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iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3: Our Complete Overview

At a media event held earlier today in Cupertino, Apple unveiled the latest entries to the iPad family: the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3. Building upon last year’s launch of the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display, the new iPads brings iterative improvements over the last generation, but it should be noted that, this year, Apple has drawn a clear line between the iPad mini and the full-sized iPad Air.

iPad Air 2

Design

Following an introduction by Tim Cook in which he stressed how “jam-packed” with advanced technology the iPad Air is, Apple’s Phil Schiller unveiled the iPad Air 2, the thinnest tablet (and, therefore, iPad) ever made with a profile that’s just 6.1mm thin (for comparison, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are 6.9mm and 7.1mm thin, respectively).

Carrying a design that mixes the original iPad Air with cues from the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the iPad Air 2 is 18% thinner than the original iPad Air (which was 7.5mm thin); if you stacked two new iPads on top of each other, the result would still be thinner than the original iPad.

“iPad is a magical piece of glass that runs more than 675,000 apps specifically designed for it, and is thin and light enough that you can comfortably hold it all day; the new iPad Air 2 is packed with amazing new innovations, weighs less than a pound, and at just 6.1 mm is the thinnest tablet in the world,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

To visualize the thinness of the new iPad Air 2, Apple ran a brief video on stage in response to last year’s Pencil ad, showing a pencil being made thinner by a laser and hiding the new iPad Air 2 behind it. The video has also been posted to YouTube.

As a consequence of thinness, the physical mute switch has been removed from the iPad Air 2; users will be able to set an iPad Air 2 to silent mode by holding the volume button and locking orientation by opening Control Center.

In terms of weight, the iPad Air 2 is lighter than last year’s model: the iPad Air weighed 469g and 478g (for WiFi and WiFi + Cellular options); the iPad Air 2 is 437g and 444g.

Hardware

The increased thinness of the iPad Air hasn’t stopped Apple from improving its display with better image quality and more vibrant colors. In the iPad Air 2, Apple eliminated the air gap between the three different layers of the display component using a process called lamination (long available on the iPhone) to bring pixels closer to the glass screen.

The result is that content feels closer to the user’s fingertips, making for a more intimate experience when interacting with the device. And this year, Apple has added a new anti-reflective coating to the iPad as well, reducing reflection by 56%.

The LCD layer is now closer to your eyes (and your fingers), so when you touch the screen it feels as if you’re touching your content. And we’ve improved the sensitivity of the screen, so it tracks your finger even more accurately, especially when you make quick gestures. Which means everything you do — playing games, surfing the web, enjoying photos and videos — becomes more personal, immediate, and immersive.

The iPad Air 2 is driven by Apple’s follow-up to the iPhone 6’s A8 processor, the A8X. Designed and optimized for the Air’s Retina display, the A8X delivers 40% faster CPU, 2.5x faster GPU, and handles image signal processing – all while keeping the device’s 10-hour battery life (same as previous generations).

In a demo on stage, the developers of the upcoming Pixelmator for iPad and Replay showcased how the device’s improved CPU and GPU will allow for faster operations in real-time image and video rendering (both apps will be available later this month). In addition to the A8X, the iPad Air 2 will come with the M8 motion coprocessor, which, like the iPhone 6, will be able to more accurately track motion, calibrate other sensors, and integrate with a barometer to measure elevation.

Phil Schiller dedicated a good portion of his iPad Air 2 introduction to cover changes to the camera, which has been upgraded to an 8MP iSight camera with larger pixels, 2.4 aperture, and 1080p HD video. Taking a cue from features first launched on the iPhone, the iPad Air 2’s Camera app will ship with Burst, Time-Lapse, and Slo-Mo modes, and the device will be capable of taking 43 MP panoramas as well. The front-facing camera has also been upgraded for higher-quality selfies.

Innovations to the iSight® and FaceTime® HD cameras in iPad Air 2 enable better photos and videos, with an 8MP sensor and advanced optics in the iSight camera to help capture rich, detailed images and add new features including panoramic in Photos, time-lapse video, slo-mo and 1080p HD video. The FaceTime HD camera now captures over 80 percent more light than iPad Air’s camera, and features burst mode as well as HDR stills and video. With thousands of powerful apps that take advantage of iPad’s amazing cameras and large Retina display viewfinder, iPad becomes a tool that can scan and annotate documents, help study the sky above and provide athletic performance analysis—all with just a tap.

Like the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6, the iPad Air 2’s Home button now has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Touch ID on the iPad will work just like Touch ID on the iPhone, so you’ll be able to unlock your device, confirm purchases on iTunes, and unlock third-party apps like 1Password and Day One, which implement the Touch ID API.

The last big addition in terms of hardware is improved wireless. The iPad Air 2 will get faster LTE with support for 20 bands up to 150Mbps, plus up to 2.8x faster WiFi (up to 866Mbps) thanks to 802.11ac WiFi support. In addition to these improvements, users in the US and the UK will be able to start using Apple SIM, a new SIM to choose from a variety of plans from multiple carriers.

Apple explains:

The new Apple SIM is preinstalled on iPad Air 2 with Wi-Fi + Cellular models. The Apple SIM gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of short-term plans from select carriers in the U.S. and UK right on your iPad. So whenever you need it, you can choose the plan that works best for you — with no long-term commitments. And when you travel, you may also be able to choose a data plan from a local carrier for the duration of your trip.

Carriers that are participating in the Apple SIM initiative include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and EE.

iPad mini 3

Phil Schiller spent less than a minute covering the iPad mini 3, the successor to last year’s iPad mini with Retina Display now retroactively called iPad mini 2. The iPad mini 3 features the same hardware of last year with the exception of a gold color option and Touch ID.

In their official press release, Apple only dedicated a short paragraph to the iPad mini 3:

The iPad mini line has been updated to include iPad mini 3 with Touch ID and iPad mini with Retina display, now called iPad mini 2 and starting at just $299, is even more affordable. Both iPads feature a stunning Retina display, amazing A7 chip, 5MP iSight camera, FaceTime HD camera and ultrafast wireless. iPad mini is also available at its most affordable price, starting at $249.

Smart Covers and Cases

Apple is releasing new Smart Covers and Smart Cases for the new iPads with seven new colors (Smart Covers) and five new shades (Smart Cases).

Custom-designed polyurethane Smart Covers for iPad Air and iPad mini will be available for a suggested retail price of $39 (US) in black, white, blue, green, pink, yellow and (RED). iPad Air 2 Smart Cases are available in beautiful aniline-dyed leather in midnight blue, olive brown, black, soft pink and (RED) for a suggested retail price of $79 (US) with Smart Cases for iPad mini available in those same colors at a suggested retail price of $69 (US).

Release Date and Pricing

The iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 will be released in 29 countries next week with pre-orders starting tomorrow (October 17th). The list of countries below:

  • US
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • China (Wi-Fi models only)
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Macau (Wi-Fi models only)
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • UK

As noted by Apple, availability in Croatia, Greece, Puerto Rico, Russia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere around the world will “continue through the end of October with additional global availability in the coming months”.

Unlike last year, Apple is leaving five different iPad families in its line-up, covering the price points of $249, $299, $399, and $499 with two iPad Air models and three different iPad mini models. As they did for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple has skipped the 32 GB storage size entirely, jumping directly to 64 GB from the 16 GB base model.

Tech specs: iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3.

You can compare all iPad models here.

Some photos of the new iPad Air 2, courtesy of Jason Snell of Six Colors.

Ina Fried’s first look at the iPad Air 2 for Re/code sums up what’s new.

In his hands-on for TechCrunch, Darrell Etherington notes that the new iPad Air “definitely feels more portable” thanks to the thinner form factor, which should result in the device being “a lot more comfortable to hold over longer periods”.

Gizmodo’s Sean Hollister went hands-on with the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, noting that the Air 2 feels “thin and light and gorgeous” and possibly lighter than the iPad mini (even if it’s actually 30% heavier) due to thinness and weight distribution. He also noticed the difference in display lamination between the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 (the iPad mini has a visible air gap between the screen and pixels) and he lamented the lack of NFC from the new iPads. The new iPads will support Apple Pay, but not in NFC terminals (only in apps with Touch ID).

Not only is it way, way thinner than the smaller iPad mini 3 — and this will sound crazy — but it feels lighter too. Even though it’s nearly a quarter of a pound heavier, the 6.1mm-thin chassis is so thin and easy to lift with a single hand that it makes the mini seem downright fat by comparison. I feel like I could hold it over my head in bed without any worry of smacking myself. Not something I can say about any other 10-inch tablet.

The Verge’s Nilay Patel has a comprehensive hands-on article and gallery of the iPad Air 2. He notes that “holding the Air 2 feels like you’re holding a screen and nothing more” and that the lack of mute switch is “a casualty of thinness”.

Nilay Patel also goes hands-on with the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 in the video below.

More hands-on videos of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3: SlashGear, CNET, iMore, Mashable, and TechCrunch.

In his first impressions of the iPad Air 2, The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple notes that “everything on the screen looked brighter and more inviting”.

A gallery of interesting tweets and photos from today’s event.

A preview video of Pixelmator for iPad, demoed today on stage today and coming later this month.

For more coverage, check out our October 16 news hub and follow @macstoriesnet on Twitter.

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