It has been a year, so it’s time for new iPads! Apple has just announced two new iPads, the 9.7″ iPad Air 2 and the 7.9″ iPad Mini 3. The new iPad Air 2 has a much thinner body, a faster processor, a better camera and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. The smaller brother, the iPad mini 3, is not a big step over the iPad mini 2 (iPad mini with Retina Display). It is basically the same tablet with Touch ID sensor added.
iPad Air 2
This year, Apple adds in a new gold colour option for you to match with your iPhone. From aesthetic side, the iPad Air 2 and iPad Air looks quite similar but once you hold it, you will notice the difference. Last year, Apple had cut down the dimensions and the weight of the iPad so much, to a degree that they gave it a new name, the “iPad Air”. We are very impressed with the thinness and the light weight of the first iPad Air.
However, it seems that Apple is not really satisfied with it and they make it 18% thinner on iPad Air 2. They managed to bring the thickness from 7.5mm to 6.1mm. This makes the iPad Air 2 the thinnest tablet in the world. In fact, it is even thinner than the new iPhone 6 by more than 10%. A fun fact provided by Apple is that if you stack up two iPad Air 2, they will be thinner than the original iPad. Other than the crazy thinness, Apple also cuts down the weight by 30 grams, which is noticeable. The height and the width remain the same.
One thing to be noted is that the mute/rotation lock slide button above the volume rocker has been omitted. No reasons have been given but we suspect it might be caused by the reduced thickness. I use the button as a rotation lock on my iPad. The button is very, very useful for me as I can control the orientation of the screen easily. Although you can lock the rotation via Control Centre and hold down the volume down button to mute the tablet, they are not as convenient as the old method.
The new iPad Air 2 also sports the newest Apple A8X processor, which is a beefier version of A8 chip found in iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The new chip has a higher clock speed and better graphics performance. As usual, performance is not a problem over here. While the tablet is kept thin and the performance has improved, you might worry that these will take a toll on battery life. Luckily, Apple promises that the iPad Air 2 will deliver 10 hours of usage as usual.
The display is still the same 9.7″ Retina Display with a resolution of 2048×1536. However, to make the iPad thinner, Apple laminates the touch sensor, glass and LCD panel all together, removing the air gap between the layers. This means that the display is closer to your fingers when you touch it. A new anti-reflection coating is applied here so improve the readability under bright condition.
The iPad Air 2 also has a better iSight camera at the back. The pixel count has been increased to 8MP and supports 1080p video shooting and other tricks like burst mode, 43MP panorama shots and the new auto HDR. The front camera is still a 1.2MP shooter.
A lot of iPhone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus users might put their fingers on the home buttons of their older iPads and expects it to unlock. The lack of the Touch ID sensor makes it impossible. To make the experience consistent, the fingerprint sensor is brought to the iPad Air 2 for convenient unlocking, opening secured applications like Evernote and authorising purchases on App Store.
However, the iPad Air 2 does not have the NFC chip so you cannot use Apple Pay with it to pay for your bill in brick and mortar stores. It makes sense as using a tablet for mobile payment is not a very elegant solution. You still can use the Touch ID for online shopping though.
You can click here to know more about the iPad Air 2.
iPad Mini 3
While the iPad Air 2 is getting improvement here and there, the love is not shared by the iPad Mini 3. The iPad mini 3 is almost identical to last year’s model. The chassis is kept the same so it is thicker than the iPad Air 2 by quite some amount. The A7 processor, 5MP iSight camera and the Retina display remain the same. The only addition given is the Touch ID sensor and the gold colour option, if you count that in. You can learn more about the iPad mini 3 here.
Options & Prices
As usual, there are WiFi only model and LTE enabled model for both iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3. For storage, the 32GB option is removed and the prices for the 64GB and 128GB models have been cut down by USD 100, which is a good news as 16GB is very insufficient for iPads. Here is the price list:
Note that the price in Malaysian Ringgit is not official. It is calculated based on current conversion rates. The pre-order for both iPads has been started and the ordered stock will be delivered next week. Like the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, we have no idea when will it come to Malaysia.
Both iPads released this year are just incremental updates from last year’s models. The thinness of iPad Air 2 is certainly impressive but is it needed? I would prefer if they make it thicker and let the slide button stay. Probably they can put in a larger battery to increase the battery life. I feel that the thickness of the first iPad Air is totally acceptable. For other improvements, the inclusion of Touch ID sensor and a better camera were expected for last year’s model. So I am not really impressed by the iPad Air 2.
The iPad Air 2 will be a good choice if you do not have any iPad newer than iPad 3 or you want to switch from any Android tablet. There are wide choices of applications optimised for iPad and the newcomers should be able to enjoy them better on the new hardware. However, if you happen to have any newer iPads, there is not much reason to upgrade this time. Touch ID is not a must-have feature and the rest of the improvement is not that significant at all. To be honest, I am using an iPad 3 and I am not tempted to upgrade to iPad Air 2 at all.
Things are even worse for the iPad mini 3. The iPad mini 3 is basically iPad mini 2 with Touch ID added. The price difference cannot be justified by a single sensor or an extra colour option. Since the prices of the older iPads have been reduced, I would recommend people to go for the 32GB iPad mini 2 if you want a smaller iPad. You can look for the prices of the older models here.
One thing to be noted here is the amount of RAM. Apple has no word on the RAM amount so we can safely assume that it is kept at 1GB. There are rumours on a larger iPad, probably at 12.9″, and there will be split-screen multitasking on that tablet. The feature might be brought over to the smaller iPads but to run multiple applications simultaneously, the limited RAM might be an issue. So if you are not in a hurry to get one, you should wait for a model with increased RAM in my opinion.
[Update for RAM] It has been confirmed that the iPad Air 2 will have 2GB of RAM and it will be more future-proof. The iPad mini 3 has only 1GB of RAM.
In overall, I am not really convinced by both of the new iPads. Last year we praised Apple for bringing the same specifications to both iPads and their only difference is in display size. This year, Apple has kept the iPad mini 3 almost the same while upgrading the iPad Air 2. Furthermore, the update on iPad Air 2 is nothing groundbreaking. They have been doing incremental updates on iPads for some time and if they do not put in more effort, the other tablets might dethrone iPads in the tablet market.