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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  • SirKnobsworth - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    SOCs in general do not have dedicated VRAM. The GPU part might still have some dedicated cache though. Reply
  • thunng8 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    My guess is 1.7ghz.

    It is a bit more than 15% over the A8 in the iphone as the keynote specifically said 40% faster than the A7 in the iPad Air.

    IPad Air A7 is clocked at 1.4ghz instead of 1.3ghz in the iphone5s
    Reply
  • psychobriggsy - Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - link

    I would agree with this assessment - 1.6GHz - 1.8GHz dual-core, with 8MB L3 cache to help with a six-core GPU. I'm sure it has a 128-bit memory bus too, but that wouldn't account for too many of those extra transistors.

    I was hoping for a quad-core CPU, but the performance improvement is way below what would be expected - unless they're running the cores at 1GHz to save power.
    Reply
  • BillBear - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    One of the things that has been true of past "x" series SOC's is that their memory interface was twice as wide. With such a wide CPU, part of the performance increase could just be the ability to keep the CPU cores fed. Reply
  • ABR - Thursday, October 16, 2014 - link

    Does Touch ID mean we finally get an iPad that we can just turn on with a button press, instead of press-and-slide in pointless homage to iOS phones? Reply
  • tralalalalalala40 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Yes. Reply
  • peteo - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Yes, but most people have the smart cover, opening the cover auto unlocks it. If you have touch id enabled, the smart cover wont unlock any more :( (guess thats the price of security) Reply
  • az06093 - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    They could have at least added 802.11ac.... they're literally charging 100 extra for a touch sensor that cost them a few bucks. Reply
  • adityarjun - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Any info on RAM? Reply
  • dillingerdan - Friday, October 17, 2014 - link

    Its blindingly obvious why they crippled the mini, cause it obviously ate sales out of the more magrinful Air last year since it had the exact same hardware for less money. The mini was already popular, and making it a no brainer for those on the fence between the sizes of iPad.

    What they should be doing is making them equal totally, so in price too. Upgrade both, make them both the same size. More money for Apple, more choice for consumers, happier customers. Well apart from those who want the mini to be cheaper.

    I am getting a Nexus 9 anyway. You can guarantee the new Air still only has 1gb of RAM which is a dealbreaker after living with the Air for a year. The scrubbing is too strict, going from 1 tab to the next forces constant page reloads to the point where i avoid the browsers. And noone develops dedicated apps any more they want web traffic...
    Reply

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