Hands-on review: Acer Iconia One 8

Hands-on review: Acer Iconia One 8

The tablet category is decelerating, which is possibly down to a number of factors: a lack of innovation; the fact that people aren’t so inclined to refresh their tablet as frequently as their phone; and, of course, the rise of the phablet.

Acer’s trying to solve at least the first of those problems with the Iconia One 8, the cheap and cheerful new slate that wants to appeal to artists and education types. Its big selling point is its super-sensitive touchscreen, which comes about due to Acer’s Precision Plus technology.

Iconia

Every tablet manufacturer wants their slates to appeal to designers and artists, but technological barriers too often prevent a touchscreen from being a real replacement for a bit of paper or a canvas. Precision Plus uses smaller sensors than most other tablets, meaning that your sketches and lines are much more accurate.

Iconia

In fact, you can even use a pencil if you don’t have a stylus lying about. While I thought that this might go for any pointed object, and Acer rep told me that the screen actually detects the led material – and it works pretty nicely.

This added precision is also useful for cutting and editing pictures. A three-finger swipe gesture on the the display will take a screen grab that you can then chop and manipulate in Acer’s editing suite.

Speaking of the interface, the Iconia One 8 is the first Acer tablet to run Android 5.0 Lollipop, and Acer has actually left it largely untouched aside from the small suite of its own app offerings. The result is a UI that’s surprisingly nimble for a budget tablet, even with just 1GB of RAM.

As someone who prefers Android to be as close to stock as possible, I’d be happy using Acer’s take on Lollipop.

Iconia

Design

At £139.99 ($149, about AU$190) you wouldn’t expect the One 8 to look like the most premium tablet on the market, but it’s not bad. The bezel is just small enough and the body is only 9.55mm thick, making it comfortable in the hand.

Another display feature Acer is singing about is "zero air gap" technology. It sounds like marketing spiel, but what it actually means is that everything is a bit more readable and less prone to reflections – it was actually a feature on the Iconia W4.

Iconia

Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, the One 8 comes in a range of colourful options – 10, to be exact – and with the option of some fun cases too.

Ticking off some of the other boxes, the One 8 also comes with a microSD slot on the left hand side which will accept cards up to 32GBs in size. The tablet has 16GB of internal storage to start with.

Iconia

There’s a 5MP rear camera and a 0.3MP front-facer too. I always feel like a tablet’s front-facing camera should be the better of the two considering that you’re more likely going to use it for something like Skype than you are for taking pictures out in the wild.

But anyone who knows me will be aware I generally despise the idea of people using their tablet as a camera. Not that I’m judging you if you’re that person. But I totally am.

Still, 0.3MP is quite poor in this day in age, so this aspect is a bit of a letdown.

Iconia

Early verdict

The Iconia One 8 feels like a good tablet for its low asking price, but it’s mostly down to Acer’s Precision Plus technology. It’s the sort of slate that would be perfect in a classroom or for any budding artists who wants something better for sketching.

Acer has done a good thing in leaving Lollipop alone for the most part, and while there might not be too much to get excited about here, the superior touchscreen accuracy on offer could separate this from its other budget rivals when it arrives in the next couple of months.

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Review: Acer Iconia One 7

Review: Acer Iconia One 7

Introduction and design

Acer isn’t a newbie to the low end of the Android tablet market, having slowly carved itselves a niche as one of the better-known brands among a host of budget competitors. While early attempts at tablets bearing the Iconia label were relatively uninteresting, the latest addition to the range – the Acer Iconia One 7 – looks (at least on the surface) like it might be a little more appealing.

Running Android 4.4.4 KitKat straight out of the box, and powered by an Intel Atom processor, first impressions of this 7-inch tablet are pretty good for the low price of only £99 (US$146, $192 AUD). Easy comparisons can be made to the Google Nexus 7, though the One 7 has slightly smaller dimensions and a lower resolution 16:9 screen.

Other than the price, the main headline for Acer’s new budget tablet is that it packs an Intel quad-core processor – an interesting alternative to the ARM processors that you’ll find in any other cheap Android tablet. This is coupled with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, with room for additional expansion via microSD.

The Acer Iconia One 7 is relatively slender, with a 8.6mm chassis. However, it’s not the lightest 7-inch tablet around, weighing in at 320g – a full 51g heavier than the lean Asus MeMoPad 7 ME572C. It’s certainly not fat, and feels light enough to slip into a bags without adding too much heft.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

The design is relatively understated, but the dimpled rear and 7mm bezel set the One 7 apart from other budget tablets.OK , so the design isn’t in the same league as the metallic Apple iPad Mini, or quite as attractive as the aluminum rear on the 3G-connected Acer Tab 7, but there are certainly worse looking budget slabs around.

Build quality is most definitely a mixed bag. The smooth glass of the front looks and feels great, but give the tablet a subtle twist and you reveal where the majority of the corners have been cut. I do this with every smartphone or tablet I review, and the Iconia One 7 dished out some of the most disappointing creaks and groans I’ve heard in long while.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

In fact, it goes one step further than this. I was actually able to remove the entire rear panel of the One 7, by hand, with almost zero fuss. The plastic panel isn’t supposed to be user-removable, but there’s nothing more than a few plastic clips holding it in place.

With them out the way, all the tablet’s delicate internals are laid bare. This would be acceptable if it was intended to be serviced by the user, but while it makes the tablet more repairable, it exposes circuit boards and a 3420mAh battery which you wouldn’t want your child getting their hands on – not good, Acer.

Moving on from this unnerving revelation, you’ll find the power button towards the top of the right-hand edge, with a single volume bar residing just below. There aren’t any other physical buttons on the Iconia One 7, but near the top of the opposite edge is a handy microSD port that’ll take cards up to 32GB.

Both the 3.5mm headphone and micro USB sockets are found alongside each other on the top edge of the tablet, with a microphone slightly further along.

Apart from the 0.3MP front-facing camera, the front of the One 7 is devoid of any notable features as it uses on-screen buttons rather than capacitive alternatives. Flip the tablet over and you’ll find a 5MP snapper on the top left corner, and a wide speaker grill at the bottom, which conceals two speakers.

Key features and performance

You can’t expect a fully-packed powerhouse for less than £100, but the Acer Iconia One 7 manages to fit in an adequate specification for the money.

The HD screen is punchy and bright, and while it may only pack a pixel density of 216ppi, the 1,280 x 800 resolution IPS LCD screen has reasonable colour reproduction. There are tablets at this end of the price spectrum that hold their own against more expensive tablets when it comes to resolution – at just £30 more, the Tesco Hudl 2 crams in a hugely impressive 1,920 x 1,200 resolution screen – but the One 7 isn’t among them.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

Pictures and videos look OK on screen, helped by extra processing coming from Intel’s Smart Video mode that aims to reduce noise and eliminate artifacts when playing back lower-quality interlaced videos.

Where power is concerned, the Acer Iconia One 7 packs plenty of punch for such a low-priced tablet. Powered by Intel’s Atom Z3735G quad-core processor, which is clocked at 1.33Ghz, it’s the same series of processor found in a series of full-fat Windows 8.1 tablets such as the very well priced Linx 7 we looked at back in December.

As it is running the comparatively lean Android 4.4 KitKat, this Atom processor flies through all the tasks I threw at it without a hint of slow-down, despite having "only" 1GB of RAM.

The internal storage capacity of 16GB is the bare minimum you would hope to find in a tablet in 2015, though some other manufacturers are still trying to make do by equipping only 8GB, so kudos to Acer for not being a total cheapskate. Further storage can easily be added via microSD cards up to 32GB, affording a plenty of extra storage for media and more.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

Extras include a distinctly average set of speakers that certainly don’t make it up to 11, WiFi up to N standard, Bluetooth 4.0 and a GPS chip – a welcome addition often left out of budget tablets.

Android KitKat OS, while not being the most up-to-date version available, is new enough to be compatible with any app out there, including some of Google’s newer features such as Android Wear support.

The operating system one the One 7 is as about as near to stock Android as you can get without it coming directly from Google and one of their Nexus devices, with only a few minor alterations. Notifications can be reached by swiping down from the top left of the screen, while an assortment of quick settings can be accessed by swiping from the top right corner.

Discounting the mountain of pre-installed apps (more on this later), Acer has included a couple of additional features in the settings menu. There’s a basic on/off toggle for Intel Smart Video (as mentioned above), and a menu that enables Acer’s Touch WakeApp.

Touch WakeApp is a theoretically handy feature found in recent Motorola phones, allowing you to wake the tablet from sleeping simply by double-tapping the tablet. It took a couple of attempts at enabling it before it actually started working, but when it did it worked with both light and heavy double-taps. However, it takes a moment for the screen to wake, and unfortunately this feature was so erratic, I ended up disabling.

There are five homescreens available, and seemingly no option to expand on this number. A number of widgets are pre-installed, but they’re mostly from the additional apps. Other than Google’s stock widgets, there is only a single Acer-branded widget, and this ties into their suggested apps app. It’s small, non-resizable, and largely pointless.

Because of the lack of extra bells and whistles – otherwise known as bloatware – Android 4.4.4 runs smoothly and without hiccup, almost as Google had intended.

Benchmarks and battery life

Curiously, although Acer lists the processor in the Iconia One 7 as running at 1.33Ghz, I found that when I launched GeekBench, it was reported as 1.83Ghz – whether the processor scales depending on the task, or is set to overclock when benchmarked, I couldn’t determine.

Geekbench’s tests were over quickly and the results came as no huge surprise: a score of 730 in the single-core test pegged it more than 100 points lower than the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7, while the multi-core score of 2,051 placed it some 400 points short of the Nvidia Tegra 4-toting Advent Tegra Note 7.

Futuremark’s 3DMark put the One 7 alongside the Tesco Hudl 2 with a score of 13,036 in the Ice Storm Unlimited test, an unsurprising result, considering it packs exactly the same Intel processor.

Lastly, I ran the SunSpider Javascript benchmark in Google’s Chrome browser, which tests the processor’s capacity to crunch through Java – a widely used programming language on both websites and apps. The score of 795.4ms makes it roughly twice as fast as the quad-core mediatek processor powering the Gigaset QV830 tablet I looked at in October last year.

Despite being outpaced by some older tablets, benchmarks are of course not the definitive indication of how the tablet will perform in day-to-day tasks. Fortunately, I am happy to report that I didn’t encounter any noticeable slow-down, no matter how quickly I zipped in and out of applications.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

Acer quotes a battery life of 7 hours from the 3,420mAh Lithium Polymer battery. This is a bit of a let-down, as I would have expected something large enough to comfortably handle more than a day of browsing, video playback and games.

After playing Sim City Buildit for no more than 10 minutes, the battery had lost 5%, and playing the faster-paced Real Racing 3 dropped it 7% over the same time period.

After charging the Iconia One 7 fully, I tried running TechRadar’s tried-and-tested battery-bashing video on full brightness, which dropped the battery to just 64%, meaning it lost a total of 36% in the same period that the 2014 Nexus 7 dropped just 20%.

If I had to guess I’d say this is likely something to do with the Intel processor’s inefficiency at decoding videos compared to counterparts from Qualcomm, and while the battery holds up well enough with less intensive tasks, if you’re looking for a gaming companion or something to watch hours of videos on a long trip, it might be worth spending a little more to get an alternative with a higher capacity battery.

The essentials and camera

As Acer has not spent too much time fiddling with Android, it is close enough to Google’s original to think of it as stock. Chrome is the browser of choice, the keyboard has not been unnecessarily re-skinned or replaced, and all the other key Google apps are pre-installed. Of course, like so many brands do, there are a few little hidden extras that Acer couldn’t resist including, and some are… not so hidden.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

Firstly, there are an almost overwhelming amount of pre-installed apps. Some are pretty handy, like the Audible book reader and AccuWeather apps, while others I would uninstall in a heartbeat if this was my very own Iconia One 7.

A few dollars have obviously changed hands between Amazon and Acer, as the entire suite of Amazon apps are pre-installed, from the Amazon kindle app, to the Amazon App and music stores. There are apps fromm eBay, Booking.com, and Zinio clogging up the app drawer, as well as apps from WildTangent and Gamesloft ready to suggest some over-priced or under-polished games.

As well as this, Acer has a trio of their own applications. The Acer Portal is Acer’s own service for cloud storage, assistance with your tablet and other ‘helpful’ services. Then there is the ‘Acer Store’, which hopes that after plumping for such a reasonably priced tablet you’ll kit it out with a variety of covers, bags, keyboards and others accessories.

Lastly, Acer Suggests is yet another apps portal that desperately wants you to try out the games Acer has been slipped a few bucks to market directly into your retina. I suppose you could call it curated, but I’m cynical here; a click on any of the apps takes you directly to Google’s own Play Store, leaving me to wonder why you would even bother with Acer’s own store in the first place.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

The single useful Acer app that is pre-installed is the only one that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to get you to sign up to anything, and that is the Float Gadget. As the name might suggest, this is a little floating widget that sits above other applications and offers you a calendar, memo pad, calculator and quick location finder.

It’s similar to the floating widgets you’ll find on LG and Sony devices, and could be genuinely handy for multi-tasking with other applications. My only gripe? The widget cannot be re-sized or customised in any way.

There are 12 other additional pre-installed apps, and none of them qualify as sufficiently essential to justify Acer forcing them on you.

Camera

The cameras on the Acer Iconia One 7 are – at best – below average. The rear-facing camera packs 5 megapixels, though you would be pushed to tell where on earth they’re hiding most of them.

It took a second or two for the camera to start up, and every single photo had an unusual smudged and over-processed quality to it, no matter how much I played with the variety of settings afforded by Acer’s tweaked camera app. I can only assume that the camera was set up to smooth over any digital noise, but the effect has been far too heavily implemented, and because of this pictures end up looking very artificial.

Acer Iconia One 7 review

There is also a rather frustrating blue/purple tinge to every photo I took. When trying to take a close-up of some flowers in my garden, the results were incredibly unnatural, while trying to capture a good picture one of my two fast-moving Terriers was an almost impossible task. The one time I did manage to get a picture of one of them standing still, details were still soft, and their hair looked anything but authentic.

If I could give the camera any plus points, that would be for the improved number of filters, effects and shooting modes over the stock Android camera app, including panorama, HDR and quick-burst options. Unfortunately, like the camera itself, all of these features felt entirely underwhelming. Panoramas were badly stitched together, HDR mode tended to throw up washed-out photos and the quick-burst mode was… not so quick.

The front facing camera? Well, it should come as no surprise that there’s literally nothing good I could find to say about it. The 0.3MP sensor is limited to 0.2MP pictures (that’s 640 x 360 eye-watering pixels). If you’re doing the occasional Skype call, it might be passable in good lighting conditions, but for everything else, it’s atrocious.

Sample images

Acer Iconia One 7 review

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Acer Iconia One 7 review

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Acer Iconia One 7 review

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Acer Iconia One 7 review

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Verdict

The budget corner of the Android tablet market is swelling significantly, and the arrival of more well-known brands like Acer at the party should push up quality and value overall.

While better screens, faster processors and greater storage capacity are all starting to trickle their way into tablets like the Acer Iconia One 7, you should still peg back your expectations when comparing tablets such as this to pricier models like the Apple iPad Mini 3 or the surprising Dell Venue 8 7000.

The asking price of £99 ($146 USD, AU$190) makes the Iconia One 7 very tempting for occasional users or those looking for a tablet for kids, but the number of disappointments – from the build quality, to the terrible camera and huge amount of pre-installed apps – rather tainted my experience.

We liked

The Acer Iconia One 7 is a speedy little device when running day-to-day apps and flicking between windows and menus. Intel’s Atom processor clearly has enough grunt to munch through all but the most demanding games.

The operating system hasn’t been unjustifiably messed with, and while Acer has gone hugely over the top with pre-installed apps, at least there’s plenty to get you started. Fortunately if you do start to run out of space, there’s an easily accessible microSD card slot on hand.

The screen is bright, with reasonable colour reproduction, and the addition of Intel’s ‘Smart Video’ mode makes the most of lower quality video.

We disliked

The build quality is a real let-down. The Iconia One 7 flexes and creaks, and I was shocked to see how easily I could pull the back off the tablet. All I could think of was that if left alone with a young child, putting a large lithium battery within reach presents a real hazard to curious fingers.

The camera is absolutely abysmal. I almost wish Acer hadn’t bothered with the rear camera at all in favour of a HD front-facing camera that would make video-calling and the ever-popular selfie more viable. As it stands, the One 7 simply cannot be recommended on its photographic merits.

The stereo speakers are tinny and not particularly loud, and while the screen isn’t awful, only 800 vertical pixels feels a bit stingy when compared to some tablets that cost only a little more.

Final verdict

If you’re in the market for a budget tablet you can share with children, I’m sorry to say it, but Acer has missed the mark with the Iconia One 7. Yes, the processor is speedy, but almost everything else I can think to say about the tablet is no better than average.

The Tesco Hudl 2 may have an equally poor camera, but with a better and bigger screen, it’s still the tablet of choice at this end of the market.

While Acer has a reputation for providing cheap and cheerful electronics, they usually feel like they’ll last significantly longer than the One 7 seems likely to.

I can only really recommend it for those looking something cheap to tide them over until they can afford a better tablet, or for those on a very strict budget – and even then, there are still better options around.

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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. 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 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 8.1.2.

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 the best Android tablet on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

Although it’s technically not released yet, and as such shouldn’t really be in this section, I’m not going to compare the iPad Air 2 to the Nexus 10 tablet from 2012.

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 the only one here that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above 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 Z2 Tablet

Sony Xperia Z2 tablet

OK, it’s a few months old now, but Sony is definitely the closest to Apple when it comes to making a beautiful tablet. The Z2 Tablet is more angular are industrial than the Apple option, but it’s still a quality piece of machinery in its own right.

It feels light (as it should do, being the same weight as Apple’s challenger) and has a lot of added extras: it’s IP58 water and dust resistant, has NFC for easy connectivity to a range of devices and can control the TV through its infra red blaster.

What else? Well, it’s going to be upgraded to the latest version of Android Lollipop in the near future, has a longer battery life (with Stamina Mode to push things further) and also has a really clear and vibrant screen that’s as sharp as Apple’s.

It’s still being sold for the same high price as the Air 2, but it’s a strong challenger – albeit one that might be upgraded in a few months time when the Z4 Tablet emerges.

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. Last year’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. 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 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 8.1.2.

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 the best Android tablet on the market right now, and a worthy competitor to the iPad Air 2.

Nexus 9

Nexus 9

Although it’s technically not released yet, and as such shouldn’t really be in this section, I’m not going to compare the iPad Air 2 to the Nexus 10 tablet from 2012.

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 the only one here that can come close to Apple’s prowess when it comes to benchmarking. It’s a cut above 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 Z2 Tablet

Sony Xperia Z2 tablet

OK, it’s a few months old now, but Sony is definitely the closest to Apple when it comes to making a beautiful tablet. The Z2 Tablet is more angular are industrial than the Apple option, but it’s still a quality piece of machinery in its own right.

It feels light (as it should do, being the same weight as Apple’s challenger) and has a lot of added extras: it’s IP58 water and dust resistant, has NFC for easy connectivity to a range of devices and can control the TV through its infra red blaster.

What else? Well, it’s going to be upgraded to the latest version of Android Lollipop in the near future, has a longer battery life (with Stamina Mode to push things further) and also has a really clear and vibrant screen that’s as sharp as Apple’s.

It’s still being sold for the same high price as the Air 2, but it’s a strong challenger – albeit one that might be upgraded in a few months time when the Z4 Tablet emerges.

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. Last year’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: Dell Venue Pro 10 5055

Review: Dell Venue Pro 10 5055

Introduction and design

The question of classroom technology has been asked, without a substantial answer, ever since the days of fjording the rivers in Oregon Trail. While some companies make pledges to sell bulk amounts of well-built units at a discount, some argue that the best thing that can be done for the masses is to make cheaper-to-produce devices that can be sold at an affordable price.

Enter Dell’s new line of Venue 10 Pro tablets, which combine an updated Atom processor with all the standard requirements for modern computing. The 5055 model, as reviewed with Dell’s Venue Keyboard and Active Stylus, will set you back $464 (around £310 or AUD $595), and is the spec’d out version of the educational set of the Venue product line. It features a larger hard drive (64GB rather than 32GB) and it’s 10.1" display has higher pixel dimensions (1920×1200 as opposed to the entry level 1280×800).

The bottom line of the budget may play the largest role when purchasing a computer for the education set, so I was pleased to see the 5055 come in at such a low price. Sure, Apple’s iPad Air 2 is a mere thirty-five dollars more at $499 (£399, AU$619), but that’s without the keyboard and stylus. And while Microsoft’s now offering a bag-lunch-budget-friendly Surface 3 (also for $499) that’s also prior to adding on their keyboard and stylus, which bring your total to $679.

If you’re not tied to the Windows platform, and you’re considering an Android tablet to center your studies around, there is the 2014 edition of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 to consider. As its name suggests, it has the same size display as the 5055, but it also shares uninspiring performance, something that can’t justify its $740 ( around £450, AU$820) price tag. It’s a feature rich and experience-thin device that our review can turn you away from if need be.

Design

Measuring 10.34 x 0.39 6.92-inches (26.26 x .99 x 17.59 cm) (W x D x H), and weighing in at 1.45lb (656.9g), the Venue 10 Pro 5055 is barely different in heft and footprint from Dell’s higher end Venue 11 Pro 7000, which sells for $700 (£437, AU$800) before any keyboard or stylus accessories, weighs in at 1.6 pounds (0.72kg) and measures 11.01 x 0.42 x 6.95-inches (27.97 x 1.07 x 17.65 cm).

Dell Venue 10 Pro 5055 review

If budget restraints are keeping you from even considering the Pro 7000, there’s a chance you’re comparing the 5055 to a hybrid model that’s slightly more expensive, such as the Acer Aspire Switch 11 ($550, £369, AU$720), which weighs 1.85 lbs and measures 11.7 x .43 x 8.1 (29.8 x 1.1 x 20.5cm) (W x D x H). While these computers may look alike in their hybrid nature, size, and weight, everything else about the Aspire Switch 11 has a major problem hidden within the way it manages data storage, one that ruins the experience.

Aesthetically, there is not a whole lot to say about the Venue Pro 5055’s design. With its price, though, I didn’t go in expecting that to be a big difference maker. The 5055 does have a nice rubberized edge, which makes it very grippable. For kids, that’s a great feature. It’s not exactly ruggedized or shockproof, though, something that would make it even more classroom-friendly. At the same time, the frame of the 5055 isn’t that well thought out, since the power button and the Windows button are of the same size and shape, on adjacent corners of the tablet.

The other major problem in the build of the 5055 comes when you dock the tablet into Dell’s Venue Keyboard. The first few times I thought I had connected the two devices, the keyboard failed to securely attach, inevitably leading to awkward accidental detachments. It mostly happened during my first days with the 5055, but it would even occur after audible chimes had signified the two had docked. My advice is to check each and every time you connect the two, I ended up having a first-attempt success rate of about 75%.

The keyboard is okay, but the trackpad has some problems. It may not be jumpy and finicky like other low-end input devices, but most of its surface does not allow for physical clicks. Only the bottom third of the trackpad allows for that kind of clicking, and it always requires what feels like far too much force to register a click. The keyboard was good enough for typing quickly, though. On the 10FastFingers test, I eked out 66 words-per-minute, a very slight decrease from my standard of 67 wpm on my personal mechanical keyboard. The keys feel a little cheap, but not to any severe detriment.

Display and performance

Dell loves to tout this machine as having a full HD 1920 x 1200 display, and I can’t fault them too much for that ebulliency. Marvel’s Daredevil looked great streaming off of Netflix, with all those pixels showing off great details, and the colors never looked saturated.

When it comes to the Dell Active Stylus, I’ve got mixed feelings. It works great with the tablet screen, with very accurate touch recognition. As great as it feels to press the nib against the tablet screen, the stylus is built upon a choice I find very frustrating: requiring a AAAA battery.

Dell Venue 10 Pro 5055 review

I didn’t even realize this would be a problem, but I discovered that this is a battery format that’s barely available in retailers. Sure, it’s sold on Amazon, and teachers can bulk buy in advance, but neither Best Buy nor Walgreens carry this battery format, and to find one in NYC, I wound up wandering from store to store eventually finding AAAA’s at a professional photography store. I understand that Dell wants to use the smallest batteries they can, to reduce the diameter of the stylus’ barrell, but this is ridiculous.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel Atom Processor Z3735F @ 1.33 GHz
  • Display: 10.1 inch 1920×1200 IPS Multitouch Display
  • Memory: 2GB DDR3L-RS RAM
  • GPU: Intel HD Graphics
  • Storage: 64GB
  • Wireless: Broadcom AH691A-2×2 (802.11 a/b/g/n)
  • Camera: 1.2-megapixel webcam; 5-megapixel rear camera
  • Ports: USB 3.0 full size,micro HDMI, BT 4.0, micro SD card slot
  • Weight: 1.45lb pounds (.66 kg)
  • Size: 10.34 x 0.39 6.92-inches (26.26 x .99 x 17.59 cm)

Performance and battery life

Running our standard benchmarks on it, there’s a not-so-subtle message to be read. The 5055 will punish any student trying to goof off on and play games. 3DMark’s Cloud Gate had an average score of 1130 with a crawling 4 frames per second (fps), the Sky Diver test had an average score of 441, and a flat-out static 1.8 fps. Those results should make teachers laugh with confirmation that these laptops are good for the class, but not for procrastination. We couldn’t even get a result for 3DMark’s more strenuous test, the Fire Strike benchmark, since the test crashed both times we tried to use it.

  • 3DMark Cloud Gate: 1130, 4 fps
  • 3DMark Sky Diver: 441, 1.8 fps
  • PCmark Work Conventional 1253
  • PCmark Battery life: 5 hours, 9 minutes, 12 seconds

Unfortunately, when you line these scores up with other models, the PCmark scores aren’t fantastic. It’s Work score is dwarfed by the 2634 that the Venue 7000 netted, and only a notch or two above the Aspire Switch 11’s, 1163. The 5055 did manage to meet my needs in my everyday use, even though it was sometimes slower than I’d like. For this price, I’m not expecting a workhorse, and students shouldn’t complain either.

In my day-to-day use, I was able to regularly get more than six hours of battery life out of the 5055, and that was from a mix of document writing, streaming video, and internet usage. Thinking about this tablet with the classroom in mind, it’s great to note that the battery lasts long enough, if not longer, than the average school day. One would hope the teacher isn’t having their students work in the screen from start to finish, but even if that’s the case, the 5055 does last without excuses. Which is great, because the charging cable is not long enough to suggest working while tethered.

Unfortunately, while the battery can last long enough for a school day on a single charge, my experience wasn’t problem-free. One night, when the charging cable connector wasn’t perfectly lined up inside the USB 2 Micro port, (despite it being connected right-side-up) the 5055 drained completely. Coming home to discover this, and finding that re-plugging the cable wouldn’t even turn on the light that signifies a connected charger, I was worried the unit had died completely. About 24 hours later, I tried again, and it began to take a charge. What I learned is that I should have checked to see that the charging light had turned on after I plugged it in.

Dell is going to need to do more work to secure their power port and make connections child-proof, especially since many (teachers and students alike) may already be used to the carefree nature of plugging in Apple’s MagSafe or lightning ports.

My colleague Chuong Nguyen experienced a similar problem with previous iterations of this form factor, something he mentioned in his review of the Venue Pro 11 with Atom processor. While Dell has told us the port had been reinforced, my experience was not positive. This is a problem when it comes to the education environment, since some may be more used to tablet power connectors that easily and safely dock, such as Apple’s Lightning, or other USB connectors.

Bundled software

Thankfully, the Venue 10 Pro 5055 gets a clean bill of health when it comes to pre-installed bloatware. This has been a pattern with recent Dell devices, including the higher end Venue 11 Pro 7000, but with the 5055 being marketed toward schools, this was definitely a situation in which Dell had to provide an untampered with experience. Teachers can be handed these computers out of the box, set up a free year of Microsoft Office, and have these devices as student-ready as they’ll ever be.

Final verdict

You can’t expect miracles if you’re not willing to pay for them. If you require a budget device that can withstand some wear and tear, while providing a decent user experience, then you’ve come to the right place. Unfortunately, there will be issues that influence your opinion about this machine, none of which should completely turn you off.

We liked

For budget-conscious students, especially those younger and in-the-classroom, the 5055 can definitely power a full day of learning. Dell’s accessories, the Active Stylus and Venue Keyboard, both added to a solid experience, with the Stylus performing as well as any I’ve ever used. The display is of good quality as well, the accuracy of both finger and stylus touch was always unquestionable

We disliked

The decisions made to keep this unit affordable left me scratching my head. The USB 2 Micro is the most particular and fragile port there is, and could lead to problems with students and teachers hurriedly trying to connect it. Further, the hinge, which can give an incorrect audio-cue that it’s docking process is done, is far from great.

Final verdict

For the price you pay for the tablet, the Venue Keyboard and the Active Stylus, the 5055 offers a deal, just one that you’ll have to treat with kid gloves. When you take a risk on a low-end device, you sometimes expect to be penalized for it down the road. As long as you make sure to take care when connecting power, and to give a firm hand when docking to the keyboard, the 5055 should be a good solution for your student’s needs. Sure it may not have the flashy TouchID or A8X that the iPad Air 2 can boast, or the stellar 10-hour battery life and processor power that makes the Venue Pro 7000 a suitable option, but the 5055 is enough for your average student, especially on the lower end of the age-spectrum

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Review: Linx 8

Review: Linx 8

Introduction and design

When you think of cheap tablets, the undeniable truth is that you’re probably thinking of a plastic Google Android tablet to keep your kids happy. If I had suggested just a few short years ago that buying a fully-fledged Windows tablet (not those awful Windows RT models) for less than £100 was even possible, I’d probably have been pointed and laughed at by all and sundry.

How about if I suggested that this was now entirely possible with the Linx 8, which can be easily found for less than £90 (around $134, AU$173). Fortunately for Microsoft, the age of cheap, capable Windows tablets has well and truly dawned, and Linx’s 8-inch offering is perfectly poised to steal a share from underwhelming Android alternatives like the Acer Iconia 7.

Linx 8 back

However, it doesn’t arrive at the cheap end of the Windows tablet party all on its own – there are a raft of alternatives such as the slightly more expensive, but equally unknown Pipo W2, or even the Argos MyTablet, which comes in even cheaper at only £69.99 (around $104, AU$135) – albeit with a few compromises.

There’s a 10.1-inch version, unsurprisingly called the Linx 10, which I’ve reviewed separately, should you be after something a little larger.

Design

Whilst the Linx 8 may initially look like yet another non-descript black rectangle, it is actually a surprisingly well-made tablet with an understated, yet reasonably attractive design that – from some angles – could almost be mistaken for an iPad mini, were it not for the capacitive Windows logo that sits beneath the display (which brings up the Start screen). Above the screen is the only other feature to note up front beyond the screen, and that’s the 2MP front-facing camera.

Linx 8 front camera

Flip the tablet around and you’ll find a smooth yet tactile rubberised plastic that covers the rear and the side edges of the Linx 8, making it a lot easier to handle, and less of a fingerprint magnet than some – it’s certainly my choice of material if solid metal finishes can’t be included at this price. The 2MP rear-facing camera sits in the top left of the rear panel, and at the bottom are two separate stereo speakers, which are each covered by a metallic grille.

Linx 8 rear camera

Of course, if you’re looking for the same kind of connectivity a laptop affords, you’ll be sorely disappointed, but on the bright side, Linx has incorporated an easily accessible microSD card slot on one side, whilst a micro-HDMI port, micro-USB port and 3.5mm headphone socket sit on the top edge – all welcome connectivity, especially the HDMI socket, which affords the ability to output to a TV or monitor. If you equip the Linx 8 with a third-party OTG cable, you’ll also be able to easily use any number of full-sized USB accessories.

It may sound like a minor point, but I really like the three external buttons on the Linx 8; the circular power button and separated volume buttons are raised and easy to find without any mistake.

Overall I found the Linx 8 to be very comfortable, well balanced and nicely made – a real surprise for such a budget-priced tablet.

Linx 8 volume

Specifications

Measuring 215 x 125 x 8.9mm, the Linx 8 is only slightly taller but not as thick as the similar Pipo W2, and overall feels like a slim and rather compact package, especially when you consider that Intel’s SoC is definitely bigger than other, less powerful chipsets found in many other 8-inch tablets. At 377g it weighs 27g more than the Argos MyTablet, but definitely doesn’t feel like a strain to hold, with enough weight to feel suitably solid.

Linx 8 angle

Here’s the full spec sheet:

  • Processor: Intel Bay Trail-T Quad Core Z3735F 1.83GHz processor
  • Operating System: Windows 8.1
  • Memory: 1 GB LPDDR3
  • Display: 8-inch 16:9 IPS HD (1280 x 800) with 5 point multi-touchscreen
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics
  • Storage: 32GB eMMC
  • Camera: Front 2MP and rear 2MP
  • Networking: Integrated 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth V4.0
  • Connectivity: 1 x micro-HDMI, 1 x micro-USB, 1 x microSD card
  • Audio: Built-in stereo speakers and microphone
  • Battery: 4,000 mAh li-ion
  • Dimensions: 215 x 125 x 8.9mm (H x W x D)
  • Weight: 0.83lb (377g)

Performance

Benchmarks

  • 3D Mark: Fire Strike: would not run; Sky Diver: 453; Cloud Gate: 1,179; Ice Storm Unlimited: 14,463; Ice Storm Extreme: 8,791
  • CineBench 11.5: CPU: 1.08 (multi), 0.29 (single); Graphics: 5.8fps
  • PC Mark 8: Home Test: 1,097; Battery Life: 10 hours

Under the hood of the Linx 8 you’ll find a quad-core Intel Z3735F Bay Trail-T Atom processor clocked at 1.83GHz. It’s the same passively-cooled 22nm processor that is found in a variety of the latest lower-end Windows tablets, featuring Intel’s Gen7 architecture that supports DirectX 11, even with the relatively low clock speed of Intel’s HD graphics, which maxes out at 646MHz. Backing up the processor is 1GB of DDR3 RAM – not a whole lot, but enough for limited multi-tasking.

32GB of on-board storage is not to be sniffed at, and is considerably more storage than you’ll get on many other budget tablets, but when you boot up the tablet, you’ll find only around 18GB of free space for storage, primarily because of the size of Windows 8.1 and a number of pre-loaded applications.

Linx 8 display

The Linx 8 features an 8-inch, 1,280 x 800 IPS display, with image quality and viewing angles that are really rather good. The backlight pushes the maximum brightness up to an impressive 292cd/m2 – considerably brighter than the Argos MyTablet – whilst contrast comes in at 1,257:1, which is particularly good for such a low-end device. Despite the admirable brightness and contrast, colour can look a little artificial, with whites taking on a blue tint.

To give it a fair going over, I ran the suite of benchmarks detailed above. Whilst the 3D Mark scores were not abysmal, they showed that this certainly isn’t a tablet destined to be a capable gaming machine, and is most definitely more suited to everyday browsing and light productivity.

Despite the 64-bit Atom processor, like so many other budget tablets I’ve come across, the Linx 8 runs a 32-bit version of Windows, so undoubtedly performance levels in the multi-core tests were affected by this.

Linx 8 corner

Linx quote a battery life of anywhere between five to seven hours, and with the screen at full brightness and nothing else tampered with, the Linx 8 clocked in at just over six hours. After turning off the Wi-Fi and lowering the screen brightness, I found I could eke out just over eight hours of playing a 720p video on repeat – ideal for a long-haul plane journey.

Bundled software

There’s not a whole lot to talk about where pre-loaded software on the Linx 8 is concerned. Apart from the selection of Windows programs and accessories, you’ll find a year’s subscription to Office 365 included as standard – as is found on many of the low-end Windows tablets these days.

Linx 8 HDMI

It may not be software, but it’s worth mentioning that to sweeten the deal, Linx will give you £30 cashback if you trade in your existing tablet, bringing the cost down to about £60 (around $90, AU$115), and leaving you with some extra cash to buy up any apps you might need from the Windows Store.

Verdict

There’s very little to hold against the Linx 8. Whilst it may not be a ‘premium’ brand with any real pedigree, everything worth noting is entirely impressive – especially considering the price. The rubberised plastic rear feels higher quality than the price would suggest, and this slate feels surprisingly well made in every regard.

The processor packs enough grunt for running fully-fledged applications like Photoshop should you need, but the 1GB of RAM quickly becomes the main limitation for multi-tasking when you have more than a couple of apps running at the same time. The screen is a little low on the resolution scale, but what else would you expect at this price? It’s still a bright and very usable screen, if a little over-saturated.

Although the Windows Store itself is quite limited where quality apps are concerned, the 8-inch Linx tablet comes with Microsoft Office 365 pre-loaded, so users can crack on with work straight out of the box (perhaps with the addition of a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse).

If you’re willing to spend more for a little extra RAM, and a full-sized USB 3.0 port, then the Pipo W2 should also be on your shortlist, even if the design smacks a little more of ‘cheap’ tablets than the Linx.

We liked

For its price, the Linx 8 is a remarkably well-built tablet. I’ve encountered some really poorly built Android tablets for a similar price, which goes to show the value for money you’re getting from this fully-fledged portable Windows PC.

There is enough power on board to please most casual users, and the battery life kept going for longer than I expected, especially if you’re a bit more conservative with the screen and connectivity settings.

The microSD storage, micro-HDMI output and screen quality are more than you could ever expect from a tablet that comes in at such a low price.

We disliked

I feel like I’d be nit-picking if I tried to dig up too much bad to say about the Linx 8. Yes, I’d love to see a higher resolution screen, an extra Gigabyte of memory and a 64-bit version of Windows to complement the 64-bit Atom processor, but these wishes would heavily impact the price.

Otherwise, my only other complaint – and this applies to almost all Windows tablets – is that the standby battery life isn’t that great. You’ll get around 12 hours of sleep mode, which uses anything up to 20% of the battery in the downtime.

Final verdict

It may not be the most powerful tablet available, and there are undoubtedly better options with better specifications available, but let me say it again: they come in at around four times the price.

At just £90 (around $134, AU$173) the Linx 8 is the perfect multi-function tablet that’s great for kids to do homework on (with some added peripherals), plus it can play HD video without a stutter, and even the odd bit of light gaming, too.

If you plan on doing more web browsing or gentle office work than any intensive gaming, music or video editing, the Linx 8 should not be underestimated.

You can pick it up from a number of online stores in the UK, or even grab one from your local Sainsbury’s supermarket, where it was discounted to around £70 (around $104, AU$135) both before and after Christmas – a price that requires little convincing.

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'Hearthstone' Arrives On iOS And Android Phones At Last

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