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One big reason why the iPad Air 2 is good for gamers

Memory lane
Product: XCOM: Enemy Unknown | Developer: Firaxis | Publisher: 2K Games | Format: iPad | Genre: Strategy
XCOM: Enemy Unknown iPad, thumbnail 1
There's a lot to like about the iPad Air 2. It's thinner, lighter, and faster, has an anti-reflective screen, a better camera, and Touch ID. We'll get to all that in our full review, soon.

But one thing isn't getting enough love: this is the first iOS device in a long time to get more memory. So while the iPad Air and the iPhone 6 Plus have 1GB of memory, the iPad Air 2 has got double: 2GB.

This isn't storage space. This is how much information the iPad can juggle at one time. And a lack of memory is what causes Safari tabs to reload when you jump between them, and big games to quit and load from scratch.

To see how things have changed, we rebooted an iPad Air and an iPad Air 2, and then loaded monster memory hog XCOM: Enemy Unknown. We then started opening and using apps to see how much we could get done before iOS forcibly removed XCOM from memory.

Apple's handy OS X tool Instruments lets you keep an eye on what your iPad is doing, so we could see the exact moment that XCOM was killed off like a Sectoid on the receiving end of a shotgun.

iPad Air


So we quit XCOM and went to send an email in the app Mailbox. The game's still open.


We move over to Messages. Pretty typical behaviour to send an IM mid-away through a game.


Safari can be a big drain, so we switch over to the web browser and use Google to find some XCOM tips. Thanks Pocket Gamer!


That really hurt. And opening Tweetbot to refresh my Twitter timeline and see what those darn GamerGaters have been up to this time is just too much. XCOM is unloaded from memory and when I try to go back into the game, I get…


The 2K Games logo. Meaning the game has to be loaded again from scratch. It will have saved my progress, but I'll have to go through the menus again to get back into the game. Right! iPad Air 2!

iPad Air 2


We wanted to make things as fair as possible, so we tried to copy the process identically on the iPad Air 2. So we started by sending an email in Mailbox.


Then sent a Message.


Got some tips in Safari.


And looked at some new tweets. The game's still in memory at this point, according to Instruments, so let's keep going.


I updated a big spreadsheet of data in Google Sheets.

Mr Reader

Updated my RSS feeds on Mr Reader.


And read an interesting, but ultimately unconvincing article in Pocket. Okay, this is getting a bit silly. Let's bring out the Nuclear Option.


I watched half a video in YouTube and still, Instruments says that XCOM is hanging around in memory.


Fine, I'll play some FTL. That's two games running simultaneously (I tested it on the iPad Air later - two games at once rarely worked, and the oldest game would shut if you tried to do anything else).


I opened Netflix, chose a title from the front page, and watched a little Breaking Bad in HD. Just to note, I'm not force quitting the other apps. XCOM, FTL, YouTube and everything else are still "running" (albeit in a sleepy suspended state).

Angry Birds

I played some Angry Birds Transformers. Because, heck, having three games open simultaneously is normal. At this point, I could see that iOS was starting to clean up and while XCOM stayed open, Mailbox was forcibly removed from the memory stack.

Alien Blue

And then I messed around on Reddit before deciding that, come on, this can't be right. How can I watch two videos, play three games, and use half a dozen apps and still be able to go back to a game? Maybe Instruments has gone wrong. So I tried to open XCOM

XCOM open

Nope! Still there. The game perked up from its suspended state and brought me right back to the pause menu. After all that, I could still open up XCOM and start playing right where I left off.

So I think the point is pretty clear - with double the memory, apps can now stay around for much longer before the iOS clean-up crew comes along to sweep them up.

In reality, you probably don't need to open half the apps on your iPad mid-way through a game. But that extra gigabyte of memory means it's easier than ever to multitask while gaming. Let's hope this is the new normal for iOS devices going forward.

Reviewer photo
Mark Brown 23 October 2014
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