ipad-techspecs

Review: 32GB Wi-Fi iPad 2 with Smart Cover

Apple has once again raised the bar on industrial design. The iPad 2 is unreasonably thin and one of the most impressive pieces of hardware to date. With that said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Hardware

It should come as no surprise that Apple’s latest iOS device is a real work of industrial art. iPad 2 measures in at an astonishingly thin 0.34 inches (8.8 mm). The combination of aluminum and glass make the tablet extremely sturdy. And at 1.33 pounds (601 g), the iPad 2 is almost unnoticeable when dropped into a backpack or briefcase.

However, while the design and manufacturing are second to none, the device is not perfect (gasp!). Take the display, for example. While I don’t have an iPhone 4 with a Retina display, I do have a HTC Incredible that features its own impressive AMOLED display which blows the iPad’s display out of the water. Sure, it’s easier for a 3.7″ screen to appear crisper and more vibrant than one that is nearly three times the size (9.7″ on the iPad), but the truth is, the iPad 2’s relatively lackluster resolution (1024×768) results in noticeably less clear and more jagged text (and sometimes, images), making reading slightly less appealing on the device than I had hoped.

Text aside, video generally looks fantastic on the large, widescreen display. I watched a HD rip (720p) of Pixar’s Up and a DVD rip (480p) of The Social Network on recent flights to and from the East Coast, and was thoroughly impressed by how good both movies looked. And fwiw, I was also pleased that I ended up purchasing the black iPad 2 over the white one as the black bezel “disappears” into the background while watching full-screen video.

As for the built-in cameras…well, I’ve yet to really test them. The short little HD video I captured seemed pretty decent, but I’m still annoyed that Apple didn’t include the well-regarded iPhone 4 camera and instead opted for a far inferior component for the iPad 2. But then again, I definitely didn’t buy this $600 toy tablet to use as a camera…so there’s that.

The integrated speaker is pretty good for what it is. Of course it can’t really produce deep bass and it’s not stereo, but it gets the job done when you don’t want to use headphones or want to share the audio.

Finally, the “1GHz dual-core Apple A5 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip” in combination with the 25-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery provides for incredibly snappy performance and more than respectable battery life. Apps open quickly, video playback is smooth, games’ graphics are impressive, web browsing over Wi-Fi is a pleasure, and there is generally little to no noticeable lag. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the iPad 2 overall is its ability to last for multiple days of casual use on a single charge.

Software

Where to begin on iOS… Is it my most favorite operating system of all time? No. Is it worlds better than Android? IMHO, no. With all the said, however, it is certainly the simplest UI ever introduced into mainstream computing. And generally that is a good thing.

As the latest iPad 2 commercials suggest, when hardware and software disappear almost completely into the background and all that is left is the task at hand (say, watching a video or browsing photos), the experience is rather remarkable. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely agree with Apple that this is the case with iPad 2, but it does have its moments.

For example, I handed the device to a family member who had no real prior exposure to iOS or a real touchscreen device and she was able to get the gist of it (including multi-touch gestures like pinch zoom) within a matter of minutes. There is definitely something to be said about that.

Overall, iOS 4.3.2 gets the job done. Multi-tasking is relatively painless (double click the home button to pull up recently opened apps) and pretty quick. The on-screen keyboard is solid, and with a little practice it is pretty easy to touch-type on. Oh, and the ability to view the “home” screens in landscape is a much welcomed addition to iOS (forgive me, my last iOS device was an iPod touch).

Also, the built-in apps (besides Mail) — Safari, iBooks, Video, Photos, iPod, iTunes, App Store, Maps, YouTube, Calendar, Notes, etc. — are all useful in their own ways, and intuitive.

However, I do have one major issue with iOS and two minor complaints about it: super = the native mail client is incredibly outdated, trailing Google’s Android Gmail app by a mile (well, many miles); minor = would love to see the addition of widgets (e.g., weather, calendar) and/or more functionality on the “home” screen when I turn the iPad on (a la Android widgets); minor = hate having to go to the Settings “app” to change a particular app’s settings — should be able to change settings within each app.

Smart Cover

Ugh. I really want to like the Smart Cover. After all, it is the only official cover available for iPad 2 (as of the time of this post). But, as more time goes on, I grow more frustrated with Apple’s attractive screen protector.

Pros: The Smart Cover magnetically adheres to the iPad 2 and allows for native snooze and wakeup functionality. The upright position and the typing position are both super helpful in using the iPad for various tasks. The cover generally fits the iPad very well (although it isn’t perfect).

Cons: The magnets are just too damn weak. For $40 (or $70 if you splurge on leather over polyurethane), and the fact that it was designed by Apple specifically for the iPad 2, I expected this thing to blow my mind. Sure the stand functionality works great, its thin, and it’s attractive, but the fact that the magnets are too weak to stay closed when the device is turned over or carried at an angle is inexcusable. Maybe there is a conflict with having too powerful of a magnet that would interfere with internal components, but regardless, I expected the cover to stay closed until I peeled it back myself. It does not.

Conclusion

For what it is — the market-leading tablet of choice that has begun to change the way consumers think about computing and user interfaces / interactions — the iPad 2 is great. Consuming media of all varieties, be it streaming Netflix, watching stored movies, or listening to music, is a pleasure. Surfing the web, playing an ever-growing selection of games, and even video chatting (FaceTime) are all easy to do and well executed.

To be clear, the iPad 2 is not an adequate laptop replacement. With no universal inputs (e.g., USB, SD card slot) and a closed universe OS, the current iteration is simply too limited to be considered a full fledged computer. Also, while reading volumes of text is doable, it’s not even close to the clarity of, say, the Kindle’s e-ink display.

In the end, the iPad 2 is a gorgeous piece of hardware with above average battery life and a plethora of uses. It’s not perfect, but, for the time being, it is the clear leader of the tablet pack.