If you are looking for a good tablet with a reasonable price, cutting-edge technology and a fast and easy-to-use operating system, the second generation iPad Air is the perfect choice. It maintains or improves on the strengths of last year’s model and polishes most of the rough edges present on the iOS platform. Plus, it includes a massive CPU upgrade and graphics power that matches – and even surpasses – Xbox 360 and PlayStation. But is that enough? The challenge facing the industry is that tablet sales are declining dramatically, and neither Apple nor its competitors seem to know how to correct the course of the situation.
The tablet market seems to be facing too serious problems. For starters, mobile technology is evolving very quickly, but the complexity of the tasks they process is not. The iPad doesn’t decode media better than its predecessors, and browsing Facebook or the web certainly doesn’t require a forty percent boost in CPU power or more than double GPU performance, as it does on the iPad. new iPad tablet. The new iPad is smoother and faster, but not to the point where updating is essential. In fact, many people are of the opinion that the problem of obsolescence of old iPads is not in daily use, but in iOS updates, which often slow down old hardware for no apparent reason.
As if all this were not enough, the market for mobile devices is evolving. Why buy a tablet and a smartphone when the new generation of ‘phablets’ do basically the same thing in a single device? We’ve always admired the way Apple packed the most powerful technology into the smallest size, but this year we’ve seen a bigger iPhone, a phablet: the iPhone 6 Plus. This is what the market demands and the sales figures have been phenomenal, but the consequence is that Apple no longer knows very well how to justify the existence of the new iPad Air. He has created a mind-blowing device that gets everything right at first, but doesn’t know what to do with the technological marvel it has produced. Meanwhile, the small iPad Mini 3 has all the characteristics of a device in view of extinction.
Trying to sell it in a declining market is even more difficult when you discover that on a visual level this year’s model is practically identical to the previous one. Yes, there are changes such as the TouchID fingerprint sensor (which works very well and, after a year with the iPhone 5S, it is difficult to go back to the old Home button) or a spectacular screen with a new anti-reflective layer, and the new iPad is also a millimeter thinner than the previous one, but in practice there is no difference in its daily use (Apple says it is the thinnest tablet ever made, although Dell’s Venue 8 7000 6mm may have something to say about it) . Be that as it may, the sensations are very similar to last year’s model, although there is a slightly annoying change – the disappearance of the side volume lock button on this new iPad.
The new iPad Air 2 in detail, and comparison with previous models. Manage cookie settings
The biggest changes are inside the aluminum unibody casing, and the star of the show is the A8X processor, made with the state-of-the-art 20nm process. Most modern processors – like the one in the PS4 or Xbox One, along with any modern graphics card – are made using the older, more mature 28nm process. Reducing it to 20nm makes the transistors in the die smaller than ever, which implies more computing power requiring much less energy. Apple claims that there are three billion transistors inside the A8X, a considerable achievement when you consider that within Intel’s latest quad-core desktop chips there are barely 1.4 billion.
What has all this been spent on? To begin with, the number of CPU cores increases for the first time since the iPad 2. The A8 processor in the iPhone 6 has Apple’s standard dual-core configuration, but the iPad increases it to three cores at 1.5GHz. The graphical part of the equation has also been expanded considerably, with what is believed to be a six-core PowerVR GX6650 GPU. This, however, does not explain the huge number of transistors. Our theory is that the 20nm manufacturing technology is new and not yet refined, so it is very difficult to get totally perfect chips. It is very possible that the die includes a disabled CPU core or GPU cluster, so even if the chip has a defect it can still be used. The photomicrograph of the chip will give us more information in the near future.
In any case, the iPad Air 2 benchmarks are phenomenal. Geekbench 3 CPU benchmarks suggest excellent single-core performance, approaching the standard for a decent laptop, while multi-core performance is simply mind-boggling. However, you have to be careful when looking at the CPU scores obtained with 3DMark. As FutureMark herself explains, Apple’s proprietary Cyclone technology in CPUs is especially good with some tasks, but leaves something to be desired in others. As respectable as Geekbench is it is clear that it does not give us a complete picture, so direct comparison with desktop processors based only on their tests may not be very reliable.
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In graphic terms, the new iPad Air lives up to the best of mobile technology. Whether or not the PowerVR GX6650 mounts inside it, it’s hard to argue with the sheer graphical power it provides. We recently saw the excellent performance offered by Nvidia’s Tegra K1 processor in the Shield Tablet, put to the test with Trine 2’s fantastic Android port. Benchmarks point to Apple equaling – and in some cases exceeding – what Nvidia achieved. with the K1, which is remarkable.
The problem is that right now there is no killer app capable of demonstrating what the iPad Air 2 is really capable of. It’s funny that games had almost no presence at this year’s iPad event, and there were no live demos showing how good this technology is with the latest in mobile graphics. Instead Apple repositioned the iPad Air – oddly enough – as a productivity tool, showcasing the new technology with demos of video editing and photo manipulation. Interesting things, of course, but not particularly attractive. From our point of view we would like to use the iPad as a total replacement for the laptop, but it is clear that this requires much more than a simple processor update: a radical evolution of the user interface is mandatory.
One area where there is a clear improvement that translates into an improved experience is memory management. Apps – especially Safari – are much less prone to springboard thanks to the 2GB RAM upgrade introduced by Apple (and which should have been applied to this year’s phones as well). When working together with the CPU improvement, the navigation is not much faster, but it is more fluid with multiple tabs open, and of course much more stable. The difference is noticeable although not revealing when compared to last year’s iPad Air, but compared to the iPad 4 and previous models the navigation is smoother and more responsive.
Other components have also improved significantly, especially the iSight camera and the software that drives it. We have improved optics with larger aperture, autofocus, a hybrid IR filter, and exposure control in addition to other extras brought directly from the latest iPhones, such as slow motion video, time-lapse, and burst photography. You can achieve excellent results with this new configuration, but the reality is that the iPad is still – and will continue to be – a fragile and inconvenient device for taking photos or video. At the presentation, managers were trying to sell the new iPad as a photo and video device, and although the anti-reflective coating helps outdoors, it is still unusable in bright light. In short, we will continue to use our smartphones and, if we need something better, a proper camera.
Considering that games are a crucial and very lucrative element of the iTunes App Store, it is a bit disappointing to see that such attractive technology as the A8X does not come with software to match. We have a state-of-the-art graphics processor, theoretically capable of outperforming the previous generation of consoles, but at the moment there is nothing capable of forcing this hardware, there is no equivalent to the Trine 2 for the Nvidia Tegra K1. And Apple has at other times promoted the game on the iPad; After all, the iPad 2 hit the shelves with a dual-core CPU and five times the power of the GPU of its predecessor, with the Infinity Blade to demonstrate the beginning of a new era of mobile gaming.
By not having the next big thing in mobile games, what we are left with are improvements in the frame-rate of existing games and little else. Modern Combat 5 and World of Tanks Blitz hit 60FPS more consistently than they did with the iPad Air or iPad 4, but the graphics are the same. BioShock’s performance is marginally improved, and it’s still just as ugly. At best the iPad Air 2 performs much better in Eternity Warriors 3, while the Anomaly 2 manages to keep a stable 60FPS, something previous tablets were unable to do. In all cases it is clear, however, that the 2.5x improvement in graphics performance does not translate into the same frame-rates. As was the case with the Tegra K1 – and indeed with the iPad 2 A5 in 2011 – the A8X will need some programming attention to be able to demonstrate its full potential.
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iPad Air 2 – The Digital Foundry Verdict
If you are looking for a tablet with the best technology available, a fantastic screen and an excellent format, the iPad Air 2 is the best you will find on the market. Everything that got us to designate its predecessor as the best tablet of 2013 is here, plus most of the small flaws it had are fixed.
If you own an older and thicker iPad (basically anything older than the Air), it’s worth going to the latest model, especially if you have the iPad 2 or its immediate successor. The speed increase that the A8X offers is undeniable, but the best thing is the upgrade to 2GB of RAM, which seems to solve once and for all the most annoying stability problems. Plus, you’ll win with the Air’s refined chassis – the form factor has been improved, and the lower frame size and weight make it an excellent upgrade if you have an older tablet.