The iPad 2's arrival is without a doubt the biggest technology launch of the year so far, and Apple's second-generation slate is slimmer, lighter, faster and cheaper than the original. So it's obviously better then too, right? Let's find out.
Design and build
Look at it from the front and the only real change to the iPad's appearance between generations 1 and 2 is the addition of the front-facing camera. The screen size is unchanged, and the overall appearance is so similar that we deliberately went for our iPad 2 in white simply because it was an option not available on the original, so automatically set it apart.
Side-on, though, it's a different story. The iPad has slimmed down from 13.4mm thick to just 8.8mm, and the weight is down by 80g or so too, though it feels like more because of how much slimmer it is.
The upshot is that the new model is noticeably lighter in the hand and more comfortable to hold, and far better suited to longer sessions.
Interface and OS
The interface is all important on the large screen size of tablets, and that plays right into Apple's hands given just how easy and intuitive iOS is to use. The latest version, iOS 4.3, adds a number of improvements and enhancements, but it isn't the large leap forward that, for example, Honeycomb is for Android tablets.
Of course, you could argue that Android needed those improvements where iOS didn't, but it is starting to look in need of a sprucing up just a little bit. That's not so much a complaint, however, as an observation, and for the most part iOS is a pleasure to use on Apple's tablet.
Expectations sometimes get out of hand in the build-up to Apple launches, so a lot of people are disappointed that Apple hasn't changed any of the key display specs between iPads 1 and 2. It's still a 9.7in LED-backlit panel, and still comes in at 1,024 x 768.
It's certainly not the best tablet screen around any more in terms of resolution, and I was hoping for a little more to be honest. That doesn't mean the iPad's IPS screen is unpleasant to look at, far from it. But you tend to take a spec bump for granted when upgrading from one generation of product to the next, so the unchanged screen does leave us feeling a little hard done by.
Considering the original iPad didn't have a camera on board at all, you could take the approach that anything it all is an improvement. But to be honest, the cameras that have been stuck onto the iPad 2 are a bit of a disappointment.
The rear-facing camera was one of the first things I tested out after opening the box, but the pictures I took of my daughter came out incredibly grainy. Comparing these pictures to those taken on my iPhone 4, the iPad 2 photos were pretty dismal.
But still, the cameras remained one of my main reasons for upgrading, not for their stills ability, but for video calling using the front-facing camera. It was a feature I really missed on the iPad 1, and while I found video calling to work well using both Skype and Facetime, holding the iPad up so your face stays in view does get tiring after a while even despite the reduced size and weight.
Performance and battery life
Having both generations of the iPad in my hands allowed me to do a little side-by-side test. I restored the iPad 1 back to its factory settings to give it a fair chance in the test, and set the two iPads side by side. Making sure both were running on my local Wi-Fi network, I fired up Safari and loaded up various pages I visit regularly.
The iPad 2 was noticeably faster, sometimes loading up pages as much as two seconds faster than its predecessor. It also seemed to load up apps quicker as well, which is testament to the new A5 dual-core processor.
There's no doubt that gaming is one of the iPad's trump cards. There are some top-notch games available from the App Store, and the iPad's near-10in screen size squeezes out every bit of visual goodness from any title,
I've been playing Infinity Blade (check out our review) on the iPad 2, and it is sweet. The game was fast to load, loading between levels took mere seconds, and the gameplay itself was fluid and smooth.
Other titles I've had a crack at include Angry Birds and Osmos, and both remain as enjoyable on the iPad 2 as on the original.
It may seem strange to devote a full section of this review to an add-on accessory, but the Smart Cover is a central part of the iPad 2's appeal, and shows off Apple's excellent design sensibilities to great effect.
I opted for a red leather cover, which looks really smart wrapped around my Apple tablet. At £59 it's a long way from cheap, but if that's a bit too rich for your blood there is also a cheaper polyurethane cover that comes in at £35.
Once I had snapped the Smart Cover on for the first time, I lifted the corner and peeped in a few times, just to see the iPad 2 going in and out of standby. It really is a nifty feature.
Folding the Smart Cover into the triangular position is really useful too, it makes for a pretty comfortable position if you're using the iPad 2 on your knees or on a desk.
However, when it's flat at the back of the tablet, it tends to just flop around a bit, so I ended up just taking it off when I didn't need it in the triangular position.
The leather cover is starting to pick up a few wear-and-tear scratches on the front, but I suppose better the Smart Cover than the iPad 2 itself.
- More of (nearly) everything, and for the same price as before too
- Much lighter and more comfortable to hold over long sessions
- Great for gaming
- Cameras nowhere near good enough
- Not enough of an upgrade in many respects.
Verdict: the iPad 2 is still the best tablet around, but it's not quite the big leap forward everyone was hoping for. If it's your first time buying a tablet, we couldn't recommend it more highly. But if you're upgrading, we're not convinced that the iPad 2 delivers enough wow factor to be worth shelling out for.
More info: Apple iPad 2 spec
Price: From £399