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.
As expected, Apple has introduced the second-generation iPad—officially named iPad 2—which it will sell in the United States starting March 11, 2011 in a surprising 18 different versions. As with the prior iPad, there will be 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB Wi-Fi-only versions for $499, $599, and $699, joined by separate GSM and CDMA versions with the same capacities for $629, $729, and $829. Apple will also sell each version in two colors, one with a white front, and one with a black front, bringing the total number of variations to 18. The company will roll out iPad 2 in other countries starting two weeks after the U.S. launch. Updated 2X: Here are separate standard-def and HD interface videos of the iPad 2 on Vimeo.
The iPad 2 is smaller in each dimension and lighter than the original iPad, which measured 9.56” x 7.47” by 0.5” and weighed 1.5/1.6 pounds depending on whether 3G hardware was inside. By contrast, the iPad 2 measures 9.50” x 7.31” by 0.34”, and weighs either 1.33, 1.34 (CDMA), or 1.35 (GSM) pounds depending on the version. This represents a 33% slimming of the prior model, and a 0.2-pound weight savings. Micro-SIM is still used for the GSM version, in a relocated slot on the device’s side.
Physically, the iPad 2 feels really nice. Beyond the spec differences, it’s actually noticeably thinner and lighter, though the latter difference is not substantial. In a way, it’s like making the transition from the first iPhone to the iPhone 3G, without losing the metal body to a plastic casing. The iPad 2 just feels denser and sturdier than the first iPad even though it’s lighter; a very, very solid build. Our initial reaction is that it felt better in the hand than the first one, and potentially will be a little easier to use in one hand.
iPad 2’s screen looked a little bit closer to the glass than the prior one, maybe a little brighter. It seemed to be every bit as reflective as the first one, and the lights in the demonstration room were bouncing off of it in every direction. We’ll need additional time to see how it performs under different sorts of lighting conditions, and at different angles. Contrary to what some people have suggested regarding the iPhone 4 white version, the iPad 2’s white face did not detract from viewing the screen during the limited time we spent testing it; obviously, the black version continues to blend more with the screen when it’s dark. There are dots above the FaceTime camera to let the ambient light sensor see through the glass, just as was shown in the photos of the unreleased white iPhone 4; we saw these dots above both the white and black version’s camera. They do not appear to be holes, just dots in the paint inside.
iPad 2 increases the processor power of the original model in two key ways. First, it moves from a 1.0Ghz single-core Apple A4 chip to a 1.0GHz dual-core Apple A5 chip. It also boasts what Apple promises to be up to 9 times faster graphics processing than before thanks to a new GPU, without compromising the first version’s battery life: 10 hours for Wi-Fi, videos, and the like, or 9 hours of 3G data use. We’ll have to see how this plays out in practice, but it’s exciting.
Two major additions are in the camera department. The iPad 2 includes FaceTime-ready VGA (640x480) 30fps front camera hardware and “HD” 1280x720 30fps rear camera hardware, the latter with a 5x digital zoom. Apple is not making any specific megapixel claims about the rear camera for still photography, which strongly suggests that this camera will be like the iPod touch’s weak rear imager.
Apple has added FaceTime, Photo Booth, and Camera apps to the iPad. FaceTime offers full-screen video calling to another iOS or Mac device. Photo Booth lets you snap photographs of yourself and apply realtime filters like the ones in the same-named Mac application. And Camera allows for full-screen snapshotting from the front or rear camera, as well as video recording with both cameras, albeit at different resolutions.
Our initial read on the camera placement was that it felt natural; the rear one is no different from shooting using the iPhone or iPod touch, though with a much larger picture. Judged just by playing around, it feels very close to the iPhone 4 for the width of the image, though we’ll need much more time to test this to be sure.
FaceTime did not look substantially more grainy on the iPad’s screen than on the iPhone 4; it’s the same kind of grain and mild compression you see on the iPhone, but blown up larger. It didn’t look pixel clear or like FaceTime HD is being supported.
Other technical changes include the addition of a gyroscope for added motion sensitivity, alongside an ambient light sensor and accelerometer inside. Both the Wi-Fi and 3G versions have compasses inside, but once again, only the 3G version has GPS.
The bottom speaker grilles have switched from three pill-shaped, mesh-covered holes to a grid of holes, somewhat akin to the speakers on certain MacBook Pro laptop computers. Unfortunately, the testing room was so loud that there was no meaningful way to test the speaker’s sound quality or volume capabilities, so further testing will be necessary.
Apple has added a couple of noteworthy AV-out features to the iPad 2. First is support for Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via a new Apple Digital AV Adapter accessory ($39). Second is support for 1080p maximum output video resolution, however, all of the video formats supported by the device tap out at 720p or lower. Third-party applications and Safari can conceivably output content at higher resolutions, and this Adapter is also capable of mirroring the iPad’s 1024x768 display at full-resolution on an HDTV.
Smart Case is the other key accessory Apple will be selling for iPad 2. This $39-$69 front lid attaches magnetically to the iPad 2’s body, providing a shield for the screen and doubling back upon itself in a triangle to become a typing or video stand. The $39 version is made from plastic in your choice of five colors; the $69 one is aniline leather in five different colors. Each one can automatically lock and unlock the iPad 2 when closed and opened. A hands-on video of the iPad Smart Cover in use is here.
Finally, Apple is releasing standalone iMovie and Garageband apps for the iPad at $5 each, enabling users to edit videos on the iPad, and both play and record music. Screenshots are below.