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iPad 2 Reviews roundup – the main conclusions

iPad 2 won’t ship until tomorrow (orders start only at 1:00AM Pacific Time, in Apple store at 5:00PM local time), but there are already a bunch of early reviews around the web from the big guys lucky enough to get their test units early. While everybody is in awe about the reduced thickness of the new Apple device – at only 0.34 inches – amazingly enough even slimmer that the already slim iPhone 4, the general opinion seems to be that the new iteration is more an evolutionary device rather than revolutionary.

Hardware:
Everything is faster and better, that much is sure. The weight is somewhat reduced from around 1.5 pounds to about 1.34 pounds (for Europeans, from 680g to 601g), the overall dimensions are reduced a bit to 9.5 by 7.3 inches (see the comparison table) and the processor in now dual core A5 instead of single core A4.
The memory doubles as well to 512MB from 256MB and there is a new graphic beast inside, around 9 times faster than the previous model.
In terms of multimedia capabilities, there is still one speaker but it was moved to the back and  two cameras enabling video conferencing via FaceTime and hopefully Skype while the back camera can record a healthy 720p HD video (why not 1080p?).

Model iPad iPad 2
Display 9.7-inch
LED-backlit IPS LCD
9.7-inch
LED-backlit IPS LCD
Resolution 1024 x 768 1024 x 768
Processor 1GHz Apple A4 1GHz dual-core Apple A5
Graphics PowerVR SGX 535 PowerVR SGX543 probably
Memory 256MB RAM 512MB RAM probably
Storage 16GB / 32GB / 64GB 16GB / 32GB / 64GB
Front camera none VGA
Rear camera none 720p
Cellular radio EDGE plus triband HSPA EDGE plus quadband HSPA or
CDMA / EV-DO Rev. A
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 2.1 + EDR
Accelerometer 3-axis 3-axis
Gyroscope No 3-axis
Thickness 13.4mm 8.8mm
Weight 680g (WiFi),
730g (WiFi + 3G)
601g (WiFi),
607g (Verizon),
613g (AT&T)

 

The thinness contributes to a better reading experience as well for those that prefer using it as an eBook Reader.

Display:

The LCD display is similar with the previous model and unfortunately the same LED backlighted IPS LCD 1024 x 768 resolution. I know many people expected a retina class display but that won’t happen until the next generation. Still, the display looks amazing and is coated with an oleophobic layer as a protection against fingerprints.

Not using retina class display doesn’t mean the current screen doesn’t look good. The viewing angles are very wide, the colors are excellent and the display is very bright and uniform.

Connections:

Connection wise, you’ll find the familiar 30 pin Dock Connector and the same 3.5 mm headphone connector. Unfortunately, as we already knew from Steve’s announcement, no USB, no memory expansion slot or the new Thunderbolt port. There were also rumors about a universal cellular modem enabling it to work on both AT&T and Verizon. That didn’t happen so you’ll have to think very well on which network you want to be for the next two years or until you get a new iPad.

Hardware wise, the AT&T model sports a quad band UMTS/HSPA plus quad band GSM/EDGE (will also work abroad) while the Verizon version a CDMA/EVDO Rev.A modem. Both models have WiFi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.

Recommendation: Forget the data modem…buy the WiFi only version and tether through your smartphone. This way, you’ll keep compatible with whatever data plan you already have and save some money in the process. Not to mention that you’ll be able to switch the carrier whenever you like.

Speed:

Some data gathered around the web suggests that the new iPad 2 is roughly twice as fast the speed of the initial iPad. Geekbench, a app suite measuring the CPU and memory speed scores iPad 2 at 749 points versus 377 points for the iPhone 4 and 453 for generation one iPad. Since I am plenty happy with my iPhone 4 speed, these numbers are amazing.

Web Browser:

With iOS 4.3 came a new version of Safari browser featuring a new Nitro JavaScrip engine. Various reviews showed significant increases in speed while executing various web related tasks. The new browser version supports HTML 5 as well as its predecessor but still no flash.

SlashGear put the iPad 2 to the test using SunSpider. The new iPad 2 scoder 2,190ms versus iPad with 8,427ms. In this score, the lower time is better so the difference is almost 4:1 in iPad 2 favor. iPad with iOS 4.3 scored 3,240ms which means iOS 4.3 brought quite a performance boost in JavaScript. If you had doubts whether to upgrade, it is time to take the plunge.

Sunspider Results (lower is better)
Apple iPad 2 (iOS 4.3) 2,190ms
Apple iPad (iOS 4.2.1) 8207.0ms
Apple iPad (iOS 4.3) 3484.7ms
Apple iPhone 4 (iOS 4.2.1) 10121.4ms
Apple iPhone 4 (iOS 4.3) 4060ms
Motorola Xoom 2141.8ms
Motorola Atrix 4G 4100.6ms

 

The closest competitor to iPad 2 comes, nut surprisingly from Motorola XOOM, the current star in Android world with 2.141ms while an iPhone 4 scored 10,121ms. Upgrading iPhone 4 to iOS 4.3 got 4060 result, a very good improvement. Again, an excellent performance from iPad 2.

Battery Life:

Not that we had anything to complain from the original iPad, but iPad 2 is better. Even if they are using a smaller battery and a faster dual core CPU, Apple engineers managed to squeeze  around 10 hours while surfing the Internet over WiFi or watching movies continuously and over 10 hours while having the wireless connection off. Engadget put the battery life to the test and the result is shown in the following table:

Battery Life
Apple iPad 2 10:26
Apple iPad 9:33
Motorola Xoom 8:20
Dell Streak 7 3:26
Archos 101 7:20
Samsung Galaxy Tab 6:09

As you can see, iPad 2 is the current top performer and the tablet against every other tablet on the market will have to be benchmarked.

Cameras:

There is a general consensus that both camera are low quality, both in bright but especially bad in low light. While Apple didn’t invest in better quality sensors considering the low prices, is a mystery, or maybe not a mystery considering that they’ll have to show something new in the upcoming iPad 3.

Conclusion:

While, again the widespread opinion is that iPad 2 is an evolutionary devices and doesn’t bring anything new to the table, the general conclusion is that, at this point iPad 2 is the tablet to beat. Engadget says: “the iPad 2 isn’t just the best tablet on the market, it feels like the only tablet on the market”, Slashgear declares “Apple has put together a superbly capable, class-shaping tablet, which can now legitimately take on not only other slates but lighter ereaders such as Amazon’s Kindle” while the New York Times concludes that iPad 2 is a “device whose individual upgrades might not necessarily have tipped the balance but, combined, led to a much better iPad that still didn’t have viable competitors.

Wall Street Journal‘s Walt Mossberg has a slightly more critical review noticing some problems with the tablet ergonomics but he still considers it the “best tablet for average consumers”

While the exception of 4G adapter is seen as an issue, the networks are not there yet anyway and even Xoom will get 4G functionality later through a firmware update. In my opinion, again, if you already have a smartphone, is a good idea to get a WiFi only iPad 2, especially now when most of the smartphones have the HotSpot capability (including iPhone 4 starting with iOS 4.3)

Finally, comes the great question: Should you buy it? If you don’t have the previous version and you need a tablet nwo, the answer is YES! If you already have the previous iPad and you don’t really need the camera functionality, maybe you should hold until the next version.

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