Apple's iPad 2 is the second coming of the tablet that defined the genre. It's thinner, lighter and faster than its predecessor, but otherwise essentially the same, so can it keep its place on the cutting edge in a world packed with awesome Android interlopers?
One of the most impressive things about the iPad 2 is its price. In the US, it will cost the same as the first iPad, but here in the UK it will be £30 cheaper than the original iPad was when it launched. You'll pay £399 for the 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPad 2, £479 for the 32GB model and £559 for the 64GB version. For the iPad 2 with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, you're looking at an extra £100 across all models.
Check our roundup to see which operators will be selling the iPad 2. It will be available on 25 March in the UK.
We're going to take a fresh look at the iPad 2, so you don't have to refer to our review of the original iPad. If you have read that review, or are familiar with the iPad already, you may want to skip ahead to the 'Should I upgrade?' section.
Update: We've also previewed Apple's new iPad, the sequel to the iPad 2.
Simple is as simple does
Lacking a built-in physical keyboard or mouse, Apple's wisely aimed to keep the iPad 2's interface simple -- small icons and fiddly tasks aren't welcome on a tablet, because you have to control it with your blunt, fleshy fingers. With the same touch-friendly user interface as the , but a bigger screen, even babies and cats could use the iPad 2.
If you've ever used an iPhone or, the iPad 2 will feel immediately familiar. A single button below the screen brings you back to the home screen, and the main menu consists of a bunch of rectangular icons that you press to run various features and apps.
The iPad 2's simplicity means it isn't as customisable as its Android competitors, like the Motorola Xoom. Apple's device lets you change the wallpaper and sort the icons into categories, but that's about it. With Android, you can pack the home screen full of shortcuts and widgets, but such flexibility comes at the price of simplicity. You'll have to decide which quality is most important to you.
Although we love the iPad 2's simplicity, it can prove a serious drawback in a few situations. For example, you can swap between two apps that are running at the same time by double-clicking the home button, but you can't look at the apps side by side in two different windows. That means that the iPad can struggle with any task more complex than surfing the Web.
Let's say you want to write an email. If you simply create the message and start typing, everything works like a charm. But, when you want to do more, like paste in some text from your calendar or add a photo, you must engage in an app-swapping session that can make your head swim. Also, some tasks that are common on a full-sized computer, like adding an email attachment, just can't be accomplished.
Even copying and pasting text is annoying on the iPad 2. You have to hold your finger on text to highlight it. You can then drag some tiny markers around to highlight the exact text you want -- in theory. It's often impossible to get this process right on Web pages because of their HTML-formatted text. Even when it works perfectly, you need the concentration of a monk to tap and drag the cursor where you want it.
On the iPhone, this copy-and-paste system feels like an amazing way around the lack of a mouse, since it's a small gadget whose ability to do any text editing at all seems miraculous. On a tablet, which will be considered by some as an alternative to a laptop, it feels inelegant and fiddly.
The limitations of a tablet are particularly noticeable when you try to create files in Pages, Numbers and Keynote -- the Apple equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The interface looks fantastic, but trying to whip up documents more complex than a shopping list without a keyboard and mouse is trying to say the least -- fingers just aren't accurate enough for detailed work. We suggest using Google Docs in the browser, so you can do your serious typing on your computer, and have access to your docs for reference and a few quick edits on your iPad 2.
Printing is also a pain, unless you have an-enabled printer or a third-party printing app.
Keep your iOS on the ball
We suggest you forget about attempting any real work on the iPad and stick to having fun. The iPad 2 has access to the huge collection of apps and games in the App Store, so you'll never be short of something to help you pass the time while skiving off.
Gamers can choose between everything from addictive puzzle titles to gory first-person shooters. There's an even greater range of apps available, including photo editors, guitar tuners and everything in between. You can plan your workout, your love life and your holiday booking on your iPad. Most of the big-name apps tend to hit the App Store before the Android Market, and apps usually cost less than a couple of pounds.
Apple's own GarageBand app is one of the most impressive, really showing off how much you can do with a touchscreen tablet. You can record multiple tracks using realistic-sounding virtual instruments, or cheat-assisted instruments that pluck themselves for you. The app isn't for pros who love fiddling with millions of knobs on a proper mixing desk, but we could see beginners getting seriously addicted to creating songs on the iPad 2. We just wish you could export your tunes to the music player on the iPad 2, rather than having to sync them with your computer first.
You can also use iPhone apps on the iPad 2, but they don't fill the screen unless you use the pixel-doubling zoom feature. That makes the image bigger, but it doesn't take advantage of the iPad's higher resolution, so you're left craving the iPad version of the app. It's also worth noting that you're locked into Apple's App Store to get all these goodies, and you can only use iTunes on a single computer for syncing.
Apps are handy, but they're not absolutely necessary. You can surf the whole Web in the iPad 2's browser. It's lightning-fast and does a fabulous job of displaying Web pages accurately. Even the iPad 2's Achilles heel, its lack of Flash support, is becoming less of a problem, as more sites bow to Apple's might and undertake Flash-free redesigns.
It's worth remembering that Apple has forgone Flash because it's battery-hungry and tends to crash. Still, we often found we ran into a video, photo slide show or audio clip on the Web that we couldn't view on the iPad 2 -- even on popular sites, like The Guardian's.
Another drawback is the iPad 2's memory loss when it has multiple Web pages open -- when you swap back to a page, it has to reload it from scratch. This can be a huge headache if you're surfing on the train or other places with patchy connectivity, since pages that were fully loaded can refresh into nothingness when you're in a tunnel. It's also infuriating when you've filled out part of an online form, swapped windows to check something on another Web page, and gone back to find that the page has refreshed and lost all your work. We hoped and prayed that this caching issue would be resolved on the iPad 2, since we think that Web surfing is the tablet's killer app. But, sadly, it still needs work.
Nevertheless, the iPad 2's quick boot time and portability meant we usually reached for it over our phone or laptop when we wanted to do some browsing or catch up on some Internet reading. If you're on the road and the iPad 2 is all you have, you can even use it for more complex tasks, like Internet banking -- if you're patient.
Face to face
The iPad 2 wants to tempt you into using its new 0.3-megapixel front and 0.91-megapixel rear cameras with a playful app called Photo Booth. This straightforward and basic app can be used for creating silly photos for your Facebook profile and so on, but not for any serious editing.
FaceTime is also included on the iPad 2. With this video-calling app, you can chat with people using the front or rear-facing cameras, but only those who have a Mac, iPhone 4, iPod touch or iPad 2. We had a FaceTime chat with an obliging Apple employee in her office in California, and, even over jam-packed Wi-Fi, the video quality was excellent compared to competing offerings, such as Skype. It's a pity you won't be able to share the fun with your mates who have other types of smart phone.
You can shoot video with either the front or rear cameras on the iPad 2, but only the rear one takes decent shots. The front one is fun for making movies by yourself -- ahem -- but the images aren't sharp or well-exposed. The back camera shoots 720p video, and the quality is acceptable. Waving the iPad 2 around like a camera is inconvenient and will make you look stupid, though.