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.
For all we’ve said above about the iPad 2, there are two relatively simple questions that most prospective customers will want to have answered: “is it better than the original model,” and if so, “is it superior enough to justify buying right now?”
The answer to the first question is certainly “yes.” Just like the iPhone 3G and the second-generation iPod touch before it, the iPad 2 makes a few noteworthy improvements to a significant but imperfect first-generation product. While the weight and size differences have been somewhat overblown, there’s no doubt that the iPad 2 is indeed a little easier to hold than its predecessor—but still in need of a stand. More importantly, its significantly improved CPU, graphics chip, and RAM will benefit every iPad 2 customer in the form of faster and more impressive web browsing, apps, and games, while AT&T/GSM users will benefit from markedly faster upload speeds.
Our only very serious criticism of the iPad 2 concerns Apple’s implementation of what would otherwise have been its signature new feature: twin cameras. Low-resolution, grainy cameras don’t look great on even a 3.5” iPod touch screen, and when the same images are blown up to fill the iPad 2’s display or uploaded to a computer, the graininess and chunkiness just looks ugly. Apple knows this—look at the rear iPhone 4 camera and new FaceTime HD cameras in MacBook Pros—but it really dropped the ball with the hardware inside the iPad 2, then forced FaceTime to fill the entire 9.7” screen with low-res videos from other devices. Hopefully, new software or a better-equipped iPad will arrive soon.
So is the iPad 2 superior enough to the iPad to justify buying right now? This answer’s a more qualified “yes.” Over the past 11 months, we’ve said repeatedly that the original iPad was excellent—an awesome sidekick to a full-fledged computer, as ideally suited to two-year-old children as 62-year-old grandparents, and everyone in the middle. If the only thing that kept you from buying in last year was your need for FaceTime cameras, or your uncertainty as to whether the iPad was going to be just a passing fad, you can jump in right now with confidence: the iPad 2 is as good of a tablet as you’re going to find for the price for some time, and the software only becomes better with every passing month. It’s almost impossible to measure how much better our lives have been since we bought iPads last year, so it’s easy to give the improved second-generation version our high recommendation—at least, for the Wi-Fi version, which has the lowest price and the fewest caveats.
But if you want really good cameras, an iPhone 4-like breakthrough in screen technology, a hybrid GSM/CDMA/LTE cellular chip, or whatever other “revolutionary” changes Apple is saving for iPad 3, you should either wait—or buy now with plans to dispose of it when the next model comes along. In the final analysis, the iPad 2 represents a small but clear jump over the excellent original model that leaves plenty of room for improvement, and the rush of competitors into the tablet space will lead to many potentially compelling alternatives in size, performance, and pricing. Apple is the clear market leader in an as-yet-boundless new market, and we hope that it will rise to the challenge of making bolder moves in the future, rather than merely staying a step or two ahead of the pack. Creating another “magical” iPad will require it to move past the realm of what’s obviously possible, and if any company can pull that off, we’d bet on this one.