iPad Air 2: Review by Raymond Soneira

Raymond Soneira:

A major innovation for the iPad Air 2 (that is not fully appreciated) is an anti-reflection coating on the cover glass that reduces ambient light reflections by about 3:1 over most other Tablets and Smartphones (including the previous iPads), and about 2:1 over all of the very best competing Tablets and Smartphones (including the new iPhone 6). We measured a 62 percent decrease in reflected light glare compared to the previous iPads (Apple claims 56 percent) and agree with Apple’s claim that the iPad Air 2 is “the least reflective display of any Tablet in the world” – both are in fact understatements. While everyone has been in situations where it is difficult or even impossible to see the screen in very bright ambient lighting, where this obviously helps, it turns out that even in moderate indoor lighting the image contrast and colors are being noticeably washed out from reflections as well. For example, the Color Gamut is typically reduced by 20 percent even at only 500 lux indoor lighting. To visually compare the difference for yourself, hold two Tablets or Smartphones side-by-side and turn off the displays so you just see the reflections. The iPad Air 2 is dramatically darker than any other existing Tablet or Smartphone. Those reflections are still there when you turn them on, and the brighter the ambient light the brighter the reflections. It’s a major innovation and a big deal with visually obvious benefits!!

Some iPad Air 2 reviews have mentioned not experiencing a noticeable difference in ambient light reflections. Maybe reflections were so bad in the previous model a 56 to 62 percent decrease is still not very good. I look forward to the day when the experience of using smartphones and tablets outside in direct sunlight will be similar to using devices with E Ink displays.

The iPad Air 2 is the first iPad with an optically bonded cover glass – all previous iPad models had high reflectance air gaps under the cover glass – but they are simply catching up because almost all other leading Tablets have had a bonded cover glass without an air gap for years. One minor but noticeable issue is that the screen Reflectance spectrum is heavily weighted towards blue, which is may be noticeable for dark images or in bright ambient light.

This took a while.

However, other than the new anti-reflection coating and bonded cover glass, the display on the iPad Air 2 is essentially unchanged and identical in performance to the iPad 4 introduced in 2012, and is actually slightly lower in performance than the original iPad Air (for example 8% lower Brightness and 16% lower display Power Efficiency) – most likely the result of an obsession with producing a thinner Tablet forcing compromises in the LCD backlight.

Much more significant is that the iPad Air 2 does Not have the same high performance display technology enhancements that we measured for the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which we rated the best performing Smartphone LCD Display that we have ever tested. While the iPad Air 2 has an all around Very Good Top Tier display, and most buyers will be happy with its performance, the displays on the Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Samsung Tablets that we have tested (see below) have better display performance in Absolute Color Accuracy, Brightness, Contrast Ratio, Viewing Angle, and Power Efficiency. However, the iPad Air 2 matches or breaks new records in Tablet (and Smartphone) display performance for: the most accurate (pure logarithmic power-law) Intensity Scale and Gamma, most accurate Image Contrast, (by far) the Lowest Screen Reflectance, and the Highest Contrast Rating for Ambient Light.

Apple is actively encouraging taking photos with iPads. One of the biggest knock on smartphones using OLED displays have been, not anymore, blown out over-saturated colors. Put it another way, we want and appreciate accurate colors on our photographs. I can understand the iPad Air 2 not being equal to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus when it comes to color accuracy, since iPhones are used far more for taking photos than iPads, but for the iPad Air 2 to be less accurate than tablets from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung is disappointing.