Bandwidth Blog's Hands On Review: Apple iPad 2

Update: Since this review post went live, Core has announced that iPad 2 will reach SA on 29 April. And the pricing is not half bad! Yeah, we are happy as well.
In March we were lucky enough to show you of what it was like to wait in line at the Apple store in Austin, Texas and get hold of the iPad 2. While we focussed on the entire purchasing experience, we wanted to spend some more time with the device before we gave our full opinion. For the past few weeks we have been dealing with the iPad 2 enough to get a much more informed account if it really deserves our hard earned cash, or if it maybe warrants an update from the iPad 1. So lets dive in…
Physical Features

If you have handled the original iPad, and liked it, you will like the iPad 2. Apple did not steer too much away from it, instead only refining elements of the design. A typical example of evolution, not revolution, the iPad 2 is slightly thinner. While you do not necessarily notice the thinner chassis, you definately notice the new flat back, instead of the rounded back of the original iPad. The iPad 2 also now has tapered edges, instead of the corners previously used. This, combined with the flat back really does make the device more comfortable to hold. The rear sports a new speaker design that had me worried if the sound will be muffled if placed flat on a table, but that is luckily not the case. The only other difference on the back of the device is the new camera – but we will get there.

One of the criticisms of the previous iPad was that the device was too heavy. While it was still very light compared to laptops, it was rather uncomfortable to read with for extended periods of time. The iPad 2 is a little bit lighter, and a person can really feel the difference. It is still not as comfortable to read as with the Amazon Kindle though.
Buttons are still in the same spot as before, and the front of the device looks almost exactly the same, bar for the small camera hole on the front. The iPad 2 is available in a new white colour this time round – and luckily Apple is shipping it from day one. While it does bring back some old iPod nostalgia, I personally believe the black border suits the display better, but this is only my own opinion. I suspect a lot of people will simply buy the white one just to be able to say “Yes, it is the iPad 2…“.

Exact. Same. Display. Not that that is a bad thing. The display is just as good as before – colour is vibrant and viewing angles from the IPS panel is brilliant. It really does allow you to share on screen content with people around you, without compromising viewing quality when viewed from the side. As for the criticism that it should have gotten the Retina display resolution – I really doubt I would appreciate it right now. Seeing as the iPad is typically at least 40 cms away from your eyes, I really think it might be a waste. Oh and by the way – it is still the same ol’ fingerprint magnet. Still do not know why Apple will not offer a matte screen option.
iPad 2 has the same sensor array as with the iPad 1 – light sensor, accelerometer, compass, and GPS (in the 3G model). But the iPad 2 now sports a 3 axis gyrometer as well, which enables the device to track its position in three dimensions. Where does this get used? Ask someone with an iPhone 4 to show you the Star Walk app, and then see how it functions on a iPhone 3GS. The iPhone 4’s gyrometer really does improve these types of augmented reality apps a lot.
This is the one area where Apple really tried to improve on with iPad 2. iPad 1 was no slouch, but the you could notice some skipped frames on more complex 3D games and more graphically rich apps. Apple is pushing for the iPad 2 to be a more games orientated device, and that is where you will see the biggest improvement with iPad 2. Problem is that not many developers have already harnessed this new processing power, but we reckon this is about to change very quickly. The first to market is Real Racing 2, which enables you to connect the iPad 2 to a 1080p TV, and use the iPad as a steering wheel. If it goes on like this games consoles might become a slightly threatened market…
While not processor performance related, we are happy to report that iPad 2 works fine with both Vodacom and MTN MicroSIM cards. I did not try it with Cell C yet, but iPad 2 now supports 900MHz UMTS, which is the technology on which Cell C builds their high speed network. So if anyone has tried the iPad 2 with Cell C, can you let us know in the comments?
So iPad 2 now sports a dual core 1GHz “A5” chip which really does have very impressive benchmarks, but this system on a chip’s biggest improvement is in graphics. But does all this processing power not eat up a lot of energy?
Battery Life
Clearly not. In our very informal testing we could not find any difference in battery life from the previous iPad, which is great. Even a year after being released the original iPad still has class leading battery life, with over 10 hours of continuous video playback. While that stat is not really relevant to everyone, its the standby time that is phenomenal. Left unused in your bag, the iPad 2 will easily last more than a week with push email activated over a 3G signal. This type of battery life actually does make you hate charging your laptop computer. You know that anxiety you get when your laptop tells you it only has 15% left? With the iPad 2 you can relax because you can easily still use it for more than a hour.
The camera is one of the new “features” of iPad 2. A rear facing camera does photo and video duty, while the front facing camera is typically used for video conferencing such as Facetime. But I am not going to beat around the bush here – the quality is not great. I will not use this camera for anything more than taking the occasional photo of a whiteboard or a document. But perhaps that is Apple’s idea? After all, why would you use such a large device to take photos? You get the feeling that the rear facing camera was put there just to shut critics up.
The front facing camera might be a bit more useful. Propping the iPad up in the smart cover really does make the iPad a great device for video conferencing. Facetime works well, but I did have some poor video quality, but I think I can blame that on the 384kbps ADSL line I am using.
In a previous post I said I do not really need a camera on a tablet, be it front facing or rear facing. To be honest, the iPad 2 does not change this behviour. It makes much more sense on a compact device like a smartphone.
iPad 2 ships with the same software that currently runs on the original iPad, except for two new apps that use the new camera hardware. First off is Camera – who would have thunk? This is exactly the same as on the iPhone – in fact there is almost no change. Apple is clearly trying to keep it is dumbed down as possible, but I would have loved to see some better use of that large screen with maybe some additional controls. Maybe if the iPad 3 gets a better camera Apple will do it…
The other new app is Photobooth which is almost exactly the same as the version shipped with every Mac. Using the front facing camera the user can apply effects and filters on live images currently seen through the lens. This is really a very “cool” demo app, but I doubt it will be used a lot once the novelty wears off. Might lead to some more creative Facebook profile photos though…
In the past we have not always been to happy with iOS, and we still believe it has a few gaping holes which it needs to fix (here is our top 5). Hopefully Apple will get to it in iOS5.
Smart Cover
I realize that this falls under a physical feature, but the Smart Cover is an optional flip cover ($39 for polymer, $59 for leather) which attaches using magnets to the iPad. The “hinge” of the cover attaches also with magnets, and is remarkably strong. When the cover is placed on the iPad it gets pulled into the exact right position to cover the screen. The effect is quite eery – the edges of the screen are perfectly covered without repositioning anything.

It might sound strange, but the Smartcover might just be the part I liked most about the iPad 2. I had the opportunity to use the black leather version, which feels classy, but does pick up a few scratches and marks, just like any leather would I guess. So far the cover that looks the best in person is the red leather version, but that is just my opinion. The inside felt lining also does seem to help to keep the screen clean.
As a bonus the magnets inside the cover can switch the device screen on and off. Simply lift the edge of the cover, and the screen unlocks, and close it to lock. Easy. The cover also rolls up into a triangular shape that allows the device to placed upright for movies/facetime, and also at a slight angle for easy typing.

The only criticism of the Smart Cover is that it leaves the rear of the device uncovered. Hopefully a few accessory companies will see this market gap and perhaps bring out rear covers that have spacing to fit the Smart Cover.
If you are planning on getting the iPad 2, I would recommend the Smart Cover. If want to see a great little video to show how the Smart Cover works, see here.
Overall I felt somewhat underwhelmed by the iPad 2. Sure, it is still the best tablet on the market, and I really think the other manufacturers can take a look at it as an example of brilliant hardware design. But my issue is rather that iPad 2 does not significantly improve from its predecessor. Apple does use a more evolutionary approach when it comes to hardware, but I expected more, seeing as the original iPad was the first tablet on the market. But this perhaps what makes the iPad and iPad 2 so great.
You kind of expect first generation devices to be poorly designed, with significant elements missing (remember how iPhone 1 did not have 3G or GPS?). But the iPad does fall into that category. Clearly the iPad was designed so well that Apple could not really improve too much on it – maybe all it needs a few cameras and faster processors, right?
If you are someone who hesitated to get into the tablet market I would easily recommend the iPad 2. Its software base is still way ahead of any other tablet devices, and its hardware is first rate (except for the cameras). You really cannot buy a better tablet right now (No, I do not think Android’s Honeycomb is fully baked yet, even though it looks amazing).
But if you were one of the eager beavers who got the original iPads, I do not really recommend an upgrade to iPad 2 – I will personally be hanging onto my trusty original iPad until Apple surprises us with iPad 3.
Build Quality: 10/10
Performance and Responsiveness: 9/10
Aesthetics: 9/10
Display: 8/10
Camera: 5/10
Score: 8/10
All review post photos done using Olympus Micro Four Thirds