streaming website. Fun categories like "Boosting Your Energy" and "Having Fun at Work" line the top of the main page, and recent activity and recommendations take into account your past listening habits.

Nexus 9

Movies, music and games sound better than they look thanks to the BoomSound speakers. That was a major problem I had with the Nexus 7 and similar tablets that placed the speakers in the wrong direction – usually at the bottom of the device. You won’t have to plug in external speakers in a normal movie-watching environment.

Reading through longer text via the Play Newsstand app receives the biggest positive change on the Nexus 9. That 4:3 aspect ratio allows for more reading and less scrolling. Plus, there’s the ability to translate periodicals instantly, something that I find interesting in the Chrome browser and expect to make use of in Newsstand.

Battery life, camera and essentials

The Nexus 9’s battery life actually bests that of the iPad Air 2, giving Google’s tablet a rare win in the annual Android vs iPad slate comparison.

Its 6,700 mAh battery is rated up to 9.5 hours of Wi-Fi browsing and movie playback. The iPad Air is supposed to get 10 hours when performing the same exact tasks and teardowns have revealed that Apple squeezed in a 7,340 mAh battery.

Nexus 9 review

At full brightness, our Nexus 9 battery tests concluded that a 90-minute Full HD video took the battery life down to 82% from its original 100% charge. That’s a small 18% drop-off that the iPad Air 2 just didn’t match. Apple’s device went down 21% (to 79%) while running the same 90-minute video.

In other real-world testing, the Nexus 9 lasted a day and a half before I needed to recharge it. Battery life is less of an issue on a tablet than a smartphone, and the Nexus 9 is no slouch.

I was able to get stream a full HD-quality movie during a 90-minute flight, surf the internet and play a game on a 45-minute train commute and edit documents during a 20-minute Uber ride.

Planes, trains and automobiles – and I still had close to 50% battery life at full brightness.

Gaming obviously depleted the battery faster than the typical browsing and movie watching, so, while traveling, I retired from Real Racing 3 more quickly than I would have normally.

Nexus 9 review

Juicing the Nexus 9 took a little under five hours. That’s about how long it takes to recharge a fully depleted iPad. But while the Nvidia processor was great for 3D gaming, it doesn’t feature Qualcomm’s Quickcharge 2.0 technology used by HTC’s own HTC One M8.

Motorola’s Turbo Charger powers up the Nexus 6 and Moto X with anywhere from six to eight hours of battery life in just 15 minutes. And it’s not just Android smartphones that are benefitting from this Snapdragon-enabled technology. Sony’s Xperia Z2 Tablet and Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact use it to their advantage too.

Camera

Maybe this is a good thing, but the Nexus 9 doesn’t have a great camera embedded in its tablet frame. There’s less of a chance you’ll be tempted – for whatever reason – to snap photos with its 8.9-inch viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The rear-facing 8 megapixel with a f/2.4 aperture produced darker-than-normal photos with an average 1.25MB file size and 3264 x 2448 resolution.

Nexus 9 review

The single LED flash doesn’t do much unless the subject is close. The Nexus 7 actually snapped brighter, clearer and faster photos in mild low light without a flash, though it revealed more than the acceptable amount of noise.

But it's dakrer than you'd expect

It’s hard to tell which tablet I wanted to walk around town with taking test photos with less – the Nexus 9 or the Nexus 7. And this is from someone who routinely wears Google Glass. At least with the iPad Air 2 and its so-called "focus pixels," the shots are better, compensating for the ridiculous-looking viewfinder.

Nexus 9 review

The front-facing camera also shot darker, but the photos were less soft on this 1.6-megapixel camera that has a f/2.4 aperture. It’s good enough for video conferencing when the image quality isn’t all too important. Nexus 9’s rear-facing camera can take 1080p video, but it’s, again, a job best left up to your smartphone.

Messaging

Google’s messaging options can be effective, but are all over the place. The email app still exists but directs you to the close it in favor of the superior Gmail app. This original app can’t be deleted. Okay…

Nexus 9 review

Gmail, is of course wonderful compared to the default email apps by Samsung and LG. In addition to allowing users to access multiple Gmail addresses, it goes as far as supporting rival email services like Outlook and Yahoo. That’s confidence.

Then there’s Hangouts. It’s still here and works relatively well by integrating your existing Gmail contacts into the fold. But the annoyance of having friends who have personal and work accounts often leads to missed messages outside of the 9 to 5 work day and the inverse.

There’s also an issue of sending either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, but only being able to send and receive Hangouts on a computer or a tablet like the Nexus 9. Apple’s iMessages syncs across all devices and it always tries sending an internet message first, then resorts to a carrier-sent text message if all else fails. With Hangouts, it’s either a Hangout or an SMS on a phone, and SMS is missing from Google’s cross-platform messaging ecosystem.

Nexus 9 review

The Nexus 6 doesn’t do much to fix this. It adds another app called "Messaging" to further confuse the situation.

The Nexus 9 sport a new default keyboard theme that coincides with Material Design. Both its light and dark color variants are borderless, which can be a bit jarring at first. Then you realize that this is a Google keyboard that often knows what you want to type or what you meant to type. No matter how it looks, it’s a lot smarter than the redesigned iOS 8 QuickType keyboard.

Internet

The extra Nexus screen space makes surfing the web a breeze and visiting TechRadar.com loaded up nice and quickly. Like in the Newsstand app, there’s more reading to be done and less scrolling compared to the narrower Nexus 7. I didn’t find myself constantly needing to use the 10-point multitouch display to zoom into every web page in order to read the text.

Nexus 9

Chrome has always been fast and full of options. The most recent update features faster browsing with support for preloading pages in the background. Android Lollipop includes a new guest mode and the ability to pin apps, which further secures the browsing history of your main account.

Chrome for Android has the cross-app Material Design look, though it’s less relevant because of its rather muted state. The bold colors are saved for websites, which completely makes sense.

Camera samples

Nexus 9 review

The following are Nexus 9 photos samples vs Nexus 7 2013 photo samples:

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Nexus 9 review

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Nexus 9 review

Nexus 9 review

The competition

Nexus 9 comes in at a good price, but there are slightly more expensive tablets to take notice of before dropping your $399 (£319, about AU$450). The aforementioned price drops help a little.

Apple, Samsung, Asus, Sony and even Microsoft have challengers large and small. It’s really about which features you can’t live without and how much you’re willing to spend to get them.

iPad Air 2

Nexus 9

You can’t have a modern-day tablet comparison without immediately bringing up the iPad. Apple’s newest slate is the iPad Air 2 and it’s the 9.7-inch version of what the Nexus 9 so desperately wants to be. It has a nicer-looking laminated screen, sleeker design and better tablet app ecosystem.

It is a little more expensive than the Nexus 9 and it doesn’t include BoomSound speakers. Audio is still projected from the bottom of the new iPad, while Google’s tablet has the speakers front and center on either side of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Nexus 9

As much as Apple’s gap-free screen design makes the iPad Air 2 a lightweight leader among tablets, the almost-as-thin Samsung Galaxy Tab S has a slightly better-looking display. It also fared better in sunlight.

That’s because Samsung’s two S tablets have a Super AMOLED screen. Its 10.5-inch edition is sharper, brighter and bigger than the Nexus 9. The 8.4-inch edition is sharper and brighter with a similar size and the exact same price as Google’s tablet.

Of course, Samsung Galaxy Tab S came with Android 4.4 KitKat pre-installed, but has since been upgraded to Android 5.0.2, still giving the Nexus 9 an edge in software – for now anyway.

Google Nexus 7

Nexus 9 review

Google has discontinued its Nexus 7 tablet with the advent of the Nexus 9. It appears as if 9 ate 7 instead of 7 ate 9. That’s a shame because the 7-inch slate is a great little device at an affordable price. It had been the cheapest introduction to Google’s pure Android ecosystem.

Nexus 7 features a classic 16:9 aspect ratio that’s ideal for widescreen movies. The obvious downside to that is it isn’t great for browsing the internet or reading text in general. Because it was sold as a Google Nexus device, it’s first in line for the post-Android 5.0 Lollipop launch.

Sony Xperia Z3 Compact Tablet

Nexus 9 review

Sony makes an excellent tablet that fits in between the Nexus 7 and Nexus 9. At 8 inches, it’s small, light and durable. It’s both dust and waterproof with an IP67/68 rating.

It has a better camera (unimportant), and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.5 GHz Quad-core processor and 3GB of RAM (important). What it’s missing is Android 5.0 Lollipop. Like all other tablets at the moment, it’s still packing Android 4.4 KitKat.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Nexus 9 review

Microsoft tries to market its Surface Pro 3 as a MacBook Air competitor, but it’s still very much a tablet. That makes it ripe for a Google Nexus 9 comparison.

The newest Surface Pro comes with a fully functional keyboard, multi-position kickstand, and uses a pen. This 12-inch super-tablet runs Windows, Office and desktop apps. Nexus 9 with its own keyboard case seems as if it’s posing as a productivity tablet, but costs a lot less.

Verdict

What was great about the Nexus 7 is that it was an easy entry into the Android ecosystem. It was an affordable first tablet that you could buy when picking up the inexpensive Chromecast. There wasn’t too much thought to it.

That’s not the Nexus 9, however. It’s a serious tablet with significant internal specs boot and an equally serious price tag. It’s $399 (£319, AU$479) for 16GB version that I don’t recommend. It’s comes down to whether there’s enough here for you to look beyond its flaws.

Nexus 9 review

We liked

If you were to adhere to "it’s what’s on the inside that counts," the Nexus 9 would be better off. It has Nvidia’s 64-bit processor, HTC’s BoomSound speakers and an impressive battery.

Google and HTC clearly designed this tablet for productivity more than widescreen movie watching. The 8.9-inch display’s 4:3 aspect ratio really does make surfing the web and editing documents easier.

Its new operating system is just as efficient. Android 5.0 Lollipop and entry into the Android M beta is the ultimate perk of owning this brand tablet, though the update will come out for other devices – eventually. Features like lockscreen notifications, priority mode and knock-to-wake make it the best Android version yet.

Nexus 9 review

We disliked

It’s hard to not like a pure Nexus device, but it’s the outside of the Nexus 9 that has the most trouble. Its 2K resolution screen doesn’t look as nice as the iPad Air 2 display you can get for a little more money.

Google has issued a software patch to correct some of the performance problems I experienced with the tablet. However, backlight bleeding and a mediocre design that doesn’t live up to the standard that HTC is known to deliver on its own products are unfixable flaws. The camera, as expected, is terrible.

And the price – it’s hard to know whether to lambast this tablet, as it is cheaper than the competition in some cases. But previous Nexus models have always been vastly cheaper than the rivals, so it’s a shame to see the same thing not happening here.

Final verdict

Google’s Nexus 9 tablet has display size and price that’s indicative of everything you need to know about how it stacks up against the iPad Air 2. It’s just a little less.

Nexus 9 review

The smaller 8.9-inch screen is good enough until you sit it next to a richer-looking, laminated 9.7-inch iPad display. The LCD backlight bleeding doesn’t help either. Among Androids, its 4:3 aspect ratio makes it a great two-handed upgrade over the narrower and slower Nexus 7. But it’s not as thin and nowhere near as sub-pencil-thin as Apple’s "laser-cut" iPad.

More design cues have been taken from the ASUS-made Nexus 7 than HTC’s own all-metal HTC One M8. The soft rubberized back is easy to grip, yet doesn’t feel as premium. That’s a problem because this Android tablet costs much more than last year’s model. It starts at $399 (£319, AU$479) for the 16GB version, and that space fills up rather quickly.

Android 5.0 Lollipop, and now Android 5.1.1, gives Google’s slate a software facelift, even if the hardware construction isn’t exceptional. Material Design sets the right tone and lockscreen notifications and priority mode add overdue functionality.

Nexus 9 is a few tenths of an inch shy of matching the iPad Air 2, which wouldn’t be so bad if the display and design didn’t come up short as well.

If you’re looking for a naked Android tablet, the Nexus 9 performs well and comes with some really premium touches to make it one of the best around. However, it’s not the winner in any category except battery life, so it will be interesting to see how Google uses this base model to improve the entire tablet ecosystem.

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Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Review: Updated: Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Introduction and design

Update: One flavor of the Surface Pro 3 is enjoying a hefty price cut in the US, thanks to the Redmond camp. Down from its $1,299 price to $1,149 on the Microsoft Store, the Intel Core i5-equipped model with 256GB of solid state storage makes this an even more attractive device. With that savings, you could pick up the $130 Type Cover and still walk away with a few bucks.

But if you want to get in on the ground level for as little as possible, you can grab the entry-level model for $50 off in the US. As of this writing, a retailer on eBay is offering the 64GB, Intel Core i3-equipped unit for $649. With those savings, you could pick up the Type Cover too without spending much more than what this model alone normally costs.

Then again, that fabled Surface Pro 4, if it exists, would land any day now…

Original review follows…

Knock it for the Windows 8 launch. Lay into it for how it debuted the Xbox One. But, when it comes to its latest product, the Surface Pro 3, don’t pull out the torches and pitchforks just yet – Microsoft is onto something here.

Over the past few years, the Redmond, Wash. Windows maker has proved to be one of the bolder technology companies, for better or worse. Microsoft clearly isn’t afraid to fall on its face in the hope of landing on what in the world tech users want next in this turbulent market, and the Surface Pro 3 is – well, it just might be an exception.

The company has been hammering away at what it considers is a problem with tablets for years. Since the launch of the Surface Pro, Microsoft has sought after the ultimate mobile computing device, one that could replace the laptop with a tablet-first approach.

All five versions of the Surface Pro are available now in the US, UK and Australia. They are: 64GB / Intel Core-i3 ($799), 128GB / Core-i5 ($999), 256GB / Core-i5 ($1,299), 256GB / Core-i7 ($1,549) and 512GB / Core-i7 ($1,949).

It’s also available in many more countries, including 25 new markets for the first time. According to Microsoft, the device has proved such a popular debutant in those markets that it’s struggled to meet demand. "For those of you waiting for Surface Pro 3 (or for the specific version that is just right for you): hang tight, we are shipping in new products as fast as we can," Microsoft wrote in a blog post on September 12. "We should be in a much better position in the next week or two."

YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu8tvK4hCh4

The Surface Pro 3 is closer than Microsoft has ever been to making good on its mobile computing vision. After over a week with the slate, I’d go so far as to say that the Pro 3 is closer than any laptop-tablet hybrid released yet.

Microsoft was so sure of itself that not only did it directly compare the Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, it gave members of the press pre-release Surface Pro 3 units during an announcement event in New York. Sure, the units have bugs as of this review, but who cares?

"I forced the giving away of the device, just so you’re aware," Surface team lead Panos Panay told me just after the reveal. "I said, ‘You know what? I want the product in people’s hands.’ ‘But the bugs are still there. They’re not all done until June 20, until it’s on market.’ I don’t care. The purity of the device is still true, and on June 20 there will be more drops."

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

One look at the thing might explain Panay’s eagerness to get the Surface Pro 3. It’s no iPad Air, that’s for sure, but the iPad Air isn’t packing a 12-inch display.

Design

Yes, Microsoft bumped the Surface Pro touchscreen from a tiny 10.6 inches to a far roomier 12 inches. In the process, the pixel count has been upped from 1920 x 1080 to 2160 x 1440 The result is a modest boost in pixels per inch – 207 ppi to 216 ppi – given the increase in screen real estate.

More important is Microsoft’s interesting choice in aspect ratio. Rather than sticking with the Pro 2’s 16:9 or glomming onto the iPad’s 4:3, the firm went with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The company claims that, with this aspect ratio, this 12-inch screen can actually display more content than the MacBook Air’s 13.3-inch panel at 16:10. The move was also made to make the tablet feel more like your average notepad when held in portrait orientation.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Wrapped in a bright, silver-colored magnesium shell that’s cool and smooth to the touch, the Surface Pro 3 feels premium in every regard. The tablet keeps the trapezoidal shape of its predecessors, but manages to come in both thinner and lighter than before. Plus, the tablet’s upper half is beset by vents on its edges to better dissipate heat pushed out by its fan.

Microsoft also moved the Windows home button to the device’s left side of its silky smooth – though, rather thick – glass bezel. This way, it appears on the bottom of the slate while held upright, calling out, ‘Hey, hold it this way now.’ While it’s no doubt the lightest Surface Pro yet, I’m not sure whether I could hold onto it for an entire subway ride home.

Adorning both sides of the Pro 3 are 5MP cameras capable of 1080p video recording. While stills on either shooter won’t blow you away, the front-facing lens should do just fine for Skype and the weekly video meeting over VPN.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

This Surface isn’t without its sidekick(s)

A tablet wouldn’t be much of a laptop replacement without a keyboard, and the Surface Pro keyboard was in desperate need of a boost. Luckily, Microsoft sent the Type Cover back to the drawing board, and what came back is the best version yet. From keys with deeper travel and stronger feedback to a wider glass trackpad that actually clicks, nothing was off the table.

But the most important improvement is the brand new double hinge. Equipped with a strong magnet that latches onto the Pro 3’s lower bezel, the Type Cover can now rest with just a portion of it touching your lap or desk. This proved to make writing on my lap much more stable than with previous Surface devices. (Plus, the plush cover comes in five colors: red, blue, cyan, black and purple.)

Tucked beside the Type Cover is also the newly improved Surface Pen. Microsoft made a point of calling its stylus that, because the firm wants it to be seen as and feel like the writing instrument we’ve all grown up with. With an aluminum finish and a useful clicker up top, the Surface Pen is weighted to better feel like a pen. Using Bluetooth and powered by N-trig, the stylus tracks closer to its physical position than ever before, thanks to some major improvements to the Surface screen.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

The new Surface Pro 3 unarguably has the look and feel of a premium product, so it only deserves to be stacked up against the most luxuriously built tablet and laptop around.

Adobe launched major updates to two of its classic design applications in March. Called Touch Workspace, the apps are available now free of charge to existing Creative Cloud subscribers and Surface Pro 3 owners with the latest versions of Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 installed. The apps feature a streamlined design user interface that makes it more responsive to fingertips, while optimizing a number of new or existing software tools with touch interaction in mind.

Specifications

The Surface Pro 3 improves upon the previous model in just about every which way – Microsoft has checked all of its boxes. The company was even so brash as to compare this hybrid of sorts to both Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air and its tablet atop the mountain, the iPad Air.

At least on the outside, the Surface Pro 3 falls somewhere smack in the middle. Measuring 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H), the 1.76-pound tablet isn’t quite as thin and light as the iPad Air, but beats the MacBook Air in both respects easily.

And that’s pretty much the point: a device that offers enough of both to replace both. The Pro 3 is a light enough tablet – but not the absolute lightest – and arguably one of the thinnest and lightest laptops around. But dimensions aren’t even half of it. Does the Pro 3 offer comparable power to both, not to mention for a competitive price?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Here is the Surface Pro 3 configuration given to TechRadar:

Spec sheet

  • CPU: 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-4300U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3
  • Screen: 12-inch, 2160 x 1440 multi-touch (ClearType, 3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Ports: One USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, microSDXC card reader (up to 128GB), headphone/mic jack
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: Two 5MP webcams (1080p HD video)
  • Weight: 1.76 pounds
  • Size: 7.93 x 11.5 x 0.36 inches (W x D x H)

This is one of the mid-range Surface Pro 3 configurations, and it’ll cost you a steep $1,299 (about £772, AU$1,403). The most affordable way into the latest Surface Pro 3 goes for just $799 (around £475, AU$863). However, you’ll have to work with an Intel Core i3 chip, half as much RAM and just 64GB of storage. On the other hand, you can deck out this slate with a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of memory and a whopping 512GB solid-state drive for $1,949 (about £1,158, AU$2,106).

It’s worth noting that various deals to snag the Surface Pro 3 at a lower price are kicking about. In the US, for example, you can pick up the device with a $150 discount if you’re a student. If you opt for the higher-end Core i7 model, you can get an even better 10% off the retail price, which amounts to $195.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Returning to the device at hand, Microsoft says that it’s essentially two devices in one, and has priced it accordingly, not to mention with Apple squarely in mind. So, starting with the latest iPad, it would cost $799 — the Pro 3’s starting price — to only reach half of this Microsoft tablet’s storage. And this is Apple’s most premium configuration.

That price also gets you a 1.3GHz processor, a 9.7-inch display at 2048 x 1536 resolution, 802.11a/b/g/n dual-channel Wi-Fi with MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0. While it’s tough to compare these displays given their difference in size, the iPad Air has a tough time competing with the Surface Pro 3 on paper.

The MacBook Air comparison is, surprisingly, an easier one to make, spec for spec. For $1,299, Apple’s 13-inch thin-and-light laptop meets the Pro 3 head on in terms of storage and memory. However, that 1440 x 900 screen looks just dull in comparison. And while this notebook sports Intel’s far superior HD Graphics 5000, the Core i5 chip behind them is much slower at 1.4GHz.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

At first glance, it looks like the Surface Pro 3 can dance around both of Apple’s machines at the same time. However, that’s assuming you purchased the optional Type Cover. That’s right: the one tool that enables this tablet to truly replace the laptop does not come with the device. In fact, it costs a cool $130 (around £77, AU$140). Even so, this Surface Pro 3 configuration, with Type Cover included, still costs less than Apple’s entry level tablet and laptop combined. Microsoft may have made good on its goal of replacing the laptop in terms of price, but what about performance?

Performance

With a product designed to be two things at once, it’s tough to quantify its performance with synthetic tests designed to typically test just one type of device. Regardless, the Surface Pro 3 performed just slightly better than the average Core i5-4200U-packing Ultrabook, which isn’t terribly shocking.

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark: Ice Storm: 30,264; Cloud Gate: 2,617; Fire Strike: 347
  • Cinebench CPU: 208 points; Graphics: 25.14 fps
  • PCMark 8 Home: 2,190 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours, 38 minutes

Save for PCMark’s battery life test, these results are generally in line with what I would expect from a slightly beefed up Core i5 machine. This processor and RAM combo will handle video chat, streaming and perhaps the average spreadsheet VLOOKUP with ease. Plus, your lunchtime gaming breaks should go over smoothly within reason.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For instance, I played a round of Hearthstone with just a bit a sluggishness before I turned down the graphics detail. However, the upper right portion of the tablet’s magnesium frame reached scorching levels of heat during that single session.

The same happened every time I went to watch an HD video over YouTube. Neither bode well for couch cruisers, though that redesigned hinge will come in mighty handy for this. Nothing will save this tablet from the sound its fan produces, however, which is noticeable but not disruptive or distracting.

Beaten by the battery

Back to that battery result, it frankly isn’t even close to the best I’ve seen from a tablet. In my own use of the Pro 3 – over 10 Google Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming high bitrate audio, TweetDeck running and HipChat active with the keyboard backlit – the slate lasted 3 hours and 55 minutes. Both tests were run at max brightness on the "Balanced" power setting.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 can hold out for up to 9 hours of web browsing before kicking the can. Considering that both PCMark 8 and my own test are plenty more strenuous than that simple task, perhaps the device could last longer under lighter loads.

Lowering the brightness will undoubtedly boost endurance, and I noticed that the tablet can last for days on standby. Regardless, this is a device meant to handle relatively heavy work loads. If it can’t match the market-leading laptop in terms of longevity, then can it truly replace it?

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

It’s true: both the 13-inch MacBook Air and iPad Air outlast the Surface Pro 3 in our tests. Under more intense loads, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either maintain their lead over Microsoft’s tablet. Perhaps it’s Windows 8.1, or more likely that QHD screen – regardless, there’s room for improvement here.

The Surface Pen points ahead

When Surface team lead Panos Panay showed off the new Surface Pen’s Bluetooth feature that "magically" summoned OneNote with a click of its top button, it looked like a neat gimmick. As it turns out, that’s exactly the case, but this kind of use of Bluetooth shows vast potential for the future.

At any rate, what’s important here is the actual writing experience. While I personally wouldn’t use the Surface Pen for much in my day-to-day work, tracking proved to be super smooth. Not to mention that the digital lines of ink were as thin as the tip of the stylus as I jotted down notes in near-perfect cursive. (Well, near-perfect in replicating my chicken scratch.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Part of this is thanks in part to that complete redesign of the N-trig powered pen, this time to better emulate the feeling of a traditional writing instrument. And while its two face buttons could be positioned lower toward the tip, they click with ease.

The other half working toward an improved pen experience is what Microsoft claims is the thinnest optical stack in the industry. (The actual optics of the screen are closer to the glass face than ever.) This helps reduce the drag between your physical position with the stylus and its digital representation. Finally, some solid solid palm rejection only enhances that notepad-like feel.

Following the Surface Pro 3’s release, in July N-Trig released a list of compatible applications that have been tested with its latest drivers. They are:

  • Anime Studio Debut 9.5 Version 9.5 build 9768
  • Crayola PhotoFx studio 1 Version 1.5.0.42, 1.5.0.46
  • Flash Professional CC Version 13.1.0.226
  • Adobe Flash Professional CS6 Version CS6
  • Corel Painter Version 12.2.0.703
  • Sculptris
  • MyPaint Version 1.0.0
  • Mischief Version 1.12
  • Zbrush Version 4R6
  • Adobe DreamWeaverCS6 Version CS6
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 Version 12.0.20130925
  • Krita Version 2.8.3
  • Substance Painter Version 0.5.0

According to reports, Microsoft is in talks to acquire N-Trig, signalling a bright future for those who enjoy doodling and note-taking on its Surface devices.

Surface Hub only scratches the – you know…

In early October, Microsoft released a new app exclusively for its latest tablet, dubbed the Surface Hub, on the Windows Store. Frankly, however, it’s not much a hub just yet. As of this writing, the Surface Hub only serves to adjust the sensitivity of the Surface Pen and change the function of the Bluetooth-enabled purple button up top.

Your options: either launch the touch-centric version of OneNote like before or the standard desktop variety, which is available for free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. The sensitivity adjustment tool works well enough, and allows you to test your adjustments in a tiny window before committing to the change.

Finally, the app provides details about your Surface that will be needed for troubleshooting, as well as providing a quick feedback form. And … that’s basically it. Not really a "hub", if you ask me, but nevertheless a useful, nicely designed tool. Here’s to hoping for more comprehensive updates to the app in the future.

Type Cover rises up; kickstand leans back

Microsoft has upped its game in almost every way with the Surface Pro 3, but most crucial is the new and improved Type Cover. The upgrades to this accessory were essential to what Microsoft’s mission to eliminate the laptop. (The improvements were so vital that keeping it an accessory was a clear misstep.)

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

For one, the typing on this cover has been massively improved, with deeper travel and speedier, more powerful pushback than ever from the keys. The larger clickpad – yes, "clickpad" – now clicks with the force you’d expect from a laptop. Though, I did have to be rather deliberate in scrolling through web pages.

That the new Type Cover now snaps to the Pro 3’s lower bezel might sound like a silly addition. But it makes for a far more sturdy and comfortable typing experience on your lap.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Lastly, the Redmond, Wash. company finally went and bent that kickstand nearly all the way back, allowing users to fully adjust its angle. This proved to be a boon while balancing the device on my lap for typing, as well as for just browsing my favorite websites while watching TV at the widest angle.

The hinges are incredibly stiff, requiring considerable force before they begin to give way. You should want that kind of rigidity from a device you’re to use essentially for any and every computing task.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 review

Microsoft also has a docking station for the Surface Pro 3 in the works that replaces the current Surface Pro dock. It measures 12.9 x 3.8 x 4.4 inches and provides access to a multitude of peripherals – from your speakers and printer to a keyboard and mouse. It can also drive an external monitor too (4K, if you like your visuals crisp) from MiniDisplayPort, providing a dual display setup for apps such as Photoshop or Illustrator.

With a larger shape to accommodate the device’s dimensions, it manages to house three USB 3.0 ports and two USB 2.0 ports, bringing the total to six if you include the ones on the Surface Pro 3. That’s in addition to a a Gigabit Ethernet port and a 3.5mm audio connection jack, and there’s also a Kensington security lock for warding off thieves.

Weighing 650g, it’s plenty portable too. So, when can you get your hands on it? It’s already available to you if you live in the US, where it retails for $199, and it’s out now in the UK too, where it retails for £164.99. Writing in a post on its Surface blog, Microsoft announced plans to ship the docking station to 26 more markets around the world starting on Friday September 12, around one month after it first went on sale in the US and Canada.

Bundled software

In addition to the standard Microsoft apps and free trials, the firm includes OneNote with every Surface Pro 3 in addition to Flipboard and Fresh Paint among a few light casual games. In short, Microsoft keeps it incredibly light on the bloatware, as it should being a first-party vendor.

OneNote’s inclusion makes for a particularly attractive package since Microsoft opted to make the note-taking app’s previously paid-for features free for all. It means that you can now password protect sections of notebooks, track changes to notes using page history and better manage files by searching for words in video or audio recordings.

The Windows Store has come a long way since its launch, but still trails behind Apple and Google’s app marketplaces in terms of volume and quality. Windows 8 devices are still generally the last to receive major apps and app updates. This would be a more serious issue if the Pro 3 weren’t packing Windows 8.1 Pro, but it’s nevertheless a problem.

Surface Pro 3 game controller

OK, we’ll come clean, we haven’t tested Microsoft’s game controller in our Surface Pro 3 review – because it doesn’t exist. But it’s interesting to note a Microsoft patent that shows that the company may have been thinking about releasing a funky handheld gaming accessory in the style of Nvidia’s Edge for the Surface Pro 3 at one point, which would’ve taken the device in a very different direction.

Appearing to be cut down the middle, the controller would allow you to place each half to the left and right to use the tablet like an Xbox-style controller. Could something similar make an appearance in the future? Stranger things have happened – and we’ve seen a few of them.

Surface Pro 3 updates

Microsoft has released a steady flow of updates to the Surface Pro 3 since its release to improve stability and performance. The most recent was released in late January, bringing a slew of bug fixes and stability tweaks, in addition to a new graphics driver that promised to boost 4K video playback and playing videos using Google Chrome.

Numbered Version 15.36.14.4080, it was the first driver to support Intel’s fifth-generation Broadwell processors – including the Intel HD Graphics 5500, HD Graphics 6000 and Iris Graphics 6100 cores. According to Intel, it also brought hardware acceleration of the VP9 video format that’s used in Chrome video playback and Google Hangouts.

Inconsistent Wi-Fi, the most niggling issue reported by Surface Pro 3 owners for some time, was fixed in an patch in November called the Wireless Network Controller and Bluetooth driver update. It focused on improving performance when waking from sleep and connecting to a 802.11ac Wi-Fi network. That update also brought improvements around behaviour of the device when waking up from sleep mode using the Home Button or the Surface Pen.

Verdict

The Surface Pro 3 is, without question, the most attractive and capable device that Microsoft has ever produced. As a result, it’s not only the closest to realizing the company’s vision for replacing the laptop, but closer than any hybrid device to date. This thing can honestly serve as both your tablet and laptop in nearly equal measure.

Of course, the tablet isn’t without compromise. Limited app creator support, subpar battery life and a dearth of hard connections are clear hurdles for the Pro 3. Plus, leaving the much-improved Type Cover as an accessory means that this is no laptop replacement out of the box.

We liked

Everything about the Surface Pro 3 design screams style and thoughtfulness. Microsoft took the entire Surface Pro 2 back to the drawing board with this revision. Between its bigger, sharper screen and thinner, lighter magnesium frame, nearly every box has been checked in crafting a superior product.

The same goes for the Type Cover, kickstand and Surface Pen, all of which received marquee improvements and rethinks. The redesigned Type Cover has resulted in the best typing experience I’ve had on a tablet keyboard, while the new, wider-angle kickstand in tandem with the new stylus makes for more use cases that simply make sense.

What resulted was a device that I was reliably able to use as both a laptop and a tablet. I jumped from writing this very review to flicking cards in Hearthstone on the couch and back to writing with just a flick of the kickstand and a snap of the keyboard cover. If that’s not a measure of a all-in-one device, I don’t know what is.

We disliked

But make no mistake, there is still room for improvement with the Surface Pro 3. For one, selling the Type Cover as an optional accessory not only inflates the price of this product, but only serves to diminish Microsoft’s mission statement to replace the laptop.

Another knock against the tablet is that it’s quite quick to burn up. Whether it was an HD video over Netflix or YouTube, a casual game or even system updates, the upper right portion of the metallic shell would grow almost uncomfortable to hold. Thankfully for the kickstand, there are many situations in which you need to hold the slate while sitting.

Finally, just under 4 hours of battery life might be suitable for the average Ultrabook, but not for your everyday tablet. And for Microsoft to position the Surface Pro 3 against the iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air, which both set the endurance standards in their categories, only makes this point look worse.

Final verdict

It’s worth reiterating the point that the Surface Pro 3 is not only Microsoft’s most striking and versatile device to date, but the most convincing poster child for the hybrid category yet. And this ringing endorsement comes from a long-time skeptic of such devices.

That said, the Pro 3 is hamstrung by flaws that cannot be ignored. Namely, the battery life might be in line with most Ultrabooks, but it doesn’t come close to what Apple’s leading laptop and top tablet have shown. And the Type Cover being billed as an accessory doesn’t help Microsoft’s cause in the slightest – it’s quite pricey to boot.

At any rate, this version of the tablet comes in cheaper than the most affordable iPad Air and 13-inch MacBook Air combined, even with the Type Cover, and that’s the point. On paper, this slate is more powerful than either Apple device, not to mention most other comparably priced laptops and tablets. The Surface Pro 3 might not be perfect, but it’s far and wide the brightest shining example of a potential tablet takeover.

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Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Introduction and key features

Editor’s note: We’ve spent time with the new Kindle Paperwhite running early build software, which is why this is a hands-on review. Once our unit receives the final software update we’ll put it through its paces again and give it a star rating.

Amazon’s most popular ereader, the Kindle Paperwhite, has evolved yet again with the 2015 version (or the "All-New" version as Amazon’s calling it) offering an improved 300ppi display, a new Bookerly font and a new typesetting engine, designed to improve character spacing, typography and page layouts for a more pleasant reading experience.

The pixel boost puts its resolution on a par with the Kindle Voyage, which is still the flagship Kindle despite not having been updated yet this year. But with a starting price of £109.99 (US$119) the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is far more affordable than the extravagant £169.99 (US$199) Voyage.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

The Paperwhite’s price goes up to £119.99 (US$139) if you want it without adverts and up to £179.99 (US$209) for a version with 3G and no adverts, but that’s still well below the equivalent £229.99 (US$289) Voyage model.

On the other hand you can get Amazon’s most basic Kindle from just £49.99 (US$79), but with a screen that’s almost twice as sharp and has a built-in light, the company is clearly hoping buyers will continue to see the value in its Paperwhite model.

The Kindle Paperwhite (2015) might not have a new name but it does have some new features and improvements that are worth highlighting, in fact in theory it’s quite a big improvement over the previous model.

Crystal clear screen

Probably the biggest improvement in the new Kindle Paperwhite, and the biggest reason to consider upgrading to it if you already have an earlier model, is its 300ppi screen.

That’s up from 212ppi on the previous model, and it makes a big difference. Text is sharper, making it less of a strain to read, which if you tend to spend hours getting engulfed in a good book is a very important factor.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It also means it’s more comfortable to read tiny fonts if your eyes are up to it, making it feasible to fit more words on each page.

Amazon even goes so far as to call it print-quality, which I can just about believe. Pixels are almost imperceptible, and with the built-in light the reading experience is if anything superior to reading off a printed page, particularly when the lighting is otherwise sub-optimal.

Bookerly font

Amazon has created its own typeface, called Bookerly, and it’s making its ereader debut on the new Kindle Paperwhite, though it’s not an entirely new thing as it’s already available on Amazon’s Fire tablets.

It’s been inspired by existing typefaces, particularly Palatino and Caecilia, but it’s designed for use on digital screens, with the aim of helping users read faster with less eyestrain at any type size.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

While that could all easily be dismissed as marketing nonsense I have to admit to being a fan of it. It’s far from game-changing, but it’s slightly easier to read than Baskerville, more modern and elegant than Futura and less harsh than Helvetica, to name three of the alternatives offered by the Kindle Paperwhite (2015).

It’s not a reason to buy the new Paperwhite over any other Kindle, as they’ll likely get the Bookerly font in a software update anyway and the difference it makes is marginal and in part surely comes down to personal taste. But it’s a nice font, I like it and I plan to stick with it.

Top-notch typesetting

Amazon has also outfitted the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) with a new typesetting engine and this changes things in ways which are both subtle and significant.

The sharp screen and useful built in light of the Kindle Voyage – and to some extent previous generations of the Kindle Paperwhite – in many ways replicate and even improve on the experience of reading a printed book, but typography has always been a weak link.

It’s more obvious in some titles than other (and to some readers than others), but previous Kindles have been known to lay out words, paragraphs and even whole pages in an awkward manner.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It’s often as simple as slightly awkward spacing between letters and words, leading to too much white space, or words and paragraphs being broken up poorly. It can be distracting, and even if you don’t notice it there’s every chance it’s slowing down your reading.

The new typesetting engine aims to fix all that, as well as making larger font sizes more readable with reduced white space and no more broken sentences. It also adds drop caps where applicable, which previously were often absent from ebooks.

It’s a huge step towards fixing one of the biggest problems Kindles still have, and while it currently only works on a subset of Kindle books, that subset numbers at over 500,000 with more added all the time.

Design and screen

The new Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t really look any different to the old Kindle Paperwhite, which is to say it’s not much of a looker at all, with a plain black plastic shell, broken up only by Kindle branding below the screen on the front, Amazon branding on the back and a micro USB port and power button on the bottom edge.

The bezels are fairly sizeable but that’s no bad thing here, as it gives you somewhere to rest your hands without obscuring the screen – or worse, accidentally turning the page.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It’s a plain design but it feels solid and well built. At 169 x 117 x 9.1mm it is, as Amazon loves to remind you, smaller than a paperback, while the Wi-Fi + 3G model that I tried came in at a surprisingly weighty 217g.

I say surprising because it’s heavier than it looks, not because it’s in any danger of actually weighing you down and if you opt for the Wi-Fi version it’s a slightly daintier 205g. It’s certainly small and light enough to hold comfortably with one hand.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

With its recessed display and plain design, it’s got none of the style of the Kindle Voyage, but that’s OK, as all it’s meant to be is a window into your books. If you want to add a little style, Amazon also offers a fairly attractive form-fitting leather cover with a metal clasp.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Like other Kindles there’s no microSD card slot, but there is enough storage built in for thousands of books, and if you have more than that there’s also cloud storage for any books purchased from Amazon.

Display and reading

A Kindle is only as good as its screen, and this is one area where the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) really excels.

Its 300ppi display really is a step up and it makes ereading a more pleasant experience than ever, and of course the built-in light has made a return too, ensuring you can comfortably read even in dark environments.

The act of reading is much the same as ever. A tap on the centre or right of the screen will turn to the next page, which it does quite speedily, while a tap to the far left edge will turn it back one and a tap on the bottom left corner will let you switch between viewing the estimated time left in the book, or in the chapter, or the page or location you’re on.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Finally, a tap near the top will bring down a menu bar which lets you customise the reading experience. This allows you to quickly change the brightness, search for something in the book, jump to a specific chapter, or change the font, text size, margins and line spacing. You’ll find the new Bookerly font here, though the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) defaults to it anyway.

I talked about this in the key features section, but in short it’s a good font. It looks attractive, doesn’t seem out of place in a book, and importantly it’s easy to read.

There are seven other font options though if you’re not a fan of Amazon’s creation, and text can be made very large, which could be handy if you don’t have the best eyesight.

Other Kindle staples are also only a tap away. There’s X-Ray for example, which lets you explore the "bones of a book," as Amazon puts it, to learn more about its characters and themes.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

If you’re ever unsure of what a word means when reading you can just long press it to get a definition. You can bookmark pages, highlight text, read in landscape view and enable Word Wise to see definitions of unfamiliar words above the words themselves, so you don’t even need to look things up.

There’s a lot here and most of it’s useful, but it’s no surprise as Amazon has been improving its Kindle software for years.

Despite all those years of work, the actual typography has always left much to be desired. Perhaps the single biggest issue was Amazon’s insistence on keeping the margins straight. That might not sound like such a bad thing, but it meant that gaps between words could be uneven and sometimes ludicrously large, especially when using a larger font.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Thankfully Amazon has finally fixed this. You can see what I mean in the image above. On the left is how it was and on the right is how things are with the new typesetting engine, though currently not all books are supported by it.

The improvements go beyond word spacing though. Character spacing has been tweaked too. Rather than having an equal gap between each letter it now looks at pairs of letters and ensures they’re spaced in such a way that they fit better together.

Page layouts have been improved as well, for example with the addition of drop caps, while text and images conform more faithfully to the layout of printed books.

All of this makes reading on the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) faster, easier and more pleasurable than ever. But if you’re stuck on an older Kindle there’s no need for jealousy as the new typesetting engine and Bookerly font will be coming as a software update to other recent Kindles.

Store and battery life

Store

The Kindle store is packed full of content, with millions of books available, though actually navigating it is easier from a computer than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) itself, with its greyscale display and slightly slow to respond touchscreen.

The good news is that you can easily send a book straight to your Kindle when shopping on another device, though. Still, if you do want to shop on the Kindle itself that’s an option, and if you go for the 3G version you don’t even need a Wi-Fi network.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Prices are generally pretty competitive too. You’ll know what to expect here if you’ve owned a Kindle before, but books are rarely more than about £5 (US$8) and can often be picked up for as little as around £1 (US$2), especially if you get them in one of the many Kindle store sales.

Battery life

Having had the Kindle Paperwhite for just a few days during my hands-on time, it’s not easy to give the battery an accurate appraisal just yet, especially given that this is a device which can supposedly last for weeks on a single charge.

However, that’s an estimate which seems to assume you don’t read for long each day and don’t leave data connections on.

That said it certainly doesn’t seem lacking in life. After almost three days it went from a full charge to a half full indicator (sadly it doesn’t get more precise than that).

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

That doesn’t mean you can only expect a week out of it though. In order to test the Paperwhite out the screen was inevitably on a lot of the time. I spent around four hours actually reading and lots more time testing out the various functions. The brightness was also more than half way up at all times, Wi-Fi was on most of the time and when it wasn’t 3G was.

So I don’t think that’s too bad a showing and it seems fairly comparable to my first generation Kindle Paperwhite, despite the fact that this one has a far sharper screen. If you’re only reading for on average half an hour a day or you keep data off and the brightness lower I’m sure you probably could get weeks out of it.

The competition

The Kindle Paperwhite’s main competition comes from, well, other Kindles, with the basic Kindle and the Kindle Voyage offering cheaper and more expensive alternatives respectively.

But there are a few rival brands trying to make a dent in the market, with Kobo and Nook in particular both offering a range of alternative ereaders.

Amazon Kindle Voyage

Amazon Kindle Voyage

The new Kindle Paperwhite matches the Kindle Voyage’s resolution at 300ppi, so there’s now less reason to choose Amazon’s premium model, but there are still a few reasons for the Voyage’s higher £169.99, $199 starting price.

For one thing it has an ambient light sensor, ensuring the built in light is automatically adapted to provide the optimal brightness for your surroundings, which is handy and you can always turn it off if you and the Kindle disagree about what the optimal brightness is.

It’s also got physical forward and back page buttons as well as the standard touchscreen ones and it packs a slightly more premium build. None of these are particularly essential features, but if price is no object the Kindle Voyage is undeniably still a better ereader than the Paperwhite.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

With prices starting at just £49.99, $79 the basic Amazon Kindle is a truly entry level ereader. It has a touchscreen, but it’s nowhere near as sharp as the Paperwhite’s display and there’s no built in light, which are two major marks against it.

If money’s tight or you don’t expect to use it much the Amazon Kindle is absolutely fine. It’s brilliantly good value, has the same impressive library as the Paperwhite and a similarly long-lasting battery. It’s also expected to get updated to support the new typesetting engine.

But if you’re an avid reader you may find yourself craving the improvements offered by the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) and spending more money in the long run.

Nook GlowLight

Nook GlowLight

If you’re not sold on Kindles or want something in between the basic Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite the Nook GlowLight could be for you.

It has a built in light of its own and a large selection of titles on its store and yet it comes in a little cheaper than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) at around £80, $99.

But with a laggy interface and a lower resolution 212ppi screen it can’t quite match Amazon’s latest. At around £30 cheaper it doesn’t have to but I’d still be inclined to say the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is a better buy if you can stretch to it.

Kobo Aura H2O

Kobo Aura H2O

At around £140 the Kobo Aura H2O is a fair bit pricier than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015), almost rivalling the Kindle Voyage. But it’s got a trick up its sleeve that neither of those devices can match, namely the fact that it’s water and dust proof.

How important that is will largely depend on how likely you are to read in the bath or on the beach, but I’d wager that it’s a useful feature for quite a lot of people.

Other than that, it’s a standard yet fairly accomplished ereader, with a bright screen, a well-stocked store and good battery life, but its screen isn’t quite as sharp as the Paperwhite’s.

Early verdict

I’m a big fan of the previous Kindle Paperwhite, so there was never much doubt that I’d like this one, since it’s essentially the same thing again, but with a better screen and some software improvements.

The real question is simply whether that’s enough to justify a new model, or to tempt anyone who’s resisted the Paperwhite in the past.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

We liked

The new 300ppi screen is far and away the best and most vital feature of the Kindle Paperwhite (2015). While the previous generation display hardly seemed lacking in clarity the new one is sharper and your eyes will thank you for it, especially if you like to use small font sizes.

The new typesetting engine is a big improvement too. Along with the attractive Bookerly font it makes things that little bit more readable, though both of these things will be coming to other recent Kindles as a software update, so don’t ditch your old model on the strength of them.

Other than that it’s the same Kindle Paperwhite as ever, with the same interface and features. If you’ve owned a Kindle before you know what you’re getting here and if not, know that no one has cracked the ereader like Amazon.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

We disliked

The Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is great, but it’s not much of an upgrade over the old one. The only major change is the screen, while the remaining headline features will come as a software update to other recent Kindles.

Amazon is coming pretty close to creating a perfect ereader, so it’s inevitable and not that much of a problem that many things will stay the same year after year, but it does mean the new Paperwhite is overfamiliar if you’ve used any recent Kindle.

And there are some things that we’d love to see change for the better. A more premium design would be nice for one. The Kindle Voyage goes somewhat in that direction but there’s room to go further.

Or if not more premium then how about waterproof? The Kobo Aura H2O is, and if you like to read in the bath or by the pool, it’s a good insurance policy.

As good as it is the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) seems like a fairly conservative upgrade.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Early verdict

While the new typesetting engine and Bookerly font are great additions to the Kindle Paperwhite, they’re going to be added to the Kindle Voyage, basic Kindle and previous generation Kindle Paperwhite too, so they’re not really reasons to choose this over any other Kindle or to upgrade to this.

That leaves the improved 300ppi screen as the main upgrade and it really is a big one, making text and images sharper than ever. If you read a lot then there’s every chance you’ll spend more time looking at this screen than even your phone, so it’s important that it’s sharp and clear.

The upgrade also puts it on a par with the sharpness of the Kindle Voyage, giving buyers one reason fewer to opt for that while retaining the previous Paperwhite’s starting price of £109.99 (US$119).

In short, it seems to be the best Kindle Paperwhite yet and quite possibly the best value ereader on the market.

It’s still lacking a few of the Kindle Voyage’s extras, but it’s got the core features that you need – a touchscreen, a sharp display, a built-in light and a massive library of books. It’s a device that might not need upgrading for years yet it still comes at a fairly reasonable price.

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Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Introduction and key features

Editor’s note: We’ve spent time with the new Kindle Paperwhite running early build software, which is why this is a hands-on review. Once our unit receives the final software update we’ll put it through its paces again and give it a star rating.

Amazon’s most popular ereader, the Kindle Paperwhite, has evolved yet again with the 2015 version (or the "All-New" version as Amazon’s calling it) offering an improved 300ppi display, a new Bookerly font and a new typesetting engine, designed to improve character spacing, typography and page layouts for a more pleasant reading experience.

The pixel boost puts its resolution on a par with the Kindle Voyage, which is still the flagship Kindle despite not having been updated yet this year. But with a starting price of £109.99 (US$119) the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is far more affordable than the extravagant £169.99 (US$199) Voyage.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

The Paperwhite’s price goes up to £119.99 (US$139) if you want it without adverts and up to £179.99 (US$209) for a version with 3G and no adverts, but that’s still well below the equivalent £229.99 (US$289) Voyage model.

On the other hand you can get Amazon’s most basic Kindle from just £49.99 (US$79), but with a screen that’s almost twice as sharp and has a built-in light, the company is clearly hoping buyers will continue to see the value in its Paperwhite model.

The Kindle Paperwhite (2015) might not have a new name but it does have some new features and improvements that are worth highlighting, in fact in theory it’s quite a big improvement over the previous model.

Crystal clear screen

Probably the biggest improvement in the new Kindle Paperwhite, and the biggest reason to consider upgrading to it if you already have an earlier model, is its 300ppi screen.

That’s up from 212ppi on the previous model, and it makes a big difference. Text is sharper, making it less of a strain to read, which if you tend to spend hours getting engulfed in a good book is a very important factor.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It also means it’s more comfortable to read tiny fonts if your eyes are up to it, making it feasible to fit more words on each page.

Amazon even goes so far as to call it print-quality, which I can just about believe. Pixels are almost imperceptible, and with the built-in light the reading experience is if anything superior to reading off a printed page, particularly when the lighting is otherwise sub-optimal.

Bookerly font

Amazon has created its own typeface, called Bookerly, and it’s making its ereader debut on the new Kindle Paperwhite, though it’s not an entirely new thing as it’s already available on Amazon’s Fire tablets.

It’s been inspired by existing typefaces, particularly Palatino and Caecilia, but it’s designed for use on digital screens, with the aim of helping users read faster with less eyestrain at any type size.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

While that could all easily be dismissed as marketing nonsense I have to admit to being a fan of it. It’s far from game-changing, but it’s slightly easier to read than Baskerville, more modern and elegant than Futura and less harsh than Helvetica, to name three of the alternatives offered by the Kindle Paperwhite (2015).

It’s not a reason to buy the new Paperwhite over any other Kindle, as they’ll likely get the Bookerly font in a software update anyway and the difference it makes is marginal and in part surely comes down to personal taste. But it’s a nice font, I like it and I plan to stick with it.

Top-notch typesetting

Amazon has also outfitted the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) with a new typesetting engine and this changes things in ways which are both subtle and significant.

The sharp screen and useful built in light of the Kindle Voyage – and to some extent previous generations of the Kindle Paperwhite – in many ways replicate and even improve on the experience of reading a printed book, but typography has always been a weak link.

It’s more obvious in some titles than other (and to some readers than others), but previous Kindles have been known to lay out words, paragraphs and even whole pages in an awkward manner.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It’s often as simple as slightly awkward spacing between letters and words, leading to too much white space, or words and paragraphs being broken up poorly. It can be distracting, and even if you don’t notice it there’s every chance it’s slowing down your reading.

The new typesetting engine aims to fix all that, as well as making larger font sizes more readable with reduced white space and no more broken sentences. It also adds drop caps where applicable, which previously were often absent from ebooks.

It’s a huge step towards fixing one of the biggest problems Kindles still have, and while it currently only works on a subset of Kindle books, that subset numbers at over 500,000 with more added all the time.

Design and screen

The new Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t really look any different to the old Kindle Paperwhite, which is to say it’s not much of a looker at all, with a plain black plastic shell, broken up only by Kindle branding below the screen on the front, Amazon branding on the back and a micro USB port and power button on the bottom edge.

The bezels are fairly sizeable but that’s no bad thing here, as it gives you somewhere to rest your hands without obscuring the screen – or worse, accidentally turning the page.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It’s a plain design but it feels solid and well built. At 169 x 117 x 9.1mm it is, as Amazon loves to remind you, smaller than a paperback, while the Wi-Fi + 3G model that I tried came in at a surprisingly weighty 217g.

I say surprising because it’s heavier than it looks, not because it’s in any danger of actually weighing you down and if you opt for the Wi-Fi version it’s a slightly daintier 205g. It’s certainly small and light enough to hold comfortably with one hand.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

With its recessed display and plain design, it’s got none of the style of the Kindle Voyage, but that’s OK, as all it’s meant to be is a window into your books. If you want to add a little style, Amazon also offers a fairly attractive form-fitting leather cover with a metal clasp.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Like other Kindles there’s no microSD card slot, but there is enough storage built in for thousands of books, and if you have more than that there’s also cloud storage for any books purchased from Amazon.

Display and reading

A Kindle is only as good as its screen, and this is one area where the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) really excels.

Its 300ppi display really is a step up and it makes ereading a more pleasant experience than ever, and of course the built-in light has made a return too, ensuring you can comfortably read even in dark environments.

The act of reading is much the same as ever. A tap on the centre or right of the screen will turn to the next page, which it does quite speedily, while a tap to the far left edge will turn it back one and a tap on the bottom left corner will let you switch between viewing the estimated time left in the book, or in the chapter, or the page or location you’re on.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Finally, a tap near the top will bring down a menu bar which lets you customise the reading experience. This allows you to quickly change the brightness, search for something in the book, jump to a specific chapter, or change the font, text size, margins and line spacing. You’ll find the new Bookerly font here, though the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) defaults to it anyway.

I talked about this in the key features section, but in short it’s a good font. It looks attractive, doesn’t seem out of place in a book, and importantly it’s easy to read.

There are seven other font options though if you’re not a fan of Amazon’s creation, and text can be made very large, which could be handy if you don’t have the best eyesight.

Other Kindle staples are also only a tap away. There’s X-Ray for example, which lets you explore the "bones of a book," as Amazon puts it, to learn more about its characters and themes.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

If you’re ever unsure of what a word means when reading you can just long press it to get a definition. You can bookmark pages, highlight text, read in landscape view and enable Word Wise to see definitions of unfamiliar words above the words themselves, so you don’t even need to look things up.

There’s a lot here and most of it’s useful, but it’s no surprise as Amazon has been improving its Kindle software for years.

Despite all those years of work, the actual typography has always left much to be desired. Perhaps the single biggest issue was Amazon’s insistence on keeping the margins straight. That might not sound like such a bad thing, but it meant that gaps between words could be uneven and sometimes ludicrously large, especially when using a larger font.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Thankfully Amazon has finally fixed this. You can see what I mean in the image above. On the left is how it was and on the right is how things are with the new typesetting engine, though currently not all books are supported by it.

The improvements go beyond word spacing though. Character spacing has been tweaked too. Rather than having an equal gap between each letter it now looks at pairs of letters and ensures they’re spaced in such a way that they fit better together.

Page layouts have been improved as well, for example with the addition of drop caps, while text and images conform more faithfully to the layout of printed books.

All of this makes reading on the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) faster, easier and more pleasurable than ever. But if you’re stuck on an older Kindle there’s no need for jealousy as the new typesetting engine and Bookerly font will be coming as a software update to other recent Kindles.

Store and battery life

Store

The Kindle store is packed full of content, with millions of books available, though actually navigating it is easier from a computer than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) itself, with its greyscale display and slightly slow to respond touchscreen.

The good news is that you can easily send a book straight to your Kindle when shopping on another device, though. Still, if you do want to shop on the Kindle itself that’s an option, and if you go for the 3G version you don’t even need a Wi-Fi network.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Prices are generally pretty competitive too. You’ll know what to expect here if you’ve owned a Kindle before, but books are rarely more than about £5 (US$8) and can often be picked up for as little as around £1 (US$2), especially if you get them in one of the many Kindle store sales.

Battery life

Having had the Kindle Paperwhite for just a few days during my hands-on time, it’s not easy to give the battery an accurate appraisal just yet, especially given that this is a device which can supposedly last for weeks on a single charge.

However, that’s an estimate which seems to assume you don’t read for long each day and don’t leave data connections on.

That said it certainly doesn’t seem lacking in life. After almost three days it went from a full charge to a half full indicator (sadly it doesn’t get more precise than that).

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

That doesn’t mean you can only expect a week out of it though. In order to test the Paperwhite out the screen was inevitably on a lot of the time. I spent around four hours actually reading and lots more time testing out the various functions. The brightness was also more than half way up at all times, Wi-Fi was on most of the time and when it wasn’t 3G was.

So I don’t think that’s too bad a showing and it seems fairly comparable to my first generation Kindle Paperwhite, despite the fact that this one has a far sharper screen. If you’re only reading for on average half an hour a day or you keep data off and the brightness lower I’m sure you probably could get weeks out of it.

The competition

The Kindle Paperwhite’s main competition comes from, well, other Kindles, with the basic Kindle and the Kindle Voyage offering cheaper and more expensive alternatives respectively.

But there are a few rival brands trying to make a dent in the market, with Kobo and Nook in particular both offering a range of alternative ereaders.

Amazon Kindle Voyage

Amazon Kindle Voyage

The new Kindle Paperwhite matches the Kindle Voyage’s resolution at 300ppi, so there’s now less reason to choose Amazon’s premium model, but there are still a few reasons for the Voyage’s higher £169.99, $199 starting price.

For one thing it has an ambient light sensor, ensuring the built in light is automatically adapted to provide the optimal brightness for your surroundings, which is handy and you can always turn it off if you and the Kindle disagree about what the optimal brightness is.

It’s also got physical forward and back page buttons as well as the standard touchscreen ones and it packs a slightly more premium build. None of these are particularly essential features, but if price is no object the Kindle Voyage is undeniably still a better ereader than the Paperwhite.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

With prices starting at just £49.99, $79 the basic Amazon Kindle is a truly entry level ereader. It has a touchscreen, but it’s nowhere near as sharp as the Paperwhite’s display and there’s no built in light, which are two major marks against it.

If money’s tight or you don’t expect to use it much the Amazon Kindle is absolutely fine. It’s brilliantly good value, has the same impressive library as the Paperwhite and a similarly long-lasting battery. It’s also expected to get updated to support the new typesetting engine.

But if you’re an avid reader you may find yourself craving the improvements offered by the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) and spending more money in the long run.

Nook GlowLight

Nook GlowLight

If you’re not sold on Kindles or want something in between the basic Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite the Nook GlowLight could be for you.

It has a built in light of its own and a large selection of titles on its store and yet it comes in a little cheaper than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) at around £80, $99.

But with a laggy interface and a lower resolution 212ppi screen it can’t quite match Amazon’s latest. At around £30 cheaper it doesn’t have to but I’d still be inclined to say the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is a better buy if you can stretch to it.

Kobo Aura H2O

Kobo Aura H2O

At around £140 the Kobo Aura H2O is a fair bit pricier than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015), almost rivalling the Kindle Voyage. But it’s got a trick up its sleeve that neither of those devices can match, namely the fact that it’s water and dust proof.

How important that is will largely depend on how likely you are to read in the bath or on the beach, but I’d wager that it’s a useful feature for quite a lot of people.

Other than that, it’s a standard yet fairly accomplished ereader, with a bright screen, a well-stocked store and good battery life, but its screen isn’t quite as sharp as the Paperwhite’s.

Early verdict

I’m a big fan of the previous Kindle Paperwhite, so there was never much doubt that I’d like this one, since it’s essentially the same thing again, but with a better screen and some software improvements.

The real question is simply whether that’s enough to justify a new model, or to tempt anyone who’s resisted the Paperwhite in the past.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

We liked

The new 300ppi screen is far and away the best and most vital feature of the Kindle Paperwhite (2015). While the previous generation display hardly seemed lacking in clarity the new one is sharper and your eyes will thank you for it, especially if you like to use small font sizes.

The new typesetting engine is a big improvement too. Along with the attractive Bookerly font it makes things that little bit more readable, though both of these things will be coming to other recent Kindles as a software update, so don’t ditch your old model on the strength of them.

Other than that it’s the same Kindle Paperwhite as ever, with the same interface and features. If you’ve owned a Kindle before you know what you’re getting here and if not, know that no one has cracked the ereader like Amazon.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

We disliked

The Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is great, but it’s not much of an upgrade over the old one. The only major change is the screen, while the remaining headline features will come as a software update to other recent Kindles.

Amazon is coming pretty close to creating a perfect ereader, so it’s inevitable and not that much of a problem that many things will stay the same year after year, but it does mean the new Paperwhite is overfamiliar if you’ve used any recent Kindle.

And there are some things that we’d love to see change for the better. A more premium design would be nice for one. The Kindle Voyage goes somewhat in that direction but there’s room to go further.

Or if not more premium then how about waterproof? The Kobo Aura H2O is, and if you like to read in the bath or by the pool, it’s a good insurance policy.

As good as it is the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) seems like a fairly conservative upgrade.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Early verdict

While the new typesetting engine and Bookerly font are great additions to the Kindle Paperwhite, they’re going to be added to the Kindle Voyage, basic Kindle and previous generation Kindle Paperwhite too, so they’re not really reasons to choose this over any other Kindle or to upgrade to this.

That leaves the improved 300ppi screen as the main upgrade and it really is a big one, making text and images sharper than ever. If you read a lot then there’s every chance you’ll spend more time looking at this screen than even your phone, so it’s important that it’s sharp and clear.

The upgrade also puts it on a par with the sharpness of the Kindle Voyage, giving buyers one reason fewer to opt for that while retaining the previous Paperwhite’s starting price of £109.99 (US$119).

In short, it seems to be the best Kindle Paperwhite yet and quite possibly the best value ereader on the market.

It’s still lacking a few of the Kindle Voyage’s extras, but it’s got the core features that you need – a touchscreen, a sharp display, a built-in light and a massive library of books. It’s a device that might not need upgrading for years yet it still comes at a fairly reasonable price.

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Review: HP Pro Tablet 608

Review: HP Pro Tablet 608

As we march on closer to the Windows 10 launch this July 29, more devices are popping up left and right. One of the latest is the HP Pro Tablet 608, and what a tablet it is. HP’s pro slate comes outfitted with quite a bit of kit, including a 2,048 x 1,536 display (which technically measures 7.9-inches) and quad-core Intel Core Atom processor.

This is by far the highest-resolution 8-inch Windows tablet to come out yet, putting it on an equal playing field with slates like the iPad Mini 3 and Nexus 9. With the full functionality of Windows 8.1 under its belt, the HP Pro Tablet 608 should give the leading mobile devices a run for their money.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Design

Externally, the HP Pro Tablet 608 actually has a lot in common with the Nvidia Shield Tablet, as far as looks go. The two share a similar trait of having forward-facing stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the screen. Likewise, the two slates share chamfered edges that run around the top edge of the machine.

Of course, there are plenty of outward differences too. While the back and sides of the Shield Tablet is coated with a soft touch material, the 608’s body is made primarily of bare plastic. The HP pro slate is also a bit wider, thanks to its 4:3 aspect ratio.

Typically going with a squarer screen creates some unsightly black bars while watching media, but the 608 was designed to be more of a productivity device. With this in mind, the wider screen makes it easier to read full page documents at a glance while offering more horizontal space to scroll through webpages.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Lighter and tougher than ever

Despite being a bit wider than most tablet, feels very still a fairly thin device, measuring 5.39 x 8.14 x 0.33 inches (137 x 207 x 8.35 mm). It also weighs almost nothing in your hand, as it tips the scales at only 0.79 pounds (360g).

Don’t think the light weight means this tablet is chintzy, though. It comes with a metal reinforced chassis along with. The screen is also covered with a scratch resistant sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which a HP representative was happy to rap her knuckles against.

HP Pro Tablet 608

High-res

What’s even more impressive is the screen that’s behind this protective sheet of glass. With a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536, the 608’s panel looks unbelievably sharp whether you’re looking at images or text. Windows 8.1 looks a bit tiny, so you’ll want to tweak your scaling options.

When Windows 10 rolls around, the newly added tablet mode should make things a little easier to navigate. Still, nothing on the current version of Windows looks painfully tiny, but you’ll have to carefully tap and peck at the screen, especially while typing with the virtual keyboard.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the tablet’s speakers, as the unit didn’t have any audio or video media on it nor was connected to the Internet at the time. However, front facing speakers usually help to make a device sound better, as seen with the Nexus 9.

HP Pro Tablet 608 also comes packing a 1.44GHz Intel Core Atom Quad Core Z8500 processor paired with 2GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC SSD for $479 (about £301, AU$616). You will also be able to bump up the specs with 4GB or RAM as well as either a 64GB or 128GB SSD upgrade.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Business class

While this tablet might seem tantalizing for just media consumption and regular usage, the 608 also has a ton of features aimed at business and enterprise applications.

The Pro Tablet, for example, is equipped with dual microphones to better record your voice for video-conferencing as well as Cortana – Microsoft’s voice-operated personal assistant. On the security front, the 8-inch slate comes loaded with a HP Client Security and Touchpoint Manager to provide advanced security features built on top of the OS.

HP Pro Tablet 608

The Pro Tablet 608 can even be easily converted for retail use. HP offers a Pro Tablet Mobile Retail Solution, which serves as both a durable case for the 8-inch diagonal tablet with a credit card reader on the back that doubles as a handle of sorts. The Pro Tablet also supports a wide range of third-party mobile payment methods, including EMV, NFC, MSR, and most digital wallets.

As for the other accessories, users can also opt for a keyboard case or digital pen. There’s also a portable dock that you can actually fold up and put in your pocket. The only problem with the dock is that, while it has HDMI, the HP product manager behind the device informed me that the device needs to be paired with a display wirelessly using Miracast.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Early verdict

From my early impressions with the device, the HP Pro Tablet 608 feels and looks like an amazing piece of kit for the price. Compared to the Nexus 9 or iPad Mini 3, this tablet offers the same screen resolution, but with more storage and the full software functionality of Windows 8.1.

At the same time, this device marks a big step up for Windows-based slates with plenty of business-oriented features that stores and small companies will appreciate.

The HP Pro Tablet 608 will be out by July (with Windows 10 in August), and you can be sure TechRadar will get its hands on this device for a full review. Until then stay tuned to this space.

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Review: HP Pro Tablet 608

Review: HP Pro Tablet 608

As we march on closer to the Windows 10 launch this July 29, more devices are popping up left and right. One of the latest is the HP Pro Tablet 608, and what a tablet it is. HP’s pro slate comes outfitted with quite a bit of kit, including a 2,048 x 1,536 display (which technically measures 7.9-inches) and quad-core Intel Core Atom processor.

This is by far the highest-resolution 8-inch Windows tablet to come out yet, putting it on an equal playing field with slates like the iPad Mini 3 and Nexus 9. With the full functionality of Windows 8.1 under its belt, the HP Pro Tablet 608 should give the leading mobile devices a run for their money.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Design

Externally, the HP Pro Tablet 608 actually has a lot in common with the Nvidia Shield Tablet, as far as looks go. The two share a similar trait of having forward-facing stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the screen. Likewise, the two slates share chamfered edges that run around the top edge of the machine.

Of course, there are plenty of outward differences too. While the back and sides of the Shield Tablet is coated with a soft touch material, the 608’s body is made primarily of bare plastic. The HP pro slate is also a bit wider, thanks to its 4:3 aspect ratio.

Typically going with a squarer screen creates some unsightly black bars while watching media, but the 608 was designed to be more of a productivity device. With this in mind, the wider screen makes it easier to read full page documents at a glance while offering more horizontal space to scroll through webpages.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Lighter and tougher than ever

Despite being a bit wider than most tablet, feels very still a fairly thin device, measuring 5.39 x 8.14 x 0.33 inches (137 x 207 x 8.35 mm). It also weighs almost nothing in your hand, as it tips the scales at only 0.79 pounds (360g).

Don’t think the light weight means this tablet is chintzy, though. It comes with a metal reinforced chassis along with. The screen is also covered with a scratch resistant sheet of Corning Gorilla Glass 4, which a HP representative was happy to rap her knuckles against.

HP Pro Tablet 608

High-res

What’s even more impressive is the screen that’s behind this protective sheet of glass. With a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536, the 608’s panel looks unbelievably sharp whether you’re looking at images or text. Windows 8.1 looks a bit tiny, so you’ll want to tweak your scaling options.

When Windows 10 rolls around, the newly added tablet mode should make things a little easier to navigate. Still, nothing on the current version of Windows looks painfully tiny, but you’ll have to carefully tap and peck at the screen, especially while typing with the virtual keyboard.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the tablet’s speakers, as the unit didn’t have any audio or video media on it nor was connected to the Internet at the time. However, front facing speakers usually help to make a device sound better, as seen with the Nexus 9.

HP Pro Tablet 608 also comes packing a 1.44GHz Intel Core Atom Quad Core Z8500 processor paired with 2GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC SSD for $479 (about £301, AU$616). You will also be able to bump up the specs with 4GB or RAM as well as either a 64GB or 128GB SSD upgrade.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Business class

While this tablet might seem tantalizing for just media consumption and regular usage, the 608 also has a ton of features aimed at business and enterprise applications.

The Pro Tablet, for example, is equipped with dual microphones to better record your voice for video-conferencing as well as Cortana – Microsoft’s voice-operated personal assistant. On the security front, the 8-inch slate comes loaded with a HP Client Security and Touchpoint Manager to provide advanced security features built on top of the OS.

HP Pro Tablet 608

The Pro Tablet 608 can even be easily converted for retail use. HP offers a Pro Tablet Mobile Retail Solution, which serves as both a durable case for the 8-inch diagonal tablet with a credit card reader on the back that doubles as a handle of sorts. The Pro Tablet also supports a wide range of third-party mobile payment methods, including EMV, NFC, MSR, and most digital wallets.

As for the other accessories, users can also opt for a keyboard case or digital pen. There’s also a portable dock that you can actually fold up and put in your pocket. The only problem with the dock is that, while it has HDMI, the HP product manager behind the device informed me that the device needs to be paired with a display wirelessly using Miracast.

HP Pro Tablet 608

Early verdict

From my early impressions with the device, the HP Pro Tablet 608 feels and looks like an amazing piece of kit for the price. Compared to the Nexus 9 or iPad Mini 3, this tablet offers the same screen resolution, but with more storage and the full software functionality of Windows 8.1.

At the same time, this device marks a big step up for Windows-based slates with plenty of business-oriented features that stores and small companies will appreciate.

The HP Pro Tablet 608 will be out by July (with Windows 10 in August), and you can be sure TechRadar will get its hands on this device for a full review. Until then stay tuned to this space.

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Review: Updated: Nvidia Shield Tablet

Review: Updated: Nvidia Shield Tablet

Introduction and performance

Despite its problems, we actually liked Nvidia’s original Shield Android gaming handheld. Our biggest issue with it was that it was bulky and heavy. With rumors swirling around about a Shield 2, we were hoping to see a slimmer, lighter design.

So consider us initially disappointed when we learned that the next iteration of Shield would just be yet another Android tablet. Yawn, right? The fact of the matter is that the Shield Tablet may be playing in an oversaturated market, but it’s still great at what it sets out to be.

For one thing it’s surprisingly affordable, as the Wi-Fi version can be had for just $299 (£239.99, around AU$320).

At eight inches, the Shield Tablet features a gorgeous 1,920 x 1,200 display, which shares the same resolution as Google’s flagship Nexus 7 tablet. At 13.1 ounces, the Shield Tablet is about three ounces heavier than the Nexus 7 but still a lot lighter than the original’s 1 lb. 4.7 ounces.

Part of the weight increase with the Shield Tablet over the Nexus 7 is due to the extra inch that you’re getting from the screen, but also because the Shield Tablet is passively cooled and has an extra thermal shield built inside to dissipate heat. It’s a little heavier than we’d like, but isn’t likely to cause any wrist problems.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

On the back of the Shield is an anti-slip surface and a 5MP camera, and on the front of the tablet we have a front-facing 5MP camera and two front-facing speakers. While the speakers are not going to blow away dedicated Bluetooth speakers, they sound excellent for a tablet. In addition to the speakers, the Shield Tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack up at the top.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Other ports include Micro USB, Mini HDMI out, and a MicroSD card slot capable of taking up to 128GB cards. Buttons on the Shield include a volume rocker and a power button which we found to be a little small and shallow for our liking.

Performance

The Shield Tablet was initially running on Android KitKat, but Nvidia has now pushed out Android 5.1 to users, which brings the tablet right up to date and includes a new-look interface inspired by Google’s Material Design, as well as various performance improvements and fixes.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Google’s influence is clear in fact as the Shield Tablet is running a pretty stock version of Android, with the main difference being that Nvidia has pre-loaded the tablet with its Shield Hub, which is a 10-foot UI for you to purchase, download, and launch your games.

Arguably the real star of the tablet is Nvidia’s Tegra K1 mobile superchip. The 2.2GHz quad-core A15 SOC features Nvidia’s Kepler GPU architecture and 192 CUDA cores along with 2GB of low power DDR3. K1 supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics card including tesselation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

In our performance benchmarks, the K1 killed it. Up until now, the original Shield’s actively-cooled Tegra 4 is arguably one of the most if not the most powerful Android SOC on the market, but the K1 slaughters it across the board. In Antutu and GeekBench benchmark, we saw modest gains of 12% to 23% in Shield versus Shield Tablet action.

But in Passmark and GFX Bench’s Trex test, we saw nearly a 50% spread, and in 3DMark’s mobile Icestorm Unlimited test, we saw an astounding 90% advantage for the Shield Tablet. This is incredible when you consider that the tablet has no fans and a two-watt TDP. Compared to the second-gen Nexus 7, the Shield Tablet benchmarks anywhere from 77% to 250% faster. This SOC is smoking fast, even standing up well to newer devices like the Nexus 9.

In terms of battery life, Nvidia is claiming you’ll get 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery. This is up 3.75 Wh up from Google’s Nexus 7 equivalent and from our experiential tests, we found those figures to be fairly accurate if not a best case scenario. It will pretty much last you all day, but you’ll still want to let it sip juice every night.

LTE Nvidia Shield Tablet

After successfully launching the 16GB Wi-Fi Shield Tablet, Nvidia has released its 32GB LTE tablet.

The only differentiating factors between the two Shields lie in storage and connectivity.

Getting the Shield through AT&T will cost you $399 (£299.99, about AU$425), but customers can hand over a pre-owned tablet to the network and receive a $100 bill credit. The tablet can also join an existing AT&T Mobile Share Plan for $10/month.

The tablet is also available unlocked through various international LTE bands that are supported by 70 carriers worldwide.

Gamestreaming remotely

The process for streaming via Wi-Fi is simple enough – just pair the tab with your PC over the same network and then you’re pretty much set after entering a code.

Gamestreaming remotely is a bit different, possibly more difficult and definitely not mainstream consumer friendly. If routers are not supported via UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) you’ll have to manually forward ports. Playing remotely also requires a minimum upload speed of 5Mbps and download bandwidth speeds of 10Mbps.

Performance

Running the Shield through AT&T’s network was spotty and at times resulted in lost connections while using Gamestream and Grid.

Once the LTE settled in, the connection stabilized and we were able to play without interruption, but it didn’t always stay reliable.

For example, Batman: Arkham Origins was choppy at first, and cut out a little bit after the intro taking us back out to desktop mode. On the second try, Batman managed to make it through the tutorial, fight scenes and onto the next chapter.

Again, the connectivity remained the most inconsistent factor in the streaming process. We had issues with Batman but during an online multiplayer Team Fortress 2 match, the Shield ran surprisingly smooth. There was very little lag and it connected to the game server with no issues.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

We then tried to run a game of Warframe and weren’t able to make it past the load screen.

The connection became unresponsive, and it was pretty much goodbye PC streaming as the game would stop and Steam wouldn’t reload.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Watching Netflix produced the same results – the Shield would lose service randomly causing the streaming to stop. However, it didn’t take long to buffer and restart.

Battery life

After about five hours of gaming, downloading apps and watching Netflix all on LTE, the Shield Tablet managed to stay true to Nvidia’s claims.Nvidia Shield TabletNvidia Shield TabletNvidia Shield Tablet

Meaning you’ll likely get an average of 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery – pretty much like the Wi-Fi version of the Shield Tablet.

Final verdict

If you need a decent router for the Wi-Fi version of the tablet to run without any hitches, you’ll definitely need a heavy duty router for the LTE Shield Tablet. A high quality 5GHz dual-band router is recommended if you want the best streaming performance from your tablet.

Games running through Gamestream also weren’t amazing visually. There are over a hundred Tegra K1 optimized games like Trine 2, Portal and a variety of Android games that look beautiful – however if not on the list, you’ll likely get subpar graphics.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Then there’s the questionable networks. While LTE is known as "fast" it doesn’t always mean reliable. You essentially need really high speed internet to keep the machine running smoothly, on top of all the other tech to make the experience tolerable.

Still, the Nvidia Shield Tablet remains the top mobile gaming device out there especially at its price point. But until the software for remote streaming is improved, more games become Tegra K1 optimized or internet connectivity becomes stabilized, "PC gaming on the go" will stay a highly sought after dream. Unless you don’t mind mediocre graphics and frequent saves.

Controller, features and verdict

Shield Controller

Of course if you’re going to game with it, you’re going to need Nvidia’s new wireless Shield Controller. Sold separately for $59.99/£49.99 (about AU$63), the 11.2-ounce Shield Controller maintains the same button layout as the original Shield controller, but feels a lot lighter and more comfortable to hold. While most Android game controllers operate over Bluetooth, Nvidia opted to go with Wi-Fi Direct stating that it offers 2x faster response time and more bandwidth.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

The extra bandwidth allows you to plug in a 3.5mm headphone into the controller and also allows you to link up to four controllers to the device, which is an appreciated feature when you hook up the tablet to your HDTV via the Shield Tablet’s Console Mode. Other unique features of the controller include capacitive touch buttons for Android’s home, back, and play buttons.

There’s also a big green Nvidia button that launches Shield Hub. The controller also has a small triangle shaped clickable touch pad which allows you to navigate your tablet from afar. A quibble we had with it is that we wish the trackpad was more square, to at least mimic the dimensions of the tablet as the triangle shape was a little awkward to interface with.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Another problem that we initially had with the controller was that the + volume button stopped working after a while. We contacted Nvidia about this and the company sent us a new unit which did remedy the issue, however. One noticeable missing feature from the controller is rumble support. Nvidia said this was omitted on the original Shield to keep the weight down, however its omission is a little more glaring this time around since there is no screen attached to the device.

Extras

The controller isn’t the only accessory that you’ll need to purchase separately if you want to tap into the full Shield Tablet experience, however. To effectively game with the tablet, you’ll need the Shield Tablet cover which also acts as a stand. Like most tablets, a magnet in the cover shuts off the Shield Tablet when closed but setting up the cover and getting it to stand-up is initially pretty confusing.

The cover currently only comes in black and while we’re generally not big on marketing aesthetics, it would be nice to have an Nvidia green option to give the whole look a little more pop. We actually think the cover should just be thrown in too, especially considering that the cheapest 16GB model costs $300.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

On the upside though, you do get Nvidia’s new passive DirectStylus 2 that stows away nicely in the body of the Shield Tablet. Nvidia has pre-installed note writing software and its own Nvidia Dabbler painting program. The nice thing about Dabbler is that it leverages K1’s GPU acceleration so that you can virtually paint and blend colors in real time. There’s also a realistic mode where the "paint" slowly drips down the virtual canvas like it would in real life.

Game features

But that’s probably not why you’re interested in the Shield Tablet. This device first and foremost is a gaming tablet and even comes with a free Android copy of Trine 2. Trine 2 was originally a PC game and it’s made a great transition to the Shield Tablet. While the game was never known to be a polygon pusher, it looks just as good as it ever did on its x86 debut.

With gaming as the primary driver for Shield Tablet customers you may wonder why Nvidia didn’t bundle its new controller. The company likely learned from Microsoft’s mistake with Kinect and the Xbox One: Gamers don’t like to spend money and getting the price as low as possible was likely on Nvidia’s mind. Of course, not everyone may even want a controller with the general lack of support for it in games. Nvidia says there are now around 400 Android titles that support its controller, but that’s only a small percentage of Android games and the straight truth is that the overwhelming majority of these games are garbage.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Nvidia is making a push for Android gaming, however. The company worked with Valve to port over Half Life 2 and Portal to the Shield and they look surprisingly fantastic and are easily the two prettiest games on Android at the moment. Whether Android will ever become a legitimate platform for hardcore gaming is anyone’s guess, but at least the Shield Tablet will net you a great front seat if the time ever arises.

Luckily you won’t have to rely solely on the Google Play store to get your gaming fix. Emulators run just as well here as they did on the original Shield and this iteration of Shield is also compatible with Gamestream, which is Nvidia’s streaming technology that allows you to stream games from your PC to your Shield. Gamestream, in theory, lets you play your controller-enabled PC games on a Shield.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

At this point, Nvidia says Gamestream supports more than 100 games such as Batman: Arkham Origins and Titanfall from EA’s Origin and Valve’s Steam service. The problem though is there are hundreds more games on Steam and Origin that support controllers but not the Shield Tablet’s controller. For example, Final Fantasy VII, a game which we couldn’t get working with the original Shield still isn’t supported even though it works with an Xbox controller on the PC. When Gamestream does work, however, it’s relatively lag-free and kind of wonderful. The one caveat here is that you’ll have to get a 5GHz dual-band router to effectively get it working.

Final verdict

Would we buy the Shield Tablet if we owned the original Shield (now renamed the Shield Portable)? Probably not. If we were looking for a new tablet and top notch gaming performance was on the checklist, the Shield Tablet is easily the top contender today.

We’d take it over the second-gen Nexus 7 in a heart beat and even consider it over the iPad mini 3. While we understand why Nvidia decided to separate the cover and controller to keep the prices down and avoid the Kinect factor, we think a bundled package with a small price break as an alternative would have been nice. All things considered though, consider us surprised. The Shield Tablet is pretty dang cool.

The Shield is out now for $299/£239 (around AU$320) for the 16GB, WiFi-only model, and $399/£299 (around AU$425) for the 32GB LTE variant.

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Review: Updated: Nvidia Shield Tablet

Review: Updated: Nvidia Shield Tablet

Introduction and performance

Despite its problems, we actually liked Nvidia’s original Shield Android gaming handheld. Our biggest issue with it was that it was bulky and heavy. With rumors swirling around about a Shield 2, we were hoping to see a slimmer, lighter design.

So consider us initially disappointed when we learned that the next iteration of Shield would just be yet another Android tablet. Yawn, right? The fact of the matter is that the Shield Tablet may be playing in an oversaturated market, but it’s still great at what it sets out to be.

For one thing it’s surprisingly affordable, as the Wi-Fi version can be had for just $299 (£239.99, around AU$320).

At eight inches, the Shield Tablet features a gorgeous 1,920 x 1,200 display, which shares the same resolution as Google’s flagship Nexus 7 tablet. At 13.1 ounces, the Shield Tablet is about three ounces heavier than the Nexus 7 but still a lot lighter than the original’s 1 lb. 4.7 ounces.

Part of the weight increase with the Shield Tablet over the Nexus 7 is due to the extra inch that you’re getting from the screen, but also because the Shield Tablet is passively cooled and has an extra thermal shield built inside to dissipate heat. It’s a little heavier than we’d like, but isn’t likely to cause any wrist problems.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

On the back of the Shield is an anti-slip surface and a 5MP camera, and on the front of the tablet we have a front-facing 5MP camera and two front-facing speakers. While the speakers are not going to blow away dedicated Bluetooth speakers, they sound excellent for a tablet. In addition to the speakers, the Shield Tablet has a 3.5mm headphone jack up at the top.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Other ports include Micro USB, Mini HDMI out, and a MicroSD card slot capable of taking up to 128GB cards. Buttons on the Shield include a volume rocker and a power button which we found to be a little small and shallow for our liking.

Performance

The Shield Tablet was initially running on Android KitKat, but Nvidia has now pushed out Android 5.1 to users, which brings the tablet right up to date and includes a new-look interface inspired by Google’s Material Design, as well as various performance improvements and fixes.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Google’s influence is clear in fact as the Shield Tablet is running a pretty stock version of Android, with the main difference being that Nvidia has pre-loaded the tablet with its Shield Hub, which is a 10-foot UI for you to purchase, download, and launch your games.

Arguably the real star of the tablet is Nvidia’s Tegra K1 mobile superchip. The 2.2GHz quad-core A15 SOC features Nvidia’s Kepler GPU architecture and 192 CUDA cores along with 2GB of low power DDR3. K1 supports many of the graphical features commonplace in GeForce graphics card including tesselation, HDR lighting, Global illumination, subsurface scattering, and more.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

In our performance benchmarks, the K1 killed it. Up until now, the original Shield’s actively-cooled Tegra 4 is arguably one of the most if not the most powerful Android SOC on the market, but the K1 slaughters it across the board. In Antutu and GeekBench benchmark, we saw modest gains of 12% to 23% in Shield versus Shield Tablet action.

But in Passmark and GFX Bench’s Trex test, we saw nearly a 50% spread, and in 3DMark’s mobile Icestorm Unlimited test, we saw an astounding 90% advantage for the Shield Tablet. This is incredible when you consider that the tablet has no fans and a two-watt TDP. Compared to the second-gen Nexus 7, the Shield Tablet benchmarks anywhere from 77% to 250% faster. This SOC is smoking fast, even standing up well to newer devices like the Nexus 9.

In terms of battery life, Nvidia is claiming you’ll get 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery. This is up 3.75 Wh up from Google’s Nexus 7 equivalent and from our experiential tests, we found those figures to be fairly accurate if not a best case scenario. It will pretty much last you all day, but you’ll still want to let it sip juice every night.

LTE Nvidia Shield Tablet

After successfully launching the 16GB Wi-Fi Shield Tablet, Nvidia has released its 32GB LTE tablet.

The only differentiating factors between the two Shields lie in storage and connectivity.

Getting the Shield through AT&T will cost you $399 (£299.99, about AU$425), but customers can hand over a pre-owned tablet to the network and receive a $100 bill credit. The tablet can also join an existing AT&T Mobile Share Plan for $10/month.

The tablet is also available unlocked through various international LTE bands that are supported by 70 carriers worldwide.

Gamestreaming remotely

The process for streaming via Wi-Fi is simple enough – just pair the tab with your PC over the same network and then you’re pretty much set after entering a code.

Gamestreaming remotely is a bit different, possibly more difficult and definitely not mainstream consumer friendly. If routers are not supported via UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) you’ll have to manually forward ports. Playing remotely also requires a minimum upload speed of 5Mbps and download bandwidth speeds of 10Mbps.

Performance

Running the Shield through AT&T’s network was spotty and at times resulted in lost connections while using Gamestream and Grid.

Once the LTE settled in, the connection stabilized and we were able to play without interruption, but it didn’t always stay reliable.

For example, Batman: Arkham Origins was choppy at first, and cut out a little bit after the intro taking us back out to desktop mode. On the second try, Batman managed to make it through the tutorial, fight scenes and onto the next chapter.

Again, the connectivity remained the most inconsistent factor in the streaming process. We had issues with Batman but during an online multiplayer Team Fortress 2 match, the Shield ran surprisingly smooth. There was very little lag and it connected to the game server with no issues.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

We then tried to run a game of Warframe and weren’t able to make it past the load screen.

The connection became unresponsive, and it was pretty much goodbye PC streaming as the game would stop and Steam wouldn’t reload.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Watching Netflix produced the same results – the Shield would lose service randomly causing the streaming to stop. However, it didn’t take long to buffer and restart.

Battery life

After about five hours of gaming, downloading apps and watching Netflix all on LTE, the Shield Tablet managed to stay true to Nvidia’s claims.Nvidia Shield TabletNvidia Shield TabletNvidia Shield Tablet

Meaning you’ll likely get an average of 10 hours watching/surfing the web and about five hours from gaming with its 19.75 Wh battery – pretty much like the Wi-Fi version of the Shield Tablet.

Final verdict

If you need a decent router for the Wi-Fi version of the tablet to run without any hitches, you’ll definitely need a heavy duty router for the LTE Shield Tablet. A high quality 5GHz dual-band router is recommended if you want the best streaming performance from your tablet.

Games running through Gamestream also weren’t amazing visually. There are over a hundred Tegra K1 optimized games like Trine 2, Portal and a variety of Android games that look beautiful – however if not on the list, you’ll likely get subpar graphics.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Then there’s the questionable networks. While LTE is known as "fast" it doesn’t always mean reliable. You essentially need really high speed internet to keep the machine running smoothly, on top of all the other tech to make the experience tolerable.

Still, the Nvidia Shield Tablet remains the top mobile gaming device out there especially at its price point. But until the software for remote streaming is improved, more games become Tegra K1 optimized or internet connectivity becomes stabilized, "PC gaming on the go" will stay a highly sought after dream. Unless you don’t mind mediocre graphics and frequent saves.

Controller, features and verdict

Shield Controller

Of course if you’re going to game with it, you’re going to need Nvidia’s new wireless Shield Controller. Sold separately for $59.99/£49.99 (about AU$63), the 11.2-ounce Shield Controller maintains the same button layout as the original Shield controller, but feels a lot lighter and more comfortable to hold. While most Android game controllers operate over Bluetooth, Nvidia opted to go with Wi-Fi Direct stating that it offers 2x faster response time and more bandwidth.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

The extra bandwidth allows you to plug in a 3.5mm headphone into the controller and also allows you to link up to four controllers to the device, which is an appreciated feature when you hook up the tablet to your HDTV via the Shield Tablet’s Console Mode. Other unique features of the controller include capacitive touch buttons for Android’s home, back, and play buttons.

There’s also a big green Nvidia button that launches Shield Hub. The controller also has a small triangle shaped clickable touch pad which allows you to navigate your tablet from afar. A quibble we had with it is that we wish the trackpad was more square, to at least mimic the dimensions of the tablet as the triangle shape was a little awkward to interface with.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Another problem that we initially had with the controller was that the + volume button stopped working after a while. We contacted Nvidia about this and the company sent us a new unit which did remedy the issue, however. One noticeable missing feature from the controller is rumble support. Nvidia said this was omitted on the original Shield to keep the weight down, however its omission is a little more glaring this time around since there is no screen attached to the device.

Extras

The controller isn’t the only accessory that you’ll need to purchase separately if you want to tap into the full Shield Tablet experience, however. To effectively game with the tablet, you’ll need the Shield Tablet cover which also acts as a stand. Like most tablets, a magnet in the cover shuts off the Shield Tablet when closed but setting up the cover and getting it to stand-up is initially pretty confusing.

The cover currently only comes in black and while we’re generally not big on marketing aesthetics, it would be nice to have an Nvidia green option to give the whole look a little more pop. We actually think the cover should just be thrown in too, especially considering that the cheapest 16GB model costs $300.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

On the upside though, you do get Nvidia’s new passive DirectStylus 2 that stows away nicely in the body of the Shield Tablet. Nvidia has pre-installed note writing software and its own Nvidia Dabbler painting program. The nice thing about Dabbler is that it leverages K1’s GPU acceleration so that you can virtually paint and blend colors in real time. There’s also a realistic mode where the "paint" slowly drips down the virtual canvas like it would in real life.

Game features

But that’s probably not why you’re interested in the Shield Tablet. This device first and foremost is a gaming tablet and even comes with a free Android copy of Trine 2. Trine 2 was originally a PC game and it’s made a great transition to the Shield Tablet. While the game was never known to be a polygon pusher, it looks just as good as it ever did on its x86 debut.

With gaming as the primary driver for Shield Tablet customers you may wonder why Nvidia didn’t bundle its new controller. The company likely learned from Microsoft’s mistake with Kinect and the Xbox One: Gamers don’t like to spend money and getting the price as low as possible was likely on Nvidia’s mind. Of course, not everyone may even want a controller with the general lack of support for it in games. Nvidia says there are now around 400 Android titles that support its controller, but that’s only a small percentage of Android games and the straight truth is that the overwhelming majority of these games are garbage.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

Nvidia is making a push for Android gaming, however. The company worked with Valve to port over Half Life 2 and Portal to the Shield and they look surprisingly fantastic and are easily the two prettiest games on Android at the moment. Whether Android will ever become a legitimate platform for hardcore gaming is anyone’s guess, but at least the Shield Tablet will net you a great front seat if the time ever arises.

Luckily you won’t have to rely solely on the Google Play store to get your gaming fix. Emulators run just as well here as they did on the original Shield and this iteration of Shield is also compatible with Gamestream, which is Nvidia’s streaming technology that allows you to stream games from your PC to your Shield. Gamestream, in theory, lets you play your controller-enabled PC games on a Shield.

Nvidia Shield Tablet

At this point, Nvidia says Gamestream supports more than 100 games such as Batman: Arkham Origins and Titanfall from EA’s Origin and Valve’s Steam service. The problem though is there are hundreds more games on Steam and Origin that support controllers but not the Shield Tablet’s controller. For example, Final Fantasy VII, a game which we couldn’t get working with the original Shield still isn’t supported even though it works with an Xbox controller on the PC. When Gamestream does work, however, it’s relatively lag-free and kind of wonderful. The one caveat here is that you’ll have to get a 5GHz dual-band router to effectively get it working.

Final verdict

Would we buy the Shield Tablet if we owned the original Shield (now renamed the Shield Portable)? Probably not. If we were looking for a new tablet and top notch gaming performance was on the checklist, the Shield Tablet is easily the top contender today.

We’d take it over the second-gen Nexus 7 in a heart beat and even consider it over the iPad mini 3. While we understand why Nvidia decided to separate the cover and controller to keep the prices down and avoid the Kinect factor, we think a bundled package with a small price break as an alternative would have been nice. All things considered though, consider us surprised. The Shield Tablet is pretty dang cool.

The Shield is out now for $299/£239 (around AU$320) for the 16GB, WiFi-only model, and $399/£299 (around AU$425) for the 32GB LTE variant.

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Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Introduction and design

Update: Apple has offered up iOS 8.3 for the iPad Air 2, bringing with it performance improvements, new emojis and faster performance of things like the Control Center and Wi-Fi signal connection. We’re currently putting the new software through our battery of tests, and will update the review imminently with the results!

It was hard to see how Apple could improve on the first iPad Air – arguably the finest tablet ever produced.

And then it went and did so with the iPad Air 2. You can talk all you like about what counts as "too thin" but there’s no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate. Plus, unlike the iPhone 6 Plus it doesn’t bend either!

Not only that, but the relentless desire to make the thing thinner has resulted in a better screen too, as the layers that make up the backlight, touchscreen digitizer and LCD screen are so close that Apple now claims there is zero air in between them.

The result? A less reflective display that looks brighter and more colorful. And it really is.

There’s the question of where the iPad Air 2 sits in the market, as it’s US$499 (£399, AU$619) for the basic version, and you can pay up to US$829 (£659, AU$1,019) for the fully specced, Wi-Fi + 4G model.

iPad Air 2 review

But while that cost is high, it’s no more than is being charged by Samsung or Sony for their comparable tablets.

Of course on contract it’s ridiculously expensive, but then again I think most people will still want to buy the iPad Air 2 as a sofa-dwelling device, so the 4G option isn’t going to be the real reason you buy this tablet.

I’ll get onto the design in a moment – but it’s worth noting that the design alone is a good reason to pick up the new iPad Air 2. It’s super light, amazingly slim and will delight over and over again for the first fortnight of ownership, before you slip back to the standard tech nonchalance that creeps over us all eventually.

Did the iPad Air need to get thinner and more powerful? Not really – I’m already struggling to find must-have reasons for the improved A8X chip beyond a much faster interface and the promise of better apps and games to come – but once you actually handle the new iPad Air 2, you’ll be sold.

Design

At 6.1mm thick, the Apple iPad Air 2 is easily one of the slimmest tablets on the market. It’s not actually the thinnest, but we’re at the point now where fractions of a millimetre really don’t matter.

Thinness for its own sake can be an error – there is a point of diminishing returns where only marginal improvements can be achieved, at the cost of structural integrity, battery life and overall performance – but Apple hasn’t reached that point yet.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air 2 feels like a very solid tablet that can be held easily for hours without it getting uncomfortable. The iPad Air was hardly a big tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S matches the iPad Air 2 in weight, if not thickness.

Where the Apple device wins though is the overall packaging. Samsung’s option is good, but clearly an assemblage of distinct parts. The plastic back, the larger-bezelled screen and the rim are all competing parts, where the iPad Air 2 is a complete package, smooth and easy to hold in one hand.

I was almost loath to put it in a case – it needs to be protected if you’re going to be running it around town, as that back and chamfered edges will scuff up eventually – but if you’re going to be a sofa-warrior with your new tablet, the Smart Cover will do just fine and won’t obscure the impressive design.

iPad Air 2 review

The sad thing here is the loss of the silencing switch, which has departed due to size restrictions. Apple would argue that this is because the new Control Center makes the option available throughout the OS with just a flick of the hand, but in truth I’m really going to miss being able to silence the tablet without even looking.

iPad Air 2 review

The power button remains at the top and the volume keys have shuffled a little upwards now free of the silence key, but otherwise the only real design changes are the speaker grill at the bottom of the tablet (now a single row of holes, rather than the two before) and the Touch ID on the home key.

You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air without a spotter’s guide, but the iPad Air 2 has a deeper black bezel which helps enhance the picture – plus it now comes in gold to join space gray and silver.

iPad Air 2 review

The camera stays where it has been, both front and back, with the new 8MP iSight snapper not jutting out as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The fact no tablet camera needs to be that high res, nor should people be taking pics with a tablet anyway, is something to discuss in another article.

Does the iPad Air 2’s design warrant the high price tag? Yes, more than any other tablet on the market. It brings a premium build, quality finish, great looks and while it doesn’t need to be this thin, the structure doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the actual performance of the tablet, and does add something in the palm.

Key features

Before the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, I’d have been hard pressed to predict Apple’s improvements.

I wondered if Apple might have shaved some weight off, added some bits to the camera, shoved an upgraded processor in there (or at least matched that of the iPhone 6) – but that seemed like a very middling upgrade.

But somehow, the combination of the above, plus the improved screen and Touch ID, has created a very complete package. Not one that I’d ever recommend to those that have the iPad Air, but definitely a brilliant jump for anyone coming from the iPad 3 or earlier.

Pencil lasers

Apple showed off its improvements to an already-impressive tablet by lasering through the pencil it used to demonstrate the thickness of the iPad Air. While the width is obviously a design element, it’s worth reiterating here as it’s a really key feature of this tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

The 437g weight is more important than the thickness, in fairness. The width of the thing is largely unnoticeable in the hand, especially when we’re talking millimetres, and is more of a marketing tool.

But the lower weight, combined with the smooth, ceramic-style back, makes the new Apple iPad Air 2 feel like a really premium product.

On top of that, it’s closer than ever to perfect when it comes to being a laptop replacement when teamed with a Bluetooth keyboard. The reduced weight and thickness enhance the tablet’s elegance and portability, and that pushes the iPad Air 2 further into consideration.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

On the iPhone, Touch ID is a brilliant addition. It’s a way to add a passcode without really noticing it’s happened, and (when widely implemented) will allow you to pay for things on the go without your credit card around.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a really great addition to the mobile ecosystem.

iPad Air 2 review

I’m not as bothered about it on the iPad Air 2, mostly because I don’t feel the need to secure my tablet as much as my phone. I take it out of the house less, I pull it out of the bag less, and generally don’t worry about security on it as much.

It’s still a great feature – I was confused when Apple didn’t include it on the original iPad Air – but given the fact that the iPad is an unwieldy substitute for a credit card, it’s not vital here.

It’s a nice-to-have feature, rather than a crucial one. Apple is making a big deal about the fact you can secure apps with it as well, but this is only useful if you want to secure certain apps (which, admittedly, some people will want to do – it’s more convenient to only have the key things locked down).

It would be nice to have the Mail app use Touch ID, and then I could get rid of it on the lock screen. I’m already considering turning it off, as it’s more cumbersome to press given the dimensions here, and the fact the tablet mostly stays at home.

A8X chip

The A8X chip is screamingly fast, according to Apple, and nothing I’ve been able to do on the new iPad has suggested otherwise.

It’s hard to know how to really push a tablet with this kind of power, as the likes of Real Racing or Sky Gamblers have always looked rather good on the larger screen.

iPad Air 2 review

And even though this is second (and a bit) generation 64-bit architecture from Apple, which does have some efficiency upgrades, we’re still light years away from that being a useful addition, when really all it does right now is make apps a bit bigger and take up more room internally.

The big change here appears to be to the battery life – it’s no coincidence that the graphical capabilities of the Air 2 are 2.5x that of the Air, and that means stuff can be run more efficiently.

There’s also the ability to use the touchscreen more effectively – the response time of the touch is much increased here, and browsing with the iPad Air 2 is a pleasurable experience.

That’s not directly linked to the chipset at the heart, but it does help.

All new screen

The new screen technology on the iPad Air 2 is one of my favorite changes here. The improvement in thinness is negligible, the camera superfluous, but the screen of a tablet is something that always needs refining. I love it when brands show ambition, whether they do it by increasing the resolution, the contrast ratio or the brightness.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air screen was pretty neat in itself, with resolution of 1,536 x 2,048. The Air 2 has kept that sharpness, but because the internal layers of the screen are laminated together, there is less air between the components (in fact, Apple says there’s no air whatsoever) which leads to deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Pictures really come alive when viewed on the iPad Air 2, markedly so compared to its predecessor.

The other benefit of that compressed screen is that it reduces reflectivity – combine that with the anti-reflection coating, and watching films with a light behind you isn’t impossible.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Laboratory testing at DisplayMate Technologies compared the iPad Air 2 with its predecessor, as well as the iPad Mini 3 to explore the difference. As you can see from the graph above, the average screen reflection on the iPad Air 2 is down to 2.5 per cent compared to the 6.5 per cent recorded by the iPad Air.

Similarly, the iPad Air 2 more than doubled the score of its predecessor when it comes to contrast rating for high ambient light.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Apple would like you to believe that you can watch anything without difficulty, but that’s not the case. However, the reflections are much diminished, and it’s a satisfying step forward on the screen front.

New camera

I’ll return to this in more depth later in the review, but it is one of the key features. Apple has bundled an 8MP iSight camera on the rear of the new iPad Air, and thanks to the A8X chip, the tablet can now also take slow motion video, like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The new resolution does produce nicer pictures, and the ability to time lapse or see bigger panoramas is a plus, but I’m still not bothered by the additional technology stuck on the back of the tablet.

However, if you’re one of those people that finds it acceptable to use a tablet as a camera in public, this is the best and most feature-rich option from Apple. Doesn’t mean you should use it, though.

Interface and performance

The interface on the iPad Air 2 is something that will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Apple product in the past. It’s the first device (along with the iPad mini 3) to run iOS 8.1 right out of the box, and as such you’d expect it to be stable and easy to use.

Early testing showed crashes were kept to a minimum, something that sadly couldn’t be said for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which don’t play nicely with Google Chrome or the inbuilt Mail app.

Since launch Apple has applied some minor updates its iOS platform to improve stability (and engage Apple Pay) and the iPad Air 2 now sports the leaner, meaner iOS 8.3, which both improves the slate’s performance and adds a bunch of new emojis.

The larger 9.7-inch screen of the iPad Air 2 is great for navigating around the grid of icons, but not so much if you’re looking to use this device one-handed.

iPad Air 2 review

Although if you are, you’ve probably not understood basic ergonomics. And possibly physics, as this is a two handed device and as such the lower weight makes it easy to tap and swipe around.

I won’t run through the impressive tweaks that run through iOS 8, as they’re ably covered in my colleague Matt Swider’s iOS 8 review, but suffice to say that everything is much slicker on the iPad. Got an iMessage? The notification from the top of the screen lets you answer it without having to exit the app.

Want to switch the Air 2 on silent? (This one is important as the hardware switch allowing you to do just that has disappeared) Then it’s a quick trip into the Control Center, found at the bottom of any screen on the tablet – although it can be something of a nightmare trying to pull it up when swiping skywards from the home button.

But anyway – you can look at the rest of that yourselves in the dedicated review – and iOS 8 works superbly on the iPad Air 2. What I want to talk about is the improved touchscreen responsiveness: it’s brilliant.

Clearly a response to Google’s constant refinement to its Android software (which began with Project Butter in Jelly Bean and really made a difference to touching the front glass of Android devices) the iPad Air 2 features a much more responsive touch panel which makes it much simpler to register swipes through.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until it comes, as I never really thought the Air lagged previously. But the slick Samsung Galaxy Tab S showed that it could be so much better on a tablet, and Apple has stepped up here with the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 review

And talking of stepping up – it’s done something magical to that A8X chipset at the heart of the tablet. It’s nearly 40% faster than the competition, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and all the other top smartphones. In the GeekBench 3 tests, the iPad Air 2 averaged 4,500, compared to around 2,800 for any big handset you can think of.

Apple promised big upgrades, but this is so huge that I have to wonder if there’s some kind of optimization here – although the faster speed under the finger and smooth graphics (Zen Garden, for instance, runs much more smoothly on the Air 2 than the iPhone 6 Plus) show the improvements are evident in normal use too.

Battery

Apple decided to go for design over battery life with the iPad Air 2, and while this is a bugbear of mine when it comes smartphones I don’t mind it here, it’s less of a hindrance in a tablet.

The battery life of 10 hours of web browsing or watching video has been ported over to the new iPad Air from the original, but given that had a thicker chassis it’s really impressive that the power has been preserved, which is largely down to that improved A8X chip chugging along at the heart of things.

iPad Air 2 review

The screen is still as hungry as ever before, as the battery test was pretty power-sucking compared to its rivals. The iPad mini 2 only took down 16% in the looped video test last year (a Full HD 90 minute video from 100% at full brightness), where the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%.

It’s not a terrible result though – while you’ll lose about 20% watching streamed video at full brightness over 80 minutes’ use, the general power consumption when out and about is bordering on negligible.

I’ve left the tablet in a bag for a quite a few hours and come back to only find 2% gone, so Apple’s really worked on making sure apps don’t chew down power without you looking.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s a slightly different scenario when it comes to gaming, as the longer sessions really take it out of the power pack, especially with the higher-power titles.

It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the iPad Air 2 on a long haul flight if I was thinking of playing Real Racing 3 for three hours. Mostly because I would have played too much of one game, but also because my battery would be in danger of running out.

iPad Air 2 review

While I’ve yet to find out the official numbers of how big the battery is in the iPad Air 2, for most people the battery on the new tablet, even if browsing the web or using the tablet as a laptop replacement, is pretty good indeed.

I don’t think battery life is that much of a worry for most tablet users given than you’ll have to be pretty forgetful to not plug it into power once in a while before it runs completely dry.

Camera

iPad Air 2 review

I wish I could somehow type the long sigh I emit whenever I begin to talk about the camera on any tablet – and Apple’s only gone and made the camera better here, which makes things worse for people like me trying to hold off the barbarians.

Like the selfie phenomenon, the idea of bringing a tablet as main camera to important events suddenly seems to be acceptable. I’ve seen people taking pictures of a bride walking down the aisle with an iPad mini, and missed a big goal at a football match because someone thought it the right time to try and take a picture of themselves on a tablet.

The problem is, companies like Apple are extolling the virtues of using the large screen as a more ample viewfinder.

No. Use a phone screen if you must, or even get a proper camera. But don’t use a tablet. While you’ll get acceptable shots with the iPad Air 2, and the resolution gives a clearer picture, it’s still not a great experience – and you break a basic law of civilization in the process.

But if you must use the camera, at least Apple has imbued the iPad Air 2 with some of the higher-power tricks. Slow motion video is included this time around (although only to 120 frames per second (fps), not the super smooth 240 fps that comes with both the new iPhones).

iPad Air 2 review

There’s time lapse mode, burst mode (front and back cameras) and a larger panorama mode making it easy to take wider pictures of over 40MP using the tablet screen.

I don’t mind the idea of using this for time lapse, as the larger screen and longer battery are actually pretty handy for setting up a shot – but why you’d have a tablet at a beautiful landscape which might require a panorama is beyond me. Group shots, maybe.

The other win here is the built in editing suite in the Photos app – it’s good on the iPhone, but with the larger screen it’s great for touching up photos.

The new iCloud shared photo stream is also a really handy way of sharing photos between an iPhone and an iPad – simply have both devices logged into the same iCloud account, favorite something on one and it will instantly appear on the other.

The overall camera prowess of the iPad Air 2 isn’t that bad, but it’s nothing special. In side by side comparisons with the iPad Air, the photos have very little difference bar sharpness, and the low light capabilities are nothing to write home about, and certainly not in the iPhone 6’s league.

iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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Media

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for consuming media on – although there is an interesting talking point here.

I think it’s great that Apple is now offering a 128GB option for all its iOS devices now – but why are the increments 16GB, 64GB and 128GB?

I like that Apple has doubled the middle storage option, bringing the 64GB model in at the same price as last year’s 32GB – so why does the 16GB still exist? Make that 32GB, Apple, and solve this problem.

I make this point as it’s a real issue: if you’re downloading all the free apps from Apple, like Pages and iMovie, you’ll have eaten up a good portion of the inbuilt space already. And thanks to the move to a 64-bit architecture from Apple last year, the iPad Air 2 games and apps take up even more space for not that much extra in terms of performance.

iPad Air 2 review

So if you’re going for the 16GB option, you’ll need to watch how many movies you store, how high the quality of your Spotify music library is, and make sure you don’t save too many home movies on there either.

Of course, there’s every chance you won’t do a lot of this with your new iPad – apart from music and the odd movie, most people won’t be taking photos (fingers crossed) meaning you’ll be able to pick and choose your apps.

But if you’re not using the iPad Air 2 for movies or TV shows, then you’re really missing out. It’s a great device for a marathon movie session thanks to being light with a less reflective screen and improved color and contrast ratios.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s actually even visible in daylight (just) and while it’s not in the same league as the Sony Xperia Z3 when it comes to visibility, the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablet screens on the market – bested possibly only by the Galaxy Tab S, which has brilliant color reproduction and black levels.

iPad Air 2 review

The single speaker is impressively powerful too – I wouldn’t have thought with the thickness shaved, the mono speaker would be any good, but it’s rich, strong and really pumps out the bass on the new iPad.

It’s really good for showing off movies or video clips to friends, although if it were front facing then it would be a much better experience.

And through the headphones, the experience follows Apple’s established prowess in music, with rich and punchy sound coming through even lower end cans.

Gaming on the iPad Air 2 is something to behold. Its rich, immersive screen is perfect for either the point-and-prod gaming on the go (it’s no surprise to see popular TV game show app companions as high sellers on the App Store) or a speedier car game.

iPad Air 2 review

Both of these are easy to play, the choice is fairly vast and while the selection isn’t particularly strong (there surely have to be more game titles coming soon that take advantage of the sheer number of sensors, GPU performance and Metal, which allows a stronger and slicker game play performance on the iPad) it will only get better – plus there are plenty of kids’ games to pass off to your children if you’re brave enough with your new tablet.

The essentials

Sure it’s a fancy tablet when you’re using all those clever apps, but how does the iPad Air 2 handle the basics?

Handoff

The best thing about the iPad Air 2 is that it not only does the basics really well, it now allows more functionality thanks to the Handoff features from iOS 8.

Admittedly, this is a limited feature that’s only enabled for those who have an iPhone running the latest software, but many will. If both are linked into the same iCloud account, even if your phone isn’t in arm’s reach you can still make and receive calls on the tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

You can either use the inbuilt speaker and microphone, or pair it with a headset. Whichever you choose, it’s a nice way to de-clutter the desk if you’re one to keep things neat. The other party is able to hear you fine over the speakerphone, so in essence Handoff turns your tablet into a smartphone when you need it.

You can even make calls from your contacts list too – it’s not the best as Apple’s contacts app is still, well, poor thanks to confusing social integration and a very uninspiring design (this is an area where Android phones really excel) but it works.

The only thing that stops the iPad Air 2 from being a brilliant smartphone replacement is the fact it can’t send or receive text messages. It can do iMessage happily, and a Mac running Yosemite can handle those missives, but annoyingly, the iPad won’t get any SMS.

That aside I was really, really impressed by the functionality. It’s not new and it’s not vital, but it works without needing any input from the user. That’s the best way things should be.

Messaging

The messaging side of things on the iPad Air 2 is pretty good outside of the text message problem, but then again it always has on the iPad. The large and expansive keyboard allows you to rattle out messages rather quickly in landscape view when placed on the knees, and as such can be more of a laptop replacement than you’d expect.

This is doubly true given last year’s move from Apple to bring its office software into the mix for free. Now you can edit documents and spreadsheets from the iPad without needing to pay extra.

iPad Air 2 review

And the Mail app, which does share the same boring view as the contacts app, is still a powerful tool and improved again with iOS 8. You can see important emails on the lockscreen and then choose to archive or mark as read without needing to unlock the phone.

The same thing happens with the notification window at the top of the phone when you’re in another app. This kind of integration is really useful, and more than that, it brings a feeling of satisfying unity to using the iPad.

Internet browser

The other thing to note is the internet browsing on the new iPad Air. Thanks to that A8X chip, combined with faster Wi-Fi and improved 4G bands, using the internet wherever you are is really slick, with instant tapping and loading in some cases.

iPad Air 2 review

Apple would prefer you to use Safari for everything, and it’s probably the slightly speedier browser here, but Chrome is equally impressive and useful if you’ve linked everything together on other machines.

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for the things you need to do with a tablet on a day to day basis – and that’s before we even get into the fact it’s got, by far, the best app ecosystem.

The competition

The good news for you tablet fans out there is that even if you’re not a fan of the iPad Air 2, or want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money, there are plenty of other decent options.

In fact, the last 12 months have seen arguably the greatest jump in quality from the competition yet – so take a look at these pretenders to the iThrone:

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s been making reasonable tablets for a while now. It’s been a curious situation actually: while the tablets were always powerful, they were simultaneously cheap-feeling and expensive.

The Tab S is still pricey, but no more than the iPad Air 2, and in some cases actually a little cheaper. However, it’s got the same low weight, a comparable thickness (although a tiny bit deeper) and trumps the Apple tablet when it comes to screen quality, with that Super AMOLED screen sharper, brighter and bigger.

However, while it’s put together in a rigid and premium way, it lacks the cohesive design language Apple has created in the Air 2. However, the Tab S is one of the best Android tablets on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

The new Nexus slate is a really great device and warrants a mention here, as it too goes for a 4:3 screen aspect ratio meaning a more expansive display, although not as good for watching movies on.

The rubberized back might not please everyone, but it’s every comfortable to hold and light too – plus the metal rim adds to the character of the design.

On top of that it’s cheaper than the iPad Air 2, has a comparable UI with the new Android Lollipop 5.0 OS and is generally the tablet of choice if you want naked Android.

It doesn’t quite have the impressive feature set of the Air 2, but it is one of very few that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above much of the current smartphone range, and as such is a good consideration for day to day browsing and the like.

  • All you need to know about the Nexus 9

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xperia Z4 Tablet

If there’s any tablet that makes as strong a first impression as the iPad Air 2 it’s the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. At 6.1mm thick it’s just as thin and at 392g it’s even lighter.

The polycarbonate build of the slate isn’t quite as impressive as the iPad Air 2’s aluminium unibody, but the Xperia Z4 Tablet is perhaps more durable with water and dust resistance added into the mix.

There’s a whole lot of power here too and a gorgeous 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 display, which beats the iPad Air 2 for pixel density. Yet despite all this tech it’s still got a heft battery life.

It’s got a premium price tag and Sony’s UI isn’t the best we’ve come across, but the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is still easily one of the best iPad alternatives around.

iPad Air

IPad air

Of course there’s always the option from the previous year to check out – and the Air is staying around at the lower price point.

What you get for your smaller spend is a less vibrant screen, a heavier device and a slower chipset at the heart, without the benefit of Touch ID.

It’s quite a lot to lose as Apple has touched up and tinkered with nearly every element to make the Air 2 a real step forward, but for the cash you’re still getting a brilliant tablet that’s now playing at a more palatable budget level.

It’s got all the same iOS 8.1 upgrades too, so while you don’t get slow motion video, a lot of other treats will appear. A slightly older but my no means unworthy tablet.

Hands on gallery

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

Verdict

Some summaries are easy to write. 2013’s iPad Air, for example: a stunning tablet, with an obvious case for winning the first 5 star review I’d given to such a device. It was a sign that the market had evolved to the point of delivering a truly useful tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

But I remember wondering how that could be topped, whether Apple would just give it a tiny push and call it all-new (like it’s done with the iPad mini 3, lest we forget).

The challenge is even greater this year, as not only does Apple have to top its own lofty goal, but also beat off the much-improved competition from Samsung, Google/HTC and Sony. So how has the iPad Air 2 fared?

We liked

When I saw this getting unveiled onstage, I was nonplussed. Better screen? A bit thinner? I needed to be convinced. Then I held it, and I really was.

It’s not just lighter, it’s perceptibly lighter. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time, but I think there’s no way tablets can get any thinner, without some genius move in engineering. It feels like there should be a danger that this tablet is too fragile, although it hasn’t seemed to be in testing.

I really like the improved screen, and there will probably be a few smug faces over in South Korea looking at the fact colors seem more vibrant on the new iPad Air 2, rather than focusing on natural hues.

The battery life is impressive, the power under the hood unprecedented and generally, everything on this tablet really just works.

And in comparison to the competition, it’s not even that expensive, although spending up to US$829, (£659, AU$1019) on the Wi-Fi and 4G 128GB version is a little on the pricey side, especially when Macbooks aren’t a lot more and general laptops can be had for less.

We disliked

The 16GB option is still too small for Retina HD apps, as they’ll munch through your capacity in no time at all.

Add to that the increased space a 64-bit app will take and if you’re thinking of nabbing a load of high-power apps (which you should want to, given the new grunt from the A8X chip) then you’re going to quickly run into problems with storage.

And as we know, there’s no room for expansion on Apple tablets. Given the brand has been "generous" enough to double the 32GB option to 64GB for no extra money, it seems odd it wouldn’t do the same for the entry-level model.

The rest of the dislikes are beyond nitpicking: the slow motion video is capped at 120fps (although that is irritating as 240fps on the iPhone 6, a less powerful device, is actually awesome) and you can’t get text messages, only iMessages, on the tablet.

If that’s all I can find wrong with the Air 2, that has to bode well.

Verdict

Apple has improved on perfection with the iPad Air 2, making something that anyone using a tablet from 2012 or earlier should be thinking very strongly about upgrading to.

The combination of power, better screen, improved design and upgraded OS make this a very, very compelling device – and that’s before getting into the fact the app ecosystem is so much stronger than on Android.

It’s even better now iOS 8 is capable of scaling apps so seamlessly – the days of low-res iPhone apps are gone. It’s another hammer blow to the Google tablet market, although I’m fully confident that’s going to catch up in quality soon.

It’s no good just saying that a tablet has good design, power or specifications. The ultimate success or failure of any device depends on how it’s packaged and whether it comes in at the right price. Apple has drawn on all its strengths to make a tablet that seems to have no flaws, and it will be the best tablet in the market throughout the next year.

The only problem the brand will have is how to make it better in 12 months time. I’m glad that’s not a problem I have to solve.

If you’re thinking about which tablet to buy, don’t. Just pick up the iPad Air 2 and you won’t want to make another choice.

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Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Review: Updated: iPad Air 2

Introduction and design

Update: Apple has offered up iOS 8.3 for the iPad Air 2, bringing with it performance improvements, new emojis and faster performance of things like the Control Center and Wi-Fi signal connection. We’re currently putting the new software through our battery of tests, and will update the review imminently with the results!

It was hard to see how Apple could improve on the first iPad Air – arguably the finest tablet ever produced.

And then it went and did so with the iPad Air 2. You can talk all you like about what counts as "too thin" but there’s no denying that this new tablet is a feat of engineering that again pushes the limits of what makes a premium slate. Plus, unlike the iPhone 6 Plus it doesn’t bend either!

Not only that, but the relentless desire to make the thing thinner has resulted in a better screen too, as the layers that make up the backlight, touchscreen digitizer and LCD screen are so close that Apple now claims there is zero air in between them.

The result? A less reflective display that looks brighter and more colorful. And it really is.

There’s the question of where the iPad Air 2 sits in the market, as it’s US$499 (£399, AU$619) for the basic version, and you can pay up to US$829 (£659, AU$1,019) for the fully specced, Wi-Fi + 4G model.

iPad Air 2 review

But while that cost is high, it’s no more than is being charged by Samsung or Sony for their comparable tablets.

Of course on contract it’s ridiculously expensive, but then again I think most people will still want to buy the iPad Air 2 as a sofa-dwelling device, so the 4G option isn’t going to be the real reason you buy this tablet.

I’ll get onto the design in a moment – but it’s worth noting that the design alone is a good reason to pick up the new iPad Air 2. It’s super light, amazingly slim and will delight over and over again for the first fortnight of ownership, before you slip back to the standard tech nonchalance that creeps over us all eventually.

Did the iPad Air need to get thinner and more powerful? Not really – I’m already struggling to find must-have reasons for the improved A8X chip beyond a much faster interface and the promise of better apps and games to come – but once you actually handle the new iPad Air 2, you’ll be sold.

Design

At 6.1mm thick, the Apple iPad Air 2 is easily one of the slimmest tablets on the market. It’s not actually the thinnest, but we’re at the point now where fractions of a millimetre really don’t matter.

Thinness for its own sake can be an error – there is a point of diminishing returns where only marginal improvements can be achieved, at the cost of structural integrity, battery life and overall performance – but Apple hasn’t reached that point yet.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air 2 feels like a very solid tablet that can be held easily for hours without it getting uncomfortable. The iPad Air was hardly a big tablet, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S matches the iPad Air 2 in weight, if not thickness.

Where the Apple device wins though is the overall packaging. Samsung’s option is good, but clearly an assemblage of distinct parts. The plastic back, the larger-bezelled screen and the rim are all competing parts, where the iPad Air 2 is a complete package, smooth and easy to hold in one hand.

I was almost loath to put it in a case – it needs to be protected if you’re going to be running it around town, as that back and chamfered edges will scuff up eventually – but if you’re going to be a sofa-warrior with your new tablet, the Smart Cover will do just fine and won’t obscure the impressive design.

iPad Air 2 review

The sad thing here is the loss of the silencing switch, which has departed due to size restrictions. Apple would argue that this is because the new Control Center makes the option available throughout the OS with just a flick of the hand, but in truth I’m really going to miss being able to silence the tablet without even looking.

iPad Air 2 review

The power button remains at the top and the volume keys have shuffled a little upwards now free of the silence key, but otherwise the only real design changes are the speaker grill at the bottom of the tablet (now a single row of holes, rather than the two before) and the Touch ID on the home key.

You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Air without a spotter’s guide, but the iPad Air 2 has a deeper black bezel which helps enhance the picture – plus it now comes in gold to join space gray and silver.

iPad Air 2 review

The camera stays where it has been, both front and back, with the new 8MP iSight snapper not jutting out as it does on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The fact no tablet camera needs to be that high res, nor should people be taking pics with a tablet anyway, is something to discuss in another article.

Does the iPad Air 2’s design warrant the high price tag? Yes, more than any other tablet on the market. It brings a premium build, quality finish, great looks and while it doesn’t need to be this thin, the structure doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the actual performance of the tablet, and does add something in the palm.

Key features

Before the launch of the Apple iPad Air 2, I’d have been hard pressed to predict Apple’s improvements.

I wondered if Apple might have shaved some weight off, added some bits to the camera, shoved an upgraded processor in there (or at least matched that of the iPhone 6) – but that seemed like a very middling upgrade.

But somehow, the combination of the above, plus the improved screen and Touch ID, has created a very complete package. Not one that I’d ever recommend to those that have the iPad Air, but definitely a brilliant jump for anyone coming from the iPad 3 or earlier.

Pencil lasers

Apple showed off its improvements to an already-impressive tablet by lasering through the pencil it used to demonstrate the thickness of the iPad Air. While the width is obviously a design element, it’s worth reiterating here as it’s a really key feature of this tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

The 437g weight is more important than the thickness, in fairness. The width of the thing is largely unnoticeable in the hand, especially when we’re talking millimetres, and is more of a marketing tool.

But the lower weight, combined with the smooth, ceramic-style back, makes the new Apple iPad Air 2 feel like a really premium product.

On top of that, it’s closer than ever to perfect when it comes to being a laptop replacement when teamed with a Bluetooth keyboard. The reduced weight and thickness enhance the tablet’s elegance and portability, and that pushes the iPad Air 2 further into consideration.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

On the iPhone, Touch ID is a brilliant addition. It’s a way to add a passcode without really noticing it’s happened, and (when widely implemented) will allow you to pay for things on the go without your credit card around.

This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a really great addition to the mobile ecosystem.

iPad Air 2 review

I’m not as bothered about it on the iPad Air 2, mostly because I don’t feel the need to secure my tablet as much as my phone. I take it out of the house less, I pull it out of the bag less, and generally don’t worry about security on it as much.

It’s still a great feature – I was confused when Apple didn’t include it on the original iPad Air – but given the fact that the iPad is an unwieldy substitute for a credit card, it’s not vital here.

It’s a nice-to-have feature, rather than a crucial one. Apple is making a big deal about the fact you can secure apps with it as well, but this is only useful if you want to secure certain apps (which, admittedly, some people will want to do – it’s more convenient to only have the key things locked down).

It would be nice to have the Mail app use Touch ID, and then I could get rid of it on the lock screen. I’m already considering turning it off, as it’s more cumbersome to press given the dimensions here, and the fact the tablet mostly stays at home.

A8X chip

The A8X chip is screamingly fast, according to Apple, and nothing I’ve been able to do on the new iPad has suggested otherwise.

It’s hard to know how to really push a tablet with this kind of power, as the likes of Real Racing or Sky Gamblers have always looked rather good on the larger screen.

iPad Air 2 review

And even though this is second (and a bit) generation 64-bit architecture from Apple, which does have some efficiency upgrades, we’re still light years away from that being a useful addition, when really all it does right now is make apps a bit bigger and take up more room internally.

The big change here appears to be to the battery life – it’s no coincidence that the graphical capabilities of the Air 2 are 2.5x that of the Air, and that means stuff can be run more efficiently.

There’s also the ability to use the touchscreen more effectively – the response time of the touch is much increased here, and browsing with the iPad Air 2 is a pleasurable experience.

That’s not directly linked to the chipset at the heart, but it does help.

All new screen

The new screen technology on the iPad Air 2 is one of my favorite changes here. The improvement in thinness is negligible, the camera superfluous, but the screen of a tablet is something that always needs refining. I love it when brands show ambition, whether they do it by increasing the resolution, the contrast ratio or the brightness.

iPad Air 2 review

The iPad Air screen was pretty neat in itself, with resolution of 1,536 x 2,048. The Air 2 has kept that sharpness, but because the internal layers of the screen are laminated together, there is less air between the components (in fact, Apple says there’s no air whatsoever) which leads to deeper blacks and more vibrant colors. Pictures really come alive when viewed on the iPad Air 2, markedly so compared to its predecessor.

The other benefit of that compressed screen is that it reduces reflectivity – combine that with the anti-reflection coating, and watching films with a light behind you isn’t impossible.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Laboratory testing at DisplayMate Technologies compared the iPad Air 2 with its predecessor, as well as the iPad Mini 3 to explore the difference. As you can see from the graph above, the average screen reflection on the iPad Air 2 is down to 2.5 per cent compared to the 6.5 per cent recorded by the iPad Air.

Similarly, the iPad Air 2 more than doubled the score of its predecessor when it comes to contrast rating for high ambient light.

iPad Air 2 review

Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies

Apple would like you to believe that you can watch anything without difficulty, but that’s not the case. However, the reflections are much diminished, and it’s a satisfying step forward on the screen front.

New camera

I’ll return to this in more depth later in the review, but it is one of the key features. Apple has bundled an 8MP iSight camera on the rear of the new iPad Air, and thanks to the A8X chip, the tablet can now also take slow motion video, like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The new resolution does produce nicer pictures, and the ability to time lapse or see bigger panoramas is a plus, but I’m still not bothered by the additional technology stuck on the back of the tablet.

However, if you’re one of those people that finds it acceptable to use a tablet as a camera in public, this is the best and most feature-rich option from Apple. Doesn’t mean you should use it, though.

Interface and performance

The interface on the iPad Air 2 is something that will be familiar to anyone who’s used an Apple product in the past. It’s the first device (along with the iPad mini 3) to run iOS 8.1 right out of the box, and as such you’d expect it to be stable and easy to use.

Early testing showed crashes were kept to a minimum, something that sadly couldn’t be said for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which don’t play nicely with Google Chrome or the inbuilt Mail app.

Since launch Apple has applied some minor updates its iOS platform to improve stability (and engage Apple Pay) and the iPad Air 2 now sports the leaner, meaner iOS 8.3, which both improves the slate’s performance and adds a bunch of new emojis.

The larger 9.7-inch screen of the iPad Air 2 is great for navigating around the grid of icons, but not so much if you’re looking to use this device one-handed.

iPad Air 2 review

Although if you are, you’ve probably not understood basic ergonomics. And possibly physics, as this is a two handed device and as such the lower weight makes it easy to tap and swipe around.

I won’t run through the impressive tweaks that run through iOS 8, as they’re ably covered in my colleague Matt Swider’s iOS 8 review, but suffice to say that everything is much slicker on the iPad. Got an iMessage? The notification from the top of the screen lets you answer it without having to exit the app.

Want to switch the Air 2 on silent? (This one is important as the hardware switch allowing you to do just that has disappeared) Then it’s a quick trip into the Control Center, found at the bottom of any screen on the tablet – although it can be something of a nightmare trying to pull it up when swiping skywards from the home button.

But anyway – you can look at the rest of that yourselves in the dedicated review – and iOS 8 works superbly on the iPad Air 2. What I want to talk about is the improved touchscreen responsiveness: it’s brilliant.

Clearly a response to Google’s constant refinement to its Android software (which began with Project Butter in Jelly Bean and really made a difference to touching the front glass of Android devices) the iPad Air 2 features a much more responsive touch panel which makes it much simpler to register swipes through.

It’s one of those things that you don’t really notice until it comes, as I never really thought the Air lagged previously. But the slick Samsung Galaxy Tab S showed that it could be so much better on a tablet, and Apple has stepped up here with the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 review

And talking of stepping up – it’s done something magical to that A8X chipset at the heart of the tablet. It’s nearly 40% faster than the competition, including the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and all the other top smartphones. In the GeekBench 3 tests, the iPad Air 2 averaged 4,500, compared to around 2,800 for any big handset you can think of.

Apple promised big upgrades, but this is so huge that I have to wonder if there’s some kind of optimization here – although the faster speed under the finger and smooth graphics (Zen Garden, for instance, runs much more smoothly on the Air 2 than the iPhone 6 Plus) show the improvements are evident in normal use too.

Battery

Apple decided to go for design over battery life with the iPad Air 2, and while this is a bugbear of mine when it comes smartphones I don’t mind it here, it’s less of a hindrance in a tablet.

The battery life of 10 hours of web browsing or watching video has been ported over to the new iPad Air from the original, but given that had a thicker chassis it’s really impressive that the power has been preserved, which is largely down to that improved A8X chip chugging along at the heart of things.

iPad Air 2 review

The screen is still as hungry as ever before, as the battery test was pretty power-sucking compared to its rivals. The iPad mini 2 only took down 16% in the looped video test last year (a Full HD 90 minute video from 100% at full brightness), where the iPad Air 2 went down by 21%.

It’s not a terrible result though – while you’ll lose about 20% watching streamed video at full brightness over 80 minutes’ use, the general power consumption when out and about is bordering on negligible.

I’ve left the tablet in a bag for a quite a few hours and come back to only find 2% gone, so Apple’s really worked on making sure apps don’t chew down power without you looking.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s a slightly different scenario when it comes to gaming, as the longer sessions really take it out of the power pack, especially with the higher-power titles.

It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking the iPad Air 2 on a long haul flight if I was thinking of playing Real Racing 3 for three hours. Mostly because I would have played too much of one game, but also because my battery would be in danger of running out.

iPad Air 2 review

While I’ve yet to find out the official numbers of how big the battery is in the iPad Air 2, for most people the battery on the new tablet, even if browsing the web or using the tablet as a laptop replacement, is pretty good indeed.

I don’t think battery life is that much of a worry for most tablet users given than you’ll have to be pretty forgetful to not plug it into power once in a while before it runs completely dry.

Camera

iPad Air 2 review

I wish I could somehow type the long sigh I emit whenever I begin to talk about the camera on any tablet – and Apple’s only gone and made the camera better here, which makes things worse for people like me trying to hold off the barbarians.

Like the selfie phenomenon, the idea of bringing a tablet as main camera to important events suddenly seems to be acceptable. I’ve seen people taking pictures of a bride walking down the aisle with an iPad mini, and missed a big goal at a football match because someone thought it the right time to try and take a picture of themselves on a tablet.

The problem is, companies like Apple are extolling the virtues of using the large screen as a more ample viewfinder.

No. Use a phone screen if you must, or even get a proper camera. But don’t use a tablet. While you’ll get acceptable shots with the iPad Air 2, and the resolution gives a clearer picture, it’s still not a great experience – and you break a basic law of civilization in the process.

But if you must use the camera, at least Apple has imbued the iPad Air 2 with some of the higher-power tricks. Slow motion video is included this time around (although only to 120 frames per second (fps), not the super smooth 240 fps that comes with both the new iPhones).

iPad Air 2 review

There’s time lapse mode, burst mode (front and back cameras) and a larger panorama mode making it easy to take wider pictures of over 40MP using the tablet screen.

I don’t mind the idea of using this for time lapse, as the larger screen and longer battery are actually pretty handy for setting up a shot – but why you’d have a tablet at a beautiful landscape which might require a panorama is beyond me. Group shots, maybe.

The other win here is the built in editing suite in the Photos app – it’s good on the iPhone, but with the larger screen it’s great for touching up photos.

The new iCloud shared photo stream is also a really handy way of sharing photos between an iPhone and an iPad – simply have both devices logged into the same iCloud account, favorite something on one and it will instantly appear on the other.

The overall camera prowess of the iPad Air 2 isn’t that bad, but it’s nothing special. In side by side comparisons with the iPad Air, the photos have very little difference bar sharpness, and the low light capabilities are nothing to write home about, and certainly not in the iPhone 6’s league.

iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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iPad Air 2 review

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Media

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for consuming media on – although there is an interesting talking point here.

I think it’s great that Apple is now offering a 128GB option for all its iOS devices now – but why are the increments 16GB, 64GB and 128GB?

I like that Apple has doubled the middle storage option, bringing the 64GB model in at the same price as last year’s 32GB – so why does the 16GB still exist? Make that 32GB, Apple, and solve this problem.

I make this point as it’s a real issue: if you’re downloading all the free apps from Apple, like Pages and iMovie, you’ll have eaten up a good portion of the inbuilt space already. And thanks to the move to a 64-bit architecture from Apple last year, the iPad Air 2 games and apps take up even more space for not that much extra in terms of performance.

iPad Air 2 review

So if you’re going for the 16GB option, you’ll need to watch how many movies you store, how high the quality of your Spotify music library is, and make sure you don’t save too many home movies on there either.

Of course, there’s every chance you won’t do a lot of this with your new iPad – apart from music and the odd movie, most people won’t be taking photos (fingers crossed) meaning you’ll be able to pick and choose your apps.

But if you’re not using the iPad Air 2 for movies or TV shows, then you’re really missing out. It’s a great device for a marathon movie session thanks to being light with a less reflective screen and improved color and contrast ratios.

iPad Air 2 review

It’s actually even visible in daylight (just) and while it’s not in the same league as the Sony Xperia Z3 when it comes to visibility, the iPad Air 2 is one of the best tablet screens on the market – bested possibly only by the Galaxy Tab S, which has brilliant color reproduction and black levels.

iPad Air 2 review

The single speaker is impressively powerful too – I wouldn’t have thought with the thickness shaved, the mono speaker would be any good, but it’s rich, strong and really pumps out the bass on the new iPad.

It’s really good for showing off movies or video clips to friends, although if it were front facing then it would be a much better experience.

And through the headphones, the experience follows Apple’s established prowess in music, with rich and punchy sound coming through even lower end cans.

Gaming on the iPad Air 2 is something to behold. Its rich, immersive screen is perfect for either the point-and-prod gaming on the go (it’s no surprise to see popular TV game show app companions as high sellers on the App Store) or a speedier car game.

iPad Air 2 review

Both of these are easy to play, the choice is fairly vast and while the selection isn’t particularly strong (there surely have to be more game titles coming soon that take advantage of the sheer number of sensors, GPU performance and Metal, which allows a stronger and slicker game play performance on the iPad) it will only get better – plus there are plenty of kids’ games to pass off to your children if you’re brave enough with your new tablet.

The essentials

Sure it’s a fancy tablet when you’re using all those clever apps, but how does the iPad Air 2 handle the basics?

Handoff

The best thing about the iPad Air 2 is that it not only does the basics really well, it now allows more functionality thanks to the Handoff features from iOS 8.

Admittedly, this is a limited feature that’s only enabled for those who have an iPhone running the latest software, but many will. If both are linked into the same iCloud account, even if your phone isn’t in arm’s reach you can still make and receive calls on the tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

You can either use the inbuilt speaker and microphone, or pair it with a headset. Whichever you choose, it’s a nice way to de-clutter the desk if you’re one to keep things neat. The other party is able to hear you fine over the speakerphone, so in essence Handoff turns your tablet into a smartphone when you need it.

You can even make calls from your contacts list too – it’s not the best as Apple’s contacts app is still, well, poor thanks to confusing social integration and a very uninspiring design (this is an area where Android phones really excel) but it works.

The only thing that stops the iPad Air 2 from being a brilliant smartphone replacement is the fact it can’t send or receive text messages. It can do iMessage happily, and a Mac running Yosemite can handle those missives, but annoyingly, the iPad won’t get any SMS.

That aside I was really, really impressed by the functionality. It’s not new and it’s not vital, but it works without needing any input from the user. That’s the best way things should be.

Messaging

The messaging side of things on the iPad Air 2 is pretty good outside of the text message problem, but then again it always has on the iPad. The large and expansive keyboard allows you to rattle out messages rather quickly in landscape view when placed on the knees, and as such can be more of a laptop replacement than you’d expect.

This is doubly true given last year’s move from Apple to bring its office software into the mix for free. Now you can edit documents and spreadsheets from the iPad without needing to pay extra.

iPad Air 2 review

And the Mail app, which does share the same boring view as the contacts app, is still a powerful tool and improved again with iOS 8. You can see important emails on the lockscreen and then choose to archive or mark as read without needing to unlock the phone.

The same thing happens with the notification window at the top of the phone when you’re in another app. This kind of integration is really useful, and more than that, it brings a feeling of satisfying unity to using the iPad.

Internet browser

The other thing to note is the internet browsing on the new iPad Air. Thanks to that A8X chip, combined with faster Wi-Fi and improved 4G bands, using the internet wherever you are is really slick, with instant tapping and loading in some cases.

iPad Air 2 review

Apple would prefer you to use Safari for everything, and it’s probably the slightly speedier browser here, but Chrome is equally impressive and useful if you’ve linked everything together on other machines.

The iPad Air 2 is a great device for the things you need to do with a tablet on a day to day basis – and that’s before we even get into the fact it’s got, by far, the best app ecosystem.

The competition

The good news for you tablet fans out there is that even if you’re not a fan of the iPad Air 2, or want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money, there are plenty of other decent options.

In fact, the last 12 months have seen arguably the greatest jump in quality from the competition yet – so take a look at these pretenders to the iThrone:

Samsung Galaxy Tab S

Galaxy Tab S

Samsung’s been making reasonable tablets for a while now. It’s been a curious situation actually: while the tablets were always powerful, they were simultaneously cheap-feeling and expensive.

The Tab S is still pricey, but no more than the iPad Air 2, and in some cases actually a little cheaper. However, it’s got the same low weight, a comparable thickness (although a tiny bit deeper) and trumps the Apple tablet when it comes to screen quality, with that Super AMOLED screen sharper, brighter and bigger.

However, while it’s put together in a rigid and premium way, it lacks the cohesive design language Apple has created in the Air 2. However, the Tab S is one of the best Android tablets on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

The new Nexus slate is a really great device and warrants a mention here, as it too goes for a 4:3 screen aspect ratio meaning a more expansive display, although not as good for watching movies on.

The rubberized back might not please everyone, but it’s every comfortable to hold and light too – plus the metal rim adds to the character of the design.

On top of that it’s cheaper than the iPad Air 2, has a comparable UI with the new Android Lollipop 5.0 OS and is generally the tablet of choice if you want naked Android.

It doesn’t quite have the impressive feature set of the Air 2, but it is one of very few that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above much of the current smartphone range, and as such is a good consideration for day to day browsing and the like.

  • All you need to know about the Nexus 9

Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

Xperia Z4 Tablet

If there’s any tablet that makes as strong a first impression as the iPad Air 2 it’s the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet. At 6.1mm thick it’s just as thin and at 392g it’s even lighter.

The polycarbonate build of the slate isn’t quite as impressive as the iPad Air 2’s aluminium unibody, but the Xperia Z4 Tablet is perhaps more durable with water and dust resistance added into the mix.

There’s a whole lot of power here too and a gorgeous 10.1-inch 2560 x 1600 display, which beats the iPad Air 2 for pixel density. Yet despite all this tech it’s still got a heft battery life.

It’s got a premium price tag and Sony’s UI isn’t the best we’ve come across, but the Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet is still easily one of the best iPad alternatives around.

iPad Air

IPad air

Of course there’s always the option from the previous year to check out – and the Air is staying around at the lower price point.

What you get for your smaller spend is a less vibrant screen, a heavier device and a slower chipset at the heart, without the benefit of Touch ID.

It’s quite a lot to lose as Apple has touched up and tinkered with nearly every element to make the Air 2 a real step forward, but for the cash you’re still getting a brilliant tablet that’s now playing at a more palatable budget level.

It’s got all the same iOS 8.1 upgrades too, so while you don’t get slow motion video, a lot of other treats will appear. A slightly older but my no means unworthy tablet.

Hands on gallery

iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air 2 review

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Verdict

Some summaries are easy to write. 2013’s iPad Air, for example: a stunning tablet, with an obvious case for winning the first 5 star review I’d given to such a device. It was a sign that the market had evolved to the point of delivering a truly useful tablet.

iPad Air 2 review

But I remember wondering how that could be topped, whether Apple would just give it a tiny push and call it all-new (like it’s done with the iPad mini 3, lest we forget).

The challenge is even greater this year, as not only does Apple have to top its own lofty goal, but also beat off the much-improved competition from Samsung, Google/HTC and Sony. So how has the iPad Air 2 fared?

We liked

When I saw this getting unveiled onstage, I was nonplussed. Better screen? A bit thinner? I needed to be convinced. Then I held it, and I really was.

It’s not just lighter, it’s perceptibly lighter. I’ll regret writing this in a year’s time, but I think there’s no way tablets can get any thinner, without some genius move in engineering. It feels like there should be a danger that this tablet is too fragile, although it hasn’t seemed to be in testing.

I really like the improved screen, and there will probably be a few smug faces over in South Korea looking at the fact colors seem more vibrant on the new iPad Air 2, rather than focusing on natural hues.

The battery life is impressive, the power under the hood unprecedented and generally, everything on this tablet really just works.

And in comparison to the competition, it’s not even that expensive, although spending up to US$829, (£659, AU$1019) on the Wi-Fi and 4G 128GB version is a little on the pricey side, especially when Macbooks aren’t a lot more and general laptops can be had for less.

We disliked

The 16GB option is still too small for Retina HD apps, as they’ll munch through your capacity in no time at all.

Add to that the increased space a 64-bit app will take and if you’re thinking of nabbing a load of high-power apps (which you should want to, given the new grunt from the A8X chip) then you’re going to quickly run into problems with storage.

And as we know, there’s no room for expansion on Apple tablets. Given the brand has been "generous" enough to double the 32GB option to 64GB for no extra money, it seems odd it wouldn’t do the same for the entry-level model.

The rest of the dislikes are beyond nitpicking: the slow motion video is capped at 120fps (although that is irritating as 240fps on the iPhone 6, a less powerful device, is actually awesome) and you can’t get text messages, only iMessages, on the tablet.

If that’s all I can find wrong with the Air 2, that has to bode well.

Verdict

Apple has improved on perfection with the iPad Air 2, making something that anyone using a tablet from 2012 or earlier should be thinking very strongly about upgrading to.

The combination of power, better screen, improved design and upgraded OS make this a very, very compelling device – and that’s before getting into the fact the app ecosystem is so much stronger than on Android.

It’s even better now iOS 8 is capable of scaling apps so seamlessly – the days of low-res iPhone apps are gone. It’s another hammer blow to the Google tablet market, although I’m fully confident that’s going to catch up in quality soon.

It’s no good just saying that a tablet has good design, power or specifications. The ultimate success or failure of any device depends on how it’s packaged and whether it comes in at the right price. Apple has drawn on all its strengths to make a tablet that seems to have no flaws, and it will be the best tablet in the market throughout the next year.

The only problem the brand will have is how to make it better in 12 months time. I’m glad that’s not a problem I have to solve.

If you’re thinking about which tablet to buy, don’t. Just pick up the iPad Air 2 and you won’t want to make another choice.

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