Apple iPad 2 Review by Taylor

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: March 14, 2011

The Apple iPad 2, successor to the original Apple tablet, is one of the thinnest and most impressive devices we have ever got our paws on here at PhoneDog. The iPad 2 comes in either black or white and pricing begins at $499 and ranges all the way up to $829. It's available in both a Wi-Fi only and 3G and Wi-Fi version and in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities.

For months now, there has been a lot of speculation about what specifications this device would finally hit the market with. Aside from some design changes, a pair of cameras, a 1GHz A5 dual-core processor, and double the RAM, little has changed. Is the iPad 2 enough to keep the "tablet king" crown atop Apple's head? Or will one of the competing tablets steal the title for 2011?

Design & Features

At 1.3 pounds, the iPad 2 has a nice feel to it; not too heavy, but not so light that it feels cheap or fragile. The back is now flat and also resembles a familiar style – much like the original iPhone or fourth generation iPod Touch. I definitely favor the flat back, but Apple mitered the edges off at a much sharper angle. There is no longer a flat edge around the device. The buttons now stick out and will catch your finger if you slide it along the edge. This takes away from the smooth feel of the device and just feels sloppy.

On the top edge, the power/sleep button is on the right, the microphone is in the middle, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is found on the left. The mute/orientation lock switch and volume rocker are located on the right edge, and the 30-pin proprietary charging port is on the bottom. The face of the device consists of a 9.7-inch (1024 by 768 pixel resolution) display, the standard home button, and the VGA camera. On the back of the device you will find the speaker grill and the HD (720p, 30 fps) camera.

The most noticeable difference in the design of the iPad 2 is that it is much slimmer than its older brother. The device is an impressive 8.8mm thin (33% thinner than the original). It is also 9.5-inches tall and 7.32-inches wide. Overall, the design of the iPad 2 is superb. As a plus, the flat back and being somewhat lighter make this device a little easier to hold with one hand.

Usability & Performance

Right after I bought the iPad 2, I just had to open the box. I'm like a little kid when buying new gadgets; I can never wait until I get home to open them up. In fact, I made a stop before I got home at a Best Buy just to plug it into iTunes and get the thing booted up. Sad, I know. After taking the tablet out of the box, my instant reaction was, “Wow! This thing is super thin!” Everybody I know that has held it said the exact same thing. The iPad 2 is not just thin, it's unbelievably thin.

It ships with iOS version 4.3, which was just a minor update from 4.2 with some bug fixes and the addition of user preference for the side switch. In terms of software, you should know what to expect: an all-icon interface and very snappy zooming, panning, and scrolling. The notification system is still annoying and multitasking is usable. Hopefully some of these things will be addressed in an approaching update.

Apple has boosted some of the internals of the iPad quite a bit in the second generation. It has a 1GHz A5 dual-core processor and at 526MB of RAM, it has twice the memory as the old version. In everyday use, you probably aren't going to notice a difference between the two. The original iPad was extremely quick to begin with. One thing you may experience though, is that you can open more applications without encountering a low system memory notification. Where the dual-core processor really shines is with gaming and graphically intensive applications. Developers will soon be adding more detail and better graphics to their games. Some – like Real Racing 2 HD and Infinity Blade – have already been updated.

At 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB, the iPad 2 follows the same capacity structure as the original iPad. Seeing that many upcoming tablets have expandable memory in the form of microSD card slots, many expected and hoped Apple would have upped the capacities. Though most will never fill up 16GB, the fixed memory capacity of the iPad is a disadvantage, especially considering Garage Band and iMovie are now available.

After spending two full weeks with the Motorola XOOM and its Chrome-like browser, coming back to the iOS browser is like jumping a year into the past. I'm aware that those are fightin' words. But we're talking about tablets here, not smartphones. The Honeycomb browser is tablet-optimized. You can easily and quickly switch between your open tabs by one, simple touch. Don't get me wrong though, the browser on the iPad is great. It's always very snappy, and pages always seem to render very well. But iOS is beginning to age, and the Safari is the operating system's crows feet. A major iOS update is in the works, so here's to hoping Safari sees an update.

The 9.7-inch display has remained unchanged from the original version. When all of the rumors of a Retina or higher resolution display started, I felt like I was the only one hoping that Apple wouldn't take that route. For now, the 1024 by 768 resolution is just fine. It's only slightly lower – not noticeably, unless under a microscope or your name is Chris Chavez – than the resolution of competing tablets. With Apple choosing to stick with the current display, developers are saved from having to rework or update the graphics of their applications. And I don't know about you, but I surely wouldn't like to pay for a tablet with a 9.7-inch Retina display.

As you would expect on a media-centric tablet, the colors of the display are vivid and clear. It is also very bright. In fact, it's so bright that I find myself setting the brightness at about one third full. Even in a well-lit area, full brightness on the iPad display is just too bright. Not to mention, it will eat up that precious battery life.

While we're on the topic, the battery life of the iPad is exceptional. It's on par, if not better, than its predecessor. I've been using it heavily since I picked it up on Friday afternoon. I plugged it up Sunday morning when the battery meter hit 50%, and I've been using it for Pandora and casual web browsing for a few hours today. The battery is now sitting at 90%. In use, the battery life is great. On standby, the battery life is incredible.

This is the part of the review that I wish I could skip. We asked for cameras and Apple gave us cameras. Apparently, we should have been more specific and asked for the cameras from the iPhone 4, maybe even the 3GS. The best description I've read for the cameras thus far is “bottom-of-the-bucket” by Charlie Sorrel over at CNN Tech. The VGA front-facing camera is obviously just sufficient enough for FaceTime. You can snap stills with it, but they are VGA resolution, so they will be grainy and low quality. The same goes for the camera around back. It records video at 720p and 30 frames per second. Video quality of the rear camera is okay, nothing to write home about. It's still grainy and washed out. As for stills, they're slightly better than the front-facing shooter, but a smartphone from '05 could probably take better pictures.

That said, I spent a little time with FaceTime on Friday and on Sunday. It's not like I was expecting broadcast quality, but the large display shows how grainy and choppy the video quality really is. I was on a strong Wi-Fi connection and experienced no lag, but the video quality was just pitiful in comparison to some other video calling I've experienced. The microphone picked up very well and the speaker was very loud. In short, it's video calling; you can't expect too much from it, but I did expect a little better.

Something I'm not particularly fond of on the iPad 2 is the speaker placement, but there wasn't really anywhere else for it to go. I've been using my original iPad for listening to Pandora nearly every day for the past ten months or so. With the speaker located on the bottom of the device, it was never an issue when it was lying flat on a table. I thought the speaker being located on the back of the iPad 2 would affect lying the tablet down and playing music, but it's really a non-issue. The speaker wraps with the beveled back and is angled, keeping it from being completely muted by a flat surface. Still, when holding the device, the speaker will be facing away from you and will sound a little muffled.

Conclusion

The iPad 2 is exactly what I expected it to be. It's a refresh with some much needed hardware upgrades like more RAM and a pair of cameras, but not leaps and bounds beyond the original. The dual-core processor wasn't absolutely necessary as the first version was plenty fast, but I'm sure nobody is complaining about a little extra processing power – especially gamers. The cameras are definitely sub-par and really take a lot away from what this tablet could have been with some decent quality cameras. And with aging software and competitors with more tablet-optimized operating systems, a software update really couldn't hurt.

When buying an Apple product, you generally know what you're getting yourself into. Apple is renowned for excellent craftsmanship and the great build quality of its products. This tablet is no exception. The iPad 2 is a good follow-up to the original tablet that rocked the world eleven months ago, though it has several competitors nipping at its heels. Apple may have started this tablet revolution and may be dominating tablet market share, but I'm not sure they'll be able to hold off the onslaught for too long.

Wrap-Up

What's Good: Great battery life; super thin design; very bright and clear display; dual-core processor for graphically intensive games and apps; color choice; name your price with a selection of different models.

What's Bad: Some are experiencing light leaking issues; poor rear and front cameras; same capacities as the old version (16GB, 32GB, and 64GB); iOS is needing some updates to freshen it up a bit.

The Verdict: Considering lag was never an issue on the original iPad, the new version is sure to keep up the pace with double the memory and a dual-core processor. Even though the cameras are less-than-spectacular, it's nice to have at least the front one around for the occasional FaceTime call. All in all, the iPad 2 is a great tablet and a great successor to the first generation.