Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
The iPad 2 is definitely thinner, undeniably lighter and palpably faster than it's predecessor. With new dual-cameras, a faster dual-core Apple A5 processor, double the RAM at 512MB and a vastly improved graphics chipset the iPad 2 is impressive and certainly the most compelling tablet soon to be available.
Out of the box, the iPad 2 (launching in Canada on March 25th) is surprisingly thin yet very solidly built. The original iPad wasn't clunky or even boxy by any means, but it certainly feels chunky when placed side by side with the newer model.
In terms of design, Apple maintained the iPad's 9.7" inch screen and chipped away at everything else. The thick aluminum bezel surrounding the iPad has been reduced significantly to a sliver of the space and thickness of the previous model. Squarish and sharp edges have given way to sensous curves and streamlined construction and as a result, the iPad 2 is a bit easier to handle.
One entire surface of the iPad has, as a result, been eliminated. You now have the flat screen and the tapered aluminum back which is very similar to the way the latest iPod Touch is built.
As a result of Apple's trimming down the iPad's girth and weight. It isn't anywhere near the one-handed manageability of an Amazon Kindle or even a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7" inch but it is definitely better than the original iPad.
It is funny how shaving off just a little weight and mass can make something that's almost the same size, feel so much lighter. Even with Apple's Smart Cover installed, the iPad 2 is noticeably thinner and lighter than the previous model.
The intrepid souls at iFixit.com wasted no time in tearing down the iPad and found that the glass used in the new model was 27% thinner than that of the iPad 1. While substantially slimming the profile, this might reduce the iPad's durability unless Apple has found a way to harden the glass.
Update: Apple has substantially improved the ipad 2 glass. Just check out this video below from iFixYouri - (you may want to tone fown the audio though). iPads 1 and 2 are put through a series of stress tests and you can see the iPad 2's glass screen is incredibly resilient.
The iPad 2 introduces a number of exterior features that have been long expected. A front-facing camera is subtly positioned front and centre.The iPad 2's rear camera is positioned at the rear left side, reminiscent of the original iPhone which had an aluminum backing.
Our iPad 2 was a white 32GB Wi-Fi version which we felt was a welcome and refreshing departure from the ubiquitous black model and a tip of the hat to the iconic white Apple products of old.
While we welcomed the addition of the new cameras, we were a bit put off by the fact that these are low-quality cameras similar to the ones in the iPod Touch. One reason for using these cameras is the iPad 2's thickness, since it is actually thinner than the iPhone 4, so maybe the premium camera just could not fit.
The iPad 2 cameras will do fine for FaceTime video calls and possibly Skype and should work admirably for shooting video but will fall short in quality for taking good still photos in anything but the brightest lighting conditions.
Not that anyone is going to mistake a 10" inch tablet for a camera but the iPad 2 camera could have been even better specially since it the new gyroscope would definitely compensate for motion and movement.
We have to admit that white colour gives the iPad 2 an airy and almost pure look and feel and for some reason smudges and fingerprints are less noticeable on the screen's surface. The front bezel is really the only part of the white iPad 2 that's different from the black model.
It would have been nice if we got a white Apple logo on the rear as well and maybe silver buttons instead of black, but maybe that's asking for too much.
One thing we noticed about the iPad 2 is that the speakers, which are now found on the bottom rear of the device, seem a bit weaker and sound less "full" than the original iPad. It could be the older model's scooped case and added thickness served as a better soundhole to make sounds, specially bass, resonate better.
The Smart Covers are the accessory that are intrinsically connected to the iPad 2. Cover and tablet were designed ad developed concurrently and the result are articulating magnetic covers that work really, really well.
Apple has designed a wonder of modern engineering which is a product that doesn't just protect the iPad 2's front screen (and shiny aluminum rear, when flipped on its side) but also functions as a magnetic on/off switch, a screen cleaner, a vertical and horizontal stand and can prop-up the iPad 2 at the perfect angle for typing.
While in line at the iPad launch, people were just as excited about the Smart Covers as they were about the tablet and why not? These covers just work. They auto-align and snap to the surface but are easily removed when needed.
We were worried that the Smart Covers would cause unnecessary wear and tear on the iPad 2's shiny surface but closer inspection revealed Apple had thought of this problem and solved it by applying tiny rubber stoppers separating cover and chassis.
One thing we weren't too thrilled about was the colour selection of the Smart Covers. The loud and childish colours available for the cheaper polyurethane covers ($39) are playful and bright to the point of nausea. Grey is really the only neutral option of that bunch and it is sadly bland.
The richer, tamer and more desirable colours are all leather and cost $69, which is expensive. I'd rather put $70 towards an Apple Bluetooth keyboard but the Smart Covers are just so darn compelling. It will be interesting to see if any third party vendors will make use of the iPad 2's magnets for their own cases. In my opinion, given the iPad 2's skinny new profile, a good case that surrounds and protects the front and back simultaneously is a worthwhile investment.
A few niggles about the SmartCover would include the fact that you can't use the rear camera when the cover is flipped to cover the back, that it can be dislodged when in a bag and once separated from the iPad could scratch it and we're a bit worried about what those 21 magnets in the SmartCase might do to magnetic stripes on credit and debit cards.
Side by side comparison of iPad's 1 and 2 showed that the iPad 2 was noticeably faster in loading webpages and opening applications. The difference, while visible, isn't all that spectacular for basic applications.
The newer iPad will load a heavy webpage (CNN.com, NBA.com) one to two seconds faster than the previous version on the same Wi-Fi network.
For surfing the web, working on documents, email and light casual gaming, the performance difference between old and new iPad's is hardly noticeable and maybe this is because applications aren't yet dual core ready.
When you crank out the more processor and graphic intesive applications, however, the unbridled power of that dual core A5 processor, 521MB of RAM and the multicore PowerVR SGX43 GPU come into play.
It is interesting to note that the A5 processor is apparently fabricated by Samsung and has two 1GHz cores downclocked to 900MHz.
We figure most of the current iPad apps that are designed around the single core A4 apps may not feel that much faster but once they are rejigged to make use of the double processor, double ram they should feel significantly zippier.
We tested the sword-fantasy game Infinity Blade as well as the relentless mutant-shooter Rage HD and we were stunned by the seamless game playback and framerates.These games on the iPad 2 were simply stunning to play and behold. Infinity Blade was just impressive overall, from the cut-scenes to the in-game fighting action.
The quality and power of the graphics of the iPad 2 on some of these games can be compared to that of gaming consoles and clearly leapfrogs what exists in today's portable gaming devices like the PSP and the Nintendo DSi.
While not exactly 9 times better than the original iPad as Apple claims, the graphics on the iPad 2 are easily 4-5x better than it's predecessor and better than that of any of its current tablet competitors. To think that something this thin can crunch thousands of polygons with relative ease is simply mind boggling specially since thousands of apps still need to be adjusted to take advantage of the dual processors.
Gaming isn't the only area that the iPad 2 dominates, some of Apple's new content creation apps like GarageBand and iMovie require substantial processing power.
GarageBand, when tested on the original iPad, worked well but you could feel it choke at times when it had to save multiple layers of music files or had to transfer data.
The exact same processes on the iPad 2 are seamless with nary a murmur or complaint. Hot knife, meet butter. One would almost be fooled into thinking that the iPad 2 is really a MacBook Air in disguise in terms of how well it manages these resource intensive applications.
GarageBand is really a marquee iPad application which not only rivals its desktop counterpart but is really more fun to use on a tablet. Anyone, and I mean even the most arbitrarily tone deaf and musically challengened person (meaning me) can spend a few minutes with this app and produce something melodic.
Not only does GarageBand offer a striking array of instruments (the drum machine is just amazing) and samplers you can play virtual instruments that react to the force of your touch. Drums, for example, can vary in loudness the harder you tap on the screen. Same thing for string instruments and keyboards which adjust to the speed and force of the playing.
While GarageBand and iMovie are impressive, we can't wait to see third party games and applications written for the new hardware.
Despite this big upgrade in overall performance, the iPad 2 is still as miserly with battery power. The iPad 2's battery life is just as impressive as that of the original, it seems Apple managed to squeeze in an even larger battery to compensate for the increased processor and graphics power consumption.
The iPad 2 is an impressive update to an already well-received product. The svelte new design, lower weight and spec upgrades make it an excellent choice for people looking to buy their first tablet computer. The competition will be hard pressed to compete in terms of price, specs and availability.
Competitors should try and focus on features that the iPad 2 just doesn't have like high quality cameras, microSD and USB expansion and 4G data connectivity, although we think at the end of the day, pricing will still be the key differentiator in the tablet space.
Apple's still got the 80 per cent market share, the 65,000 iPad-specific apps, the retail stores and the developer ecosystem to ensure that iPad 2 adopters will have a whole world of apps and entertainment options literally in their hands. It's good to have a head start.
Owners of the original iPad shouldn't fool themselves into thinking their devices are in any way obsolete. Refinements to iOS as well as the original iPad's sterling feature set make it a capable and very useful device (good bargains can be had on original iPads and refurbs too, not to mention all those accessories now on sale.)
The iPad 2's new features will be useful for people who plan on a lot of graphic intensive tasks like serious gaming and video editing (although, a tablet may not be the best device for this) and the FaceTime cameras are a must-have if your iPad is your main FaceTime device.
The iPad 2 improves on almost every aspect of the original iPad while trimming down size and weight plus maintaining stellar battery life and the price points that people are comfortable with.
The product that defined an entire industry segment just raised the bar even higher.
Rating: 5 out of 5