Minutes after it went on sale in the US, I was walking out the door of my local Best Buy with an iPad 2 under my arm. So, I've been using it for as long as any non-Apple employee—about five weeks when I wrote this review! The following describes my "long term" road test of the new iPad.
Thinner and lighter than the original
The new iPad is slightly thinner than the original and weighs only 1.33 pounds, about 3 ounces less than the iPad 1. In addition, the tapered edges of the iPad 2 give you the impression that the device is lighter and thinner than it really is. Finally, because I haven't found the perfect case, yet, I find myself carrying the iPad 2 with Apple's new Smart Cover and nothing else. My original iPad was almost always in a ZooGue ($49.99, zoogue.com), a feature-rich case that adds a fair amount of weight and bulk. Perhaps when I find the right case for the iPad 2, it won't seem so slim. But for now, the contrast is very noticeable.
The new iPad is about the same height and width of the original, but 0.18 inches thinner. (It's even thinner than my iPhone 4!) The original iPad had a rounded back, which sometimes made it difficult to use when it was resting on a flat surface. The iPad 2 has a flat back, which gives it more stability on a table or desktop. Also, it seems to fit better in cases like Twelve South's beautiful BookBook ($69.99, twelvesouth.com).
Improved reception on iPad 2 with 3G
The original iPhone had a flat, aluminum back, with a plastic tip for improved reception. Then the iPhone 3G and 3GS went to an all-plastic back, which cheapened the look of the device. The iPhone 4 introduced flat aluminum edges, and an all-glass back. Apple uses industrial strength glass, but it's not unbreakable. And, of course, there were the well-documented reception problems associated by the iPhone 4's antenna design.
Apple seems to have learned something from their earlier design problems. The iPad 2 design returns to a flat aluminum back, with a plastic strip to enhance reception on the 3G models. I think the next iPad should retain these design features and incorporate flat edges like the iPhone 4 and the original iPad. The tapered edge of the iPad 2 looks nice, but it makes it more difficult to plug in docking cables and access the volume buttons, particularly when the device is in a folio style case.
Cameras and gyroscope
The new iPad is not just about looks. There are new features, borrowed from the iPhone, such as a gyroscope plus both front and rear facing cameras. The gyroscope is great for games, navigation, and other direction-oriented apps (see "Ten Apps that Shine on the iPad 2," page 17).
Apple has tried to put the best spin on its 1024x768 resolution rear-facing camera by calling it an "HD" camera, but that's an exaggeration. The front-facing camera has a 640x480 resolution, which is suitable for FaceTime and apps that use face tracking. However, you won't want to take family portraits using either camera. This is a shame because the updated iMovie app ($4.99, app2.me/2551) is a pleasure to use on the iPad.
The iPad 2 is available with a white or black screen bezel (see first image); the original iPad was only available with a black border. The white model makes it easy to differentiate it from the original iPad. As a developer, I want to showcase my apps, so the white border serves as a "frame" of sorts. However, since most iOS apps have a black tint to them, the black iPad 2 lets apps blend into the border and be less visually jarring. The exception is e-reader apps, which tend to have a white background, so they blend in with a white iPad.
Smart Cover and other accessories
Apple released its new iPad Smart Cover (Polyurethane: $39, Leather: $69, store.apple.com/us) (above,right) in conjunction with the iPad 2. This flip-cover is "smart" in the sense that it attaches magnetically to the iPad 2 and tells the iPad to wake up when uncovered and go to sleep when covered. Unfortunately, it does not protect the back of the iPad and has a tendency to disconnect from the iPad if you try holding it by the flap. The result—your iPad 2 goes crashing to the ground. Thankfully, several case makers have created protective cases that complement or even duplicate the Smart Cover but offer full protection.
In addition to the Smart Cover, Apple introduced the Apple Digital AV Adapter ($39, store.apple.com/us) (right), which lets you "mirror" anything that appears on your iPad 2 screen on an HDTV screen or monitor using HDMI. Significantly, the adapter also includes a 30-pin dock connector port, which lets you charge or sync your iPad while connected to an HDMI display. This was not possible with the VGA cable, where you had to make sure you had enough battery power to last throughout the presentation! The Digital AV Adapter also works with the original iPad, iPhone 4, and 4th generation iPod touch, but it only supports video-out on those devices—it will not mirror the screen.
Supercharging the iPad
Apple has done an excellent job of supercharging the iPad 2 platform by making it thinner, faster, lighter, enhancing its graphics, including a gyroscope, and adding FaceTime capability. As mentioned, the only thing I was not satisfied with is the quality of the cameras… especially the rear-facing "high definition" camera. The iPhone 4 clearly demonstrates that Apple has access to superior cameras, but decided not to include one in the iPad 2. (Perhaps they're saving it for the iPad 3.)
Original versions of the iPad have been holding their resale value quite well in the secondary market. There are two reasons for this: first, they are very functional devices; second, the iPad 2 is available in somewhat limited supplies. The price of an iPad 2 ranges from $499 (16 GB of file storage, Wi-Fi only) to $829 (64 GB, Wi-Fi plus 3G). While that may seem steep, if you're upgrading, you can probably get $300 or more for your used iPad 1 on eBay or from used equipment buyers like SellYourMac.com. That made it much more affordable for me… I'll probably do it again next year when Apple releases the iPad 3!