Review: iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3

I picked up my new iPads after the event in Cupertino ended last Thursday where Apple introduced the new products. I’ve been using the new iPads just as I have used the previous generation devices, so I could get a good idea how they function under my normal working conditions.

The best feature to ever come to an iPad is Touch ID. I’ve spent the last year holding my finger on the iPad’s Home button, waiting for it to unlock, and cursing when I realized what I was doing. It’s been a long year.

ipadair

Touch ID is more than a convenience feature—it actually helps the user with security too. Without Touch ID, passcodes to unlock the iPad are typically very simple, allowing people easy, quick access to the iPad. After all, if it becomes too much of a pain to just get the device open, we’ll either not use it or disable security altogether. Neither one of those options really work.

Touch ID solves this problem by allowing you to add a secure password, while giving easy access to the iPad using your fingerprint. Apple is also giving developers access to Touch ID so you can unlock apps, like 1Password, with your fingerprint.

So, yes there is a measure of convenience that you can enjoy after setting up Touch ID, but you should also take the opportunity to secure your device.

One of the things I use my iPad Air 2 for is music. I plug in my guitar to the iPad and use one of the many great music apps out there for amp modeling. For me, this is a solid test of the iPad because you are processing audio in real-time—if there’s any problem with the processor it should show up when trying to work with live audio.

There were no problems at all with the iPad Air 2 or the iPad mini 3.

ipadmini

I plugged my Les Paul into a Line 6 SonicPort, which goes into the iPad via the lightning connector, and then to BIAS, the amp modeling software. So when I strum a chord on the guitar, I should hear sound immediately—any delay is called latency and really messes with your ability to play or record. I experienced no latency with either iPad in my tests.

To be honest, I’m not really surprised I didn’t have any problems. When I saw the Pixelmator guys demoing Pixelmator for iPad during the event last week, I knew this was a powerful device—that was a really impressive demo that had everyone in the crowd clapping.

The iPad Air 2 is thinner than its predecessor and while it’s only by a little bit, it does make a difference. The hardware design is slightly different and when combined with the thinness, the iPad Air 2 feels very comfortable to hold and use.

There is one really odd thing that I found when using the new iPads. Since I started using the iPhone 6, I got used to pressing the sleep button on the side of the device. Now, I’m doing that on the iPad, except the iPad’s sleep button is still on the top—it hasn’t changed. Instead of putting the iPad to sleep, I turn up the volume.

It’s a small thing, I know, but it’s an annoying lack of consistency across the product lines. I almost feel like the Sleep button will become my new nemesis now that the iPad has Touch ID.

Of course there is more to the new iPads than hardware—iOS 8.1 was also released bring deeper integration between OS X Yosemite and iOS. My two favorite features are Instant Hotspot and Handoff.

I had a few problems setting up Instant Hotspot, which is odd because it’s not supposed to need any configuration, but yet it didn’t work reliably for me. I mean that it didn’t show up consistently in the “Personal Hotspot” space under the Mac’s Wi-Fi menu. What’s even stranger is that it acted differently uses two different Macs—on one the hotspots showed up like they used to, as a regular Wi-Fi network.

Whatever was causing the problem fixed itself because as of tonight, it’s working perfectly. I could easily chalk this one up to user error, but it does bother me that I don’t know why it didn’t show up properly.

Handoff is a brilliant idea. It allows you to start your work on one device, and then pick it up on another just by choosing the app. All of the work magically appears on your new device and you just keep working.

Like Instant Hotspot, Handoff is a feature that I’ll be using a lot.

I said on Amplified last week that if all Apple did to the iPad was add Touch ID, I’d be happy—that’s what they did with the iPad mini, and to be honest, I’m happy. They did much more than that to the iPad Air 2 and it’s working perfectly for me.

I will continue using both iPads because they both have a place in my lifestyle and workflow. At the end of the day, I still use the iPad Air for the larger screen, while I use the iPad mini when I go out for a coffee and need to be a bit more portable. That’s not going to change any time soon.

The iPad created and made popular a market for powerful, portable tablets. The latest updates, along with iOS 8.1 and the App Store ecosystem, only solidifies Apple’s position as the No. 1 tablet-maker in the world.



  • Merckel

    I’m looking forward to the anti-reflective coating on iPad 2 — I’m curious if you noticed this improvement in the display. Also, the 40% speed bump with the A8 processor should be noticeable.

    And yes, Touch ID will make my thumb more useful.

    I was hoping for the rumored iPad Pro last Thursday but the 9.7″ form factor is probably the best size when a MacBook Air is also in my briefcase.

    • Kip Beatty

      I’m with you Merkel, Jim didn’t mention it, but as a frequent iPad user the feature that most intrigues me is the new anti-reflective coating. I’ve read some good things about it in other reviews.

  • dtj

    Not upgrading the Mini processor is a dealbreaker for me. I’d love the touch id tho.

    • dealbreaker for what? regular people don’t and aren’t expected to upgrade their iPads annually. and the sales data seems to be confirming this — people upgrade them like PCs, after several years. so if you have the original mini, its a good upgrade. if you have last year’s, not so much.

      • Prof. Peabody

        “Dealbreaker” for an upgrade of course.

        Whether or not you want to upgrade, or your mother wants to upgrade, or most people want to upgrade is irrelevant. If someone wants to upgrade, the new mini is not really a good deal. I think that was the point.

        Your comment is really the worst kind of apologist statement. You are literally making up facts to justify a decision that you had no part in making and don’t even know the inputs for.

    • Dayv!

      Same here. I’m hoping the iPad Mini 3 is a short-lived fluke, like the iPad 3, and we get one at least nearly equal to the Air 2 in the spring, after any supply constraints on the A8X or its extra RAM ease up. I’m certainly not upgrading to this generation.

  • RudyGr

    The reality is that you can get an original refurbished iPad Mini Retina with same warranty from Apple for $150 less than the new model with only difference being the TouchID.

    • StruckPaper

      So? You can get a used Mercedes for a substantial discount without excessive mileage. How is this a revelation?

    • Prof. Peabody

      Another reality … put the original iPad mini on a table next to the iPad mini retina and most folks can’t tell the difference either. Subjectively, and performance wise there is almost no difference between the original model and the latest one unless you are doing something graphically intensive like gaming.

      The experience of using any of the minis as a basic computer (writing, cruising the web, etc.), is identical.

  • StruckPaper

    The sleep button issue sounds too much like “thou doth protest too much.” But then, you wouldn’t want to be labeled as too much of a fanboy. 🙂

    • many people never used it as a sleep button — rather, as a lock button, the way it was originally built. using my iPads like a magazine in unusual orientations on the sofa or whatnot, ill miss this feature.

      • Prof. Peabody

        You are mixing up the “sleep button” (what I would call the power button), with the missing rotation lock which wasn’t mentioned in the article.

  • Kip Beatty

    Well, if you didn’t have any problems running your music apps with the iPad mini 3, then last year’s Air and mini would work equally as well as far as what you’re doing. There probably isn’t an app out yet that really pushes the new A8x. Heck, I’ve yet to find an app that really pushes my Air in terms of performance. I wonder if having to cater to so many levels of processors (they still sell the original mini, Zombi Mini I think Gruber called it) is limiting what developers are doing in terms of pushing app performance?

    I love Touch ID on my iPhone, but I don’t find I miss it much on my Air. I just don’t lock and unlock the iPad (longer usage sessions) nearly as frequently as I do my iPhone. If I were in the market for a mini, I’d probably save the $100 and go with last year’s virtually identical model.

    • the iPad apps demoed at the event are highly computational and a perfect fit for it. serious photo and video editing…

  • David Olson

    I want to see this reflective coating for myself in the store and judge from my perspective as I have also read that some can’t see much difference. It was barely noticeable in David Pogue’s video review on Yahoo. I put a nonreflective screen protector on the iPad I use outside which cuts glare but also reduces clarity. Perhaps this is a YMMV issue.

  • Prof. Peabody

    Yet another review of the new iPads which does not even MENTION the removal of the mute/rotation lock button.

    I’m starting to believe in conspiracies. 🙂

    Granted it’s not that big of a deal to many people, but I must have read a dozen reviews already (like this one) that don’t even mention that it happened. How can one review a device that has undergone a major change in hardware like that, and not even discuss it? Based on sales alone, even if a small portion of Apple’s user base is upset about it, we are talking about thousands and thousands of users.

    Is the switch to a software based solution good enough? Is it not? Lets at least discuss it instead of sweeping it under the rug.

    When they moved the headphone jack from the top to the bottom it was a major feature of every review, but this missing button doesn’t even get a mention? Weird.