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For anyone out there who is considering whether or not to make the leap and purchase the iPad 2, this review is for you. If you’re still debating between the iPad 1 and the iPad 2 check out my review of the first generation iPad right here on Amazon to see a discussion of its strengths and weaknesses with a number of people commenting (both positively and negatively) over the past 11 months.
Let me begin by saying this upfront, I don’t work for Apple, I don’t own Apple Stock, and whether you buy an iPad, Xoom, a laptop or a pad of paper and pencil I don’t get anything for writing this. I’m not an Apple “fanboy” although I can give credit where credit is due and lately Apple has deserved a lot of credit for some of their products.
Physical CharacteristicsThe iPad 2 is absurdly thin. More importantly than it’s thinness is its tapered edge which feels more natural in your hand. One of the biggest complaints about the original iPad was it really wasn’t tremendously comfortable to hold for long periods at a time. For a tablet device designed to be held, that’s a pretty big deal. Apple really has done an amazing job of cramming everything into an even smaller space than before and the difference is really noticeable when you’re holding the device. In addition to the tapered edge, Apple managed to reduce the overall weight of the iPad 2. That might not seem like a huge deal to most, especially when you consider the weight difference isn’t tremendous when you’re already under 2 pounds, but I spend a good part of my day holding the iPad in my hands and the weight difference is surprising by the end of the day. The first generation isn’t heavy by any means, but the iPad 2 outshines it.
New and “Improved”Apple doubled the RAM in the iPad 2 from 256MB to 512MB. What does that mean? For most casual users, probably not a whole lot. There is a performance bump that everyone will see the effects of in things like loading times for webpages that are open in the background, but 256MB was sufficient for most daily use and games. If you’re planning to use your device for some of the more graphically intense games the iPad 2 does offer a better method of graphics processing that’ll help deliver faster images with fewer jerky movements. If you’re just playing Angry birds and reading e-mail you’re not going to know the difference.
The screen is the same for all real purposes. It is technically a “new” part in that it isn’t identical to the old, it’s a bit thinner and more efficient, but it’s the same resolution. The Glass is thinner though, and this amounts to a fair bit of the weight loss from one generation to the next. In playing with the device it seems surprising but despite feeling lighter it actually feels more sturdy in your hands. I still wouldn’t suggest dropping it, but if it were to fall the iPad 2 certainly feels like it might stand a better chance to survive. Try not to drop it though.
The addition of 2 cameras was expected. Some were a bit surprised to see the first generation released without the cameras. Whether it was for a price point consideration, or a means to get people to upgrade, Apple held off until iPad 2. The cameras do a reasonable job, but they’re not going to replace a dedicated digital camera, or really even the camera on your phone for most still images. The cameras do a substantially better job with video, and FaceTime is probably one of the best reasons to get the iPad 2 over the original iPad. For those who might not be familiar, FaceTime is Apple’s face to face conferencing system, kind of like Skype, or if you’d rather, kind of like the Jetson’s TV/Phone. With the push of a button you can be having a face to face chat with a loved one just about anywhere in the world (provided they’re on a wireless network at the time). FaceTime doesn’t work over 3G natively (it can be used over a wifi connection created by a 3G device however) so you’re not going to be able to use it in your car anytime soon. This is probably a good thing though. It is incredibly easy to use and if you know other people with an iPad 2, iPhone 4, or Mac it’s a lot of fun.
Smart Covers aren’t really “smart” but they’re really very useful. Not only do they provide a stylistic enhancement of the device, but they serve a practical and functional purpose of doubling as a screen protector and stand in 2 configurations. You can find them in a variety of colors and from third market suppliers, and it’s a safe bet that more will be out soon to capitalize on the magnetic sensors in the iPad 2. It’s unfortunate that this same feature can’t somehow be retrofitted to the iPad 1, I wouldn’t have thought a case would be a compelling reason to consider a product over it’s competitor, but these covers are really so useful it’s hard to understand why they’ve not been there since the beginning.
Multitasking SupportOne of the biggest knocks against…
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People need to be aware that the reviews you see for the iPad often reflect the old Mac/PC platform wars with some people making comments who simply don’t like iPads from a distance, without actually owning one, because they see it as part of the deplorable Apple mania they find so distasteful. They’re entitled to their opinion, of course, but it is unfortunate they skew the evaluation of this product without the deep acquaintance one needs in order to give it an insightful evaluation.
I have taught computer science at the college level for 26 years and have had computers with all kinds of operating systems. I don’t own Apple stock and have never known anyone who works at Apple. I therefore have no connection to Apple.
I have had my iPad for about a month and read a fair number of reviews before I purchased, spent some time using one at the store, and thought about what I might use one for, in contrast to my laptop with which I am well satisfied. People too often think of computers in terms of hardware, the specs and looks, instead of the software and the functionality. You should ask yourself, “What will I use this for that solves a problem I would like to have solved?” Software is always more important than hardware, even though it is the hardware that makes an impression.
The iPad is not a laptop and is not principally a production computer, that is, a computer on which you are going to develop web pages, do serious graphics editing, or write a book. You could use your new Taurus to tow a trailer, but that is not what it is designed to do well. These things can increasingly be done on an iPad, but I don’t believe they will ever be what it is best at. It is a portable media machine with an inviting touch interface that requires a somewhat different set of skills, which take a modest amount of time to learn. Surfing the web, checking email, watching movies, playing games, looking at new cars, reading the Economist magazine, all work better on an iPad than a laptop. It does these things very well indeed. There are now 80,000 apps for a wide variety of activities–given its design intent. The apps are either free or reasonably priced, so you can get a bunch from the “app store” for little investment. As with Amazon, you can see what other people think of an app before getting one.
This would be a splendid acquisition for small children, for teens deep into social networking, for an adult wanting to drop into the love seat for a quick look at what is happening in the world, for a senior citizen who wants a simple, inviting system with few hassles, to stay in touch with grandchildren. The iPad is not a light laptop; it is instead a different way to use computing to do a wide variety of consumption and communication–not principally production.
In my experience, its wi-fi is adroit from one environment to another. It “knows” where it is geographically, scans its environment for wi-fi, and accesses wi-fi seamlessly. At this point in time, we should expect no less. I cannot address the 3G communications since I have a wi-fi only (I am not convinced of the value of the 3G and I can use my phone as a hotspot). I have never had it crash, though I have had to back myself out of apps that seemed to have no logical next step. This was the result either of my ignorance or the fact that there is less of a standard user interface from app to app than there is in classical GUIs such as OS X and Windows.
For the laptop lugging road-warrior, it should be noted, this is not going to be a full replacement. I now take my laptop and my iPad when I go into the college. But much of the time there, I use my iPad because it is so light, convenient and useable. I use it to teach my classes and often reference traditional texts from the iPad instead of lugging them along to class. I develop my own web pages on my 27″ desktop which is the right environment for such development; I wouldn’t expect to do that on an iPad. In education (and evidently in medicine), it is proving to be a real boon. The enterprise situations where portable information access and transmission are critical will find this a compelling solution. The heavy Photoshop user or music track editor will still need a conventional computer, either laptop or desktop.
I purchased the 64GB version, which may be more storage than I need. But since it will drive my 50″ screen downstairs I figured I would begin to load lots of pictures and favored music, so it may prove a wise choice in the long run. It can swallow up entire evenings with the music-augmented slide shows it can do. In fact, you may begin to wonder if you need cable TV. Conventional content providers should be worried about the iPad since it provides yet another way for the user to determine viewing experience. But if you are still drawn to cable, it makes a fine remote control.
Before people evaluate this…
First things first: I consider myself relatively unbiased on Apple products. I received the original iPad as a gift (which I was able to return once I saw the iPad 2 announcement) and I have an old iPod 4th gen with color display which is still going strong after a few years, but aside from that I typically use Windows PCs and my phone is Android.
If you don’t have an iPad, and you’re trying to decide whether you want one or not, ask yourself: What will I use this for?
This is meant to be an overview for the uninitiated, since according to initial news reports, 70% of people who have bought the iPad 2 so far didn’t own an original iPad.
If you want it for web surfing, a portable Netflix or other video screen, gaming, or FaceTime/Skype video chat, it’s definitely adept at all of those things. I used to read books and magazines in my bed before going to sleep, and I still occasionally do, but now I’ve found that surfing with the iPad is just as convenient and relaxing.
The iPad is all about the apps, many of which greatly expand the native capability of the iPad. You can get Microsoft Office clones, remote desktop, second screen, calculators, alarm clocks, remote apps for cable boxes and disc players, and more. Some are free, many are not. I’ll get into some of those a bit later, but keep in mind this isn’t intended to be a review of apps. If you want to see what’s out there, you can search the App store on the web or in iTunes. If you expect the iPad to be able to do something not in its specs, check the app store first.
The only difference I’ve seen with the iPad 2 is that now there are a few games out there that are optimized for iPad 2, or have improved iPad 2 modes. Lots of games are free and those that aren’t occasionally go on sale. The only two I’ve bought are Scrabble HD and Dungeon Hunter 2 HD, both when they were $1 each. (I’ve played many more free ones.) I recommend both. Dungeon Hunter 2 HD is a great 3D game that tries really hard to be Diablo 2, with character classes, customization, and online play. It looks great and has never crashed or had a framerate stutter. The iPad 1 had problems with crashing and low framerates with games occasionally, and this version seems to be a much better gaming system. That’s the only big difference I noticed between the iPad 1 and iPad 2 so far though.
For me, having a huge array of apps to play with, many of which are free if you don’t mind ads here and there, and the convenience of being able to web surf without having to drag out my laptop makes this worth having. Plus the battery gets 8-10 hours on a charge, which is a far cry better than any laptop I know of. It’s a great e-reader for airplane travel, even really long flights, though you can’t use it on take-off and landing of course.
Wi-Fi performance is flawless and the range is excellent. More than once I’ve pulled up in the driveway and before I’m even in the house, I’ve heard my iPad’s ESPN ScoreCenter app go off to inform me of a score. I can’t speak to the 3G quality, though, as I don’t have that model. Frankly, I don’t think most people need it. If I’m out of the middle of nowhere and need the web for something, I’d much rather pull out my phone than the iPad. If you just have to use the iPad, tons of public places have Wi-Fi these days.
If you want to be able to print things, you might think at first that you need an AirPrint compatible printer. Fear not! A simple Google search for “AirPrint any printer” will show you how to configure your PC or Mac to broadcast its printers with AirPrint. I have Brother and Canon printers and they both worked with it. It took some time to download and install the AirPrint service and then configure printer sharing options on my network, but that was a far cry better than buying a new printer or an expensive printing app! Still, I’ve found that my printers occasionally disappear from the list, and the only way to get them back is to shut the iPad down completely and power it back on. Annoying.
The iPad 2 still doesn’t support Adobe Flash. Some websites are adapting to this and adding HTML 5 video. Many aren’t. Keep that in mind if you’re a heavy web video user. I love to watch web shows like the Nostalgia Critic and the Angry Video Game Nerd, and most web show hosting sites are still in Flash. Also, some sites have flash menus, making them completely unusable to you if they don’t have a mobile version. It’s this that prevents the iPad from being a true laptop replacement, regardless of how much you spend on apps. I still end up having to fire up the laptop to use several websites I enjoy.
The screen is supposedly oleophobic but gets fingerprints all over the place in mere minutes of use. I find that extremely irritating. If you feel the same way, get a screen protector like the ZAGG InvisibleShield (though…
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