Apple iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 Hands On: Thin When You're Winning

By Matt Hill on at

Apple, as expected, has buffed up its flagship tablets to a high gloss with the iPad Air 2 (above) and iPad Mini 3, a stylish if safe evolution of its previous full-size slates, with the iPad Air 2 now officially the “world’s thinnest tablet” TM (Sony will be pleased). So we scampered down to the Kufürstendamm Apple Store in Berlin for the European launch event to get some early fingerprint smudges on the things.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are effectively scaled down iPad Airs anyway, so it’s unsurprising to see the aesthetics for these sequels not changed drastically, bringing all current iDevices into alignment. The lovely-to-touch-but-definitely-needs-a-case brushed aluminium back is present and correct, in the same colourways to boot (never tire of that gold). Here’s a snap of them together…

Ah-ha, you'll spot one of the differences immediately – the iPad Air 2's 2048x1536-resolution, 9.7-inch screen is now anti-reflective, which as you can see makes it immune to the very harsh lighting of the mini upstairs cinema we were shown them in. It's amazing what a difference it makes, actually, giving strong views from every angle, so perfect for shoulder surfing. The iPad Mini 3? Not so much.

Aside from that, at first glance the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 are very familiar indeed – well, they’re tablets, how different can they look? – although the millimetres Apple keeps shaving off are adding up. The 6.1mm-thin iPad Air 2 is some 18% thinner than the original, and the lightness is palpable upon picking it up (just 437g to the Air's 469g). You’ll cut yourself on these things soon if you don’t forget you’re carrying them first.

Touch ID fingerprint recognition has also been added to both tablets' Home buttons in keeping with the "vertical integration", just in time for ambitious credit card-replacer Apple Pay. It works as we’ve become rather quickly accustomed: logging in to devices, authorising store purchases, all that jazz. We were shown it opening up Evernote, to flaunt the embracing of third-party apps, though obviously it wasn’t calibrated for our iffy prints, so there was no first-hand here.

Where the iPad Air 2 really seems to come into its own is its A8X chip – three billion transistors, if you're still counting – which is joined by the M8 motion processor for motion tracking and the much-trumpeted Metal for graphical gaming grunt. We played some Asphalt 8 and it seemed slick, although it's been out in the App Store for a while and is not specifically optimised for the hardware – we're sure there's much more to come. This event’s poster-boy app exemplar was Replay, a playful free video-editing suite that impressed through rendering in real time rather than graphical fidelity.

The 7.9-inch iPad Mini 3 (above) actually hasn't had many of the up-bumps of the iPad Air 2. Aside from the Touch ID ring, some camera swishes – slo-mo, time lapse – and a new colour (gold again!), it's effectively the same as the tablet formerly known as the iPad Mini with Retina display (that'll be the iPad Mini 2 now then). Which still makes it a very capable tablet, but by no means an upgrade essential and reminiscent of the iPad 3 in that you feel it will be surpassed quite quickly by whatever else Apple has up its sleeve. The best thing about it seems to be that it's pushed the prices down of the old Minis, which now seem a steal.

Of course, there’s only so much you can really understand about products in a brief fumble at a press event – we weren't able to take the new cameras for a spin, so keep eyes peeled on Giz for further testing – but the iPad Air 2 feels quick and responsive on a tablet not yet burdened with gaming apps and seasons upon season of Amazon Instant downloads.

But then products are so defined by their operating system now that once past the stylistic overtures, it’s iOS 8 that truly defines these tablets. We’ve been enjoying the new operating system on iPhone, though it’s needed a handful of updates already to get fully up to speed (and there's another one coming Monday). But arguably it won’t really come into its own till Yosemite is everywhere – which it is, like, now, so go get it if you have a Mac. We certainly will when back from Berlin – we've demoed Handoff and Continuity and are frankly convinced they'll be godsends across all iDevices.

For all of tonight's Apple launch information, rounded up into a single pretty page, look no further than right here.