The iPad Air 2 vs. the iPhone 6 Plus

Do you need both an iPad and an iPhone?

iPhone 6 and iPad Air on either side of a mac keyboard

 

Arijit Mondal / Getty Images

The larger display of the iPhone 6 Plus and drew comparisons with the iPad when it first launched in 2014. Even before its release, some wondered if the new iPhones would signal the end for the iPad Mini—after all, who needs a 7.9-inch display tablet when you have a 5.5-inch display in your pocket? Some in the media said the iPhone 6 Plus would do everything better than the iPad, a statement sporting a considerable amount of exaggeration. We compared the two devices and found just the opposite may be true.

Both the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 Plus were discontinued by Apple, but can still be found pre-owned or refurbished from various retailers.

Overall Findings

iPad Air 2

  • More power.

  • Bigger display.

  • Better for gaming.

  • Better for web browsing.

iPhone 6 Plus

  • Better at making phone calls (obviously).

  • Greater portability.

  • Can be used with one hand.

  • Better keyboard.

While the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 Plus are both great mobile devices, the former has several big advantages over the latter. The iPad Air 2's power and bigger display size are major benefits when it comes to most tasks, especially gaming. The iPhone 6 Plus is awesome at playing games, and if you're sitting around with nothing to do at the doctor's office or you're waiting for a table at your favorite restaurant, it's great having that choice of entertainment. But, if you're lounging around the house and want to get your game on for an hour or two, the iPad Air 2 is a better choice.

Web pages look great on an iPhone 6 Plus, but there are still times when you need to either squint to see the text, flip it into landscape mode for bigger text, or pinch-to-zoom. And while you can manipulate most web pages just fine, sometimes a link or button is small enough that you need to zoom in to properly activate it. Web browsing is definitely better on a 9.7-inch display.

Email? Not bad on the iPhone 6 Plus. But, again, it's better on the iPad, where pictures can really stand out. Video? Looks great on that iPhone 6 Plus screen, but who doesn't want a bigger display for watching movies and television shows? There's a reason we replace our 42-inch TVs with 50-inch TVs.

Performance

iPad Air 2

  • Tri-Core 1.5 GHz Apple A8X.

  • 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM.

iPhone 6 Plus

  • Dual-Core 1.4 GHz Apple A8 chip.

  • 1GB of RAM.

The first few generations of the iPad included essentially the same processor as the iPhone that released in the same timeframe. Sometimes, the iPad's version was clocked slightly faster, but they both were close enough in performance that there wasn't a significant difference.

But the days of the iPad taking its cues from the iPhone are over. While the iPhone 6 Plus received a Dual-Core 1.4 GHz Apple A8 chip, which made it the fastest smartphone on the planet at the time, the iPad Air 2 received a Tri-Core 1.5 GHz Apple A8X. In straight-line speed using only one core, the iPad Air 2 is about 12% faster, which gives it a slight edge. But, when you look at multi-core speed tested by Geekbench, the iPad Air 2 is 56% faster than the A8 chipset powering the iPhone 6 Plus.

The iPad Air 2 also includes 2GB of LPDDR3 RAM. This is up from the 1GB of RAM on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. This means the iPad Air 2 can hold more apps in the background without slowing down. It also gives the iPad Air 2 better performance when making use of extensibility, which is an iOS 8 feature that allows one app to run a piece of code from within another app.

Display

iPad Air 2

  • 2048x1536 resolution.

  • 9.7-inch display.

  • 264 PPI.

  • Anti-reflective coating.

iPhone 6 Plus

  • 1920x1080 resolution.

  • 5.5-inch display.

  • 401 pixels-per-inch (PPI).

The iPhone 6 Plus has a 1920x1080 resolution running on a 5.5-inch display. This gives it a whopping 401 pixels-per-inch (PPI). By way of comparison, the first iPhone with Apple's Retina Display had 326 PPI.

Of course, pixels-per-inch is only one part of the equation. The average viewing distance—10 inches is the average distance for smartphones and 15 inches is the average distance for tablets—and PPI is considered together when determining the distance at which users can't perceive the individual pixels of the screen. This is why the 2048x1536 resolution of the 9.7-inch display on the iPad is called a Retina Display despite having a lower PPI of 264.

At these resolutions, most people won't be able to tell the difference. But for screen quality alone, statistically, the iPhone 6 Plus has the edge. The iPad Air 2 does offer anti-reflective coating on the screen that makes its display much easier to see when out in the sun, which great if you like to read while lounging out on the patio.

Final Verdict: Do We Really Have to Choose?

The iPad and the iPhone fulfill different needs. The iPhone 6 Plus, for all its ability to perform so many different tasks, is a phone. It may be the ultimate mobile device, but it's still mainly a phone. The iPad is a PC. It may not be classified as one, but it should be. In fact, in many ways, it's even more useful than a traditional PC.

There is a reason why people tend to have multiple devices. The bigger screen on the iPhone 6 Plus is great, but you're not going to write a novel on it or create a complicated spreadsheet. You may be happy to read an ebook on a smartphone while sitting on the subway, but if you're in the comfort of your own home, the bigger screen of the iPad would be a preferable choice.