As a dedicated first generation iPad owner and user, upgrading to the iPad 2 was a no-brainer. The thinner form factor, lighter construction, superfast processor and dual cameras sold it to me the moment that it appeared on the stage. Now that I’ve been playing around with it for a while, here are my impressions on the latest addition to the Apple family. I’m not going to talk about the technical specs as these have already been reviewed ad nauseum. Rather, here is the experience of the iPad 2.
First off, if you are lucky enough to receive delivery of an iPad 2, or source one at your local retail store, don’t even think twice about buying a smart cover. Get one. It’s probably the best accessory that you’ll ever buy for your iPad 2 and the construction has got Apple all over it. It is absolutely fantastic. But back to that later.
Holding the new device in your hands, how is it different from the first iPad? Put it this way, it may only be around 12% lighter and 30% thinner but it feels like it is half the weight and thickness. The flat back is probably the thing that contributes most to this feeling as, sometimes after holding the iPad 1, you almost feel as if the rear panel of the iPad 2 is actually inset from the edges. This isn’t the case of course but it feels like that after cradling the rounded back panel of the iPad 1.
In terms of comfort, the construction changes to the iPad 2 make a lot of difference. It feels more natural reading eBooks on it for one thing, although the first generation iPad was excellent for this as well. The screen, identical to the first generation device (although a little thinner) still gives an immersive viewing and reading experience, with quality that still surprises me, even a year after first getting hold of an iPad. A great app for watching movies on the iPad is Netflix, but download an iTunes movie and you can see the difference of streaming versus stored content. Fantastic quality. Still good at getting fingerprints on the screen however.
The speaker, while the design has been changed a little, sounds pretty much the same to me. However, one change is that if you are lying on a couch or a bed with the iPad in portrait mode resting on you, the sound is a little better because the angled edges mean that the speaker, which faces away from you, is not lying flush against your clothes. A nice touch.
Reviews thus far have talked about how the benchmarks are so much better and the iPad 2 is so much faster. That is true, it is ‘snappier’ than before. But, being brutally honest, the iPad 1 was pretty fast anyway so it’s only wee things that you notice are faster. It’s not like you are comparing an iPhone 3G and iPhone 4. Angry Birds is pretty much the same, iBooks is pretty much the same, Safari and Mail are demonstrably faster, as are the App Store and Calendar. On graphically intensive games you see a big difference in speed and quality. Hopefully, more games optimized for the iPad 2 will appear in the coming weeks.
The two new cameras mean that FaceTime is now an option. This is another excellent feature, although you do have to angle the iPad a little weirdly to make sure that your face is in the frame. If you hold it square on, the bottom of your face tends to get cut off so it’s something to get used to. I’m also happy to maintain consistency and report the cameras are not great. Everyone else has said it and they are right, it’s pretty obvious when taking pictures that the quality isn’t there. That’s not to say they aren’t good for video, because they are, but if you want to shoot pics, buy yourself an Olympus.
The Smart Cover (I got a black leather one) is extraordinarily cool. The magnets are incredibly strong and it stays strongly attached to the screen of the iPad 2 when in your bag. There is no need to worry that it will slide off and expose your screen to scratching. The fact that your iPad screen comes on and unlocks when you open the cover is awesome although I prefer to take it off completely when at home and the iPad is in frequent use. It snaps on and off with a very satisying sensation and always aligns perfectly with the body of the iPad 2. Incredible Apple construction and absolutely essential when buying an iPad 2.
Overall, a great success for Apple (although their distribution strategy may need a little tweaking). I have no hesitations in recommending a purchase of the iPad 2, even if you have an iPad 1, although don’t expect anything utterly earth shattering. Your first thought upon picking it up will probably be “it’s thin”, and your second thought will more than likely be “crap, why couldn’t they have made this last year”.
Put simply, using the iPad 2 is not completely new and yet, it’s not the iPad 1 either. It’s an improved experience and while some people may see it as an incremental upgrade, the outstanding experience of using the new iPad 2 has to be…well, experienced.