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iPad 2 Review: Thinner and Faster–Should You Buy It?

by on March 17th, 2011

Last year skeptics questioned Apple’s iPad when it was announced and predicted that it would flop. Of course, analysts were proved wrong as the iPad sold almost 15 million units in nine months, and talented developers turned the iPad into one giant success.

The next generation iPad 2 brings a thinner design, lighter weight, dual cameras, and faster A5 processor. I will explain my experience using the iPad 2 since launch day. Is the iPad 2 a worthy successor compared to the original iPad? Let’s find out.

Unboxing the iPad 2

Nothing new here, just your typical Apple unboxing that leaves you giggling with joy. If you’ve unboxed an iPad before, you’re not seeing anything new. Inside you’ll find the iPad, charger, 30 pin USB cable, and some simple start up instructions (and of course two Apple stickers). The iPad should really come with a cleaning cloth and headphones. Maybe one day, right?

The iPad 2 has an excellent plastic wrap on it, so if you’re waiting to buy a case you could technically ‘slum’ it until your case is purchased. The experience won’t be great, but if you’re one of those obsessive freaks that like to keep their gadgets in tip top shape, I know you’ll be doing this.

I will be applying an invisibleSHIELD to my iPad 2 (save 20% off with coupon ‘iphoneinca’). Speaking of which, I was able to sell my first iPad for top dollar thanks to ZAGG. My buyer couldn’t believe the mint condition my iPad was in, thanks to the invisibleSHIELD.

In case you missed it, here’s the iPad 2 unboxing trailer Apple forgot to post on the web:

First Impressions Out of the Box

Immediately after picking up the iPad 2, I noticed how much thinner and lighter it was compared to the old iPad. The curved edges make a huge difference in how the unit feels in your hands, and the thinner feel makes you realize how ‘fat’ the iPad was in the middle. It’s a real treat to hold the iPad 2. Apple achieved this by making the glass and batteries thinner.

As always, you’ll need to activate your iPad by plugging it into iTunes. When you think about it, this step is completely unnecessary for those that want to play with the iPad 2 right out of the box. Since the iPad 2 is curved, plugging in the 30 pin cable isn’t as easy as before. Part of the pin connector is exposed–you’d think Apple would come up with a flush mounted 30 pin connector? Once activated, the familiar iPad homescreen is there, right in front of you.

ipad 2 vs ipad 1

The Home button seems closer to the surface, and the button press feels better compared to the original iPad. Maybe that’s just me. The mute/orientation switch, also ‘slides’ better too. There seems to be a tiny bit of acceleration that helps you glide the switch back and forth. And, you’ll be happy to know that iOS 4.3 now brings back the option to turn the switch back to lock orientation, instead of mute (thank you Apple).

Using the iPad 2: It Runs Snappier Than Before

The first and obvious test with iPad 2 was to launch Safari. I noticed immediately everything felt much more “instant”. The original iPad wasn’t a slouch in any regard, but there were delays at times when launching apps. Now, with iPad 2–those delay are gone. Swiping between pages, loading of web pages, and apps, is much faster than before. Obviously, if you’ve never used the original iPad before, you’ll be impressed with the speed. I would compare this speed bump to moving from an iPhone 3GS to iPhone 4. Noticeably faster, enough for you to realize this thing has a dual core processor.

iPad 2 has more memory than before, and this ultimately has made the iPad experience even better than before. Web pages now stay loaded when switching between tabs, as iPad 2 now has 512 MB of RAM. Multitasking and opening and exiting apps are a joy on iPad 2. The newest signature apps from Apple, GarageBand and iMovie are smooth as butter on iPad 2. We have yet to see the new dual core A5 processor be put to the test.

As for battery life, my iPad 2 had an 88% charge right out of the box. I haven’t charged the unit since I started using it on late Friday night, and with my light usage it still stands at 40% four days later as of writing this review. I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to squeeze out another 3-4 days of light usage. To think that a dual core processor would enable the iPad 2 to retain 10 hours of battery is impressive. Early reviews showed even more than 10 hours of battery life.

The iPad 2 screen sports the same display as last year. However, my unit appeared brighter and slightly crisper than my original iPad. Both units were manually set to 50% brightness, and iPad 2 was brighter. Either that, or the ambient sensor was not working properly on my original iPad. Even at full brightness, the original iPad screen did not look as good as iPad 2.

Got Cameras? FaceTime Now Comes to the iPad 2

Sporting dual cameras, the iPad 2 is now FaceTime-ready, joining the iPhone 4 and fourth generation iPod touch. The rear camera can record videos in HD 720P, and the front camera is VGA resolution. Photobooth is fun to play around with, but the novelty wears off quickly. It is really weird using a camera with a 10″ screen–it’s almost kind of trippy. I’ll be honest though, the iPad 2 cameras aren’t very good. Images are grainy and suffer from noise in low light. Then again, how often would you use your iPad 2 primarily as a camera?

Taking pictures with it feels slightly awkward, compared to holding a point and shoot or SLR. For me, the camera should be better but I can understand why it’s not. It’s not easy manipulating the iPad 2 to take photos. The screen is so large, you end up holding it further away to snap pics–an awkward feeling.

Introducing My New Favourite Piece of ‘Tech’: The Smart Cover

When I first saw the Smart Cover in action during the iPad 2 keynote, I was very intrigued. It’s ingenious and innovative to use 31 magnets (thanks iFixit) to help hold the Smart Cover to the iPad 2′s edge, and to keep it flush along the front, plus when it’s manipulated into a stand.

I opted for the grey polyurethane, and the material feels similar to the original black iPad case. Latching the Smart Cover to iPad 2 is brainless and easy. In typical Apple fashion, it just works. The magnets are strong enough that I can dangle my iPad 2 just by holding onto the Smart Cover. There are tiny plastic pieces that protect the iPad 2′s aluminum frame from constant snapping on and off. What’s interesting to note is that even with the Smart Cover applied to the iPad 2, it’s still thinner than the original iPad.

Folding and unfolding the Smart Cover into its triangular shape is, in a weird way, gratifying. Maybe it’s the childhood memories of manipulating magnets coming back to my mind. When molded into the triangular shape, the microfibre side is exposed to the elements. You can flip it around and fold it so the polyurethane is on the outside, which I have been taking time to get used to.

With the Smart Cover, you soon realize how much time was spent pressing Home or Sleep button, then “Sliding to Unlock” with the original iPad. iPad 2 automatically wakes upon lifting the cover. We can satisfy our insatiable desire to get online faster than ever before.

Here’s a quick review of the Smart Cover:

Should you buy the iPad 2?

Lots of my friends and family have asked me this–and it’s a question that’s pretty simple to answer. If you are an existing iPad owner, the differences include a faster processor, thinner design, and cameras. They are nice upgrades, but not game changing. It’s a good next step up from the original. That being said, it is only worth the purchase if you absolutely must have the need for cameras and want the latest model. Other than that, save your money for the next generation iPad 3.

If you’ve never owned an iPad before, this is the time to buy one. iPad 2 builds on the successful iPad, and brings features we longed for last year, and Apple delivered. This next generation iPad is thinner, faster, lighter, and has cameras–all for the same price, plus the exact same battery life. The only problem right now is where to find one. Canada gets theirs on March 25th.

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Posted under: Recommendations, Reviews

  • Lonetreejim

    The iPad 2 has a oleophobic coating on the screen like the 3Gs does. I noticed a HUGE difference in fingerprint smudging between the 3G and the 3Gs.

    Is the iPad 2 screen equally less smudged?

  • Wuju

    My mind says to get iPad 3 since iPad 2 does not have Retina display but my heart may simply win over once I see it in Apple Store and starts playing with it and its smart cover. Be still my heart…. :)

  • Snork

    The link to purchase a Zagg cover for this goes to a page for the iPad 1. Didn’t realize this and went through the whole order and payment process then had to phone and cancel the order and change it to iPad 2.

  • Anonymous

    To my mind the most “game-changing” feature of the iPad2 is the HD output of everything seen on the screen! You didn’t happen to get one of HD output cables did you? The original iPad could only output videos and bits of presentations in keynote and probably some other stuff to -not very intuitive. And the cables were janky (the VGA cable had to be run without a charge).

  • Anonymous

    I’ll definitely be picking one up, despite that lack of Retina Display. I just can’t wait any longer.

  • Anonymous

    So Gary, you have an invisible shield surrounding the entire iPad plus the smart cover? Or did you just put the shield on the back?

    I need to do a better job of protecting my next iPad as my 1st gen ended up with a hefty scratch on the screen!