iPad Air vs. iPad Air 2: Worth the Upgrade?

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As we learned from today's (Oct. 16) announcement, the Apple iPad Air 2 isn't just the best tablet on the market -- it's also the thinnest, measuring just 6.1 mm. Apple has also upgraded the CPU, the iSight camera and the Wi-Fi speed. Plus, the iPad Air 2, starting at $499, now has TouchID. But Apple's not doing away with the iPad Air, and it costs just $399 now. Both tablets will run the new operating system, iOS 8.1. That means both will get Apple Pay functionality for online purchases. So, getting the fancy new model may not be a no-brainer. 

MORE: 25 Best iPad Apps

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iPad Air 2

iPad Air

Starting Price

$499

$399

CPU

A8X with M8 motion coprocessor

A7 and M7 coprocessors

Display

9.7 inches / 2048 x 1536 pixels

9.7 inches / 2048 x 1536 pixels

OS

iOS 8

iOS 8

Battery Life

Up to 10 hours of continuous Web browsing

11 hour 51 minutes of continuous Web browsing

Connectivity

802.11ac Wi-Fi or LTE

802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi or LTE

Size

9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches

9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches

Weight

0.96 pounds

1.05 pounds

Storage

16GB, 64GB, 128GB

16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB

Front/Rear Camera

1.2-MP (720p HD) / 8-MP

1.2-MP (720p HD) / 5-MP

Ports

Lightning, headphone

Lightning, headphone

Design

With the new model having a very similar design to the original iPad Air, it can be difficult to tell the two tablets apart at first glance. Turn them on their side, however, and the picture changes. The iPad Air 2 is 18 percent thinner than the original iPad Air -- 6.1 mm vs. 7.5 mm. That makes the new model the world's thinnest tablet. 

You can purchase the Air 2 in gold, in addition to the space gray and silver that the iPad Air is available in. 

Another thing you can't get on the Air is the gold ring around the home button, known as Touch ID. It will, however, come to the iPad Air 2. The fingerprint scanner keeps a log of your prints on your iOS device, making it easy to sign in to Facebook or use Apple Pay with a swipe. 

Display

Apple achieved the remarkable thinness of the iPad Air 2 by laminating the layers of the display together, effectively eliminating the air gap between the glass and touch components. When combined with some new anti-reflective coating, this new panel design should improve viewability. Apple claims that this makes the Air 2 the least reflective screen of any tablet. 

However, everything else about the original iPad Air's display is the same as on the Air 2. Both offer a 9.7-inch LED-backlit multitouch screen with IPS technology. Both offer a resolution of 2048 x 1536, which results in 264 pixels per inch. Both also come with a fingerprint-resistant coating on the display.  

MORE: Tablet Buying Guide: 7 Essential Tips

Specs & Features

Possibly the largest difference between the first- and second-generation iPad Air are the internal specs. Apple upgraded the Air 2's CPU to the A8X, which is a new version of the A8 found in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus but is just for iPad. This 64-bit CPU should offer a 40 percent performance boost and the new M8 coprocessor promises 2.5-times the graphics performance. The iPad Air will still only run with the last-generation A7 and M7 chips. 

Apple upgraded the iPad Air 2's rear camera, too. Instead of the 5-MP iSight on the Air, the Air 2 gets 8MP. It can also shoot in Burst mode for photos and slow-mo for video, which the Air couldn't do. Otherwise the cameras are similar on the two large Apple tablets. Both offer a 1.2-MP FaceTime camera on the front with face detection and 720p HD video.  

With 802.11ac antennas, the Air 2 should get better speeds over Wi-Fi; up to 2.8x faster than the iPad Air. It should also get up to 150 Mbps downloads over LTE.  

Bottom Line

There's no doubt Apple's iPad Air 2 is an improvement over the iPad Air. It brings with it Touch ID, a faster processor, speedier Wi-Fi and a new camera. In the looks department, it's thinner and now available in gold. But, you're going to pay an extra $100 for those improvements. The 16GB iPad Air 2 will cost you $499, while the iPad Air will just cost just $399. If 32GB of storage is your sweet spot, you're going to have to get an iPad Air for $449. But that's ok, because the Air 2 can be had with 128GB of onboard storage, if you've got $699 to spare.

For those on a budget who are just dying for a full-sized, best-in-class tablet, the iPad Air is still a fine choice. But for those addicted to all things new and shiny, the Air 2 is pretty hard to resist.  

Author Bio
Anna Attkisson
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor
A lover of lists and deadlines, Anna Attkisson covers apps, social networking, tablets, chromebooks and accessories. She loves each of her devices equally, including the phablet, three tablets, three laptops and desktop. She joined the Laptop Mag staff in 2007, after working at Time Inc. Content Solutions where she created custom publications for companies from American Express to National Parks Foundation.
Anna Attkisson, Laptop Mag & Tom's Guide Managing Editor on
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