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iPad 2 Review

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating starrating star
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What's hot: A great tablet gets even thinner and faster.

What's not: We'd hoped for even more improvements and upgrades like a higher resolution display and more open access to the file system.

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Editor's Update March 2012: Read our New iPad (3rd Gen) Review.

Reviewed March 12, 2011 by lisa Gade

The iPad really needs no introduction: it quickly became the world’s favorite slate tablet. Of course, that wasn’t hard since consumer slate tablets were a rarity at the time and most of them ran full Windows, an OS not really optimized for touch-only input. Fast forward 11 months and Apple owns approximately 73% of the market (they’d had a higher percentage for several months but the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7” Android tablet came out in November 2010 and grabbed some market share).  Additional Android competitors are just now letting loose with their offerings, some of which boast better specs than the original iPad.

iPad 2

Enter the iPad 2, an evolutionary product that keeps the specs competitive with a 1GHz dual core A5 CPU, double the RAM of the original iPad and a Verizon 3G version that accompanies the AT&T 3G model. Though it still doesn’t boast the highest specs (that award currently goes to the Motorola Xoom 10.1” tablet with a higher resolution display, a gig of RAM and a free 4G LTE upgrade coming), specs aren’t everything. The iPad runs the popular, intuitive and familiar iOS for a user experience that’s hard to beat, at least for non-techie types. If you can use an iPhone or iPod Touch, you can use the iPad 2. There are 65,000 tablet-optimized apps on iTunes, so you’ll never go hungry for software. The base price for a WiFi-only 16 gig model remains at $499, making it price competitive with other tablets. In fact, this is one of the few times Apple’s product is actually less expensive than the competition’s.

iPad 2

Like the original iPad, the iPad 2 is sold without cellular contract, even if you buy one with a Verizon or AT&T 3G radio inside. You’ll pay month by month for data (if you want it), and all iPad 2 models have WiFi 802.11b/g/n. They’re available in 16, 32 and 64 gig models, and the top-of-the-line 64 gig WiFi + 3G model sells for $829 regardless of carrier.

So what’s new? The second gen iPad is thinner and a little bit lighter (1.33 lbs. vs. 1.5 lbs.). The iPad 2 is faster thanks to the dual core A5 CPU vs. the single core CPU used in the original iPad. It has 512 megs of RAM, up from 256; which still sounds low to us, but iPads rarely crash. There are front and rear cameras, though the rear camera is a disappointing 0.7 megapixels that doesn’t take very good photos or impressive video. We’re a little surprised that Apple skimped on the camera. The front camera works with Apple’s FaceTime video chat, and you can chat with iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4th gen, other iPad 2 owners and Macs that have the 99 cent FaceTime app installed. The 9.7” IPS display keeps the same 1024 x 768 resolution as the original iPad. The iPad 2 ships with iOS 4.3, and you can download that OS upgrade for free if you have an iPad, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 or 3rd/4th gen iPod Touch.

iPad 2

The iPad and iPad 2.

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Design

The iPad 2 is gloriously thin at 0.34”—that’s slimmer than both the iPhone 4 and the iPad. Its tapered sides are reminiscent of the 4th gen iPod touch, but the finish is anodized aluminum for better grip and durability compared to the iPod’s scratch-prone chrome. Unfortunately the aluminum is more highly polished than the first gen iPad, and combined with the curved sides, it’s easier to drop. The WiFi + 3G model has a black plastic band along the back top border for better cellular reception while the WiFi-only model has no band.

iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom

The iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom.

The iPad is available with your choice of white or black bezel, while the back is aluminum. It might not be a white iPhone 4, but it’s something.  The white model’s display seems to collect more fingerprints, but it may just be that the light color reflects them more and makes them easier to see. The iPad 2, like the iPad and iPhone 4 have an oleophobic coating that resists fingerprint oils. Build quality is superb, as you’d expect from Apple, and the iPad 2 is a gorgeous looking piece of tech.

iPad 2

The 9.7” IPS display is as sharp and colorful as ever. It’s still not terribly outdoor viewable and there’s glare indoors but the rich colors and extremely wide viewing angles balance our complaints. This is a capacitive multi-touch display with pinch zooming and the display rotates via accelerometer (you can now disable this using the hardware switch). There’s also a gyroscope that will come in handy for gaming, but be careful how you fling this 9.5” x  7.3”, 1.33 lb. tablet around when gaming.

Video Review

Speed

No doubt, the iPad 2 feels fast. To be honest, I wasn’t bothered by slowness in the original iPad, but once I’d used the iPad 2, I noticed all the little places where the first gen model lagged. I don’t mean applications or games, because in general those are well optimized for the 1GHz A4 CPU used in the iPad and iPhone 4. Rather things like opening settings and selecting one of the options has some lag in the iPad while there’s none in the iPad 2. 3D games and iTunes HD video play well on both models, but as developers (particularly game developers) start to develop for the dual core A5 CPU and added RAM in the iPad 2, it will likely pull ahead. For now, you won’t gain much with the A5 CPU other than a bit of added responsiveness, but in 6 months, those of you who are 3D gamers may see a reason to upgrade to the iPad 2.

It’s not easy to compare the A5 to the Tegra 2, because they run on different operating systems. That means benchmarks aren’t testing just the hardware but the OS and applications that run on top of the hardware. The Tegra 2 is a 1GHz dual core CPU that’s clocked at 1GHz. The iPad 2’s A5 CPU is a dual core 1GHz CPU that’s clocked at 800-900MHz. Both have hardware graphics acceleration for 2D and 3D operations. Honestly, both are extremely capable CPUs given the current demands of software in the fledgling tablet space— it’s just not that relevant to compare these CPUs in extremis. It’s more relevant to compare the single core A4 to to the A5 used in the iPad and iPad 2 respectively, and there we see significant improvement. Apple claims up to 2x CPU improvement and up to 9x graphics improvement with the new PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU. In terms of benchmarks, the iPad 2 is indeed roughly 2x faster overall and shows 3 to 4x improvement over the original iPad for Open GL benchmarks (the Tegra 2 in the Xoom sits in between the two iPad models).

Wireless Options

You can get WiFi-only models and use the iPad 2’s 802.11a/b/g/n connection with your home, work or public WiFi hotspot. No data plans, no monthly fees but your Internet connection is only as solid as your nearest hotspot.

 Should you wish to have data access when not in range of a hotspot, you’ll want to get a 3G version. Should you go with AT&T or Verizon Wireless? That depends on coverage in your area and your preferred provider. AT&T charges $25/month for 2 gigs of data, and Verizon offers several plans starting at 1 gig for $20, 3 gigs for $35 and up. The Verizon version supports EV-DO Rev. A and the AT&T version does HSDPA 3G, and neither version can act as a hotspot that shares its wireless connection with other devices like laptops (a feature that’s common in other tablets). If both carriers are strong in your area, the AT&T plan is currently a bit more cost effective if your cellular data usage is fairly low. But if you plan to stream video via YouTube, Netflix or other service, you might find that 2 gigs isn’t enough.

iOS 4.3

The iPad 2 ships with the latest version of iOS: 4.3. You can also upgrade a first gen iPad to this OS, along with late model iPhones and iPod Touch handhelds. The new OS adds AirPlay enhancements, iTunes Home Sharing and a much faster Javascript engine that cuts in half page rendering times when loading Javascript-laden pages. Even the original iPad shows great improvement with the upgrade, and the SunSpider Java script benchmark shows the original iPad going from 8,000 ms processing times down to to 3344 ms. The iPad 2 is even faster at 2176, but dual core Tegra 2 Motorola Xoom with Google’s Android browser is the fastest at 2059ms. Safari under iOS 4.2 was feeling sluggish compared to the competition, but now it once again seems pleasingly fast.

iTunes Home Sharing allows you to stream music and videos to your iOS 4.3 device which is very cool. There’s no need to USB sync every bit of media, and it’s handy if you don’t have the space to sync your entire collection. As with Home Sharing for the computer, your computer with iTunes library and your iPad 2 must be on the same WiFi network (you can’t stream from your home computer while sitting at the neighborhood Starbucks).

iOS 4.3 adds an option for the side button to control screen orientation lock or act as a mute switch, and this works with the original iPad as well. Given how sensitive the iPad's accelerometer is, we're thrilled.

iPad 2

The speaker grille to the left of the dock connector.

 

iPad 2

That small dot up top is the camera lens.

 

iPad 2

The iPad and iPad 2.

 

Conclusion

The iPad was a revolutionary piece of technology: it was the first intuitive, fun and widely available consumer tablet. One could easily argue that it created the space. It was exquisitely well made, attractive and despite a price range that overlapped with laptops, it sold millions. The iPad 2 is an evolution: it’s faster and thinner. The experience remains the same since it runs the same OS, is the same ballpark shape and size and uses the same display as the original model.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great tablet, because it’s certainly one of the best. But if you’ve already shelled out for an iPad, there’s no strong reason to buy an iPad 2 (other than you just want one!).  As the competition heats up with more 10” Android tablets, the webOS TouchPad and BlackBerry PlayBook coming soon, Apple’s lead may erode in the long term. But until those platforms gain the huge library of tablet applications and buyable/rentable video that iTunes boasts, Apple’s lead will stay secure. It will be interesting to see what happens 1-2 years from now: will Android’s growth and maturity eat into the iPad’s dominance as it has with the iPhone?

Pro: As always with iOS, the iPad 2 is fun and easy to use. Fast, thin, good looking and a little lighter than the first gen iPad. Sharp, bright and colorful 9.7" IPS display with fingerprint-resistant coating and wide viewing angles. Large selection of available applications, a seriously impressive library of high end 3D games and plenty of children's apps, books and games.

Con: Apple's iOS is limiting for power users: there's still no file manager or direct access to the file system. Everything must be transferred via iTunes and conduits for various file types are often fragmented inside of iTunes syncing settings. No widgets and no customization beyond wallpaper and sounds. We'd like to see a somewhat higher resolution display for improved web browsing, image viewing and spreadsheet viewing. No expansion slot, VGA and HDMI require adapters sold separately.

Price: $499 - $829

Web Site: www.apple.com, wireless.att.com, www.verizonwireless.com

Related Reviews:

iPad Air Review

iPad mini with Retina Display Review

iPad mini Review

 

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Specs:

Display: 9.7” LED blacklit glossy IPS widescreen with multi-touch. 1024 x 768 resolution (132ppi). Fingerprint resistant coating. Supports accelerometer and has ambient light sensor and 3-axis gyroscopic sensor.

Processor: 1GHz Apple A5 dual core CPU with PowerVR SGX 543MP2 GPU.

Network: Wi-Fi model: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n; AT&T Wi-Fi + 3G model: UMTS/HSDPA 850/1900/2100MHz, GSM/EDGE quad-band, data only; Verizon Wireless model: CDMA dual band digital EV-DO Rev. A 3G. All models have Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR and Apple 30 pin dock connector to USB.

GPS: Cellular modles have GPS as well as digital compass. WiFi models use WiFi-based location triangulation.

Cameras: Front and rear cameras. Back camera can record up to 720p 30fps video (0.7MP) and front camera can record VGA video.

Storage: 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB internal flash storage.

Audio: Built-in mic and speaker, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack. Audio formats supported: HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.

Video: Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold separately). Video out support at 576p and 480p with Apple Component AV Cable; 576i and 480i with Apple Composite AV Cable. Video formats supported: H.264 video up to 720p, 30 frames per second, Main Profile level 3.1 with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; MPEG-4 video, up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps per channel, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats; Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) up to 35 Mbps, 1280 by 720 pixels, 30 frames per second, audio in ulaw, PCM stereo audio in .avi file format.

Size: 9.50 x 7.31 x 0.34 inches. Weight: 1.33 pounds (Wi-Fi model), 1.34 pounds (Wi-Fi + 3G model).

Battery: Rechargeable 25-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery. Not user replaceable. Claimed usage time: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music; Up to 9 hours of surfing the web using 3G data network.

Supported mail attachment types for viewing via built-in apps: .jpg, .tiff, .gif (images); .doc and .docx (Microsoft Word); .htm and .html (web pages); .key (Keynote); .numbers (Numbers); .pages (Pages); .pdf (Preview and Adobe Acrobat); .ppt and .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint); .txt (text); .rtf (rich text format); .vcf (contact information); .xls and .xlsx (Microsoft Excel).

Expansion: No storage card slot.

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