Apple's iPad 2 is the second coming of the tablet that defined the genre. It's thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, but otherwise essentially the same, so can it keep its place on the cutting edge in a world packed with awesome Android interlopers?
One of the most impressive things about the iPad 2 is its price. In the US, it will cost the same as the first iPad, but here in the UK it will be £30 cheaper than the original iPad was when it launched. You'll pay £399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPad 2, £479 for the 32GB model and £559 for the 64GB version. For the iPad 2 with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, you're looking at an extra £100 across all models.
Check our roundup to see which operators will be selling the iPad 2. It will be available on 25 March in the UK.
We're going to take a fresh look at the iPad 2, so you don't have to refer to our review of the original iPad. If you have read that review, or are familiar with the iPad already, you may want to skip ahead to the 'Should I upgrade?' section.
Update: We've also previewed Apple's new iPad, the sequel to the iPad 2.
Simple is as simple does
Lacking a built-in physical keyboard or mouse, Apple's wisely aimed to keep the iPad 2's interface simple -- small icons and fiddly tasks aren't welcome on a tablet, because you have to control it with your blunt, fleshy fingers. With the same touch-friendly user interface as the iPhone, but a bigger screen, even babies and cats could use the iPad 2.
If you've ever used an iPhone or iPod touch, the iPad 2 will feel immediately familiar. A single button below the screen brings you back to the home screen, and the main menu consists of a bunch of rectangular icons that you press to run various features and apps.
The iPad 2's simplicity means it isn't as customisable as its Android competitors, like the Motorola Xoom. Apple's device lets you change the wallpaper and sort the icons into categories, but that's about it. With Android, you can pack the home screen full of shortcuts and widgets, but such flexibility comes at the price of simplicity. You'll have to decide which quality is most important to you.
Although we love the iPad 2's simplicity, it can prove a serious drawback in a few situations. For example, you can swap between two apps that are running at the same time by double-clicking the home button, but you can't look at the apps side by side in two different windows. That means that the iPad can struggle with any task more complex than surfing the Web.
Let's say you want to write an email. If you simply create the message and start typing, everything works like a charm. But, when you want to do more, like paste in some text from your calendar or add a photo, you must engage in an app-swapping session that can make your head swim. Also, some tasks that are common on a full-sized computer, like adding an email attachment, just can't be accomplished.
Even copying and pasting text is annoying on the iPad 2. You have to hold your finger on text to highlight it. You can then drag some tiny markers around to highlight the exact text you want -- in theory. It's often impossible to get this process right on Web pages because of their HTML-formatted text. Even when it works perfectly, you need the concentration of a monk to tap and drag the cursor where you want it.
On the iPhone, this copy-and-paste system feels like an amazing way around the lack of a mouse, since it's a small gadget whose ability to do any text editing at all seems miraculous. On a tablet, which will be considered by some as an alternative to a laptop, it feels inelegant and fiddly.
The limitations of a tablet are particularly noticeable when you try to create files in Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- the Apple equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The interface looks fantastic, but trying to whip up documents more complex than a shopping list without a keyboard and mouse is trying to say the least -- fingers just aren't accurate enough for detailed work. We suggest using Google Docs in the browser, so you can do your serious typing on your computer, and have access to your docs for reference and a few quick edits on your iPad 2.
Printing is also a pain, unless you have an AirPrint-enabled printer or a third-party printing app.
Keep your iOS on the ball
We suggest you forget about attempting any real work on the iPad and stick to having fun. The iPad 2 has access to the huge collection of apps and games in the App Store, so you'll never be short of something to help you pass the time while skiving off.
Gamers can choose between everything from addictive puzzle titles to gory first-person shooters. There's an even greater range of apps available, including photo editors, guitar tuners and everything in between. You can plan your workout, your love life and your holiday booking on your iPad. Most of the big-name apps tend to hit the App Store before the Android Market, and apps usually cost less than a couple of pounds.
Apple's own GarageBand app is one of the most impressive, really showing off how much you can do with a touchscreen tablet. You can record multiple tracks using realistic-sounding virtual instruments, or cheat-assisted instruments that pluck themselves for you. The app isn't for pros who love fiddling with millions of knobs on a proper mixing desk, but we could see beginners getting seriously addicted to creating songs on the iPad 2. We just wish you could export your tunes to the music player on the iPad 2, rather than having to sync them with your computer first.
You can also use iPhone apps on the iPad 2, but they don't fill the screen unless you use the pixel-doubling zoom feature. That makes the image bigger, but it doesn't take advantage of the iPad's higher resolution, so you're left craving the iPad version of the app. It's also worth noting that you're locked into Apple's App Store to get all these goodies, and you can only use iTunes on a single computer for syncing.
Apps are handy, but they're not absolutely necessary. You can surf the whole Web in the iPad 2's browser. It's lightning-fast and does a fabulous job of displaying Web pages accurately. Even the iPad 2's Achilles heel, its lack of Flash support, is becoming less of a problem, as more sites bow to Apple's might and undertake Flash-free redesigns.
remembering that Apple has forgone Flash because it's battery-hungry
and tends to crash. Still, we often found we ran into a video, photo slide show or audio clip on
the Web that we couldn't view on the iPad 2 -- even on popular sites, like The Guardian's.
Another drawback is the iPad 2's memory loss when it has multiple Web pages open -- when you swap back to a page, it has to reload it from scratch. This can be a huge headache if you're surfing on the train or other places with patchy connectivity, since pages that were fully loaded can refresh into nothingness when you're in a tunnel. It's also infuriating when you've filled out part of an online form, swapped windows to check something on another Web page, and gone back to find that the page has refreshed and lost all your work. We hoped and prayed that this caching issue would be resolved on the iPad 2, since we think that Web surfing is the tablet's killer app. But, sadly, it still needs work.
Nevertheless, the iPad 2's quick boot time and portability meant we usually
reached for it over our phone or laptop when we wanted to do some browsing or catch up on some Internet reading. If you're on the
road and the iPad 2 is all you have, you can even use it for more
complex tasks, like Internet banking -- if you're patient.
Face to face
The iPad 2 wants to tempt you into using its new 0.3-megapixel front and 0.91-megapixel rear cameras with a playful app called Photo Booth. This straightforward and basic app can be used for creating silly photos for your Facebook profile and so on, but not for any serious editing.
FaceTime is also included on the iPad 2. With this video-calling app, you can chat with people using the front or rear-facing cameras, but only those who have a Mac, iPhone 4, iPod touch or iPad 2. We had a FaceTime chat with an obliging Apple employee in her office in California, and, even over jam-packed Wi-Fi, the video quality was excellent compared to competing offerings, such as Skype. It's a pity you won't be able to share the fun with your mates who have other types of smart phone.
You can shoot video with either the front or rear cameras on the
iPad 2, but only the rear one takes decent shots. The front one is fun
for making movies by yourself -- ahem -- but the images aren't sharp or well-exposed. The back camera
shoots 720p video, and the quality is acceptable. Waving the
iPad 2 around like a camera is inconvenient and will make you look stupid, though.
The iMovie app lets you edit your movies. This video-editing
software has been tweaked to take advantage of the touchscreen, and lets you apply flashy cuts and background music to your creations. It's fun to play
with videos you've shot on your iPad or iPhone, but importing video
from other sources can be devilishly hard, involving syncing with a
computer at the very least.
If you want to screen your creations on your telly, you can use the updated AirPlay feature, as long as you have an Apple TV. AirPlay already streamed video from the iPad to Apple TV, and now it can stream photo slide shows too. Apps and websites can also stream video and audio over AirPlay.
The iPad 2 supports iTunes home sharing so you can play media from your computer on the tablet over your home Wi-Fi network. When you're on the go, the easiest way to get video and audio onto the iPad 2 is to buy it on iTunes. The selection is good, but it's expensive -- we pay 99p in the UK to rent the cheapest of the films on iTunes, whereas as our American buddies pay a mere 99 cents (61p). But it's such a pain to convert other formats and get them on the device that it's worth the money.
The iPad packs a 1GHz, dual-core A5 CPU and dedicated GPU, which the original iPad lacked. Apple says it makes the iPad 2 twice as fast as the original iPad when it comes to processor-heavy tasks, and nine times faster when it comes to crunching graphics.
During our tests, the iPad 2 proved faster than the original iPad, but not
quite as fast
as we expected. Despite the tablet's new dual-core
and GPU, many of its speed improvements actually seem to be due to its updated operating system.
Since the original iPad received the same iOS 4.3 update, the two tablets are roughly as quick as each other when it comes to most tasks, such as opening apps and loading
That doesn't mean the iPad 2 is slow. Like its iPhone
siblings, the iPad's smooth, buttery scrolling is streets
ahead of the competition. If you're used to using an iPad
with a previous version of iOS, you'll definitely notice the speed
We ran some tests on the iPad 2 and an original iPad running the latest iOS 4.3, using the GLBenchmark app. In some areas, such as CPU integer performance, we didn't see any improvement. (CPU integer performance reflects the speed of the processor when completing basic tasks, and can affect anything running on the tablet.) But, almost across the board, we saw advances in graphics performance. The iPad 2 was vastly better at rendering textures and triangles, in particular. Check out the video below to see the white iPad 2's GPU in action.
We couldn't fault the first iPad's battery life. It
lived up to Apple's claims of 10 hours of use, or a month of standby time. Despite being thinner, lighter
and more powerful, the iPad 2 offers the
same epic battery life.
Just in case
The iPad 2 is only 8.8mm thick, so it's slimmer than the skinniest smart phone currently on the market, the iPhone 4. As such, we were concerned that it would feel as wafer-thin and breakable as an After Eight mint. Fortunately, the iPad 2's aluminium case means it feels reasonably sturdy.
After lugging it around for a few days, protected by nothing but the case that covers the screen, we were impressed by the iPad 2's ability to survive. It's possible to scratch and dent the aluminium case during normal use, though, and, if you drop the tablet on a hard surface, you can kiss your screen goodbye.
Apple's detachable cover attaches to magnets hidden in the iPad 2's chassis, clicking into place satisfyingly. It can also be folded into a stand, allowing for more convenient typing and video viewing. Peeling the cover from the screen automatically wakes up the iPad 2.
The cover isn't cheap, at £35 for the fabric version, and £65 for the leather one. The cover doesn't look quite as sexy in person as it does in Apple's adorable, Pixar-inspired promotional video either. The grey version we tried looked futuristic in a Blake's 7 kind of way, but we'd suggest picking up one of the less '70s colours.
The cover is worth having if you can afford it. It hardly adds any bulk to the tablet, it's handy to have a stand wherever you are, and it's lightning quick to deploy. We won't be taking ours off.
Should I upgrade?
If you already have an iPad, you may be wondering if it's worth upgrading to an iPad 2. Unless you just can't live another second knowing that you're behind the curve, we think the answer is 'no'.
Although the iPad 2 is faster at rendering graphics than the first iPad, the original is almost as fast at surfing the Web and opening apps. Just be sure to install the upgrade to iOS 4.3, because that's where most of the speed improvements come from.
One area in which the iPad 2 trounces its predecessor is weight.
The iPad 2 has hit the gym and come out thinner and lighter. At 8.8mm thick, compared to the first iPad's 13.4mm, it looks
stunningly thin in person -- almost like a sheet of paper.
After a few hours of reading and surfing, we really appreciated
the fact that the Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 we tested weighed just 601g. That's 124g lighter than the first iPad, which we found surprisingly heavy given its slender form. The lighter weight is particularly pleasing since you don't lose any battery life.
The iPad 2 doesn't look vastly different to the first iPad. It has the same 9.7-inch screen with the same 1,024x768-pixel resolution offering 132 pixels per inch. If you want to flaunt the fact that you've got the latest version, you could choose the white model, rather than the black -- both will be available when the tablet is launched.
We tested the white iPad 2, but we still prefer the black version. The white bezel distracts from what's on the screen, and it also makes the iPad 2 look like a kitchen appliance or digital photo frame. We liked the white iPhone 3GS, but that gadget was only white on the back.
If weight isn't an issue for your massively muscled forearms, the second major consideration will be the cameras, which are new additions to the iPad 2. We can't see people taking many snapshots or videos while waving around the new tablet, but its front and rear cameras are fun features nevertheless. Messing around with iMovie and Photo Booth is amusing, and iMovie only runs on the more powerful iPad 2. You can also use FaceTime to make video calls, but only to those friends who have an iPhone 4, iPod touch, Mac or another iPad 2. You must also be connected to Wi-Fi.
The iPad 2 doesn't offer every feature that iPhone 4 owners can enjoy in iOS 4.3. For example, you can't use the iPad 2 as a personal hotspot. This feature lets you share your phone's 3G Internet connection over Wi-Fi with your other gadgets. You can't do the same with a 3G-enabled iPad 2.
Apple's iPad 2 has all of the qualities that helped the first iPad to define the tablet. It's simple to use, finger-friendly and offers access to a massive selection of apps and games. We'd love the option to turn on Flash in the browser and load external video files easily, and we struggled when we tried to do anything more complicated than surf the Web. But these niggles don't stop us from doting on a gadget that provides such a fun, intuitive window into the Web. The fact that the iPad 2 delivers all this potential in a slimmer, faster package than its predecessor, without losing any of the battery life we've learned to love, makes it even more crave-worthy.
With a posse of Android tablets on the horizon, the iPad 2 won't have Tablet Town to itself much longer. But dozens of USB ports, cameras and widgets don't guarantee that the Android tablets will be more fun to use than the iPad 2. If you can't live without a memory-card slot or Flash support, wait for the upcoming wave of fantastic-looking Android tablets to hit our shores before parting with your cash. Otherwise, the iPad 2 will be worth your hand-earned moolah.
Edited by Charles Kloet