iPad Air 2: Early impressions

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Gizmag takes a quick first look at the Apple iPad Air 2 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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If you're looking to buy a new tablet this holiday season, this is probably the first place to look. Gizmag has the new iPad Air 2 in house, and, though you'll have to wait for our full review, we do have some early thoughts.

The iPad Air 2 reminds me a lot of the iPad 2. Make no mistake: the iPad Air 2 isn't taking 15 steps back and kicking it like it's 2011. But in the ways that it improves over its predecessor, the two have a lot in common. Like the iPad 2, it got noticeably thinner, lighter and faster than the model it's replacing. Also like that 2011 iPad, the Air 2 isn't a radical rethinking of the tablet; it just gets better in all the right places.

We knew the iPad Air 2 was thin, and it most definitely feels it in hand. It's to the point where it feels like an e-reader. A really big e-reader, mind you, but it's hard to fathom what Apple (and other manufacturers) have done to tablets in just a few short years. This is a powerful personal computer, but in hand it feels like something you'd find next to the Nerf guns and Barbie Dream Houses in the toy aisle.

Apple's excellent Touch ID sensor joins the iPad party for the first time this year. It works exactly like it does on the iPhone, which is to say it's effortless. Some third-party apps that support Touch ID on the iPhone, however, haven't yet been updated to support it on the iPad (Dashlane, for example). And since the iPad doesn't have a vibration motor, you don't get that haptic feedback that the iPhone gives you when you're first programming your fingerprints.

Speaking of vibration, the iPad Air 2 is so light that I feel sounds much more than I have on any previous iPad. Playing a game, my fingers felt every sound effect in a way that I'm not used to. I don't think it's distracting, but it is different from using older iPads.

Performance is so fast, it's more like the absence of performance. What I mean is everything responds so immediately and smoothly that the concept of performance evaporates. It's like there's no buffer whatsoever between you and what you're doing.

The screen is gorgeous. It isn't nearly as sharp as one of its biggest rivals, the Galaxy Tab S, but its 264 PPI display still looks crisp. Colors pop more than on last year's iPad Air. Apple also eliminated a gap of air in the display setup, and I can notice a minor difference there: content looks like it's almost sitting right on the tablet's surface.

One nice touch: if you own an Apple Smart Cover from the 2013 iPad Air, it works perfectly with the iPad Air 2. Apple is releasing new covers for the new model, but you can save a few bucks if you want to pick up an old one.

Stay tuned to Gizmag for much more on the iPad Air 2, including our full review. And if you're thinking about upgrading, you can see how its features and specs stack up next to all the older 9.7-in iPads.

The iPad Air 2 launches this week, starting at US$500 for a 16 GB Wi-Fi only model.

Product page: Apple

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