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Hands on with iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3: Small changes to the world's top tablets

Susie Ochs | Oct. 20, 2014
What's rectangular, gold, and 18 percent thinner than a No. 2 pencil? The iPad Air 2, which Apple unveiled Thursday. Sporting subtle refinements like a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and a beefed-up iSight camera, Apple's second iPad Air isn't a dramatic leap past the first iPad Air. But that's not a surprise. When you make the most popular tablet, there's really no reason to reinvent the wheel every year.

What's rectangular, gold, and 18 percent thinner than a No. 2 pencil? The iPad Air 2, which Apple unveiled Thursday. Sporting subtle refinements like a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and a beefed-up iSight camera, Apple's second iPad Air isn't a dramatic leap past the first iPad Air. But that's not a surprise. When you make the most popular tablet, there's really no reason to reinvent the wheel every year.

In fact, the iPad mini 3 changed even less. It got Touch ID and comes in new colors, but that's it — it's even got the same A7 chip that was in last year's iPad mini with Retina display, which is still on sale as iPad mini 2 starting at $300. So unless you really want to pay $100 premium to add a Touch ID and use Apple Pay when online shopping (or you've got your heart set on gold), the iPad mini 2 looks like the better deal.

Thinner, faster, and with Touch ID

In person, the iPad Air 2 is astonishingly thin. Apple says it shaved 18 percent off the thickness of last year's iPad Air, which results in an iPad that's less than a quarter-inch thick: 0.24 inches or 6.1 millimeters, to be exact.

The colors are new — both the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 come in space gray (with a black bezel) as well as silver and gold (both with white bezels), to match the colors of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I especially liked the gold iPad Air 2. It's got a cheerful hue with a pleasant matte finish, and the reflective gold Apple logo on the back adds just enough sparkle. The gold ring around the Touch ID shines against the white bezel, too. I always prefered iPads with black bezels for how they make the content seem to leap off the screen, but the gold iPad Air 2 is certainly tempting — even though it wouldn't match my space gray iPhone 6.

Apple says Touch ID has been the most-requested iPad feature, which I absolutely believe. If all it did was unlock the iPad, I probably wouldn't care (I don't lock my iPad anyway, since my toddler uses it almost as much as I do). But thanks to iOS 8, third-party apps like Mint, Evernote, and 1Password can also use Touch ID to log you in, and that's a huge time-saver. And when iOS 8.1 launches on Monday, these Touch ID-equipped iPads will also support Apple Pay for shopping online (but not in stores, since they lack the NFC chip that's in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus).

 

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