Apple iPad 2 review: Apple iPad 2

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.

The iMovie app lets you edit your movies. This video-editing software has been tweaked to take advantage of the touchscreen, and lets you apply flashy cuts and background music to your creations. It's fun to play with videos you've shot on your iPad or iPhone, but importing video from other sources can be devilishly hard, involving syncing with a computer at the very least.

If you want to screen your creations on your telly, you can use the updated AirPlay feature, as long as you have an Apple TV . AirPlay already streamed video from the iPad to Apple TV, and now it can stream photo slide shows too. Apps and websites can also stream video and audio over AirPlay.

The iPad 2 supports iTunes home sharing so you can play media from your computer on the tablet over your home Wi-Fi network. When you're on the go, the easiest way to get video and audio onto the iPad 2 is to buy it on iTunes. The selection is good, but it's expensive -- we pay 99p in the UK to rent the cheapest of the films on iTunes, whereas as our American buddies pay a mere 99 cents (61p). But it's such a pain to convert other formats and get them on the device that it's worth the money.

Speedy Gonzales

The iPad packs a 1GHz, dual-core A5 CPU and dedicated GPU, which the original iPad lacked. Apple says it makes the iPad 2 twice as fast as the original iPad when it comes to processor-heavy tasks, and nine times faster when it comes to crunching graphics.

During our tests, the iPad 2 proved faster than the original iPad, but not quite as fast as we expected. Despite the tablet's new dual-core processor and GPU, many of its speed improvements actually seem to be due to its updated operating system. Since the original iPad received the same iOS 4.3 update, the two tablets are roughly as quick as each other when it comes to most tasks, such as opening apps and loading Web pages.

That doesn't mean the iPad 2 is slow. Like its iPhone siblings, the iPad's smooth, buttery scrolling is streets ahead of the competition. If you're used to using an iPad with a previous version of iOS, you'll definitely notice the speed improvements.

We ran some tests on the iPad 2 and an original iPad running the latest iOS 4.3, using the GLBenchmark app. In some areas, such as CPU integer performance, we didn't see any improvement. (CPU integer performance reflects the speed of the processor when completing basic tasks, and can affect anything running on the tablet.) But, almost across the board, we saw advances in graphics performance. The iPad 2 was vastly better at rendering textures and triangles, in particular. Check out the video below to see the white iPad 2's GPU in action.

The GLBenchmark app shows that the iPad 2 works up to four times faster than the original Pad when it comes to rendering textures.

We couldn't fault the first iPad's battery life. It lived up to Apple's claims of 10 hours of use, or a month of standby time. Despite being thinner, lighter and more powerful, the iPad 2 offers the same epic battery life.

Just in case

The iPad 2 is only 8.8mm thick, so it's slimmer than the skinniest smart phone currently on the market, the iPhone 4. As such, we were concerned that it would feel as wafer-thin and breakable as an After Eight mint. Fortunately, the iPad 2's aluminium case means it feels reasonably sturdy.

After lugging it around for a few days, protected by nothing but the case that covers the screen, we were impressed by the iPad 2's ability to survive. It's possible to scratch and dent the aluminium case during normal use, though, and, if you drop the tablet on a hard surface, you can kiss your screen goodbye.

The case folds into a stand to make typing easier.

Apple's detachable cover attaches to magnets hidden in the iPad 2's chassis, clicking into place satisfyingly. It can also be folded into a stand, allowing for more convenient typing and video viewing. Peeling the cover from the screen automatically wakes up the iPad 2.

The cover isn't cheap, at £35 for the fabric version, and £65 for the leather one. The cover doesn't look quite as sexy in person as it does in Apple's adorable, Pixar-inspired promotional video either. The grey version we tried looked futuristic in a Blake's 7 kind of way, but we'd suggest picking up one of the less '70s colours.

The cover is worth having if you can afford it. It hardly adds any bulk to the tablet, it's handy to have a stand wherever you are, and it's lightning quick to deploy. We won't be taking ours off.

Should I upgrade?

If you already have an iPad, you may be wondering if it's worth upgrading to an iPad 2. Unless you just can't live another second knowing that you're behind the curve, we think the answer is 'no'.

Although the iPad 2 is faster at rendering graphics than the first iPad, the original is almost as fast at surfing the Web and opening apps. Just be sure to install the upgrade to iOS 4.3, because that's where most of the speed improvements come from.

One area in which the iPad 2 trounces its predecessor is weight. The iPad 2 has hit the gym and come out thinner and lighter. At 8.8mm thick, compared to the first iPad's 13.4mm, it looks stunningly thin in person -- almost like a sheet of paper.

After a few hours of reading and surfing, we really appreciated the fact that the Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 we tested weighed just 601g. That's 124g lighter than the first iPad, which we found surprisingly heavy given its slender form. The lighter weight is particularly pleasing since you don't lose any battery life.

The iPad 2 doesn't look vastly different to the first iPad. It has the same 9.7-inch screen with the same 1,024x768-pixel resolution offering 132 pixels per inch. If you want to flaunt the fact that you've got the latest version, you could choose the white model, rather than the black -- both will be available when the tablet is launched.

We tested the white iPad 2, but we still prefer the black version. The white bezel distracts from what's on the screen, and it also makes the iPad 2 look like a kitchen appliance or digital photo frame. We liked the white iPhone 3GS, but that gadget was only white on the back.

If weight isn't an issue for your massively muscled forearms, the second major consideration will be the cameras, which are new additions to the iPad 2. We can't see people taking many snapshots or videos while waving around the new tablet, but its front and rear cameras are fun features nevertheless. Messing around with iMovie and Photo Booth is amusing, and iMovie only runs on the more powerful iPad 2. You can also use FaceTime to make video calls, but only to those friends who have an iPhone 4, iPod touch, Mac or another iPad 2. You must also be connected to Wi-Fi.

The iPad 2 doesn't offer every feature that iPhone 4 owners can enjoy in iOS 4.3. For example, you can't use the iPad 2 as a personal hotspot. This feature lets you share your phone's 3G Internet connection over Wi-Fi with your other gadgets. You can't do the same with a 3G-enabled iPad 2.

Conclusion

Apple's iPad 2 has all of the qualities that helped the first iPad to define the tablet. It's simple to use, finger-friendly and offers access to a massive selection of apps and games. We'd love the option to turn on Flash in the browser and load external video files easily, and we struggled when we tried to do anything more complicated than surf the Web. But these niggles don't stop us from doting on a gadget that provides such a fun, intuitive window into the Web. The fact that the iPad 2 delivers all this potential in a slimmer, faster package than its predecessor, without losing any of the battery life we've learned to love, makes it even more crave-worthy.

With a posse of Android tablets on the horizon, the iPad 2 won't have Tablet Town to itself much longer. But dozens of USB ports, cameras and widgets don't guarantee that the Android tablets will be more fun to use than the iPad 2. If you can't live without a memory-card slot or Flash support, wait for the upcoming wave of fantastic-looking Android tablets to hit our shores before parting with your cash. Otherwise, the iPad 2 will be worth your hand-earned moolah.

Edited by Charles Kloet


Click this image to watch a video showing how iMovie works on the iPad 2.

Want to see GarageBand running on the iPad 2? Then click this image.

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Apple iPad 2

Part Number: CNETApple iPad 2

Typical Price: £399.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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