iPad 2: Thinner, lighter and faster

Apple chief Steve Jobs made a point of knocking rivals’ “copycat” tablet computers at the iPad 2 launch earlier this month. Samsung, RIM and Motorola “aren’t even catching up with the first iPad”, he said.

Apple didn’t need to launch a second-generation iPad. The original commands about 80% of the United States tablet market. It is less than a year out of the box.

But when Jobs can improve on one of Apple’s products, you can rest assured that he will. Thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, the iPad 2 has a smaller footprint than the original — plus two cameras and Garageband.

At 241mm tall, 186mm wide and 8,6mm thick, Apple’s iPad 2 is the sleekest tablet computer on the market. Its minimalist outer shell is complemented by a new “smart cover” that removes all the smears that come with thumbing and prodding the screen.

Unlike its older brother, the iPad 2 has rounded edges, meaning it can be held more comfortably for longer. And at 100g lighter, it is noticeably more comfortable to hold than its predecessor, which could become uncomfortable if held in the same position for more than 10 minutes.

The greatest departure from the original iPad is its speed. Apple claims that loading apps, playing games and browsing the internet are up to up to twice as fast as on the original. Certainly, internet browsing is the most striking difference. Fixtures on the average internet page tend to load all at once — Flash excepted, of course — and sometimes five or six seconds ahead of the original iPad.

As an owner of the original iPad, I’ve never felt that performance was lagging (then again, I also own a 20-month-old iPhone 3G), but the iPad 2’s A5 dual core processor makes it much more responsive to touch. The graphics upgrade is really only noticeable when playing £5,99 shoot-em-up games or streaming long-form programming such as the iPlayer.

Cameras left wanting
For most people, I suspect the greatest immediate draw to the iPad 2 will be the cameras. Apple was slammed when it didn’t include them in its first edition and later claimed it to be users’ most-wanted function. Sadly, the cameras on this device are left wanting. Leaving aside the question of whether people really want to wave a 10inch x 7inch computer around in public, the VGA-quality front and rear-facing cameras — for video and stills — are pixel-poor and not flattered by the iPad’s high-quality screen. The rear-facing camera is put to best use with FaceTime, Apple’s video-calling function.

Which leads us to software. The iPad 2 includes a string of media apps which first-generation owners won’t ever get a look at. Garageband, Apple’s popular music-making software, is great fun and a boon for those with rambunctious young kids knocking about the house. Warning: it doesn’t come with headphones so don’t turn the volume up too loud.

Apple’s movie-making app, iMovie, also finds a new home on the iPad 2. Precision editing was never one of the iPad’s strong points — writers bemoan spending hours hovering over misspelt words before the cursor would respond to the change — so the iPad seems an unnatural home for iMovie. Frankly, uploading to the web or to a synced Mac is so painless that iMovie could happily gather dust for most users. (A new hall-of-mirrors-style app called Photo Booth is so pointless it wastes good real estate — it can’t be deleted.)

Despite the faster processor and enhanced graphics, the iPad 2’s battery life is on a par with the original; long-life performance is one of the device’s strongest selling points. My one qualm has to be the amount of time it takes for the iPad to charge — inordinately long compared with drain time.

Apple’s attention to detail shines through with the new “Smart Cover”. At the iPad 2 launch, Jobs spent so much time demonstrating this magically magnetic clip-on sheath that I thought it would inevitably be a flop. In fact, the Smart Cover promises to shut out all the third-party manufacturers that churned out dog-eared cases for the iPad 1.

Overall, the iPad 2 offers a string of incremental but important improvements on its predecessor. It remains a stretch ahead of the pack — though not quite “lapping the competition”, as Apple would like to make out — and it is hard to find any serious shortcomings with the second-generation tablet. However owners of the original iPad should not feel too sore about the upgrade: you don’t need to buy a new tablet. Those waiting to buy their first tablet could do much worse than the iPad 2. – guardian.co.uk

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