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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Apple iPad 2 review

The best tablet on the planet just got better

12 months ago, the Apple iPad swaggered onto the stage creating a totally new gadget category, that changed the way we thought about tablets forever. In the year that followed it became Gadget of the Year at the T3 Awards 2010 and probably the most iconic gadget on the planet.

This “post PC” device single-handedly re-shaped our expectations expect on how we wish to receive content, has potentially rejuvenated the entire publishing industry.

Now, as competitors from the Android, RIM and WebOS, tug on its cape, eager to fly alongside the iPad, Apple is back with an improved device offering a streamlined design and more power. All for the same pretty reasonable price.

Can the iPad 2 pull further away from the chasing pack, and does it do enough to tempt first-gen owners into an upgrade? T3 tested the 32GB WiFi version to find out.

Apple iPad 2 Design and build

Lifting the iPad 2 out of the box, you almost feel like you’re handling Grandma’s best china, such is the skinniness of the 8.8mm frame. Remarkably though, the tablet retains a very sturdy feel. It’s not the least bit fragile and there’s zero flexibility. It’s a piece of engineering that defies physics.

The weight has also dropped. At 601g (for the WiFi version) the tablet has shed 15 per cent of its body mass. Big deal, you say, but you will notice the difference. It’s still not Kindle-light though, and we still found the one-handed grip uncomfortable.
The design itself has evolved with the edges now rounded like an iPod Touch. While it looks better and is less bulky, the thinner edges actually make it more difficult to keep a steady hand. You also have to adopt an awkward reach-around approach to access the volume and screen switches.

Apple iPad 2 Screen

While we were blown away by the original iPad’s 9.7-inch 1024x768 LED-backlit display, we were hoping this would bring a version of its iPhone 4 Retina Screen. Now it hasn’t, we’re a little disappointed.

While indoor performance is still great and colours are truly vivid for gaming, photos and videos, in the post-Retina Screen world, text still isn’t quite as crisp as we’d like and it’s still pretty useless in sunlight. It also attracts a lot of finger marks. Lets hope an improved screen comes on any iPad 3 next year.

Apple iPad 2 iOS 4.3

Beyond the design refresh, the iPad 2 comes packing the new iOS 4.3 operating system. You get the usual folders, multitasking, Airplay and customisable screens, but those rocking 3G can now make their tablet a Wi-Fi hotspot for four other mobile devices. iTunes Home Sharing, another addition, offers a seamless liberation of your entire music library over Wi-Fi, with one-touch.

The new OS also allows you to customise the side switch to either mute the device or lock the screen. It’s a handy bonus, but by no means earth shattering.

Apple iPad 2 Processor and graphics

A quantifiable improvement comes with the new dual core 1GHz Apple A5 processor, replacing the A4 by offering twice the power. If you thought this thing was nifty before, then wait until you get a hold of the iPad 2.

Such is the speed of response when you touch the screen that you’ll think ‘did I even touch that yet?’ It almost pre-empts your commands. The T3 iPad Edition opens instantly, while images render much faster than before. The heftier apps, like the new GarageBand (an essential download, the highlight of which is the different response from piano keys depending on the sensitivity of your touch - enabled by the accelerometer and a huge leap forward) still take a short while to open, but not noticeably so. loads and renders quickly over Wi-Fi, while pinch-to-zoom re-formatting is definitely quicker. YouTube performance is great, while downloading music, movies and podcasts is rapid.

Apple also promised a nine-fold improvement in the graphics department. We tested this claim with EA’s Dead Space, which specifically advertised an iPad 2 upgrade. It looks phenomenal, almost PS3 and Xbox 360-esque, while the fast-paced monster-slaying action was slick and judder-free. You feel we’ve only just scratched the surface here.

Apple iPad 2 Cameras

Of course the other change comes with the addition of cameras. FaceTime video calling is now available for iPad and while the quality won’t blow you away it does the job. The rear-facing camera is passable, offering decent snaps in good conditions, but drab colours and limited detail the rest of the time. It’s nowhere near as good as the iPhone 4’s excellent 5-megapixel offering.

There’s 720p video recording on board, which comes in really handy for the brilliant iMovie app, but the iPad 2 has to be the most ridiculously shaped video camera of all time. Are you really going to use it in public?

Apple iPad 2 Smart Covers

When we first saw the Smart Covers opinion on the T3 team was split as to the usefulness. A lot was made about these new flimsy, bendy covers and they do work pretty well, folding like origami to offer appropriate stances for watching video and typing, while the magnet clings stubbornly to the chassis. It will help your battery by putting the device to sleep whenever closed, but they’re expensive (from$39) and offer no protection for the back of your iPad. If you drop it, Smart Cover won’t save it. We’d take a look at what other manufacturers - like Griffin - come up with before buying.

Apple iPad 2 Battery

In terms of battery life, we got around 6 hours of near-solid Wi-Fi surfing, downloading apps and playing games, which is very respectable. The extra processing power doesn’t seem to be provide any supplemental drain on the battery.

Apple iPad 2 Verdict

Admittedly, the iPad 2 is more of an evolutionary step for Apple, akin to the jump from iPhone 3 to 3GS. If you already own an iPad then you’re not missing out too much by waiting for the next iteration before you upgrade. If you held off from buying over the last 12 months, then the iPad 2 is a brilliant reward for your patience. Get out and buy it.

It's taken nearly a year since the launch of the first iPad for any manufacturers to come close to creating a tablet that can rival it. Even then, those that look promising like the Motorola Xoom run such an early OS (in Android 3.0) it will be a while before they can rival the iPad in terms of apps.  With the Blackberry Playbook, HTC Flyer, LG Optimus Pad and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 all to come, the tablet market looks really exciting over the next few months. And with its mind-blowing new build, new cameras and improvements in the engine room, coupled with the unmatched App Store/iTunes/iOS ecosystem the next-gen iPad is clearly the tablet to beat.

Apple iPad 2 launch date: UK March 25th, link Apple

Apple iPad 2 price: UK TBC, but in the US it is the same as its predecessor, so expect to pay £429 for 16GB, £499 for 32Gb and £599 for 64GB for the WiFi-only version.

Apple iPad 2 Specifications:
  • OS: Apple iOS 4.3
  • Screen: 9.7-inch, 1024x768 multi-touch
  • Processor: 1Ghz dual-core Apple A5
  • Storage: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB
  • Camera: Front and rear megapixel not quoted
  • Video: 720p front, VGA rear
  • Battery: 10 hours web use
  • Connections: Bluetooth 2.1, N WiFi, Apple jack, 3.5mm jack, A-GPS
  • Dimensions/Weight: 241x186x88mm/601g


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