Immediately after Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2 we were able to spend some quality time with the device. Here’s what we found: The iPad 2 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor: 8.8mm and 601g, compared to 13.4mm and 680g for the original iPad. (We’re comparing the WiFi-only models here.)
What’s interesting is the effect this has on the ‘gripability’ of the product. The original iPad was one of the most solid pieces of hardware we’ve seen from Apple, but the combination of its weight, thickness, and the curve of its backplate made it a bit uncomfortable to hold for long. It’s much more comfortable to hold the iPad 2 in one hand. The slight decrease in weight helps, no doubt, but it’s also the thinness and the fact that the back side of the device tapers to a flat surface in a much shorter distance than its predecessor.
The reduced thickness of the iPad 2 means that we can’t say the iPad’s buttons and ports are on its side – there really is no side, unlike on the original iPad. There’s a front and a back, really, with a very small amount of curved space on the back where it meets the front piece. That’s where the buttons and ports are. It’s a very different feel from the original iPad. However, the buttons and ports are in more or less the same places as they were on the original iPad.
Beyond the device’s physical redesign, the major difference is the addition of a pair of cameras: one on the front and one on the back. As on the latest iPhone and iPod touch, these cameras can shoot pictures, record video, and be used for FaceTime video conferencing.
However, they’re of lower quality than the iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel camera, more in line with the cameras on the iPod touch.
The test images we shot were grainier with jagged edges than those shot with an iPhone 4. Even a FaceTime conference with an Apple rep looked a bit soft, though that could have been the result of heavy WiFi traffic.
According to Apple’s iPad 2 tech specs, the front camera – the one facing you when you’re looking at the iPad’s screen – is virtually identical to the front camera on the iPhone 4 and the fourth-generation iPod touch: it can record VGA video (640 x 480 pixels) at 30 frames per second and can take photos at the same resolution.
The back camera is similar to that of the fourth-generation iPod touch, in that it can record HD-quality (720p) video at up to 30 frames per second, and take pictures at that 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution; the camera also offers a 5x digital zoom. However, the iPhone 4 maintains its spot on top of the pack in terms of still images: its 5-megapixel camera produces substantially higher-quality pictures (2,592 x 1,936 pixels) than what the iPad 2 or iPod touch can produce.
FaceTime is still available only over a WiFi connection.
Perhaps the biggest hardware change, apart from the two cameras, is that the iPad 2 uses a new, dual-core processor Apple calls the A5. Apple says the A5 chip offers performance that’s up to two times faster than the A4 chip inside the original iPad, despite running at the same 1GHz clock speed; graphics are nine times faster, according to Apple. All the while, the A5 consumes a similar amount of power as the A4 does. That means that despite the improved performance, the iPad 2 should maintain the same 10-hour battery life as its predecessor.
It’s very hard to test the speed of a device like this, especially in a controlled environment like a demo room, but the iPad 2 certainly felt fast – really fast. The new GarageBand and iMovie apps, which presumably tax hardware to its limits, moved smoothly.
As with previous iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch models, Apple doesn’t publish nitty-gritty specs such as memory amounts. We may have to wait until someone – such as our friends over at iFixit – actually takes a new iPad apart before we know if the new model has more RAM than its predecessor. We certainly hope so.
Despite rumours that Apple would revamp the iPad’s display, the iPad 2 sports the same resolution – 1,024 x 768 pixels at 132 pixels per inch (ppi) – as the screen on the original model. It’s still, in Apple’s words, a “9.7in (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display with IPS technology.” (That’s in-plane switching technology.)
Instead of the pinhole microphone residing near the original iPad’s headphone port, the microphone has been shifted to the top back of the iPad 2 (on the 3G models, it’s actually right in the black plastic that covers the 3G antenna). The speaker has been moved to the back, and sports a grille design more like that of a MacBook Pro speaker.
A bigger speaker is one of the features we’d hoped to see in an iPad revision. Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t mentioned anything about an improved speaker. The opening for the speaker certainly appears larger on the iPad 2, but that could simply be a change in the casing, as the iPad 2’s metal back is shaped differently than that of the original iPad. We’ll know after we have more time to play music and movies on the tablet.
The micro-SIM slot on the GSM 3G model has been moved up near the top of the left-hand side. (On the original GSM 3G iPad, it was about a third of the way up from the bottom.) Apart from this there is no change to 3G in the UK iPad. In the US, on the other hand, there are two versions of the 3G iPad, one for Verizion and one for AT&T. Verizion uses a 3G network that is not compatible with the AT&T version (and also not compatible with UK networks).
The 3G version has a black plastic strip on the back, at the top, just like the 3G versions of the original iPad.
Like the iPhone 4, the iPad now features a three-axis gyroscope in addition to its accelerometer. The gyroscope allows for more-precise motion-sensing, including rotation around an axis. This feature is primarily of interest to game developers, who can use it to provide more immersive mechanics.
Using the built-in accelerometer, the iPad can detect how hard you’re tapping the screen (regardless of whether the iPad is on a table or you’re holding it in your hand); however, this isn’t a replacement for the kind of sensitivity offered by graphics tablets and higher-end music keyboards. All the same, it certainly helps add to the GarageBand experience.
A new video-mirroring feature is built into iOS 4.3, but the feature is available only on the iPad 2. Plug Apple’s soon-to-be-released Digital AV Adapter into your iPad 2’s dock-connector port, and anything on your iPad’s display can be mirrored on an HDTV, a video projector, or any other compatible video display using a standard HDMI cable. (The adaptor also provides audio output.)
Unlike the current iPad video-out feature, which is available only from within a few specific apps, the iPad 2 can output all video at up to 1080p resolution (although Apple says movies will play at “only” 720p). This includes the Home screen, making the new iPad much more useful for demos and presentations.
Developers will be able to upgrade their apps to take advantage of the new AirPlay video output, but you’ll have to wait until your favourite app gains this feature. That said, iOS 4.3 will bring AirPlay to Safari, which means that compatible video on the web should work with AirPlay right out of the gate.
The iPad 2 does not have a Thunderbolt port and it is unlikely Apple’s iOS devices will get Thunderbolt ports any time soon. Thunderbolt is a PCI Express-based technology, and iOS devices don’t use a PCI Express architecture. It’s also unclear what advantages a Thunderbolt port would have over the current 30-pin dock-connector port.
Beyond the two colours (black or white), there are the same variations of the iPad 2 based on wireless configuration.
In Australia there’s stll the three WiFi versions and the three 3G version at 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. So that’s six models to choose from. Did we say six? It’s actually 12 – don’t forget that each model will be available in black or white.
Apple’s new iPad 2 Smart Covers are exactly the size and shape of the iPad’s screen, folded in four parts. The side that faces inward is made of soft microfibre cloth; the outside is either leather or polyurethane, each in one of five colours. On one side is a metal hinge with small magnetic parts at both ends; these magnets attach to magnets embedded in the iPad 2 when you drag the Smart Cover near the iPad’s edge. When you close the cover over the iPad’s screen, it snaps closed and stays closed.
But there’s more going on here: the iPad 2 senses that the Smart Cover has been closed, and immediately locks itself. Then when you peel the Smart Cover back and disengage that magnetic clasp: the iPad 2 automatically wakes back up, bypassing the lock screen. The Smart Cover can be folded up to provide a gentle incline for typing, or flipped around to make a stand for watching video. In this latter regard, it’s superior to the case for the original iPad, which was a little wobbly in this configuration.
The Smart Cover doesn’t protect the back of the iPad 2 at all, so if you’re worried about that aluminium getting scuffed and scratched then you might want another case.
Just after announcing the new iPad 2 Apple cut the price of the entry-level iPad 1, however, it doesn’t look like Apple will be offering the original iPad at a lower price once the iPad 2 goes on sale. If you’re looking to pick up an original iPad on the cheap, now’s the time to do it. The iPad 2 was released in the US March 11. On March 25, it will become available in Australia.