Comparing the iPad Air 2 to the iPhone 6 Plus

Does the larger iPhone 6 Plus make the iPad obsolete?

iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6 side by side

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It was inevitable that the larger display of the iPhone 6 Plus and subsequent iPhone 6s Plus would draw comparisons with the iPad. Even before it was released, some wondered if these new iPhones would signal the end for the iPad Mini -- after all, who needs a 7.9-inch display in a tablet when you have a 5.5-inch display in your pocket?

Some in the media proclaimed that the iPhone 6 Plus would do everything better than the iPad, a statement sporting a considerable amount of exaggeration. In reality, just the opposite may be true.

Performance Comparison

With each of its first few generations, the iPad included essentially the same processor as the iPhone 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 officially 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, 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 2 GB of LPDDR3 RAM, which is the memory used to hold apps while they are running. This is up from the 1 GB 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

It's easy enough to tell the difference in screen size, but what about display quality and resolution?

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 being deemed the average distance for smartphones and 15 inches deemed the average distance for tablets -- and PPI is considered together when determining the distance at which the user can't perceive the individual pixels of the screen. This is why the 2048x1536 resolution of the 9.7-inch display on the iPad can be 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 the anti-reflective coating on the screen that makes its display much easier to see when out in the sun -- great if you like to read while lounging out on the patio.

Where the iPhone 6 Plus Shines

  • Phone calls: Obviously. While the iPad Air 2 can make FaceTime calls, it's not a phone. Even taking into consideration that the iPad Air 2 can technically make phone calls, the iPhone 6 Plus would take the crown by virtue of being able to hold it up to your ear.
  • Mobility: While the iPhone 6 Plus may not "easily" fit into some pockets, it still fits in most pockets. Bendgate aside, the fact that you can easily carry it with you wherever you go is a huge bonus.
  • Single-hand use: This is a big one as well. Even with it's bigger size, the iPhone 6 Plus isn't hard to use with one hand. The only way you are getting one-handed use out of the iPad is if you set it down on the table.
  • Keyboard: It looks like your standard iPhone on-screen keyboard in portrait mode, but flip it into landscape mode, and presto: cursor keys appear. You also get a period, comma, exclamation mark, question mark, and copy-and-paste keys. 

Where the iPad Air 2 Shines

  • Almost everywhere else: The iPhone 6 Plus may do a lot of things well enough that you don't mind leaving your iPad at home on some occasions, but let's not kid ourselves: The iPad Air 2's power and bigger display size are major benefits when it comes to most tasks.
  • Web browsing: 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 not bad on an iPhone 6 Plus, but not as good as on a 9.7-inch display.
  • Most apps and tasks: Email? Not bad on the iPhone 6 Plus. Some have even praised the split-columns in landscape mode, but bigger text and more text on the screen is much better when reading an email message longer than a couple of sentences, and this is why Mail is easier on an iPad. Facebook? Again, quite usable on the iPhone 6 Plus but better on the iPad where those pictures can really stand out. Video? Looks great on that iPhone 6 Plus screen, but who doesn't want a bigger display for video? There's a reason we replace our 42-inch TVs with 50-inch TVs.
  • Games: 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 waiting for a table at your favorite restaurant, it's great having that choice of entertainment. But if I'm lounging around the house and want to get my game on for an hour or two, I'm going to choose my iPad Air 2.

iPad Air 2 Vs. iPhone 6 Plus: Do We Really Have to Choose?

There is a reason why Apple focused on device interaction via AirDrop Handoff in iOS 8. 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 is 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 is even more useful than a traditional PC.

There is a reason why we 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 spreadsheet more complicated than balancing my checkbook. 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.