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It feels like it was just yesterday that the original iPad launched. Here we are, eleven months later and the iPad 2 is finally among us. Apple products always seem to grow quite a bit of hype and gain a large following, and the iPad 2 is no exception. Some people paid good money and waited in line for days to get their shiny, new tablet. Priced at $499.99 for the 16GB Wi-Fi only version and going up to $829.00 for the 64GB Wi-Fi and 3G version, is it a worthy successor to the original iPad? Or should you save your money and wait on the third generation iPad or another tablet?

I've had a few hours of hands-on time with the iPad 2, and here are my thoughts so far:

  • One of the biggest reasons people are rushing out to get their iPad 2 is for the cameras for some FaceTimin' fun. Honestly, this is something that should have been included on the original iPad. Seeing that Apple didn't give a whole lot of information on them, I was expecting both the front and back cameras to be fairly poor, especially coming from a XOOM with a 5-megapixel shooter around back and 2-megapixel front-facing camera. After playing around with the cameras for just a few minutes, I'm even more disappointed than I thought I would be. The cameras are obviously not meant to take stills and video capture on the rear camera was mediocre at best. Being a high-end product, this is not something I would expect from Apple.
  • On that note, I tested out FaceTime when I got home. The image quality on both ends of the call seemed pretty good. Once you look at the 3.5-inch display versus the 9.7-inch display though, you really notice how poor the front-facing cameras really are. Comparing this video chat to the chat on my XOOM using Google Talk's native video calling, the quality of FaceTime is a little disappointing.
  • One big improvement of the iPad 2 was the addition of the 1GHz A5 dual-core processor. The original iPad was always very snappy and I never experienced any lag. I've been working with both generations side-by-side for a few hours now. I've yet to see and noticeable difference in speeds with pinch zooming, loading applications, page load times, etc. I haven't really had a chance to put any games or anything to the test yet, but I'm sure the A5 can handle quite a bit.

  • Apple never released any information on available RAM, so we assumed it had remained unchanged at 256MB. According to 9to5Mac, the iPad 2 comes with 526MB. By industry standards, this is around the middle of the playing field. But like I said above, lag was never an issue before. I don't expect it to be on the new version with double the memory and the dual-core processor.
  • The most notable improvement is the size of the iPad 2. At 8.8mm, the thing is unbelievably thin. In the hand, it doesn't feel as thin as the iPhone 4, but lying flat on a table, you can feel that the iPad 2 is just a hair shorter. The new iPad looks extremely skinny next to the original, which was 0.5-inches (12.7mm) thick.
  • The back of the iPad is no longer curved. This was something I never really liked about the original model. Along with flattening the back of the device, they beveled the edges off at a much sharper angle. This gives the device a great, sleek feel. However, it also makes the volume rocker stick, the side switch, and the power button stick out. They have sharp edges that "catch" your finger. It's not anything major, but it's a little annoying and slightly takes away from the smooth feel of the device.
  • Not only did Apple make the iPad 2 thinner, but they cut a little extra weight. The original was 1.5 pounds, the new version is 1.3 pounds. It's not a huge difference, but you can definitely feel it when holding them both.

  • The display is bright and popping with color. Many were hoping Apple would up the resolution of the display. Realistically, this was never going to happen, not without upping the cost quite a bit. People are already up in arms about tablet pricing; 1024 by 768 pixels is plenty...for now. Even though the resolution is lower than some competing tablets, I'm glad Apple stuck with what they had.
  • I was worried about the speaker being moved to the back of the device. The speakers were on the back of the XOOM and almost sounded muffled when listening to music or watching videos. Seeing that the original iPad's speaker was located on the bottom edge of the device, this was never an issue. Facing away from you, the iPad 2's speaker obviously won't sound nearly as loud or clear, but it hasn't been that bad.
  • The iPad 2 ships with iOS version 4.3, which became available yesterday. Nothing major here, just minor bug fixes and the ability to program the side switch to toggle orientation lock or mute, a major plus. I'm interested to see what changes iOS 5.0 will bring.
  • Battery life seems to be on par with the previous version. I've had the brightness all the way up and been using it relentlessly for a few hours now. The battery was at 85% when I first pulled it out of the box and now sits at 66% nearly five hours later. Not too shabby.

More to come, so stay tuned for the full review!


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