The other big announcement for the day is of course Apple’s new iPads, the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 3. As signaled by their names, neither is intended to be a massive departure from their (still for sale) predecessors. But both of them, the iPad Air 2 in particular, pack a number of improvements over the 2013 models.

In-hand, the iPad Air 2 is not as significant a departure from its predecessor as the original Air was from earlier iPads, but if you are familiar with the original Air then you can appreciate the fact that Apple has taken it down from 7.5mm thick to 6.1mm thick. The weight is roughly the same (437g vs. 469g) so it’s not much lighter in the hand, but handling it makes the change in size more apparent.

Perhaps more readily apparent is the anti-reflective coating, a first for an iPad. While Apple’s controlled demo room doesn’t give us the opportunity to introduce too much light, in what testing we could do there’s definitely a difference. Whatever it is that Apple is using, the coating doesn’t seem to have changed the clarity at all; it is seemingly still as clear as the non-coated iPad mini 3.

Meanwhile the A8X inside presents us with a new mystery. This is a new chip, and we know very little about it besides Apple’s claims of 40% better CPU performance and 2.5x better GPU performance. The CPU performance points to a dual core “Enhanced Cyclone” configuration like A8, while the GPU performance number is well in excess of what we saw going from A7 to A8. So comparing A8X to A7, we are most likely (finally) looking at a hex-core Imagination PowerVR GX6650 GPU. However, this alone does not explain where the roughly 1 billion additional transistors compared to A8 have gone. Most likely there are additional surprises to be found.

Moving on, we have the iPad mini 3. Unlike the iPad Air 2, Apple isn’t overhauling the hardware by nearly as much, so the iPad mini 3 is a smaller upgrade over its predecessor than the iPad Air 2 is. Size and weight stay the same, so the new mini feels the same in your hands as the old one. The display is also once more a 2048 x 1536 pixel display, though it did look a bit better than we recall the iPad mini 2’s display being, so it may be a new panel (but this is something we’d need to test).

Apple hasn’t replaced the SoC or WiFi radio – it’s still an A7 and 802.11n respectively – so performance isn’t any different either. What’s left to set apart the new mini from the old then is the inclusion of Apple’s Touch ID sensor along with a larger 128GB storage option. It’s admittedly not much, especially when the iPad mini 2 is now $100 cheaper. On the other hand it is available in Gold, and as we’ve seen with the iPhone that has proven to be a very popular option at launch.

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  • melgross - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    No, the same price.
  • Tom2014 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Actually, if you compare the price of the iPad 3 to the iPad 2 when it was released last year its $100 cheaper for the 64GB and 128GB models. If you didn't upgrade when the iPad mini 2 came out then getting an iPad mini 3 should be a given if you want anything more than 16GB.

    Now, if you are referring to the price difference of picking up a 16GB iPad mini 2 or a 16GB iPad mini 3 for the difference of $100 then I would say no because TouchID isn't worth that much but maybe they improved the display accuracy.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    Yeah, that's really an odd "new" product. You can get a faster SoC in their iPhone 6/6 Plus, and faster still in the iPad Air 2. If you're a fan of the mini and already own the mini 2, I think you wait for the inevitable mini 4 with A8/A8X. And if you don't own a mini 2 and were waiting for the mini 3, I think $100 more for Touch ID is too much.

    I have to wonder if the problem is maybe goes back to manufacturing. The iPhone 6/6 Plus are selling well, using up plenty of A8 chips that use 20nm manufacturing wafers. Now add in a second different 20nm chip, the A8X, and even more of the 20nm manufacturing capacity gets used up. Since Apple isn't the only company pursuing 20nm, between Samsung and TSMC there's probably not much remaining capacity, so mini 3 can stay on the A7 and 28nm. I would have loved to see a $399 mini 3 with A8X, but that's probably too much to hope for.
  • eanazag - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    I don't care about the process supply and demand. They have 8 different lines of iPad for sell. Do what makes sense. It is like the iPad 3 all over again. As much as the iPad 3 was an inbred in the family tree, it still made more sense than the Mini 3. The iPad 3 had the first retina display and added 4G. Apple is not firing on all cylinders. There's pings and misfires here and there.
  • kron123456789 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    It should be Mini 2S, not Mini 3(and "S" stands for "Same").
  • Wolfpup - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Huh, this made no sense to me (though Apple often doesn't) but that explanation makes sense.

    I'm tempted by the Air 2, but I'm swearing off Apple until they replace that Lightning connector. I've had FOUR devices die, unable to sync or charge, and the last (an iPhone 5s which lasted 10 months) I absolutely babied, doing almost nothing with it but carefully setting it in its cradle at home, s ticking it in a sealed compartment in my bag, and sticking it in a cradle at work. I'd avoid taking it with me places whenever possible. Lasted longer than any other lightning connector device I've used, but still, 10 months?

    By comparison I abuse my Nokia 928, and it doesn't complain.
  • MaulBall789 - Monday, October 20, 2014 - link

    My guess is that it's one of the cradles that is causing the problem. I have a 2 year old iPhone 5 and iPad 4 that have never had a problem charging or syncing with their stock lightning cables, of which I have 3 for different work/home spaces. That or you might have spilled something in one of the cradles that slowly corroded the contacts over time. Just a theory.
  • mkozakewich - Saturday, October 18, 2014 - link

    Yeah, one of the notable things about the last mini was that it had the same processor generation as the iPad Air. In this case, I'd have expected the A8 from the iPhone.

    I guess you can't really call out the screen without testing, but the last generation was noticeably duller-looking. This'll be better, I'm sure.
  • dmunsie - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    Actually, it's exactly the same as the previous mini, only with Touch ID. I have the previous mini with 128GB.

    But the old mini is only available in 16 and 32GB configs now. And the 64 and 128GB of the mini 3 are now $100 cheaper than the retina mini (now mini 2) configs were before the update.

    If someone didn't already have a mini 2 and were planning to get a 64 or 128GB mini, the mini 3 comes out to be a pretty good deal now.
  • savagemike - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    I'm on the other side. I have no ipad. Have thought about it but never pulled the trigger. Now I"m thinking a $300 ipad mini with retina is perhaps appealing enough. I don't care so much about the fingerprint scanner as I'd just use it around the house anyway. I think the 16gb would be fine too. Probably just use it for reading and couch surfing more or less. iOS seems a little more appealing now that version 8 opened up some of the control to users. Choosing your own apps to share to - for instance...

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