Apple iPad 2 First Look

Our first impressions of the eagerly awaited iPad 2.
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01.Apple iPad 2 First Look

Apple iPad2
Apple iPad 2
Price: starting at $579
Star rating:4 1/2 stars out of 5

The only way to get your hands on the hottest new tablet in town on day one was to line up at an Apple outlet and try to get one before they inevitably sold out their first shipment. So we did just that, purchasing the 16GB Wi-Fi version of the iPad 2 - in black, as the white ones were the first to sell out.

The first thing we noticed about the iPad 2 is that it feels different. It's both thinner and lighter than the original iPad, which makes it feel easier to handle. It also has new front and rear cameras, though the screen is the same 9.7-inch, 1024 x 768 pixel capacitive touchscreen as on the first model.

The iPad 2 is one-third slimmer than the first model (see image below comparing the two), its profile has shrunk from 13.4mm to just 8.8mm. Along with a 15% weight loss, this makes holding the new device easier, especially one-handed. We compared the old and new iPads side-by-side and the old one feels distinctly chunkier.

The thinner profile also means the iPad 2 sits flat on its back without wobbling when you push down at the edges of the screen, as the previous one does.iPad 1 & 2 Despite being slimmer and faster, Apple claims the same 10-hour battery life as the original iPad (our review of eBook readers includes the iPad and reviews battery life). We found it coped easily with a full day of normal use and had charge to spare.

The speed boost is also very noticeable. Apple says the iPad 2’s new dual-core processor is twice as fast and up to nine times as fast in graphics performance. We found this translates to faster web browsing, with pages loading and scrolling quickly and smoothly. The 512MB of RAM, double that of the first model, also means multiple web page tabs don’t have to be refreshed continually when switching between them – potentially a big time saver.

Our timing tests showed that Apps also launch significantly faster, especially large games. And games are being developed and modified to benefit from the newly included three-axis gyroscope, which provides information on pitch, roll and yaw for more realistic movement simulation.

The front low-resolution (VGA) camera is designed for video chat via FaceTime and the rear camera can capture 720p HD video, which we found it does well in normal light conditions. There's no flash for the camera though, so low-light shots can be disappointing.

The addition of the new iMovie for iPad ($5.99) and twin-socket digital AV adapter ($45) lets you edit your home movies on the iPad itself and immediately show them on a large-screen TV or projector via HDMI cable. This new adapter can mirror the iPad screen to a HD TV, not just movies as with the previous adapter. The second 30-pin socket lets you charge and sync the device while using HDMI. New high-definition games such as Real Racing HD and Infinity Blade have been optimised to provide a big screen TV gaming experience to rival dedicated games consoles.

This time round there’s a choice of either a black casing or a white one, something promised for the iPhone 4 but never actually delivered. If you want your choice of model and colour you might have to wait a while though, or be very lucky. It will take time for the very limited supply to catch up with the heavy demand.  

Along with the iPad 2, Apple also launched new screen protectors called Smart Covers, which use a very clever self-aligning magnetic hinge for instant attaching and removal. This cover automatically wakes and sleeps the iPad 2 when opened and closed, and rolls up to provide an angled stand for landscape-orientation use when horizontal and vertical. It’s an optional (but some would say "must-have") extra for $45 (polyurethane) or $79 (leather). Note though, that it doesn’t provide any  protection for the back, so you’ll possibly still want a carry bag, or go with the previous Apple iPad cover. It still fits nicely, though not as snug, and provides all-over protection.

As well as the only-for-iPad 2 iMovie, Apple also released the iPad version of GarageBand, which provides touch-sensitive musical instruments and eight-track recording and works on the older iPad also.

For users of the original iPad, iPhone an iPod Touch the free iOS 4.3 update enables video streaming from the Photos app and other AirPlay enabled apps and websites. You can now choose to use the iPad’s side switch to either lock screen rotation or mute audio. It includes Personal Hotspot to enable share an iPhone 4’s mobile data connection to the iPad via Wi-Fi, or to the iPhone 3GS via Bluetooth, a feature previously called tethering.

Pricing for the iPad 2 in Australia is cheaper than the first iPad, which was dropped after the iPad 2 announcement to $449 in Australia for the base 16GB Wi-Fi model. iPad 2 pricing for the Wi-Fi model is now $579 (16GB), $689 (32GB) and $799 (64GB). The Wi-Fi and 3G version is $729 (16GB), $839 (32GB) and $949 (64GB).

Though the iPad 2 has limited competition for the time being, coming months will bring a wave of me-too tablets from dozens of manufacturers. Many will feature Windows 7 or Android, preferably version 3, codenamed Honeycomb, which is designed specifically for tablets rather than the older Android adapted from smartphone versions. As yet however, nobody has developed really strong competition for Apple's broad-ranging content eco-system of apps, music, movies and more.

The iPad 2's thinner size, faster processor and front and rear cameras are a welcome improvement and add to the iPad 2's strong appeal for new tablet buyers. But if you already have a first-gen iPad you might not feel compelled to upgrade. You might want to take a wait-and-see approach and hang on another year for an inevitably thinner, faster and better-featured iPad 3.

See our reviews of the iPad (third-generation) and iPad mini

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