Here’s What Has Changed in Apple’s New iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3



When Apple unveiled the new iPad Air 2 at its recent media event in Cupertino, California, the company touted the device’s slimmer profile with a dramatic presentation involving a laser and a pencil. With a depth of only 6.1 millimeters, Apple’s latest flagship tablet is 18 percent thinner than last year’s iPad Air. Despite the reduction in space, Apple claimed it was still able to improve the display, boost the processer performance, increase the Internet connection speed, and maintain the battery life of up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi, or 9 hours on cellular. On top of all this, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 were also outfitted with Touch ID fingerprint sensors.

So does Apple’s new hardware live up to the hype? The researchers at repair firm iFixit recently performed a teardown of the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3 in order to find out. Here are the biggest changes that were found inside Apple’s newest iPad models.

iPad Air 2

Although Apple SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller described the iPad Air 2 as “a magical piece of glass,” the researchers at iFixit were unable to find any evidence of sorcery. However, the intrepid device disassemblers did find evidence of the redesigned Retina display that Schiller boasted about.

According to Apple, the iPad Air 2 Retina display had to be redesigned in order to create the tablet’s “astonishingly thin silhouette.” This was accomplished by “fusing what had been three layers into one,” while maintaining the 2048‑by‑1536 resolution of the previous year’s model. Apple also added an antireflective coating in order to make it “the least reflective display of any tablet in the world.”

While the repair specialists at iFixit were disappointed that Apple opted to continue using glue instead of screws to hold the display in place, they noted that “The newly-bonded front panel is more rigid than in previous iPad models, and therefore feels a bit sturdier to pry against.” Behind the sturdier display, the researchers found the various upgraded hardware components that Apple highlighted during its launch event, including the custom A8X 64-bit CPU, the 8MP iSight camera, and the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Not surprisingly, the iPad Air 2’s Touch ID sensor closely resembled the Touch ID found in Apple’s latest iPhone models. The teardown also revealed that the iPad Air 2 has 2GB of RAM.

While an NFC controller chip identified by iFixit briefly sparked speculation that Apple may have plans to roll out a contactless Apple Pay capability for the iPad, it was later determined to just be the Secure Element chip, as reported by Gigaom. The Secure Element chip is used to encrypt and store a user’s credit and debit card information. It should be noted that although the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 can be used to make in-app Apple Pay purchases, the devices lack the NFC antenna required to enable contactless transactions at brick-and-mortar stores.

However, the biggest, and perhaps most disappointing hardware change uncovered by iFixit was the iPad Air’s smaller battery capacity. As noted by iFixit, the iPad Air 2 features a 27.62 watt-hour (Wh) battery, which is about 15 percent smaller than the 32.9 Wh battery used in the original iPad Air. Despite its smaller battery size, Apple claimed that the iPad Air 2’s power efficiency improvements allow it to match the battery life of the previous generation. However, while tech reviewer Walt Mossberg at Re/code claimed he was able to get over 12 hours of usage from the original iPad Air, he was only able to get about ten and a half hours of usage from the iPad Air 2. In this sense, even though the battery of the iPad Air 2 fulfills Apple’s promise to last ten hours, it may still be a step down from last year’s model.

iPad mini 3

Alongside the iPad Air 2, Apple also unveiled a new Touch ID-equipped version of its 7.9-inch tablet. However, outside of the inclusion of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, the researchers at iFixit were hard-pressed to find any major hardware changes inside the iPad mini 3. However, the researchers did criticize the “copious” amounts of hot glue that Apple used to secure the device’s upgraded home button, which will make repairing the new iPad mini 3 more difficult than its predecessor. While the iPad mini 3 doesn’t feature any drastic hardware changes, it is available in a new gold color option, as well as larger storage capacity versions of 64GB and 128GB.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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