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The iPad 2 has arrived, and with it, the tablet computer that has redefined the genre is getting a very interesting update. Thinner design, dual-cameras, updated OS, new accessories… with the same pricing structure. For some, it is the update they’ve been waiting for: the iPad platform won’t change for the next year (is it really so?). For others, the thinner design and the video chat capabilities make it a must-have device. Some first-gen iPad might even want to upgrade, eBay showed signs of iPad flooding last week. The question is: is iPad 2 as good as it seems? Is it really for you? And if you already own one, should you upgrade? We go over all these points – and much more- in this iPad 2 review. Heads-up: if you are more comfortable with French or Spanish, we have translated this review: test iPad 2Análisis iPad 2.

Context

We all perceive the gadgets usefulness differently depending on our lifestyle, so let me tell you where I come from. Most of my (computing) time is spent using a powerful desktop computer (a PC) with large displays. If I need to get some real work done outside of the office, I use a laptop (Macbook Pro + Win7). On the go, I keep track of emails with a smartphone, but I tend to reply only moderately from it because typing long emails is painful on a touchscreen phone. I check news websites and social networks a lot, and I often use a laptop or tablet on my couch.

What’s New?

External Design (even slicker): iPad 2 makes everything that was good in iPad, great. It starts with the thinness: iPad 2 is a lot thinner than the first iPad. Granted, there was some empty space in the original iPad shell, but still, iPad 2 is unbelievably thin when compared to its competition: the most recent Android and WebOS tablets. Apple has done a very good job at optimizing the internal space to create this uber-thin device. The addition of the cameras and the new speaker design are among the visible signs of change. Other than that, iPad 2 feels very much like the first iPad.

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The iPad 2 is as thin as the iPhone 4

Performance (very good): Thanks to its new A5 chip, the iPad 2 is faster. This is particularly noticeable when manipulating the web browser.  I expect the iPad 2 to be faster for both single-threaded application and multi-threaded ones. It’s a dual-core processor, but each of the cores should be more efficient than the previous circuitry used in the original iPad. That’s perceptible performance.

Cameras (below-average): That was probably the #1 request from users. The cameras (front and back) are there, but I’m disappointed by them because the image quality is poor. Even in a well-lit room, images shot with the back camera are noisy. The front camera is even worse.

There are two reasons for that: First, Apple’s goal is to use the cameras for FaceTime, its video-call application. Still photo quality seems to be unimportant (or too expensive) at the moment. That’s too bad because in such a relatively large body, there was probably a way to use much better optics.

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My pocket cam, shot with the iPad 2 (cropped image to show details)

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The same camera, shot with an iPhone 4 (cropped image to show details)

Smart Cover (excellent): while I disliked the previous Apple case, which I found rather unaesthetic and bulky, the iPad Smart Cover is the exact opposite: it is small, can be removed easily, doesn’t get in the way of most docks, and more importantly: it does its job of protecting the display, while not turning the thin iPad 2 into a netbook-thick tablet. It snaps onto the device thanks to a magnetic rail on the cover. Take a look at the magnets.

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Upon closing, a magnetic mechanism optionally shuts down the iPad

The design is very well done, and the magnetic properties are strongest along the edge, and on the opposite side (for a firm closed position). The goal is to avoid turning the cover into a full-fledged magnet that will attract everything around. That said, on our metallic table, it did stick strongly!

Once in place, the cover can be folded in many ways to accommodate different iPad 2 positions: standing on the side to watch movies or slightly elevated to help with keyboard typing comfort. The only downside: you have no control over the angle at which iPad will rest.  I highly recommend getting one and I wonder if third parties will release cases like it (unless it’s already patented…).

Apple also claims that the Smart Cover cleans the display, thanks to the friction generated while moving the device around: I’m simply not seeing that happening.

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Slightly elevated to make typing more comfy

iOS 4.3: While new hardware is great, software is also where the action is. iPad 2 was launched with iOS 4.3, an update that makes a few things better: it is now possible to stream content (videos, photos, slides…) from the iPad/iPhone to a big screen via an Apple TV (great plug for the Apple TV).

In iOS 4.3, Safari (the browser) is now 2X as fast when it comes to executing Javascript, a popular language used in web pages. Combine that to a faster A5 processor, and you get a “many times” faster boost in Javascript performance.

iTunes Home Sharing has also been added so that sharing all iTunes content over WiFi is now possible without having to “sync” the device. It’s nice because synchronizing can take a long time.

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In iOS it’s easy to see what’s running and to close apps. That’s harder on Android

Multitasking: this is not “new-new”, but when it came out, iPad did not support multitasking. With a software update released a while back, iPad and iPad 2 support multitasking, although critics say that it is limited. My own take is that it’s good enough to cover most cases, and that the limitations ensure that battery life is largely unaffected by running more stuff in the background.

Display (very good)

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The iPad 2 IPS LCD display has a very good color rendering

iPad 2 uses the exact same LCD IPS display than previously, so there’s no difference here. I was heartbroken to learn that the Retina display would not make it into the iPad 2. We’ve seen it, it looks amazing, but it’s either too expensive, or can’t be produced in sufficient quantities. Maybe it’s coming to that hypothetical iPad update later this year, but this would stink for new iPad 2 users. In the meantime Android competitors have jumped to higher-resolution displays (1280×768).

As we said in the original iPad review, the display is high-quality and behaves relatively well in direct sunlight (when compared to LCD or OLED screens). If you want to read in direct sunlight, ePaper is still your best bet, but many people find ePaper simply too limited as you have to sacrifice good video playback and accurate color rendering.

User Interface (excellent)

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The iPad user interface (or UI) is basically the same. Since the iPad 1 launch, multi-tasking is probably the most visible change to the iPad interface. Folders might be the second one, although I don’t use enough apps to really “need” folders. Apple has made the right choice: very few people have complained about much of anything else when it comes to the UI, and as one says: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it… That said, I also think that Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) has brought some interesting concepts, especially in the camera app which has much better controls than the iPad 2’s.

For those unfamiliar with the iPad UI, it works like an iPhone. If you haven’t seen either, here’s a one-liner: the physical button in the middle always brings you back to the Home page. From there, you have multiple screens of icons that you can select by swiping left and right. Once you have found the icon (application, or “app”) that you are looking for, just tap once and the app will launch. Press the physical button to go back Home. The iOS user interface is consistent and easy to learn. Right now, it’s one of Apple’s major competitive advantage.

Media Consumption (very good)

It is clear that tablets are, in general, “consumption devices”, which means that we tend to “watch/read” more than we “create/type” on them. The iPad 2 is very good at playing back media content, even more so than its original version.

Web Browsing: Assuming that the network is fast, web browsing is noticeably faster, thanks to the new A5 processor. Web page parsing and rendering is multi-core friendly, and that’s why the dual-core A5 is a great upgrade. On the rendering side, it looks just like the original iPad with all the advantages (great page rendering, image filtering, fast scrolling…) and the downsides (no Flash support). If you wonder about Adobe Flash support, Steve Jobs said that Apple will not tolerate Flash on its platform because Flash is “buggy”, a remark that Adobe calls “patently false”. If you require Flash support on a tablet, Android is the way to go. But it it doesn’t mean that YouTube and other sites are not accessible on iPad. Many sites have an iPad application that could either replace the site completely or be launched when you click on a Flash element. Some also have an HTML5 version that Safari for iOS supports.

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With the exception of Flash support, the browsing is excellent

It would be great to get decent Flash support, but I can’t say that the lack of it cripples my experience. At times, it’s annoying, but most of the Flash-enabled sites that I care about are “video sites” that also have an app equivalent (YouTube, Netflix, Hulu). Others have pointed out, and justly so, that many sites of hotels or restaurants are Flash-driven, so they would not be readable on the iPad.

ebooks: the iPad is a great way to read ebooks, especially indoors, when the reflections are minimal. You have several book sources including iBooks from Apple, Kindle from Amazon and Nook from B&N. I personally like using a 3rd party (non-Apple) app like Kindle because it makes it possible to retrieve my content to non-Apple devices like my PC or Android devices. I haven’t tried Nook, but I suspect that it works in the same way. iBook is a very good book reader, but the lack of multi-platform support is a difficult trade-off for me.

Books are great, but comics look even better in color! Try the Marvel app and see how cool electronic versions of comic books are.

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Colorful comics can look stunning

Movies: The display isn’t a 16:9 format, but I find the iPad 2 to be an excellent device to watch videos on. Because most video service providers have worked on their iPad version with care, the video quality of most popular services (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc…) is very good, and definitely exploits all the capabilities that the 1024×768 has to offer. Now that AirPlay (an iOS feature) allows video streaming to a big screen via Apple TV, it would be neat to get 1080p video playback. I think that the iPad 2 hardware is fast enough to handle it, but we have yet to see 1080p content in iTunes.

ipad 2 movies

iPad 2 is a nice device to watch videos on, but it is in the plane, on a long trans-ocean flight, that it is unbeatable, mainly because it can last for 10 (real) hours of video playback. We’ll come back to the battery life later.

Social Networks: If you have become addicted to social network updates, be assured that most networks’ best app version is on iOS. Twitter, FourSquare have very good apps. Bizarely, Facebook considers the iPad to be non-Mobile, so there is no dedicated official Facebook app, but I found the “Friendly Facebook” app to be a good substitute. If you like having live widgets on the desktop, you should know that this is not an option with iOS.

Gaming

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Infinity Blade is a beautiful “smash-them-all” medieval game

Gaming is largely a matter of software, and while the hardware specifications do matter, what’s important is the availability of great games. At the moment, iOS has the largest number of games, and the best games tend to be available on iOS first, then Android is second. Obviously, I’m just talking about tablets and smartphones here. Gaming platforms like the PSP or Nintendo DS have games that are often more “hardcore” and overall “better” in my own opinion. But touch display devices have proven that they too can be great for gaming.

I’ve tried a few games like Infinity Blade, which is an heroic-fantasy adventure/action game. This game has the best graphics that you can currently find on the iPad, and it shows that the platform has some serious potential. It was done for the original iPad hardware, so, it does not take advantage of the vastly superior processor and graphics power of iPad 2.

While I still consider the PSP and DS as “better” gaming platforms, I recognize that Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Infinity Blade and many others do bring a lot of value. I would not buy the iPad as a gaming machine, though.

Productivity (sub-netbook)

Email: Being able to write emails faster than a smartphone (but much slower than on a netbook/laptop), while not enduring the boot time and the battery life of a laptop is one of the top reasons to get an iPad 2. The iPad 2 does great, and while it can have all the connectivity of an iPhone 4 (if you get the 3G version), it also has a much larger screen and keyboard that are so much more comfortable to work with.

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iPad is relatively efficient with Emails

The email app supports push-Exchange, so it can be used by many businesses (some form of VPN is present if necessary). There’s also a search function: this might sound like a “duh”, but many Android devices don’t have an email search, so this important.

Calendar: I’m not a big fan of the brown/wood design of the calendar, but it gets the job done. I personally prefer the Windows Phone 7 calendar look, which is cleaner, but again there’s no Windows Phone Tablet, so we’ll make due with what we have and this is good enough for now. The only thing that is problematic to me is when I go to a different timezone, the Calendar does not adjust to my new local time. It seems like something that would be easy to fix.

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Printing: “how to print from an iPad?” has been a frequently asked question (FAQ), and while it’s possible to print from an iPad directly to a printer, the AirPrint feature does require some hardware/firmware support, so it works only with a short list of recent HP printers.

If you have a computer and a printer, there are workarounds that all use network printer sharing: for Mac users, there’s Airprint Activator and Fingerprint. For Windows users, ElpamSoft has a utility that might just do the trick. I haven’t tried them, but it looks like a solution is out there, and if there’s a strong demand, I’ll take a deeper look.

Maps: using Google Maps on an iPad is so much more comfortable than on a smartphone, there’s no question about it. I found the Map utility to be extremely useful when I travel, and that’s particularly true when I buy a local iPad SIM card. All of a sudden, you get email, compass and mapping. That’s a game changer if you’re in a city that you don’t know well.

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Google Maps is beautiful, and extremely useful when traveling

Google Docs: Since Google updated Google Docs a while back, it has been working much better on mobile devices. You can now go online, and edit your documents form the iPad browser, no problem. Google Docs is not the most comfortable way to work on office documents (on iPad), but it’s convenient (and free!) and it’s very nice to have the option of using it.

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Google Docs is editable, no problem there

Office Documents:  Microsoft does not offer an “Office for iPad”, but Apple has iWorks, a suite of three separate software (Pages, Number and Keynote, $9.99 each) that handle word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. They work well, and can export documents to an Office format, but they are not suited for a having files going back-and-forth with Microsoft Office as they don’t completely support the native Office format (some documents data/features might be lost). QuickOffice is another alternative, and it costs $9.99 and supports cloud storage too.

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There are a few Office-compatible options to edit documents

PDF Support: the iPad offers very good PDF support that is a world away from what you could get with a Kindle or other low-powered eBooks. I’ve tried very complex PDF files and so far, all have been working. As of late, I believe that you can drag and drop PDF files to iTunes for synching with iBooks, but I’ll have to check again if there’s a demand for it.

iPad for Business / Enterprise

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Citrix for iPad (emulator)

With the recent addition of tools from Cisco, Citrix or WMware (the latter two make Windows environments available to the iPad, via a server), the iPad, but also other tablets can become true business tools. However, you need to understand the scope of it: in general, iPad will make you more “mobile”. It’s lighter and has a tremendous battery life when compared to most laptops. However, don’t forget that it is mainly a “read device” by nature. Anything that forces you to enter a lot of text, or manipulate a cursor with extreme precision will be tricky. Of course, you’ve seen demos of “Photoshop-like” products, or even CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software running on iPad, but while they do technically work, the productivity can’t be compared with working on a laptop.

On the other hand, if your job requires you to only read/access a lot of data, iPad 2 and the tools mentioned above can help you. I like Citrix and WMware a lot, when the situation is appropriate.

Kids and Seniors (let’s go beyond cliches)

 

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Marveling at kids using the iPad? They are smarter than you think… photo from techlibraryclassroom.blogspot.com

Very young kids enjoy the iPad because it’s easy to unlock, and games are mostly simple. Most of everything is one or two taps away. I have not heard reports of young children actually breaking an iPad, but that doesn’t mean that you should not get a solid case… I have not tried the Parent Controls, but if there’s a strong demand, I’ll take a closer look.

 

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Photo courtesy of teleread.com

For seniors, it’s a slightly different thing: many people say that an iPad is so easy to use that (even) seniors have no problems with it. I think that this is not completely true.

Despite being *easier* to use than a laptop, the iPad remains a small computer that requires some setup. That’s where seniors need help. If you simply “ship” an iPad to your low-tech relatives and tell them to download iTunes, setup the iPad (Wifi, email, find apps…)+iTunes account+3G data plan, this is already a big hassle that most don’t want (or don’t know how) to deal with. However, if someone does the setup for them and gives them a device that’s “ready to use” (just needs charging), you’ve got a winner. By the way, getting 3G to folks who don’t understand what a “bill shock” is can be a *very bad idea*.

As I said, iPad is *easier* to use than a PC or a Mac, it’s true. But the real strength of the iPad is that it’s very heard to “break”: It’s very hard for the user to unintentionally do something that will cause it to not work anymore (to be fair, this is true for Android tablets as well). Seniors like it, not only because it’s easier, but most importantly because they can explore, and try stuff without fear that they cause something bad. Because they try, they learn and they enjoy.

Accessibility: Talking about seniors, you should be aware that although the iPad comes with some accessibility controls, it works better for users who can read the small fonts of the device. It’s possible to make fonts bigger in select apps (Email, Contact, Notes), but the overall user interface uses small fonts at all times. It is also possible to zoom-in with a 3-finger tap, but I personally don’t find this to be very convenient (for sure, it’s better than nothing).

Should you get a 3G version?

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The 3G version has that black band that houses the antenna

This is a popular question, so let’s take a look. In my view, there are two critical reasons to get a 3G version: *constant* email/data access, and the need for GPS.

1/ If you use the iPad as a (light) laptop replacement for email/calendar + web browsing, I recommend getting a 3G version. It’s just very convenient to have a built-in connection, and if you’re cost-conscious, you can get away with using little bandwidth for “text” applications. Just stay away from watching videos (do that when connected to WiFi).

What about Mobile Hotspots and MiFi-like devices?: it’s possible to tether the iPad 2 with a (recent) smartphone, or with an Overdrive. It works, but it might also cripple the battery life of your phone/modem. You might have a few hours of Internet, but then you end up with a dead phone, which is not acceptable for most users. Don’t underestimate how taxing sharing an Internet connection is on the battery.

2/ Only the 3G version of the iPad comes with a GPS. If you plan to use it for outdoors mapping, that’s the one you want. In general, mobile GPS applications require a data plan to not only download maps, but most importantly use the carrier’s network to get a faster position “fix”.

International travel: If you travel internationally and want to use Google Maps, it’s possible to buy a local SIM card in select countries. Not every country has carriers ready to sell an iPad SIM on a month-to-month basis (Spain does, Japan does not), so check ahead of your trip. This only works with the AT&T version of the iPad, as the Verizon iPad 2 does not support SIM cards. In theory, the Verizon iPad 2 won’t work with any other networks, including other CDMA networks.

Data plan cost (AT&T vs Verizon): The data cost should never be neglected when buying a mobile broadband device. AT&T offers lets you buy bandwidth by increments of 250MB or 2GB (2048MB) at $15 and $25, respectively. Verizon has four plans: 1 GB for $20, 3 GB for $35, 5 GB for $50 and 10 GB for $80. If you know what amount of bandwidth you will be using, you can opt for whoever is cheaper for your consumption), but the idea is that most people don’t consume much. In any case, I always recommend to download content like videos only when connected via WiFi. The 3G might be expensive, but it’s also really slow compared to WiFi.

 

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Use 3G data wisely, it’s expensive

How much data do I need? I know, it is really hard to figure out how much data you need, and without knowing your particular usage model, it’s hard to help. For reference, I’m OK with the 250MB monthly allotment, and I think that most people would be fine with the 2GB one, as long as you avoid online videos and big downloads. For power users, it looks like Verizon is slightly less expensive.

Battery Life

The iPad 2 has the same battery life as the original iPad. In our real-world tests, that was about 10 hours, regardless of what you do (we tried 10 hours watching video playback). This is pretty much the best battery life in the Tablet world. Why is the battery life so long on the iPad? Simply because its battery is literally huge! Exception: I suspect that 3D gaming would be pretty expensive, energy-wise. I don’t think that you can play for 10 hours. Let me get back to you after a new battery of tests.

Battery life is one of iPad’s most formidable strengths, and one that cannot be surpassed easily: a competing Tablet with superior specifications can’t do much without power…

USB charging incompatibility: although the iPad can be charged from a computer USB port, it turns out that this is true mainly for Mac computers USB ports because they have a little more juice than what the USB standard dictates. It doesn’t work on most PC computers, or USB HUBs. But even though the iPad can be charged via a Macbook, I really recommend bringing the in-wall charger with you: I tried to charge the iPad with my Macbook Pro, and it took *forever*.

Battery replacement: the battery is not user replaceable, and like most batteries, it might lose its charge or simply die after a long while. Right now, the cost of replacement is $105.95.

Why is it so good? If you wonder why the iPad 2 battery life is so long, the answer is simple: the iPad 2 has three (massive) internal batteries. These components are expensive, so remember that next time you hear complaints about the cost.

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Inside, most of the space is dedicated to the 3 batteries. Photo from ifixit.com

Accessories

ipad 2 smart coveriPad Smart Cover: As mentioned above, this is probably the must-have accessory. The only downside is that you can’t really tweak the standing angles. Other bulkier cases would give you more freedom.

Dock: useful if you need a place to charge your iPad and have it stand, possibly to use it as a photo frame. Obviously, the USB cable is cheaper, and don’t forget that average users won’t have to charge it for days or possibly a week (or more!), depending on how you use it.

Keyboard dock: same functionality as the dock, but with a keyboard attached to it. We have two in the office that are collecting dust. Primarily because we don’t charge our iPads so often. Secondly because we don’t use the iPad to do any heavy typing. Obviously, that might not be the case for you, but there’s one thing that we regret dearly: that the iPad Keyboard Dock is not “mobile” – it does not fold and is not practical to move around. I personally regret getting one. I haven’t touched it in a year.

Wireless keyboard: The Bluetooth wireless keyboard is the same as the one used for the computers. It’s much smaller than the dock, and if you have the Smart Cover to make the iPad stand up and the keyboard, the productivity should be up. However, if you count the iPad price with the accessories – why not get a Macbook Air (or a netbook)? If your typing needs require getting the wireless keyboard, this is a legitimate question.

What Could Be Better?

4G Please: The lack of 4G is probably the one thing that I will miss the most. It’s not that I want to download a ton of stuff, but after trying Verizon’s LTE, it’s hard to go back to a 3G network – especially AT&T’s. And if Apple comes out with iPad 3 or iPad 4G next year, it will be close to a year late when compared to the competition. (Technically, Nokia had a WiMax Tablet out awhile ago… but we’ll consider that the N810 isn’t in the same league)

Camera quality: I expected that we would get iPhone 4 quality on the front camera, and something even better for the back camera. However, this is not the case at all. The photo quality is simply very low for both, and it is basically barely good enough to get FaceTime going. If you were thinking of using the iPad as a digital camera, forget about it – any recent smartphone beats it easily. This is a big disappointment. I’m surprised that Apple is pushing it as a Camcorder.

Flash Support: We’re not holding our breath on that one, but again some Flash support would be great so that we can see the web as it was intended to be seen.

USB Port: This is highly unlikely, but a USB port is still one of the most wished-for features on the iPad. Chances are that Apple will continue to use a single 30-pin port for a long time.

No visible information from the Lock Screen: I’d love to be able to turn the iPad on, and quickly know if I have received email/FaceTime/Facebook/Twitter notifications or messages – without unlocking (and entering my password).

What is the iPad great for?

 

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Facetime should be easier than Skype to setup and use. Too bad it won’t work on PC…

Video Chat: The image quality could be a lot better and smoother, but Facetime has the merit of being easy to use, at least easier than competing apps.

Checking emails quickly (instant-on): it bugs me when I hear about “instant-on” apps that take 30 seconds to boot or wake up. Modern tablets are truly instant-on. You press the button, and it’s on within a fraction of a second. It’s great for checkin emails.

Web browsing: browsing is great, but it lacks Flash support, for better or worse.

Music, Videos: Wether it is via Hulu, Netflix or from a local video file, playback is high quality and perfectly smooth. As for music, the iPad is a 9.7” iPod.

Read News, Books, Comics: eBooks are widely available from Apple itself, but also giants like Amazon and B&N. Granted, this is no ePaper display, but look at how great comics are.

In-flight Entertainment: On a plane, it’s hard to beat the longevity and overall entertainment quality of an iPad. Its battery life is long enough to display 10 (real) hours of video. With some sleep and a couple of meals, I’ve never run out of battery in a trans-ocean flight (SF/Hong Kong was the longest at 14hrs or so).

Casual Gaming: I’m a bit old school when it comes to gaming, but iOS games have gone a long way. Infinity Blade has proven that graphics quality is exploding on those devices and Angry Birds shows that cult games can be born on iOS. There’s also an abundance of free games – which is not the case for classic portable systems.

What the iPad is not great at

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Content creation, editing: Let’s face it, some might want us to believe that the iPad is great at creating complex content. Well, I’m not a believer. Sure you can crop stuff and make small modifications, but working for hours to polish anything on is painful. I’m not saying that it’s not possible to create wonderful things – I’m saying that there are much easier ways of doing it.

Hardcore gaming: As I said above, if you’re a PSP/Nintendo DS fan, don’t expect the same gaming experience. I have been surprised to see how Street Fighter 2 works on an iPad, but I think that what is considered has “hardcore gaming” hasn’t reached tablets and smartphones, yet.

A “Post-PC” Device?

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The very first thing that you need to do, is to connect iPad 2 to a PC…

Apple has presented the iPad as a “Post-PC” device. Although I doubt that they meant “this will replace your PC”, many people took it that way (it probably meant “this is a new era”, just my 2 cents, ask Steve). To make things clear: you *need* a personal computer (PC/Mac) with iTunes installed in order to activate the iPad 2. What’s certain is that “Post-PC” means at the very least that you need to buy it after your PC icon wink … in order to activate it.

Except if you know what you are getting into, I would not consider the iPad 2 to be a replacement for a laptop. In some instances (seniors, kids), that might work, but for many people, the iPad will be a leisure device that is more comfortable to use than a laptop in the plane/bed/sofa.

Pricing

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Despite being relatively expensive, iPad 2 remains cheaper than competitors in an absolute way

With prices starting at $499, Apple takes the crown for the best quality/price ratio. Better yet: if you don’t care about the camera and video chat, you can get the first iPad for $399+ (read our first iPad review). If you add 3G, the entry price for iPad 2 climbs to $629+. This does don’t include the cost of data, but there is no contract attached to it, and the iPad comes (network) unlocked – at least for the AT&Tversion. If one day another GSM carrier gets the iPad, you will be able to switch.

To achieve its (relatively!) affordable pricing, Apple has made the “right” choices: it has kept the cost down by committing to huge volumes -which leads to economies of scale- that no single competitor can keep up with. Ironically, the size reduction of the iPad 2 design also contributes to reducing the bill of materials for the device. This is another instance where “good design” literally “pays”.

Some would say that you can get a 7” Galaxy Tab at $250 or so, but don’t forget to include the 2-yr subscription that comes with it. In the end, you have to take into account the total cost of ownership (TCO). Right now, virtually every other tablet competitors are “too expensive” to effectively compete with the iPad.

I own an iPad 1, should I upgrade? (…probably not)

iPad 1

If you already own a first-generation iPad, there are little reasons to upgrade. The FaceTime video chat support is the most obvious thing that is not directly supported by the first iPad. There are details like the HDMI output, and the magnetic cover, but are those worth the upgrade? I don’t think so, but it’s up to you to decide.

Yes, processor is much faster, with vastly faster graphics. It’s great, but for one, most games will still be targeted at the current generation of devices for a while – this is classic game developer behavior. Web browsing too is noticeably faster, and “processing in general” is faster — but was that a problem for you before?

In my view, most iPad 1 owners won’t feel the *need* to upgrade from the iPad to the iPad 2 (although, they might feel the “urge”). The next iPad will probably bring cool features like LTE 4G, a super-high resolution display, an even faster processor + graphics, and… more storage. There’s also that (crazy) mid-year iPad upgrade rumor, so you might want to keep an eye on that.

Conclusion (Excellent)

ipad 2 review 031

Apple is not pursuing the “absolute” performance/features crown. There are more powerful tablets out there -like the Motorola Xoom- and  more will come out. However, the iPad 2 is an excellent tablet computer that addresses the usage models that customers are willing to pay for, at a price point and with a design that competitors simply can’t match, especially in the entry-level segment.

Apple has built the iPad 2 by making everything that was good about the first iPad, better. If it wasn’t for the poor optics quality, I would say that this is a perfect product upgrade. Anyhow, in the current tablet context, it’s fair to say that iPad 2 is an “excellent” product. As long as you understand what it can -and cannot- do, you should be happy to own one.

I hope that this review has showed you what the iPad 2 is great (or not) for. Feel free to add your own opinion/comment/review in the comment section at the bottom of the page. If there is something that I have not covered, feel free to ask via a comment. I’ll try to reply ASAP. Thanks for tuning in, you can follow me via Twitter (@hubertnguyen) or keep in touch with this site by “liking” it on Facebook\ubergizmo (or click the “like” button below).

Filed in Apple >Reviews >Tablets . Tags: Apple Review, iPad 2 and Tablet.
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