Gadget review: iPad Air 2 & iPad Mini 3

Apple delivers its best ever iPad with an update to its line of tablets

The iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, Apple's latest tablets. Picture: Contributed
The iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, Apple's latest tablets. Picture: Contributed

iPad Air 2 & iPad Mini 3

Price: iPad Air 2 from £399 / iPad Mini 3 from £319

Sign up to our daily newsletter

ARRIVING only a year after the first iPad Air, Apple’s latest tablet is its best yet, and a resounding endorsement of the Californian firm’s process of refinement and improvement. While the reduction in weight of the WiFi version of 32 grams may not be easily discernable, the changes to the actual dimensions of the tablet are clear as day. The Air already seemed an impossibly thin device, but with a thickness of a mere 6.1mm, the engineers at Cupertino have found a way of paring away nearly a fifth of its bulk. No matter your past experience with iPads, the Air 2’s design is sleek and elegant, but if you happen to still own an original iPad or iPad 2 and are contemplating an upgrade at last, the difference will be startling.

The reduction in size does not come at the expense of processing punch. Apple say the Air 2 is 40% faster than last year’s iteration, a claim which seemed to be backed up by testing some graphic-intensive games, having restored the same apps from an iPad Air to the new version via iCloud. The iOS hit, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, loaded around three seconds faster than it did on the first Air, for example, while making edits to pictures in Snapseed proved an altogether snappier experience. Even less processor-intensive tasks feel considerably quicker, with Safari zipping along at a fair old pace with multiple tabs open.

The Air 2 screen display is crisper and bursting with colour

The most compelling reason to migrate to the new model, however, is its screen. The Air 2 has the same high quality Retina-level display as its predecessor, but it offers much more in the way of responsiveness and clarity in different light conditions. According to Apple, the new compressed design of the screen has eliminated so-called ‘air gaps’ between the LCD, touch sensor and glass coating; in layman’s terms, this means finger swipes are picked up instantaneously and with greater accuracy. An anti-reflective coating also reduces glare, meaning the Air 2 performs well in exterior environments; it may not boast the same contrast as the likes of Kindle Paperwhite, but browsing or word processing in bright conditions - whether it be sunlight or overhead lighting - is no longer problematic. Everything looks crisp and bursting with colour.

Depending on how you use your iPad, Apple have also packed in several other welcome improvements to its flagship tablet. The rear facing camera has been souped up to 8MP - good news for would-be tablet photographers - complete with the new burst, slow mo and time lapse modes employed in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The quality does not quite compare to a top of the range smartphone camera, but the Air is now more than capable of taking good images for snapshots and social media sharing.

The Mini 3 has had a spruce up but is in fact thicker than the latest Air

Launching alongside the Air 2, Apple have also unveiled a second upgrade to its Mini range, which began in the autumn of 2012. As with the Air 2, the Mini 3 incorporates the Touch ID sensor technology used in recent iPhone models, a welcome option for those users frustrated at constant prompts to key in their passcode every time they unlock their screen. It too has had a cosmetic spruce up, with a new range of colours for the back cover (the beautiful brushed gold finish warrants a special mention). Elsewhere, however, the Mini has not been given the same nips and tucks as its larger stablemate. It is, in fact, thicker than the Air 2, and the increased screen real estate of the of the new iPhone 6 models have in part robbed the Mini of its distinctive purpose amongst Apple’s product line-up.

It remains, though, an excellent tablet, especially for students or commuters who want to be able to store a device easily in compact hand baggage. The Handoff feature - which allows you to answer and make telephone calls via a tablet providing your iPhone is linked to the same iCloud account - is particularly useful with the Mini. As things stand, it is difficult to justify splashing out extra for the new model when the Mini 2 has many of the same features. The Mini 3, in short, feels like an extravagant purchase, whereas the Air 2 is an essential one. Both, however, offer a resounding demonstration of why Apple is still ahead of the curve in a crowded marketplace.