Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
When change comes, it can be torrentially fast. In under a year, the iPad went from question mark to astonishing success, selling 15 million units in its first nine months on sale. No wonder the iPad 2’s debut touched off even more bedlam than Apple’s often-frenzied product launches.
That reception is probably partially behind the undercurrent of disappointment we feel after testing the iPad 2. We feel a little bad about it, too--because without question, the iPad 2 is an outstanding tablet, the kind of beautifully designed and cleverly engineered triumph that’ll keep other tablet manufacturers glumly clutching at straws for another year. But because the iPad’s debut last year was so transformative, we expected at least a small dollop of that kind of innovation in this model. It just isn’t there--in fact, if Apple had followed the iPhone naming convention, this tablet would be called the iPad S.
Unfair? Maybe a little--but we all expect Apple to innovate. The iPhone 4’s Retina display and 5MP camera made that smartphone more magical than previous models, and those two standout features had starring roles in our expectations for the iPad 2. Nothing so difference-making appears in the iPad 2 (yes, it has dual cameras, but several issues severely limit their utility), making this new hardware an iterative, evolutionary refresh, rather than a dramatic leap forward.
Once that bubble’s popped, it’s easy to ooh and ahh over the iPad 2. When you pick one up, it instantly feels lighter and thinner, and its beautifully curved edges make its redesigned unibody a pleasure to hold. Those curves mean plugging in the Dock connector the first few times takes a little fumbling around because it’s too easy to try to mesh them at the wrong angle, but that’s a tiny thing that you’ll quickly get a feel for. Even the slick new speaker grill looks cooler than the iPad 1’s trio of speaker openings, and to our ears, delivered identical sound.
Apple also created a white model this time around, but we ended up not liking it. Obviously, it shows dirt more, but the white trim also doesn’t disappear the way the black border does when gaming or watching video. Of course, that’s entirely a personal preference.
More importantly, at 1.3 pounds, the iPad 2 dropped a little more than 3 ounces off the weight of the iPad 1. You can feel the difference in heft, but holding it for long periods--Netflix or iBooks sessions--will still strain your arms in ways that a small e-reader like the 8.5-ounce Kindle doesn’t.
But an iPad 2 can do so much more than an e-reader, and its new 1GHz dual-core A5 system-on-chip powers it to a noticeably more nimble performance. In our benchmarks, which measure memory and processor performance, it scored 1.65 times better than the iPad 1. On average, the iPad 2 powers up 8.2 seconds faster, and many apps launch 1–1.5 seconds faster too, though often the iPad 2 was only a beat or two quicker at launching apps. Like its predecessor, battery life is seriously impressive, lasting 13.42 hours in our rundown (which looped an iTunes-bought movie), though the iPad 1’s battery took 14 hours flat to run down last year. Perhaps the A5 eats a bit more power?
While FaceTime and Photo Booth join the ranks of Apple-supplied apps, the iPad 2--like its predecessor--still doesn’t include the Clock, Compass, Weather, Stocks, or Calculator apps that iPhones do. Weird!
In practice, those numbers make everything you do feel a touch more speedy and responsive--particularly games. It’s certainly not an earth-shattering difference, but heavy iPad 1 users will mumble an appreciative “oh, cool!” Likewise, the new three-axis gyroscope smoothes out tilt-control games a bit, but not hugely so.
We expect the big improvements to come when developers have a chance to fashion apps that are tuned to take advantage of the A5’s dual cores. Likewise, the fact that the iPad 2 has only 512MB of RAM (as measured via software; Apple declined to confirm the spec) made no difference in the apps we tested. It’ll be a much-discussed detail because competitors like the Xoom and TouchPad sport 1GB, but only time will tell whether the iPad’s 2 RAM is a limitation or wise cost-cutting measure.
Easily the biggest letdown of the iPad 2 is that the screen hasn’t been improved. The 9.7-inch 1024x768 LED-backlit IPS display is the same as the iPad 1’s, and it holds up well, delivering lovely visuals and highly responsive Multi-Touch control. Even with that oleophobic coating, it still smudges up with fingerprints almost as soon as you pick it up, so keep a microfiber handy.
The iPad 2 does deliver one dazzling video upgrade, and that’s mirroring in 1080p. If you buy the optional Digital AV Adapter ($39), you can connect it to a TV or monitor, and everything you see and do is mirrored on the external display. It’s instantly useful for everything from presentations to gaming to teaching, and while it’s a simple addition technologically speaking, it’s a massively cool one that loads of people will use. (The adapter also works with the iPad 1, but in 720p only.)
But since the display hasn’t changed, the iPad 2’s screen still gets annihilated in bright sunlight--images are so drowned out by the glare that the device becomes virtually unusable. Old news, but it really becomes a problem when you’re trying to use the cameras outside because you literally can’t see what you’re shooting.
Yes, the iPad 2 adds dual cameras, a terrific improvement. The front-facing camera delivers VGA-quality video and stills (like the iPhone 4), while Apple’s official specs carefully describe the rear camera only as an HD video camera that films in 720p. That’s probably because the rear camera takes grainy, low-res photos—examining their metadata told us that it’s a 0.7MP camera, though Apple also declined to confirm that spec. You’ll instantly notice that shortage of megapixels in your photography; pictures look noisy and low-res, like the janky snaps from old cell phones.
Even in good lighting, the iPad’s cameras produce grainy, low-res photos.
When recording video, though, the rear camera produces good-quality footage--if you can figure out how to hold on the darn thing. Yes, gripping a big, flat “camera” is as awkward as you’d expect, and while tap-to-focus is as cool as always, the Camera app exacerbates the problem by forcing the shutter button to appear at the bottom of the screen. Since most people will want to hold the iPad 2 by its sides, you’ll inevitably wobble the screen when you reach for that button. The iPad 2’s also difficult to keep steady once you do start filming, and with the rear camera positioned on its edge, we’ve literally never stuck our finger into the frame so many times before.
If you just want to make video calls, the iPad 2’s dual cameras do a fine job of it.
Honestly, we recommend that you don’t buy an iPad 2 intending to use its cameras for anything other than FaceTime and Photo Booth. For those purposes, the iPad 2 shines. The FaceTime calls we made during testing were smooth and lag-free, though we found it far more comfortable to use a stand for these calls. If both callers are using the front cameras, hand-holding the iPad 2 tends to put a pretty big image of someone else’s face right up in your grill in an uncomfortable way. Flipping it around to use the rear camera to film kids or cats works great, and the backside-illumination sensor in the rear camera makes it fairly adept in low light.
Photo Booth is genuinely good fun.
Photo Booth and its nine live feeds of special effects was an unexpected delight, great for goofing around. We entertained a couple kids for a solid hour, getting hard belly laughs the whole time as they experimented with the distortions and snapped wacky photos of one another. It’s a terrific toy.
Last but not least, we were surprised at how cool the magnetic Smart Cover is. Something about how it uses 31 freakin’ magnets according to iFixIt.com’s excellent tear-down to seamlessly snap the case onto the iPad 2 and wake it from sleep adds to the whole futuristic feel of the device. It’s another one of those “touching is believing” moments that helped make the iPad such a success in the first place.
The bottom line: With properly calibrated expectations--think minor refresh, rather than next generation--the iPad 2 continues Apple’s reign as the king of tablets. If you haven’t bought one yet, the iPad 2 is a stellar device that still feels like a little slice of science fiction come true. But if you already own an iPad 1, there’s no real need to upgrade unless you’re a hardcore gamer who wants premium performance.
1GHz dual-core Apple A5 system-on-chip with 512MB DDR2 RAM; 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash drive; 9.7-inch 1024x768 LED-backlit glossy Multi-Touch IPS display with oleophobic coating; front camera (VGA video & stills); rear camera (720p video & 0.7MP stills); 802.11n Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR; three-axis gyroscope; digital compass; accelerometer; ambient light sensor; 30-pin dock connector; built-in speaker, mic, and stereo headphone jack; 25 watt-hour lithium-polymer battery. Wi-Fi + 3G for AT&T model: UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz). Wi-Fi + 3G for Verizon model: CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz).
New A5 chip and RAM significantly improve overall performance, and gaming in particular. Dual cameras work fine for video calls. Thinner, lighter unibody looks slick and makes the iPad more comfortable to use. Video mirroring adds “teaching and presentation tool” to the iPad’s list of many useful functions. Magnet-based Smart Cover is an ingenious, valuable accessory. Same pricing as first iPad.
No transformative new features. Display is unchanged, so it still isn’t usable in bright sunlight and attracts lots of smudgy fingerprints. Cameras yield poor, low-res photos. Using cameras is often difficult and requires awkward grip. No support for 4G cellular data. Still no expansion ports.