iPad 2 Hands On Review

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iPad 2 Hands On Review

Without a doubt, the iPad 2 continues in the Apple tradition of attracting legions of followers who wait in line for hours in order to be one of the first to acquire the latest and greatest in consumer electronics. With long lines all weekend in many stores, buyers were faced with numerous choices if they did make it to the front of the line. Which carrier – AT&T or Verizon? What color – white or black? And of course how much memory – 16GB, 32GB or 64GB? It obviously wasn’t uncommon for a customer to buy whatever was available as opposed to what they preferred.

Weight and Thickness

Although the new iPad is slightly lighter and thinner, the difference isn’t great enough for you to really notice that much. I placed the old and new in each hand and they felt quite similar.

Need For Speed

Where you do notice an immediate difference is in web browsing as many pages loaded twice as fast in my tests. And that is with the same version of iOS on both units – 4.3. The web browsing experience is getting close to instantaneous and that makes the device that much more attractive as a constant companion. I found myself clicking link after link and marveling at the response time.

Cameras

The rear camera on the iPad 2 was long-awaited and although many have complained about the one-megapixel resolution, the quality of the photos are good. The two shots below are from the lobby of TMC headquarters (click to expand). I also tested FaceTime videoconferencing with an iPhone 4 and although it got a bit choppy at times, generally the quality was on par with other FaceTime conversations I have had in the past – but of course those were all on iPhone 4s. If experience can be used as a guide, one would imagine as camera resolution increases in subsequent releases of this device, more people will be driven to upgrade.

The front camera – just as with the iPhone 4 doesn’t sport tremendous resolution but it’s adequate for most functions which typically will include taking a photo or video of your face within arm's length.

Smart Covers

Apple put an uncharacteristic amount of effort into promoting its new Smart Covers which come in a variety of colors from pink to black. They are lighter and thinner than the previous black-only cover for the original iPad. The concern I have about this new design is the exposed metal of the iPad 2 is unprotected and if you drop it, you could damage the corners of the device or potentially the glass screen. Having dropped an original iPad in a movie theater onto concrete only to find the case absorbed all of the impact, I can attest to the wonderfulness of its design. Moreover, the old rubberized case added significant friction – making it tough to lose your grip accidentally.

At least for now, when I walk around with the iPad 2 and its new Smart Cover, I get the same feeling I might have when carrying around a priceless vase.

The benefit of course is the minimalistic design and it does a great job holding the iPad 2 up in portrait or landscape mode. The old cover was not great at holding up the iPad at all – it would frequently fall on the table if I didn’t support it with something else like a box of tissues or book.

While the new cover was touted because of its continuous dust-eliminating properties, I found lines of dust forming on the iPad 2 where the panels come together after only a few days of use. This problem seems to defeat the purpose of the cover.

On the bright side, the magnetic clasping system of the cover is novel, interesting and unique. And the fact that the device turns on and off based on cover position is another nicety. In case you are wondering, the magnetic panel on the right-hand side is responsible for this behavior meaning if you just attach the last panel to the right and not the rest of the cover you can put the unit to sleep. Well done Apple.

Is it worth $69 for this case when an iPod Shuffle is $49 and an iPod Nano is $149? Perhaps not – but that doesn’t mean this thing won’t sell like crazy.

Software

I spent some time with GarageBand on the iPad 2 and it is indeed a work of software and musical art – making a great device that much more functional. The good news is this software runs on the original iPad as well. Photo Booth made popular on the Mac works only on the iPad 2 and it allows you to take photos with interesting effects like mirror, thermal camera, light tunnel, squeeze, twirl, stretch and more. It is certainly a “fun” app and adds some value.

Power Savings

I did notice the iPad 2 is much more aggressive than the original device in terms of dimming the screen and turning it off altogether – a logical tradeoff which has to be made when weight is shaved off and an extra core is added to the processor.

Another interesting aspect of this device is it seems to generate little to no heat – which when you realize the computing power inside the device is quite amazing.

LED Backlit Screen

The new LED backlit screen is better than the old iPad screen in terms of brightness. I didn’t notice a dramatic difference when using the screen but side-by-side improvement was fairly obvious when watching video and concentrating on an area of the screen like a person’s face.

Room For Improvement

It is difficult to understand how smartphones can have 12 megapixel cameras and the iPad 2 doesn’t have this same capability. One Megapixel? Seriously? Worse yet is the fact that Apple ignores this reality by leaving camera resolution data off its page dedicated to technical specs for the iPad 2. The speaker quality seems similar to the original and for a device which is increasingly touting its multimedia capabilities, this is an obvious area for improvement.

The back of the iPad 2 will get scratched in regular use and the Smart Cover I tested didn’t adhere magnetically to the back of the device as well as it could have. I found the last panel/segment flapping in the air as I walked, using the device.

Although it is tough to be critical about Apple when it comes to design – no one does it better than they do… But still, why would the iPad 2 not have the same square design made so popular with the iPhone 4? The rounded/beveled edges of this new tablet seem to hark back to the yesteryear of tech instead of being a fashion-forward statement we are so used to with new Apple product roll outs.

Although not 100% necessary, as an enticement, Apple could have benefited from including even more free software with the iPad 2.

Conclusion

We like it. It is a great device which makes web surfing incredibly fun. As more apps come out which take advantage of the three-axis gyro, we can expect to see the iPad become a gaming remote control and who knows what sorts of other potentially awesome software will be unleashed as a result of this new functionality? More speed is always better and with this new device, software makers will have to spend less time optimizing their code for quickness, allowing them to focus on writing better code. The challenge of course will be the installed base of iPads.

Is it worth the upgrade – probably not unless you have the money to burn or don’t mind the few hundred dollar hit you’ll get after selling your old one to get a new one. It isn’t a must-have if you have an iPad but it is certainly a nice-to-have and over time, we can expect more and more software to not work with the iPad – but only the iPad 2 – and this will logically push more people into upgrading.

Larry Szebeni contributed to this blog post.



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