A 9.7-inch Retina display still has the same 2,048x1,536 pixel resolution as last year (and the year before), but yes, it looks just a bit better. Apple boasts that the screen’s more directly laminated to the glass this time, like the iPhones, creating more immediacy.
The Air 2 may not bring an end to the age of laughing at iPad photographers, but there are legitimate reasons to bring your iPad (and its camera) everywhere: to scan documents, assess properties or products, or quickly record a little clip or photo to send out on the fly.
Strangely enough, the new iPad's speakers resonate slightly more than the previous models, likely due to the aluminum chassis that practically vibrates at loud volumes. Certainly not a dealbreaker, but something to keep in mind for those that like to crank up the volume on music and movies.
The FaceTime camera is the most useful camera improvement: it’s still just 1.2 megapixels, but registers better contrast, low-light photography, has a new f2.2 aperture, and generally just allows for clearer FaceTime chats...and yes, selfies.
Apple Pay has made its way onto the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, but without NFC for tap-to-pay: instead, the iPad stores credit card information centrally and allows apps that choose to fold in Apple Pay to use it to make one-touch payments.
On an iPhone, the one-thumb Touch ID press feels natural: I end up using it dozens of times a day. On the iPad, pressing the home button is done less often, and is something I tend to do while sitting down, with my forefinger.
At 0.96 pounds (437g) for the Wi-Fi version of the Air 2 versus 1 pound (469g) for last year's Air (Wi-Fi plus cellular models weigh in at 0.98 pound or 444g for the second-gen Air versus 1.05 pounds or 478g for the previous model), it's nothing like the nearly half-pound weight reduction in 2013.
The Apple Pay set-up process is easy to get going, but we should note that your credit card needs to be Apple Pay-ready, which not all are yet (corporate cards, in particular), and Web-based transactions can’t take advantage of it either...which is a shame, since a lot of people do direct Web-based shopping.
The Air 2 is undoubtedly a big improvement over its older linemates, but it’s also very important to note that last year’s model, the original iPad Air, remains available at a discounted price; for many, that will arguably be the better bang for the buck.
The iPad doesn’t do anything that’s startling and new. But it is an even more polished, essentially perfect product. Whether it meets your needs depends on whether you wanted an iPad in the first place. You probably already know the answer.