Apple iPad 2 in-depth review -

If you like this tablet, why not vote for it in the Mobile Choice Consumer Awards 2011? You could win a prize. Click here.

Look and feel

Beautifully slim, the new iPad 2 aluminium chassis is cool and futuristic, while a new graphics chip ups the screen clarity and brightness

Ease of use

Apple's streamlined iOS 4.3 is intuitive and elegant to use, with a gloriously tactile touch-screen and virtual keyboard making web, email and games a pleasure. Sadly, the bloated iTunes remains a dinosaur of software versions past

Features

Along with a new dual-core processor that has sped up multitasking, there are now dual cameras for video calling and (blurry) photo taking. The rear camera can record HD video though

Performance

Fast, slick and natural, the iPad 2 can't be faulted on the web, email and gaming fronts. It's the iconic device for the new-media era - so its lack of support for Flash video is especially glaring

Battery life

Exceptional - despite greater horsepower and a slimmer chassis, the excellent 10-hour-plus battery life of the iPad 1 has been maintained. On non-continuous use, the iPad 2 easily lasts days

 Apple iPad 2 Review -
4

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,6/7/2011 3:13:35 PM

10

out of 10

Performance

10

out of 5

Look and feel

8

out of 5

Ease of use

8

out of 5

Features

10

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

Incredibly sleek look and feel, video calling, tons of apps optimised for iPad, particularly magazines and new media

Cons:

Lack of Flash video is galling for a media-centric device, bloated iTunes software, difficult to transfer media without iTunes

If you're reading this, you're probably not one of the diehard Apple cultists who queued overnight to score the iPad 2 on launch day. Even more than its market-defining predecessor, the next-gen tablet from Cupertino was the subject of media hype, fan hysteria and in Asia, price hikes on the grey market to double cost or more.

The iPad 2 is faster, slimmer and absolutely sexier than the first iPad - but is that enough to justify upgrading yours, or even buying a new one?

Design

In the world of tech, making things smaller usually works. And the iPad 2 is 33% slimmer than iPad 1, and just 600g to its 712g. At 8.8mm, the aluminium chassis is thinner than almost any smartphone too, fitting comfortably in the hand like a futuristic, pleasingly cool slate.

The 9.7-inch capacitive touch-screen is edged by a bezel that will come in black or white. That same single home button sits at its base, while the top features a central camera for video calls. There's also a rear camera with a puzzlingly low resolution of 0.7-megapixels. A 3.5mm audio jack sits at the top edge, and on the side, a volume rocker and a switch that be customised to either mute the tablet or lock the orientation.

There are a few key upgrades under the hood, including a new A5 dual-core 1GHz processor and double the RAM for multitasking. The performance speed bump was most noticeable when we switched between apps, with a difference of almost a second.

An improved graphics chip makes the 1024x768 screen look brighter than on the iPad 1's, though the resolution is actually the same. We would have loved to see a bump in screen res, but no doubt Apple is saving that privilege for the iPad 3.

The basics

With every new device, Apple also launches a new OS. Here we have iOS 4.3, with update 4.3.1 available as of press time. It looks exactly like the iPad 1 interface, but everything is just a bit faster - and of course, video calling via Apple's FaceTime app (and over Wi-Fi-only) is now supported.

The touch-screen is as deliciously slick and responsive as on its predecessor, with a comfortably sized virtual keyboard in both landscape and portrait orientations.
As with other iDevices, you need to connect the iPad 2 to iTunes to activate it. This is then its 'home' iTunes account to which it'll sync apps and media files. You can only download software updates when plugged into this iTunes too, in stark contrast to the over-the-air updates available for Android and Windows Phone 7 devices.
One of the new features of iOS4.3 is Home Sharing of iTunes content over Wi-Fi.

When your iPad (or iPhone) is on the same Wi-Fi network as its home iTunes, you can stream music, photos and video from computer to your device. There is a Home Sharing link on desktop iTunes for easy setup but the iPad is less forthcoming - instead of doing it directly in the iPod app, you have to go into the Settings menu and tap in your Home Sharing details (basically your iTunes account info).

Once that's done, you'll want email, which is probably one of the unsung highlights of the iPad. You can set up Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, and webmail to feed into the phone, though you only get 'true' push (ie, instantaneous) mail delivery on the Exchange ones. Anyone with a slightly techie bent of mind can circumvent this though by setting up their account as an Exchange account (settings found via a quick Google search). This also handily syncs your contacts to the tablet.

What we love most - as in the original iPad - is the dual-window tablet-optimised view. In landscape orientation, the inbox displays in one panel, with a reading panel on the right, just like in Microsoft Outlook. In portrait orientation the entire view is taken up by the reading panel, with a small tab that pops up an inbox window. Either way up, it makes a natural and elegant email viewer.

Multimedia

On the surface, the iPad 2 is a beautiful media player. The screen sparkles, and the onboard speakers offer clear sound with decent fullness. Thanks to the new OS update, the Safari browser is generally speedier and was able to load pages in around five seconds over Wi-Fi. Compared side by side with the old iPad, iPad 2 was almost always faster. Its big downfall: (still) no support for Flash-encoded web video. It's a bigger problem for a tablet where the larger screen size invites video streaming. Sure, not everyone uses or even likes Flash sites - but for anyone that watches the sports highlights shows, or video on news sites, this is likely to be a dealbreaker omission.

Especially obvious now is that iTunes is far from graceful as a media manager. Photos can be dragged and dropped from the iPad onto your computer (not the other way round however), but you can only move music and movie files through iTunes. Of course, Apple makes it easy for you to funnel your entire media library through its software, but audio- and cinephiles will also find it frustrating that not all high-quality file formats are supported. Most noticeably, you won't be able to watch videos in DivX, the codec in which an increasingly large proportion of online video is compressed.

These are all issues with the iPhone too, but the lack of choice for media is far more frustrating on a device intended for it.

Our other issue was with the lack of any external memory slot or USB port that would allow you to load on video you've already downloaded without having to go through iTunes. Again, it smacks distinctly of being shunted down the single path Apple wants you take through its perfectly streamlined OS.

Its base model memory of 16G is also quite pitiful for movies - and even music - and £80 for to bump up to a decent 32GB (£160 to get a respectable 64GB) drives the price quite a bit higher.

Cameras at last

Yes, we have video calling - and what seems a novelty feature on smartphones makes perfect sense on a screen this size. Apple's proprietary FaceTime app works smoothly (over Wi-Fi only) and is nicely integrated so that you can make FaceTime calls direct from the app and from a contact's profile. It only works with other iPads, iPhone 4's and the new MacBooks, but if such elitist antics rile you up, the Skype app does the same with any other Skype account in the world.

The rear video camera records video at 720p but takes stills at just 0.7-megapixels. Pictures produced are full of noise and unsuitable even just for viewing on the device. Video is recorded in better definition but this is in no way any kind of image recording device. You'll use your cameras for video chat and that's it. It's strange that Apple has even bothered including that rear camera - though a selling point of a next-gen iPad will probably be that it features some perfectly-megapixeled new lens.

One cute new feature is the photo frame mode - press the icon next to the slider on the unlock screen to turn on a slideshow of pictures on the device.

There's also a preloaded version of PhotoBooth. As a photo-effects app, the former won't create instant artistry in the vein of Hipstamatic, nor will it allow you to edit photos in any productive way - but it just makes you want to play with it. No, we will never have any use for the effect that twirls your face into an unrecognizable cinnamon roll-like beast, but yes, we have already had five goes on the Mirror filter to see what we would look like if our face was truly symmetrical.

Apps and games

Of course, half the beauty of a tablet is to be found in its apps - and the App Store is still caning every other OS in town when it comes to tablet-optimised software (turn the page for our five favourites). As far as touch-screen games go, the iPad 2 is a perfect medium for casual games like Cut the Rope (so much easier with all that screen space!) as well as highly detailed RPG, shooter and racing games like Asphalt HD where you tilt the 'Pad to control your car. So not much has changed there - but the new graphics hardware makes things look that much better, while the dual-core processor does its best work here, keeping high-load games running smoothly.

Sadly the Game Center is as lackluster as in previous versions of iOS. You can add other friends with iDevices but the limit of your interaction is at seeing how they scored in the games they play, and how you both stack up in mutual games. It's really little more than a holding page for your games - i.e., a folder.

The verdict

Despite a conspicuous lack of features, using an iPad 2 is so very pleasurable that it glamours one into forgetting about things like Flash video, over the air software updates, and streamlined media transfer. Of course, iPad owners will have already come to terms with this - but the incremental upgrade here isn't enough to justify a new one. The iPad 2 is great to use but as more tablets launch with these features and more, its failings are likely to become increasingly obvious. Another deliciously designed product from Apple that is a want not a need - but then again, that's the iPad market to a tee.

Natasha Stokes