The iPad 2 won't be here for two more days, but Macworld, Engadget, and others are flooding the Twitternet with the reviews we've all been waiting for. Reviewed in ebony and white with all of those colorful smart covers, your purchasing decision was just made easier.
It might frustrate the competition to hear this, but it needs to be said: the iPad 2 isn't just the best tablet on the market, it feels like the only tablet on the market. As much as we'd like to say that something like the Xoom has threatened Apple's presence in this space, it's difficult (if not impossible) to do that. Is the iPad 2 a perfect product? Absolutely not. The cameras are severely lacking, the screen -- while extremely high quality -- is touting last year's spec, and its operating system still has significant annoyances, like the aggravating pop-up notifications.
The iPad 2 also has 512MB of RAM—twice that of the original iPad—and a 200MHz bus speed, likewise twice that of the original.
Though the iPad 2 is an improvement on the original iPad in numerous ways, it’s still an evolutionary product, not a revolutionary one. If you’re happy with your current iPad, there’s no reason to dump it just because there’s a shinier, newer one. (This is not to say that millions of people won’t do just that. I mean: shiny!) If you’ve invested in iPad accessories such as a dock or case, keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to use them with the new iPad.
Apple’s design wizards have made the new iPad feel much airier. Placed on a table between the original model and the new Motorola Xoom, it makes the others look bloated. Its top surface doesn’t even reach the side buttons on the original model. It has much more sharply tapered edges, and a new, optional, white color adds to the sense of lightness. While the 1.33-pound weight isn’t that much less than the original’s, I found the difference noticeable when carrying the device.
My friends, I’m telling you: just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience. We’re not talking about a laptop or a TV, where you don’t notice its thickness while in use. This is a tablet. You are almost always holding it. Thin and light are unbelievably important for comfort and the overall delight. So are rounded edges, which the first iPad didn’t have.
The single biggest change form a physical perspective is the thickness. Holding the original iPad now feels a bit like holding a slightly bulky monitor compared to the iPad 2. The iPad 2 feels much more like holding a clipboard — albeit a mildly heavy one. The move to cut the thickness from 13.4mm down to 8.8mm really makes a huge difference when you switch from holding one to holding the other.
The iPad 2 has the presumed 512MB of RAM that Apple kept tight-lipped about during the keynote, and its thinner size is having a dramatic impact on usability. Unfortunately, the iPad 2 suffers from the poor camera quality that the iPod touch does, and even FaceTime calls show some graininess according to Jason Snell:
Once you’ve connected, the iPad’s larger screen definitely exposes the low quality of FaceTime video (whether it’s caused by the low-quality camera or the intense bandwidth required by a live video chat, or both, is debatable). Still, the video is good enough to be usable.
MG Siegler on the other hand thinks it's perfect:
I’m still not a huge fan of the mechanism for initially finding people to FaceTime with (especially because the iPad has no phone app), but once you establish that first connection, FaceTime is a breeze to use. And it remains WiFi-only, so the quality is solid.
Joshua Topolsky slammed the iPad's camera:
We won't lie: we're disappointed by how low end these cameras feel. We don't expect to be doing photo shoots with a tablet (in fact, we find using a tablet in this manner to be tremendously awkward), but that doesn't mean we want a camera that produces results reminiscent of our RAZR. In short, it feels like the iPad 2 has a serious photon deficiency.
It's disappointing that 720p video, and not a decent sensor for stills, have paved the way for Apple's decision to include video-only cameras. For a company that doesn't like to release products unless they're perfect, I would really liked to have been the fly-on-the-wall when Apple discussed what camera to put in the 4th generation iPod touch and the iPad 2.
Asides from the needed RAM update, reviewers are telling us what we already know: the iPad 2 is thinner, but it's weight can still be tiring (especially when reading). The cameras weren't expected to be good, and they aren't. However, the iPad 2 is much much faster than the original iPad, plowing through games and making internet browsing a dream. Even better, GarageBand has turned out to be a pure delight, although it had its occasional share of bugginess. And Siegler again repeats my core belief on Apple's Smart Covers:
I would not be surprised if Apple actually puts these covers on display alongside the iPad 2s in the Apple Stores. I have little doubt that nearly everyone who buys an iPad 2 will also walk away with one of these cases, if they get a chance to play with one.
John Gruber chimed in later this evening with his well written review. While the word "swollen" will forever engrave my mind in his comparison to the iPad 1, he too thinks Smart Covers are the bees knees.
Smart Covers are so cool that I can imagine iPad 1 owners who think they’re happy to stick with what they’ve got changing their minds and deciding to upgrade upon seeing Smart Covers in person.
Ultimately the iPad 2 is an improvement, and the Smart Covers help make it a much more intimate device than it's iPad one counterpart. The weight reduction has significantly improved the experience for some editors, but Jason Snell complained that it's still slightly too heavy. While the "guts" of the iPad might not be as terrific as its competitors or soon-to-be competitors, the marrying of a thin form-factor with software like iMovie, FaceTime, and GarageBand is ultimately the selling point for Apple's iPad. It's elegant, intuitive, and improves upon the core experience we've come to enjoy.