With a new processor, Touch ID Home button and thinner profile, the iPad Air 2 is a solid upgrade to last year's model. It's also easier to open and has a few surprises inside the case.
The iPad Air 2 is the same width and height as last year's Air, but it's ever so slightly thinner. It also weighs a few grams less, but the difference isn't noticeable.
The Air 2's Retina Display has the same resolution as last year's model, but in comes with a new antireflective coating, and for the first time the front panel and display are laminated together, which definitely came into play when we cracked this thing open.
Along with the screen upgrades, the Air 2 has Apple's new A8X processor and M8 motion coprocessor. It has better FaceTime and iSight cameras, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and finally a Touch ID-enabled Home button.
Given all this new hardware, I couldn't wait to see what's on the inside.
Cracking open the iPad Air 2
As with last year's iPad Air, I used a heat gun to loosen the adhesive that holds the front panel to the aluminum case. Then, starting from the lower-left corner, I used a series of thin tools to gently pry the panel off.
I was very careful around the lower-right corner. There are several thin ribbon cables here that connect the front panel to the motherboard.
You'll also need to take care not to insert your tools too far into the case when working along the left and right edges. Doing so could damage the display.
Luckily, however, thanks to the Air 2's new laminated display, you no longer need to remove the front glass panel and display screen as separate parts. Once you disconnect its cables, you can remove the whole assembly. This makes opening the Air 2 much easier than last year's model.
Familiar hardware layout inside the Air 2
As with last year's Air, the battery is on the left, the motherboard is on the right, the cameras and antennas are along the top and speakers and the Lightning connection are at the bottom. Our test unit was a Wi-Fi-only model, so it lacked some of the components present in the cellular version.
Looking at the front panel, we found the fused display panel, repositioned ribbon cables and Touch ID-enabled Home button.
Now unfortunately, the battery and most of the other components (including the motherboard) and their connector cables are glued to the metal case. Forcing them loose could damage them, and I wanted to put this unit back together in working order — not destroy it.
So, I ended our cracking open there.
That doesn't mean, though, that I can't share a few interesting facts about the Air 2.
Interesting hardware changes
Lower capacity battery: For starters, Apple reduced the battery's capacity from a 32.9 watt/hour unit in last year's model to a 27.6 watt/hour one in the Air 2. The fact that this tablet still has the same 10-hour battery life illustrates how much more efficient the new hardware is.
More RAM, faster processor equal better performance: The Air 2 has 2GB of DRAM compared to the original iPad Air's 1GB. This along with the new A8X processor gives the Air 2 a true performance boost.
NFC chip: According to IHS bill of materials on the Air 2, there's an NFC chip hiding under the motherboard's metal shields — the same one used on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Now, the Air 2 does support Apple Pay, but not tap-to-pay at the register. So, the existence of this chip seems a little odd. Perhaps Apple will enable tap-to-pay at a future date.
With all its upgrades and a super-thin case, the Air 2 is solid upgrade to the iPad line. And Apple even made it a bit easier to repair.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.