Review – Hands-on with the iPad 2

30 Mar 2011

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Siliconrepublic.com editor John Kennedy got to sample the coveted iPad 2. Has it been worth the wait? Is it much different than the first generation? Let’s see now …

Someone recently pointed out that Apple is possibly the nearest thing to a religion these days. Who else can position places of worship in cities around the world with thousands of the faithful queueing around the corner to view the tablets that Moses, ahem, I mean Steve Jobs, has brought down from the mountain of innovation at 1 Infinite Loop?

And who needs a burning bush, anyway, when you’ve got the internet to tell everyone. Before Jobs performs his next trick of turning water into wine, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I got my hands on the iPad 2 earlier this week, just days after the first lucky buyers left their queues.

The iPad 2 went on sale in North America more than a fortnight ago and in 25 countries internationally last Friday. Some 8m iPads are estimated to have been sold this year and of the new iPad 2, some 500,000 were sold last weekend. After completing the necessary paperwork, the good folk at Apple allowed me to borrow one of these coveted devices for a test run.

When I first started using the iPad last year, I grasped the immediate potential of the device for media. As a one-time photography student, I fell in love with the notion of a personal lightbox and as an editor I was entranced at how magazines and newspapers came to life in ways hitherto impossible, not to mention the fact it is also a music player, an HD video player and much more. As a video gamer, the gyroscope and HD properties told me that devices like the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable had a fight on their hands.

There are now some 65,000 apps made especially for the iPad alone and no, I don’t buy into the lame argument that it’s just a mini iPhone. Apps live differently on the iPad.

So you can guess I was chomping at the bit to get to play with the iPad 2. At the same time, at CES this year, some 85 tablet computers from manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola, Panasonic, Research in Motion and many others were unveiled that promised to give the iPad a run for its money in terms of multitasking, dual-core processors, cameras, HDMI inputs and more. The majority of these were Google Android devices.

First impressions of the iPad 2

OK, the details are well known at this point. Its 15pc lighter and 33pc thinner, it has 10 hours of battery life, two cameras, front and back, and an A5 dual-core processor, nine times faster graphics performance than the first generation and built-in apps like PhotoBooth and FaceTime. The rear camera has 720p HD video recording with 5x zoom and the device is capable of video mirroring up to 1,080p via a HDMI adapter onto any HD television.

When I sat down in front of the iPad 2, my very, very first impression was simply the fact the screen seems brighter and more vivid, even though as far as I’m aware, Apple hasn’t yet put its Retina technology on the iPad yet.

Appearances wise, the iPad 2 doesn’t seem all that much different to the first generation. Everything feels the same from a software perspective (it runs iOS 4.3) at first. Holding it for the first time you won’t discern an immediate difference in weight as you would be led to believe. However, once you compare the side profile with that of the first iPad, the older version does seem chunkier.

One of the first tests I ran to see just how fast the iPad 2 is was to just launch the Epicurious food app – a deliciously complex but beautiful app –  on both devices. The app launched much more swifter for sure on the iPad 2.

And that’s just one difference on first glance, it is faster and smoother than generation one, no doubt about it.

But the real differentiator is truly the camera technology. Apps like PhotoBooth, GarageBand and iMovie that were previously only available on the Mac platform perform amazingly well on the iPad 2 and in fact feel like they were born for it.

GarageBand – even if you’re not musically competent – is a touch wonder. It would make you believe you’re a genius on the blues guitar or the electric organ, but I don’t think my debut album is likely to appear anytime soon. But it’s truly the wonder of touch that gets you with GarageBand for the iPad. Tap lightly on a drum, it’s barely audible. Tap or thump harder and it sounds louder. The same is true for piano notes and guitar strings; it really reacts well to touch. Don’t be surprised to see entire albums and hit songs produced on this device in the not too distant future.

iMovie also undergoes a brilliant reincarnation on the iPad. This time, however, on the one device you can shoot and edit movies in HD, edit sound, do overlays, create visual effects. Absolutely mesmerising. I can’t wait to see what kind of movies get shot on this device. However, I can’t imagine people holding it up for long trying to record pivotal events so I can foresee peripheral manufactures perhaps creating versatile tripods or tripod adapters for solid shooting. Why not? I’m gifted with an imagination.

When Jobs unveiled the iPad first he also revealed a new smart cover concept; magnetic covers that protect the screen, keep it clean but also switch the device on for you once you peel back the cover. What I really liked about the smart covers was how easy it was to snap them on and off – magnets snap the cover’s hinge to the side of the iPad with no fuss.

Verdict

The iPad 2 is a definite upgrade from the first generation in terms of speed, performance, the scope for challenging new apps of all description and of course the camera capability opens the door for a myriad of possibilities. It is the total media device.

But – there is always a ‘but’ – should first-generation owners discard their first device any time soon? Only if you need the camera capability and want to discover more Mac-type apps, like iMovie and GarageBand. If you are content to work and play and consume media, then there is no burning pressure on you … yet. Your first-generation iPad is still up to the task for most of today’s apps and work tools.

Apple came in for some criticism for the iPad 2 not being so radically different to the iPad 1. With the exception of the cameras, the dual-core processor and the graphics capabilities, it feels rather samey. But apps certainly perform more smoothly. This makes me believe the iPad 2 is really garnered to capture a whole new generation of iPad users. Yes, it is progress, but not enough to ditch your old iPad yet. New iPad users won’t be disappointed, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Summing up, the iPad 2 is smooth, sharp and sophisticated, oozes elegance and with its new smart cover technology, is dressed to impress. Screen quality is brighter and sharper. Like I said, you won’t be disappointed.

Prices

The iPad 2 is available online and in most Apple reseller stores for a suggested retail price of €479 inc VAT (€395.87 ex VAT) for the 16GB model, €579 inc VAT (€478.51 ex VAT) for the 32GB model, €679 inc VAT (€561.16 ex VAT) for the 64GB model.

The iPad 2 with Wi-Fi + 3G will be available for a suggested retail price of €599 inc VAT (€495.04 ex VAT) for the 16GB model, €699 inc VAT (€577.69 ex VAT) for the 32GB model and €799 inc VAT (€660.33 ex VAT) for the 64GB model.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com