While the explosion of the tablet market in the wake of the original Apple iPad’s rampant success produced a slew of tabs, of varying shapes, sizes, and actual coolness, no tablet was more anticipated than the heir to the throne, the iPad 2. Even as the iPad was still dominating the tablet market with tremendous sales and the same kind of slick branding present in almost all of Apple’s recent gadget releases, buzz and hype continued to grow around the specs and features of the iPad 2. With the tablet now here upon us, and starting to challenge the eye-popping sales numbers of its predecessors, we here at TabletLeader give you a deeper look at all of the bells and whistles of the Apple iPad 2.
One thing that comes as a surprise to no one is that the iPad 2 again not only pushes the bar for tablet hardware, but essentially sets the market standard by substantially improving on what was already a wildly-popular design in the first iPad. In typical Apple fashion, one of the first things you notice about the iPad 2 is its size- or more accurately, its lack of it. The iPad 2 is significantly slimmer and lighter than the original iPad, measuring almost a quarter inch slimmer and its thickest part than its predecessor.
The late Steve Jobs, when introducing the iPad 2 at its launch event recently, made a point of highlighting that the iPad 2 was in fact slimmer than even the iPhone 4, which is fairly impressive given the serious processing power that the iPad 2 is packing. As was said, it also weighs in lower on the scale, although it is still bulkier than some of the 7-inch competitor tablets on the market, clocking it at just about 1.33 pounds. Of course, despite the slew of other new tablets attempting to challenge the iPad and iPad 2 as more portable options, the appeal of the iPad 2 is not its portability but its functionality.
While the basic appearance of the iPad 2’s front remains the same, one notable small addition is the inclusion of a small front-facing camera located above the screen and opposite on the device from the home button (the rear-facing camera is located in the upper left corner on the rear of the device. More on those in a minute). The 1024x768 9.7-inch display is the same as the first iPad, which means that gadget-lovers expecting a resolution boost may be a bit disappointed. On the back are the 3G antenna along the top (depending on the version of iPad 2 you purchase) as well as a small speaker grid, which is dotted and located in the lower left corner. The cameras themselves are nothing to write home about, although naturally just having them is an improvement on the original iPad. The front-facing camera is just a VGA model, while the back measures close to 1 megapixels, neither of which stand up to the cameras being equipped in competitor tablets such as the PlayBook.
While these cameras will serve you admirably for use with FaceTime and other video, as far as serving as an actual camera you would be better served with, well, an actual camera (or a device with cameras that measure over 5 megapixels, of which there are ample supply). Frankly, this might be one of the only disappointing areas of the device as it feels like Apple came up a bit short on their own standards here, but obviously as we don’t expect many of you to be looking to the iPad 2 for your photography needs (and since just having the hardware that allows for video calling is a major step forward for the iPad 2) we don’t see it as a major detraction from the tablet’s usability.
As far as internal hardware is concerned, Apple has improved upon the A4 chip with its new (surprise surprise) A5 chip, featuring a dual-core 1GHz processor that moves it in line with other recently released tablets featuring similar processing power. Like the iPhone 4, the iPad 2 also now features 512MB of RAM, meaning any memory issues should be few and far between. The speaker itself is also no major improvement on the original model, and while its placement on the back does allow for slightly clearer sound, it would probably still be preferable for users to rely on headphones or speakers for audio and video consumption, as well as those who would be planning to work extensively in programs like GarageBand.
Regarding wireless usage, the iPad 2 comes in three specific models; WiFi-only, Verizon 3G, or AT&T/GSM (the 3G models also include an AGPS chip). Other similar hardware between the three models include an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and a three-axis gyroscope (new addition). As any gadget-lover can surmise, the iPad 2 does not do anything truly ground-breaking specs-wise in comparison either to the original iPad or recently released and announced competitor tablets, leaving users with high expectations toward innovation when the buzz starts building hard about the iPad 3.
One major advantage that Apple had touted well before the release of the iPad 2 was the improved battery life, and in this case they did not exaggerate. While competing devices like the Motorola Xoom (8 hours) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (6 hours) were unable to even approach the original iPad’s (roughly 9 hours) standard battery life, the iPad 2 can manage over ten hours of non-stop video playback, leaving it with roughly 2 hours of extra battery life over its current nearest competitor, the Xoom. Performance-wise, the iPad 2 generally operates in the 700-800mhz range, making it noticeably quicker in performance than both the original iPad as well as the aforementioned competitor devices. In these areas alone, the iPad 2 lays serious claim to being more functional than the Xoom, PlayBook, Galaxy Tab, or its predecessor.
While it is of course worth mentioning that with its integration into the wildly popular Apple App Store, the iPad 2 is eminently customizable with new features and programs, some of the standard Mac applications that have been popular features of OS X are among the biggest improvements in the iPad 2’s features. Besides the previously mentioned GarageBand, which surpasses expectations in its functionality when compared to the desktop version, there is also the inclusion of FaceTime, the eminently usable app popularized by the iPhone series. As was said earlier, despite the relatively poor quality of the cameras built into the new iPad 2, the usability of FaceTime and the allowance for video calling is one of the hallmark improvements in the iPad 2, and while like the phone the app is unusable when not using WiFi, the app serves its purpose.
Meanwhile, another natural addition the iPad 2 is PhotoBooth, and while the app serves more as a toy than anything really useful for photo production, it is one of the more fun things to waste your time on with the iPad 2. Another app that also serves this purpose is iMovie, which is surprisingly simple to use and fairly adequate for basic editing purposes, such as putting together a family movie or highlights of a game or vacation. While using the touch-screen interface as opposed to a keyboard ala a desktop can take some getting used to, we imagine plenty of people will find this pretty fun to mess around with. As far as browsing goes, Apple has claimed that the new iOS browser offers a significant upgrade in web-browsing experience, and while we’d say it is an improvement, it isn’t of the scope to really impress.
There are basically two ways to approach buying an iPad 2. If you’re an owner of an original iPad, while the iPad 2 does provide several significant upgrades and an overall slicker design and interface, there aren’t any new features that demand you scrapping your current iPad in favor of shelling out the five hundred bucks required for a new model. However, if you are currently either without a tablet computer, or relying on a competing tablet device like the Xoom or PlayBook, then the iPad 2 should be considered leaps and bounds a better bang for your buck than any of the other devices currently on the market.
While the price tag may cause some potential gadget-lovers to scurry to more affordable alternatives (re: Kindle Fire), as far as performance and functionality goes, the iPad 2 continues (like Apple itself) to raise the bar and set the market standard for tablet computing today. At least until the murmurs of an iPad 3 start in earnest, in the not-too-distant future.