If you liked last year's iPad Air, you'll almost certainly like this year's version, unveiled early last month (along with the 5K Retina iMac) by Apple CEO Tim Cook. The iPad Air 2 features Touch ID, a (much) faster system architecture and an aluminum enclosure that is both thinner and lighter than the first-generation iPad Air it replaces.
As with previous lines, the iPad Air 2 comes as both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/cellular models. The Wi-Fi-only devices cost $499 for 16GB of storage, $599 for 64GB and $699 for 128GB. The cellular/GPS iPads cost $130 more at the same storage tiers. Supported carriers include Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the U.S.
I've spent the past week or so with a Space Gray 128GB cellular/GPS-equipped iPad Air 2. Even though it looks similar to last year's model, it offers significant improvements.
Now with Touch ID
The star feature is the Touch ID sensor, which has been included in the iPhone lineup since 2013's iPhone 5S, and is now available on the iPad Air 2.
With Touch ID built into the Home button, you can log in, make purchases and authenticate third-party apps with your fingerprint. Apple insists that fingerprint data is never transmitted or stored on iCloud servers; your encrypted fingerprint data never leaves the device's secure enclave. If an app or service requires Touch ID authentication, the requestor merely receives a yay or a nay regarding a fingerprint match.
Touch ID supports five fingerprints that you can, if you want, assign to several people. However, that simply enables them to access the tablet; unfortunately, they don't have their own logins or profiles.
Also, be aware that, although it has Touch ID, the iPad 2 does not have built-in NFC and so can't use Apple Pay to make payments in retail locations the way the new iPhone can. (You can, however, use Apple Pay for in-app and online purchases.)
Now that Touch ID is available, I recommend upping security standards for anyone who purchases this iPad (or iPhone models with the Touch ID feature) so that simple, four-digit numeric passcodes are replaced with a more complicated (and harder to guess) passphrase. (To turn off Simple Pass code, check for the option under Settings: Touch ID & Passcode.) With Touch ID supported, you will hardly ever have to enter the longer password -- with the exception being immediately after a restart (to help thwart hacking attempts).
Lighter is better
Whenever I review iPads, comfort is always a top consideration. To that end, the unit's weight and how it feels in hand -- especially during a long session -- has always played a big factor in my recommendations.
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