Raising the Bar

I have been struggling to write an iPad 2 review for everyone that can better summarize the iPad 2 than this tweet by Sean Silvius:

@marcoarment I think we all feel the same way but I bet Apple makes more in covers than all their competitors do in tablets in 2011.

It’s a nod to both the marketing machine that Apple has become and to just how damned good the Smart Cover truly is. The iPad 2 is most certainly better than the original iPad in every aspect. It is thinner, faster, lighter and solves the bulky cover problem — all while keeping the same battery life and price. Amazing. But that Smart Cover is the real winning prize that you get with the iPad 2.

There isn’t a whole lot that I can add to the iPad 2 discussion that you most likely have not already read, John Gruber does an excellent job summarizing the iPad 2 with this:

The iPad 2 is a solid second-generation iteration. Easier and more comfortable to hold, noticeably faster, equippable with foldable covers that are both literally and figuratively magnetic.

The Feel

Before the iPad 2 came out I wrote a longer piece about why I didn’t want to see a thinner iPad come out, in that piece I said:

I honestly believe that a thinner iPad will be much less comfortable to hold. Especially one with a flat back.

Well I have had the iPad 2 in my possession for quite a while now and I can say that I was, without a doubt, dead wrong about the above assumption. My worries were that a thinner iPad would be more difficult to grip and at the same time would be to sharp feeling on the edges. What I didn’t anticipate was that Apple has seemingly rid the iPad 2 of every single sharp edge. Where as on the iPhone 4 and the original iPad there are sharp angles, every edge on the iPad 2 has been eased and is very soft feeling.

The iPad 2 is a fantastic device to hold in your hand. It is better from an ergonomic standpoint in every single aspect than the original iPad. Even with the Smart Cover on, whether it is open or closed, the iPad 2 feels leaps and bounds smaller and lighter than its predecessor.

The flat back not only makes the iPad 2 easy to use when resting flat on a table 1 but the flat back actually makes holding the iPad 2 for extended periods of time a true pleasure.

Unfortunately 1.3 lbs is still much too heavy and comfortable to hold while reading in bed without supporting the weight in some fashion — make no mistake, this is not “Kindle light”.

3G

Many people are making the case that there is no reason for most consumers to get the 3G iPad model and I made my case for why I went with 3g here where I said:

This is where the last factor comes into play: convenience. What is more convenient: having to pull out your iPhone and activate the hotspot feature, or just doing it all on your iPad. As someone who has had to effectively do that routine for almost a year now with my MiFi, I can tell you that there will be times that you won’t want to use your iPad when you could, because it is just too much of a hassle to get internet access. I want to eliminate that.

I want the future and the future is internet where you need it, when you need it.

I still stand by that and I don’t regret my 3G iPad purchase in the slightest. I have already used over 250mb of data and I continue to use the 3G radio at least 3-4 times a week — I am just not always at my house.

For most users I would tend to agree that the personal hotspot feature of the iPhone would be more than enough to suffice (especially given that it transmits GPS info as well), but for people who are truly on the go the 3G built in to your iPad will be a far better experience overall.

I have found the AT&T 3G service to be excellent, even while in Austin at SXSW the 3G on my iPad was comparable to the speed I was getting from my Verizon MiFi. I leave it on all the time and I really love the added convenience. One thing that I do need to report is that leaving the 3G on all the time will drain your iPad battery considerably faster. I have never had to charge an iPad as much as I have had to charge the iPad 2 — this is 100% attributable to the 3G radio as during the times I have turned it off battery life has been impeccable.

The only caveat to this is that if you live in a known AT&T black hole (New York and San Francisco) then you should probably think about the Verizon model.

Speed

The iPad 2 finally feels right. It isn’t that the original iPad was slow — it wasn’t — it is that the iPad 2 reaches a sweet spot of performance where the user no longer notices delays. The iPad 2 doesn’t feel fast, so much as it just feels right. So a Safari tab dropped out of RAM and now needs to be reloaded, that experience is fast and painless. You launch a game and you are in and playing in no time. Opening a link or PDF from Mail is seamless. Scrolling media intensive pages and documents (like The Big Picture) is smooth and fast, just like you would expect it to be.

That is the heart and soul of the iPad 2 — things are quicker than you expect them to be. They aren’t fast when compared to a standard notebook computer, but they are beyond what most expect — once you can surpass expectations then you get very happy customers and the iPad 2 does just that.

Camera Crazy

Again I had some opinionated thoughts on putting a rear facing camera on the iPad. Basically my thinking was that the camera wouldn’t be high quality (it isn’t) and would only do FaceTime and video (it does do stills) and that above all it would be pretty useless as a camera (again, it is).

It is a pretty useless camera — not only do you look like a complete idiot holding up the iPad to take a picture, but the shutter button is in one of the worst possible locations: dead center along the bottom. How are you supposed to hold a 1.3lbs device with one hand while you try and tap that button, all without shaking or moving the iPad? You can’t.

The video is what surprised me the most though — shooting video with the iPad still makes you look like an idiot, but man is it easy and nice to do — a better experience than you get with the iPhone 4. The video isn’t better, but the framing is. That is you can actually see what you are doing on the large, bright, iPad 2 screen, where as with most other video cameras you don’t get as clear of a picture.

I actually like shooting video with the iPad — as stupid as it makes me look.

That said the still picture quality is beyond terrible. The video quality is average. The FaceTime quality though is perfect for what FaceTime is. It is clear to me that these cameras are meant for FaceTime, but to appease the check list mongers they allowed the use of the cameras for video and stills — makes sense.

Wrap-Up

There is no logical reason to buy anything other than and iPad at this point. If you can afford to buy the iPad 2 then you are golden for a couple of years. If you can’t then go help a fellow geek out and get the original iPad for a heavily discounted price — the original iPad is still better than any other tablet on the market today (except that iPad 2) — the iPad 2 just took that bar and raised it higher — much higher.

  1. Because for once it can actually rest flat on the table.
Originally posted for members on: March 21, 2011
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