Apple iPad 2 4 Stars

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If you're reading this review now, we’ll guess you’re not one of the faithful Apple fans who queued through the night to grab an iPad 2 on the day they were released. This latest version of the tablet seems to have had twice as much media hype and fan interest than its older sibling and it was selling at twice its original cost on the grey market in Asia.

So, while the iPad 2 is faster, slimmer and even more of a must-have than the original, is it offering enough reasons to upgrade from the original iPad, or indeed to buy one to start off with?

First impressions

As with all things technology-related, making them ever-smaller is always a big attraction – and the iPad 2 is both lighter (600g compared with 712g) and slimmer (by 33%) than its older brother. The aluminium chassis measures only 8.8mm in depth – that’s less than most smartphones – and can be held comfortably in the hand.

The capacitive touch-display comes in at 9.7in, with a surrounding bezel of white or black. The home button sits at its base, while the snapper at the top can be used for making video calls. The camera on the back has an incredibly low resolution – only 0.7 megapixels. At the top edge of the device sits the 3.5mm headphone jack while the volume rocker can be found on the side, as can the switch that sets the device to mute or can be used to lock orientation.

As well as the visible changes, Apple has made some upgrades under the hood – there’s double the amount of RAM and a new A5 dual-core 1GHz processor. You’ll notice the difference most when you switch between apps – it’s nearly a second faster than the first iPad.

The 1024x768 screen is also visibly brighter due to the new graphics processor – we did hope for an increase in resolution but suspect Apple may be keeping that treat for the iPad 3.


Back to basics

When Apple brings out a new device, it usually launches a new OS – and here it is the iOS 4.3, although a 4.3.1 update should have appeared by the time you see this review. The interface is just as it is on the first iPad, but the speed has increased – and there’s the added benefit of the ability to make video calls, using the FaceTime app (note this will only work over a Wi-Fi connection).

The touch-display proves as smooth and responsive as on its older brother and the virtual keyboards offers a comfortable user experience both in portrait and landscape modes. As with Apple’s other devices, you’ll have to connect to iTunes when you activate the tablet. This gives you your ‘home’ account to which you can sync apps and media files. To download software updates, you’ll need to be plugged into this iTunes (unlike Android and Windows Phone 7 devices). Another new feature for iOS4.3 is the ability to Home Share your iTunes content over a Wi-Fi connection. Connect the iPad to the same Wi-Fi network as the ‘home’ iTunes and you’ll be able to stream music, photos and video from a computer to the iPad 2. The desktop iTunes features a Home Sharing link, which makes setup a breeze, but this is missing from the iPad; instead you’ll need to head into the settings menu, where you can input your Home Sharing information (which is your iTunes account info).

Email is excellent on the iPad. You can set up Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail and Microsoft Exchange, along with webmail (bear in mind that there is only proper push mail that is instantaneous available for your Exchange accounts). If you’re a bit technical though, you’ll be able to sort this by setting up an Exchange account as your main account – do a Google search to find the settings. This will also enable you to sync your contacts to your new iPad.

One of our favourite features – which also appeared on the original iPad – is the dual-window tablet-optimised view. This means that with the device in landscape mode you can view your inbox in one panel and see a reading panel down the right side – as it looks in Microsoft Outlook. Turn the device into portrait mode and the reading panel can be seen in the entire view, while a little tab will pop up in an inbox window. However you view it, it is a slick and intuitive way to see your email messages.


Multimedia

At first glance, the iPad 2 seems an excellent media player. The display offers brightness and clarity, and there’s a clear, full sound from the speakers. Safari works quicker with the new OS (we found web pages loaded in around five seconds over a Wi-Fi connection). Comparing the old and new Pad side by side, the iPad 2 was faster in almost all instances. However, Apple has made one glaring omission – there is still a lack of support for Flash-encoded internet video. It seems even more glaring when that screen seems absolutely made for watching moving images. True, not everyone accesses Flash sites – but for anyone who wants to watch videos on news sites or sports highlight sites, it could be a make-or-break issue.

The iPad 2 also shows up iTunes’ inability to act as an effective media manager. It is possible to drag and drop your photos from the tablet to a computer (although not the other way round), but if you want to move your movies and music you have to use iTunes. Sure, it is simple to move your media library via its software, but a lot of users will be frustrated by the lack of support for high-quality file formats. Most noticeably, the iPad 2 does not support divX, which is increasingly becoming the standard format for compressed video online.

It’s true that the iPhone suffers from similar issues, but a unit like the iPad 2 makes the omissions very obvious. It’s also a shame that there is neither an external memory slot nor USB port – at least if these has been included you would be able to upload video without the need to go through iTunes. It’s clear that Apple is bent on sending users down one path into its OS.

There’s 16GB on offer from the entry-level device, which is paltry for movies and music, so you’ll likely want to opt for the 32GB version, which adds another £80 to the price (you’ll have to splash out another £160 for a 64GB version).

Candid camera

One addition is the video-calling feature, which makes more sense on a device with this size display than it does on most smartphones. The FaceTime app from Apple runs well (although only on a Wi-Fi connection) and has been integrated so that you can make FaceTime calls direct from your chosen contact’s profile or from the app. It will only work with iPads, IPhone 4s and the new MacBooks – however you can always choose to use Skype instead, which will work whatever device your friends have.

The rear camera is able to record 720p video, yet can only take still photos at a paltry 0.7 megapixels. Not only can the resulting images not be viewed well on the tablet, but also they suffer from a lot of noise. Videos proved far better but we could hardly call this a camera device. Keep the onboard videos simply for video calling and be done with them. We’re not completely sure why that rear camera is there – although we hope it may be that the next iPad will feature a better lens.

One new feature that did impress us was the photo frame mode – it allows you to view a slideshow of the images on the iPad simply by pressing the icon next to the slide on the unlock screen. PhotoBooth has also been preloaded – this photo-effect app is actually pretty addictive. Okay, it’s not as artistic as Hipstamatic, and it’s not great for photo editing, but we had a lot of fun playing with it – adding twirls to faces and using the Mirror filter to see what faces would look like if they were truly symmetrical.

Apps and games

One of the benefits of an Apple tablet is that there’s a whole host of apps to choose to download – the Apple Store still beats the competition in terms of tablet-optimised apps. The touch screen is the perfect vehicle for playing games such as Cut the Rope (where the big screen comes into its own) as well as enjoying the action of truly detailed RPG, racing and shooting titles such as Asphalt HD. The new graphics chip improves the look of the games and they run far smoother thanks to the dual-core processor.

It’s a pity that the Game Centre proved so disappointing, though. You can add friends with iDevices, but any interaction is limited simply to comparing your performance in games and your scores in games played. It’s basically a games holding page – a folder, if you will.


The verdict

Despite those major omissions that we have mentioned, the iPad 2 proves such a great device to use that you do forget that you can’t update software over the air, play Flash video or have the benefit of streamlined media transfer. For anyone who already owns an iPad, you’ll be used to these issues, but there’s not enough to persuade existing owners to upgrade. It’s great fun to use, but as the tablet market becomes more populated, the omissions are likely to become even more obvious. While the iPad 2 is very tempting, it’s not a device that is really needed – although this won’t deter many from wanting it.

Pros:
Very sleek and stylish, loads of iPad apps, particularly for new media and magazines, video calling abilities.
Cons:
The lack of Flash video is a glaring omission; iTunes software is past its sell-by date and it’s difficult to transfer data without iTunes.
Rating:
  • Look and Feel 5 Stars
  • Ease of use 4 Stars
  • Features 4 Stars
  • Performance 5 Stars
  • Battery life 5 Stars

Final verdict: 4 Stars

Review by Mobile Choice