We’ve been playing with Apple’s updated iPad tablet for a week and we’re still impressed how much lighter and thinner it feels and looks, even though the real-world weight reduction is actually pretty small at 80-120 grams depending on model.
What helps create the impression of weightlessness is the body redesign which losses the ‘side wall’, making the iPad more comfortable to hold.
The resulting flatter appearance also exaggerates the height reduction by ensuring the only surface you see when the device is placed on a table or desk is the glass screen.
This is clever stuff, not just from an aesthetics point of view but also in creating an instant visual difference with the previous model.
Clad in its Apple cover, when placed alongside its younger brother the first generation iPad ends up looking just a little bit clunky and cumbersome in comparison.
And speaking of covers, no iPad 2 would be complete without an Apple Smart Cover – that oh-so simple and very colourful magnetic add-on which both adds to the visual appeal and allows Apple to double-dip your wallet without you feeling too much resentment.
As with the black case for the original model, the Smart Cover folds back to serve as an angled rest to make typing easier. Despite our initial concerns the cover holds firm in the rest position and provides a solid base for typing longer documents. Like this review.
One oddity about the covers is they fold under the iPad in such a way that the micro fibre inside – intended to clean your screen as its opened and closed – ends up on the surface of your worktop.
Ok, so most people ensure their desk is tidy and dry before placing expensive gadgets on it but there is the theoretical potential for screen damage if a rogue piece of dust gets caught in the cover before it’s slid back into place.
You may be wondering why we’ve concentrated on the look of the iPad 2 and the answer is simple – that’s what Apple are selling the device on.
Unlike rival tablet makers, Apple isn’t trying to sell the iPad 2 on the basis of hardware specs your average buyer don’t understand anyway. Apple’s sales site doesn’t bog the user down with bus speeds or ‘confusing’ CPU details, instead it simply proclaims a ‘twice as fast’ CPU and ‘up to nine times’ better graphics performance.
While hardware purists may find this ‘dumbed down’ approach infuriating, Apple’s policy of simplifying technology for the masses seems be working based on their sales figures!
The biggest most obvious change between the generations is the addition of two cameras – one rear facing, the other forward facing – and the arrival of Apple’s FaceTime video messaging to the device.
The cameras fall into the ‘ok but not great’ category and the size of the iPad makes it an unwieldy thing to take pictures on and the picture quality isn’t that great – this was taken with the rear camera on ours:
Again, FaceTime makes (some) sense on a small device like the iPhone or laptops with bezel-mounted webcams but I can’t imagine wanting to hold the iPad out in front of my face for too long.
Though many people lamented the absence of cameras on the original model I can’t see them being a killer feature. Still they’re there for those who want them which is always nice.
What about that promised speed boost? To be honest we didn’t really spot it. At times the OS and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit felt a little smoother but it was hard to tell if this real or part of the ‘halo effect’ of a new device.
No doubt the App Store will soon be full of games and apps which take advantage of the hardware upgrades but for now the iPad 2’s performance feels much like the iPad 1. As a result, existing iPad 1 owners may not quite feel that ‘wow’ factor they remember on unboxing their original purchase.
The all-new iPad 2 is really a refinement of what went before, unless existing owners suddenly need a camera or you want to swap an WiFi only model for a 3G one or just need more space, there’s probably not a lot of reason to pay out again.
However, if you don’t yet have a tablet the iPad remains the best option on the market. It looks great, it has thousands of apps designed specifically for it and, unlike many so-called iPad killers, it actually exists and is available to buy right now.