Apple iPad 2 Review – The Next Generation of Tablet Facing Crowded Market

Even with the small predictions suggested by analysts before its launch, the original Apple iPad has been an overwhelming success – showing yet again that the consumer knows best. In just 9 months, 15 millions units were sold which has surprised the vast majority of those who had trepidations about such a device. Although tablets have been around for many years, it was Apple who you might say ‘reinvented the wheel’ to appeal to a much larger audience.

On March 25th 2011, I found myself queueing for over eight hours with around 400 people waiting for the release of the next generation of iPad – known of course as the iPad 2. After a lot of twiddling of thumbs, I finally laid my hands on what is likely to be by my own predictions – the most successful tablet computer for 2011. This is not to say that there isn’t any competition, in fact this year marks a true turning point where hardware and software developers aim their sights and nibble away at Apple’s massive success with their own creations. 2010 did enjoy a few rivals, however the Google Android operating system (the main competitor to Apple’s own iOS platform) was actually intended for smart-phones at the time and not the larger displays tablets utilise, leaving quite a few glaring problems.

So let’s take a look at the hardware…

Hardware – Thinner, Sexier and Lighter

The original iPad sent shock-waves through the tablet world, however as good as it was – the form factor left a little to be desired. Yes it was a pleasant device to use and yes it had plenty going for it, but like most first generation devices there was a little bit of bulk to it and there was certainly plenty of potential for increasing the appeal with the successor.

The Apple iPad 2 has taken that important step and is now 33% thinner than its predecessor, which has had a profound impact on how comfortable the new iPad 2 is to hold. Although only fractionally lighter, it is the new form factor that makes the whole experience far more pleasurable. It will still leave you aching a little after prolonged use, especially if you are holding with only one hand, however compared to the original iPad it is a vast improvement.

The iPad 2 is available from launch with either a black or white front surrounding the display. Personally, I prefer the black as it gives the illusion of a larger screen, while the white makes it glaringly obvious where the edges of the display begins. Whichever colour you opt for though, all other remaining areas are identical – including the silver back and location of exterior features.

It is also available in a Wi-Fi only or with Wi-Fi & 3G capability. The latter Wi-Fi/3G version allows you to access the Internet while on the move, when connecting to a Wi-Fi hotspot or home network is a problem. This requires a ‘Pay as you Go’ or monthly contract with a mobile provider to be usable and also the price of the iPad 2 can be higher as a result of this added feature (depending on contract deals on offer etc).

For most people though, the Wi-Fi only model will suffice – this means you can connect to your wireless router, hotel free Wi-Fi or other such location advertising ‘Wi-Fi’ access to browse the Internet, check your emails, view your tweets on Twitter, update your status on Facebook and even enjoy a few online games with friends and other gamers.

Your final decision is how much internal storage you would like. Available are 16GB, 32GB or 64GB models which range from £399 to £559.

One of the most notable additions to this next generation iPad device though is that of the two cameras. Both the front and the back of the device feature a camera, allowing you to take photos or video with either one. The rear camera is the most capable with 720P HD video recording, while the front a more modest VGA standard. It is certainly great to have two cameras added, although the quality of either certainly isn’t going to wow the photography crowds. They are however perfect for video conversations (using the built-in app FaceTime) and quick snaps that don’t require a higher quality.

As before, the ‘Home’ button sits snugly at the bottom of the front of the iPad 2, which allows you to quickly return to the Home screen with all of your apps (applications) visible. Around the edge (although it’s so thin it doesn’t really qualify as an ‘edge’), the right hand side includes a switch that can either mute the sound or prevent the device from rotating the screen (this is set in the software based on your own perference) and a volume up and down selection. The top includes an on & off button, headphone port and internal microphone. The bottom includes the typical Apple connector for charging and syncing with iTunes – as well as the speaker, which features a slightly larger opening. The speaker has a little more depth to it with the deeper tones sounding a little more definite than before.

The display itself is fairly comparable to the original iPad and that is to say its impressively bright, wonderfully colourful and alas a little reflective. It is also a finger print magnet just like most touch-screens, so having a microfibre cloth handy certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing. There is a slight yet noticeable increase in quality though with a slightly brighter feel to it all.

The sleeker overall design actually makes the original iPad look a little dated immediately and although we can enjoy this new design marvel, the fantastic 10 hour battery life is still preserved.

Specification Highlights

  • Display: 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display with IPS technology, 1024-by-768-pixel resolution at 132 pixels per inch (ppi)
  • Chip: 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip
  • Cameras: Back camera: Video recording, HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second with audio; still camera with 5x digital zoom, Front camera: Video recording, VGA up to 30 frames per second with audio; VGA-quality still camera
  • Video-Out: Video mirroring and video out support: Up to 1080p with Apple Digital AV Adapter or Apple VGA Adapter (cables sold separately)
  • Battery: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music
  • Sensors: Three-axis gyro, accelerometer, ambient light sensor
  • Colours: White or Black
  • Storage: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB
  • Dimensions: Height: 9.50 inches (241.2 mm), Width: 7.31 inches (185.7 mm), Depth: 0.34 inch (8.8 mm)
  • Weight: 1.33 pounds (601 g)

The iOS Experience

For anyone who has used an iPod Touch, iPhone or the first iPad – they will feel completely at home with the operating system on the iPad 2, known as iOS. The gestures, ‘Home’ button, navigation and basic operation remain exactly the same and even for those who have yet to dabble with an Apple product will soon learn the methods with what is the easiest touch-screen interface currently available.

With bold claims from Apple that states the dual-core processor is twice as fast, with graphics up to a staggering 9x as fast as its predecessor – you would certainly expect a super fast experience and you would be absolutely correct. Although Apple have been coy about the amount of memory (RAM), it has been revealed that it is double that of the original device.

With all these factors combined, the iPad 2 absolutely flies along at a pace that is sometimes hard to keep up with. In my tests, loading even the most basic of apps simultaneously on both an iPad and the new iPad 2, there was always a measurable difference in time it took for information to appear and of course iPad 2 completed the task quicker every time. We certainly don’t need to wait for a new generation of apps to appear to appreciate the iPad 2 speed as every single operation feels absolutely fluid and more importantly – enjoyable at every single touch.

There are apps for absolutely everything (well certainly close to at least!) on the Apple iTunes Store, with varying affordable prices and even many completely free. One of the bundled offerings is called ‘Photo Booth’, which not only shows off the power of the iPad 2, but also will give you a few laughs as well as the camera captures your face and displays various effects and distortions on-screen all at one time.

Apps have transformed the way in which we use our portable devices and really are just a trendy way of stating that there are applications, although they are perfectly suited for this new touch-screen environment.

If you want to play games, there are plenty of offerings to choose from covering all manner of genres. There are the ones that focus on testing your knowledge, your rapid reactions or just include a relaxing pastime. Even hardcore gamers will revel in the GameCenter features – that allow players to share statistics, utilise a friends list and even online multiplayer action. The newly added three-axis gyroscope also adds a new twist, when physically moving the iPad 2 around you actually adjust the viewing angle of a virtual world as if you are actually ‘looking around’. It has to be seen to be believed!

Whether you love apps, games or both – the iPad 2 is currently the ultimate tablet device to own.

The New Smart Cover

One of the newest official accessories released for the iPad 2 comes directly from Apple themselves in the form of a Smart Cover.

This shouldn’t be mistaken as a case, as the Smart Cover doesn’t protect the back of the device at all, however the front where the display and the glass over the display resides will be .

So what’s ‘smart’ about it? Well, the cover has a series of magnets inside that snap the accessory directly to the side of the iPad 2. No messing about with straps or clips, it’s literally placing the Smart Cover close to the left hand side of the device and a pleasing pulling sensation grabs the accessory and job done. No alignment issues whatsoever!

It achieves far more then just protecting your screen though, actually it also acts as an ingenious stand in either an upright position allowing you to sit back to view a photo slideshow / video or instead laid on its back, giving the tablet a perfect angle for typing directly on the screen using the virtual keyboard. Simply folding the Smart Cover reveals either of these options and adds value to this interesting addition. Closing the cover over the display tells the tablet to automatically go to sleep, until you then lift it open again to which the iPad 2 magically comes back to life.

It is a shame that the Smart Cover doesn’t come bundled with the iPad 2, however you are given the option of a standard version or fancier leather edition as well as a varied range of colours.

Mirrored HDMI Output

Craving 1080p output to a large screen display? Would you like to see any app, any game, any photo or indeed any video appear on your HDMI compatible television or projector? Well with the iPad 2 you certainly can.

With yet another optional accessory, Apple have released the ‘Digital AV Adapter’. Literally anything you would usually see on your iPad 2 display will now be shown up to 1080p on your high definition television.

For lecturers or businesses who wish to make presentations to a group of people, the concept is immensely appealing. There are large numbers of educational and work related apps that would be perfect for such a use and it will make any presentation feel far more appealing for the audience and for you the demonstrator, far more interactive.

As the Digital AV Adapter also uses the same port you would usually use to charge your iPad 2, the accessory also has a power input port alongside the HDMI so you can still charge and continue your presentation without the risk of running out of juice.

Should I Purchase iPad 2 When I Own the Original?

This is a tough one, as personal preference and indeed your willingness to spend between £399 and £559 for another tablet device just one year on is a question only you can answer with any kind of accuracy.

There is no doubt in my mind that the iPad 2 looks, feels and operates fantastically – yet with all these wonderful additions including particularly the cameras, it’s hard to really suggest that you upgrade. If you wish to communicate with your family and friends using FaceTime and you have no other Apple product that features this, that might be one good reason to consider the iPad 2. If you are a gamer, the huge increase in processing potential will also lean your inclinations towards upgrading.

The original iPad still features the latest version of iOS (Apple’s operating system), so if you can hold out up to another year then that might be a good call, however if you do take the plunge I am sure you won’t regret it either.

Conclusion

No doubt other reviews will mention that they believe the Apple iPad 2 is an evolutionary step rather than revolutionary – or to put it simply a little step forward rather than a giant leap. This although accurate shouldn’t in any way diminish the capabilities and utter satisfaction you will experience when using an iPad 2. The new hardware form is far more comfortable to grasp as you cradle it lovingly while gesturing with your digits without the need for a clumsy physical keyboard and mouse.

Apple has almost a year on its competitors in the tablet field and even longer in creating their already rich and inviting eco-system, full of content in the way of apps, games, music, videos, digital books and more besides. It would therefore be a tough decision to even consider one of the competitors at this point as they are so far from maturing into a ‘true’ rival to an already ridiculously successful product.

The main issue for those that are trying to diminish the market share of Apple’s current dominance though is that of identity. For those that don’t necessarily follow all of the technological developments and are more causal gadget lovers, the term ‘tablet’ probably doesn’t even exist. In fact, when they walk into a store or browse online their first instinct is to instead look for an iPad. iPad has almost eradicated our notion of what a tablet device is and in a lot of people’s minds, iPad is the new term, or indeed only term that is of any relevance to their interest. That fact alone should be a scary prospect for those who intend on taking on Apple in this new battle. An iPad or a tablet? You ultimately decide.

Apps Featured within Article (Prices at time of writing)

James Woodcock

Freelance Journalist, Author, Blogger & Podcaster specialising in gaming and technology. Ever since he experienced the first controllable pixel movement on the television screen, he has been entranced by the possibilities and rewarding entertainment value generated from these metal and plastic boxes of delight. Writing hundreds of articles including commentary and reviews on various gaming platforms, while also interviewing well known industry figures for popular online publications.