Review: Apple iPad 2 Wi-Fi / Wi-Fi + 3G GSM / CDMA (16GB/32GB/64GB)
Pros: An iterative improvement upon Apple’s first tablet computer, benefitting from modest size and weight reductions, two color options, as well as considerable under-the-hood improvements in speed. Still includes integrated apps for audio, video, and photo playback, web browsing, e-mailing, calendaring, mapping and more, plus a free downloadable book and PDF reading app, many improved at least a little over original 2010 versions; web browsing is markedly faster. In addition to running many of the original iPad’s nearly 75,000 applications at higher speeds than before, adds dual-core CPU and graphics processor capable of running dramatically more impressive games and apps. New FaceTime cameras enable video calling and simple photography/videography. Improves upon predecessor’s 10-hour battery life by adding 20-60 minutes of added juice under some situations. Improved video output capabilities, including screen mirroring and maximum 1080p output, when used with HDMI or VGA accessories. Now offered in separate GSM and CDMA 3G versions, accommodating Verizon and other CDMA customers.
Cons: New integrated cameras produce blurry, grainy images that are unacceptably weak for still photography and look poor when forced to fill the display; video recorded by the rear 720p camera is only acceptable. Modest reductions in headphone port audio and mic performance. Front glass continues to attract visible fingerprint smudges and suffer from glare issues, requiring film or a cover to improve usability outdoors and indoors. Still cannot run Retina Display iPhone/iPod touch apps at full resolution, and similarly downscales or crops HD videos to fit 1024x768 resolution, 4:3 display. Would benefit dramatically from combined GSM/CDMA 3G model; CDMA version exhibited slightly higher cellular battery drain and slower cellular data speeds, lacks SIM card slot, and offers fewer options for international travelers.
One year ago, pundits were split but surprisingly pessimistic regarding the prospects for the iPad (iLounge Ratings: A- (Wi-Fi) / B+ (3G)), Apple’s first tablet computer. Though the iPad possessed an intuitive multi-touch interface, unrivaled battery life, and an attractive design, some mocked its name, others declared it an oversized iPod touch, and many scoffed at the company’s claims that it was “magical and revolutionary at an unbelievable price”—adjectives that only Apple CEO Steve Jobs could combine in one phrase with a straight face. Yet he and those who saw the iPad’s potential were right: straight out of the gate, the iPad radically simplified computing for mainstream users, and instantly cut deeply into sales of similarly-priced PC netbooks. Over fifteen million iPads were sold in less than a year, forcing competitors to rush out inferior alternatives just to plant flags in the suddenly fertile tablet computer ground.
Behind the scenes, however, Apple faced a new challenge: following up on one of the most successful consumer product launches in history with something that would sustain the momentum. And quickly. So only eleven months later—faster than the company refreshed the original iPhone—Apple released the iPad 2 ($499-$829/16GB-64GB), a second-generation iPad that straddles the line between a true redesign of the original product and a more modest “spec bump,” akin to the ones annually performed for Mac computers. Just like the iPhone, iPod nano, and iPod touch before it, the iPad received a new enclosure for its second year on the market, complete with now-obligatory slimming curves and a modest decrease in weight. It also gains a few new features, including FaceTime cameras, speed-bumped chips, and a gyroscope. Finally, there are more options than before: three different wireless versions and two different colors for the same three original storage capacities. But almost everything else is the same, or at least, close enough that most users won’t notice.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Particularly after Apple upgraded its iOS software to version 4.2 last year, the original iPad got so much right that it wasn’t in need of huge improvements, and the new hardware added to iPad 2 addresses several issues that became apparent after the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G launches. While exciting, speculation that Apple would quadruple the resolution of its screen didn’t seem to be grounded in reality—at least, for now—though less ambitious but more practical improvements such as an integrated stand or redesigned, smudge-resistant face didn’t make the cut, either. Despite all the hype, iPad 2 is a modestly better revision of the first iPad, which like the iPhone 3G before it will be enough to keep the momentum going until a more dramatic redesign is ready.
Regardless, our staff purchased a total of seven iPad 2s for testing ahead of this comprehensive update to last year’s iPad hardware reviews. Since the core iPad experience has remained so similar from 2010 to 2011, our review of the iPad 2 focuses primarily on the differences between models, including performance differences between the Wi-Fi, GSM, and CDMA versions. You can still refer to our reviews of the original original iPad with Wi-Fi and iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G for additional details on prior applications, which remain largely the same in the new model. Enjoy.
[Editors’ Note: In light of its continued presence in the marketplace following the release of the fourth-generation iPad and iPad mini, iLounge re-rated the iPad 2 in our 2013 iPad + iPad mini Buyers’ Guide to reflect the balance between its lowered price and comparatively less impressive capabilities.]