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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Measuring 6.1 millimeters, the iPad 2 is thinner than a pencil, a magazine, and slightly more svelte than the original iPad Air.

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The iPad Air 2's most notable physical addition? Touch ID. It works for passwords, and a modified version of Apple Pay.

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The gold version is a new finish for the iPad Air: it's more like a subtle bronzing. There are silver and space gray options, too.

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Touch ID, is a feature also seen in the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and iPad Mini 3, but was left off 2013’s iPad Air and iPad Mini.

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The one-touch fingerprint identification of Touch ID works astonishingly well, coming in handy for unlocking, iTunes transactions, or any other app that takes advantage of its use.

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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.

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An anti-glare coating across the display lends well to reading outdoors, and everything looks a hair better than the previous model.

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Although the size differences are negligible unless you have both the Air and Air 2 side by side, the takeaway here is that the latest version is still impressively thin.

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The rear-facing iSight camera gets a bump up to 8 megapixels with extras features like slow-mo, time lapse, and better face detection. Still no flash, though.

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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.

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Autofocus works, but it doesn’t work as accurately or as rapidly as the iPhones. You’ll probably find yourself tapping-to-focus a lot.

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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.

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The way Touch ID works on the iPad feels more like a precursor for the inevitable adoption of Touch ID in Macs: a way to log in and authenticate while using apps.

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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.

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Photo quality feels similar to the iPhone 5s, for rear-camera photos.

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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.

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Apps such as Evernote and several password managers use Touch ID to save you from remember another lengthy, complicated password.

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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.

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The iPad’s form is still wonderfully refined: clean, solid metal and glass, sharp and easy to hold. But the Air's still hard to grab in one hand.

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The iPad Air 2 in gold, and beneath it last year's iPad Air in space gray: can you tell the difference?

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Smaller is better, but in a bag this won’t feel like a difference-maker. Seen here: iPad Air 2 on top of iPad Air.

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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.

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As always, the headphone jack is present on the iPad Air 2 for times when you want to escape into a private listening session. It's a better bet than the built-in speakers.

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The bare case is still just as potentially fragile as before, meaning you’d better sheathe this in a case or risk certain damage from a fall.

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Video editing apps and hardcore games play really smoothly on the Air 2, but average users will still get a lot of mileage out of last year's A7-equipped iPads.

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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.

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The volume rockers on the side of the Air 2 remain unchanged both in placement and feel. But notice something missing? No mute/silence switch.

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The Wi-Fi plus cellular model, seen here, still has a white or black antenna band across the top. LTE models cost $130, £100 or AU$160 more per configuration.

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Stereo sound still pipes out two speakers on either side of the Lightning port.

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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.

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The iPad Air 2's storage options are a little more affordable, if you’re the type to pay up to 64GB or 128GB ($500, £400 or AU$620 for 16GB; $600, £480, AU$740 for 64GB; $700, £560, AU$860 for 128GB).

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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.

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