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Review: iPad 2

Originally published at Umbral Echoes Blog. You can comment here or there.

Yeah, I jumped on the bandwagon. I upgraded from my iPad to an iPad 2. Who can resist the geek-chic siren’s call of new Apple products?

Seriously though, the iPad took the market by storm, and the iPad 2 is superior (in my opinion) to the alternatives — both those currently on the market, and those hitting soon. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some glaring flaws as well. So, let’s get to it.

The Good

  • Camera — The biggest change in the iPad 2 was the addition of a front-facing and read-facing camera. It works as advertised, though the rear-facing camera doesn’t seem to be as good as the iPhone’s. Honestly, I think they could have done away with that one entirely and made the front-facing camera better quality for better quality videoconferencing.  Though after a bit of playing around with it, I do have to say it’s a bit of a pain to transfer video from the iPhone to the iPad — to do it without annoying sync operations through iTunes you have to buy a 3rd party app, in fact.
    • Skype video over a 3G connection is not so great.  When I tested it, I was around 3-4 bars of signal (out of 5), so perhaps this would be better with 5 bars. I saw the other end okay, but they said I was doing the jitter, freeze-and-catch-up thing.
    • FaceTime is pretty awesome.  There was a bit of blurriness when FaceTiming with my girlfriend on the same WiFi network, but the network had been acting a little funny that night anyway.
  • Smart Cover — I thought this would be a neat thing but nothing too special; however, it’s actually surprised me. The magnets are stronger than I had thought they would be, making the cover much more stable in the stand-up configuration than I expected. The triangle-fold allowing stand-up or slight-incline is useful, and much easier to use than the cases Apple pimped for the original.
  • Battery life — When a device gets smaller, that usually means the battery gets smaller, as does the battery life. In this case, Apple managed to make it smaller and faster while retaining the amazing battery life. Some tests have even shown it to have superior battery life when compared to the original, but my bet is that they were using a brand-new iPad 2 and a year-old iPad, so there would be some battery degradation on the latter.
  • Sexy softwareiMovie is pretty awesome, though it does take a bit of getting used to (I wish they had a tutorial or something available within the app). Using iMovie is a much better experience on the iPad 2 than on the iPhone 4. I haven’t tried Garage Band yet (haven’t even bought it), but it seems fairly awesome.  And the operating system in general is intuitive, smooth, and sexy. You don’t have to read any manual to use this thing — you just turn it on and go.

The “Meh”

  • Fingerprints — The oleophobic coating does help… a little. Mostly they help in removing the fingerprints more easily, not so much with preventing them. So the thing still gets fingerprint smudged to hell. The magical covers have a glass cleaner on the underside, which… kind of works, but not really. And because of the shape, even the bit that it does work makes causes issues because where the fold creases are in the cover, there is no cleaning, so you end up with vertical smudge stripes where the cleaning bits didn’t touch.
  • Speed — This was actually improved a lot, but I list it as “meh” because the original acted very snappy, so the speed increase doesn’t really affect the experience much. Rebooting is notably faster, but you hardly ever need to do that. But if you’re interested in the boot time difference, check out this video I made.
  • Thinner — It is notably thinner, and feels better in the hand. However, I put this in the “meh” section because it causes some issues too — mainly, the angled edge. It makes it really awkward to plug in the sync/recharge cord, and ejecting the SIM card was unintuitive (click that link to see). Also, it’s much thinner and only a little lighter, which means it’s actually more dense, which in turn makes it feel heavier.
  • No back protection — Yeah, you can get a third-party case for it, but it is sort of a shame that the flagship covers don’t protect the back of the device from scratches. I’ve been babying it, and so far so good, but I’m betting that it’s going to develop tiny little scratches soon.
  • Big iPod Touch — Let’s face it, there really isn’t any difference in iOS between a handheld device and the iPad. There is tons of whitespace between icons, for example, and overall you can really feel that the OS wasn’t made for a tablet device.  The same was true of Android until recently with version 3.0 (Honeycomb).

The Bad

  • Expandable storage — It still doesn’t have it. There were rumors that it would, and I was hoping that because the tablet market is heating up bigtime that Apple would see that they need to compete in this way to lure photographers. But no, they just made an SD dongle that allows you to transfer photos and videos to/from an SD card, but not actually use it as extra space.
  • Adobe Flash — There is no Flash support now, or ever (unless something changes drastically).  There are some alternatives to watch Flash video, like an app that costs $5 and converts from Flash to a playable format, but that doesn’t work with Hulu, and it doesn’t at all work with Flash apps or games.  Steve Jobs would like you to think that Flash is going away in favor of HTML 5.  He’d mostly like you to think that because he wants it to go away, and if he can convince everyone that it is going away then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve got news: Flash isn’t going away.  Get over your shit, and support it.

Conclusion

I really like the iPad 2 a lot. For me, the video conferencing is definitely worth the upgrade. And if I didn’t get on the bandwagon with the first iPad, I definitely would have with this one. If you’re thinking about upgrading, I’d recommend trying to sell the old one on eBay first to see how much you can get for it (look to see what others are selling for and expect to get about that).  Or give it to a friend or your significant other and get the upgrade for yourself. People made fun of Jobs for calling the iPad “magical,” but once you play with one for a few days you’ll realize that it really is.

A final note, on Android tablets: Some of the Android options out there are neat, but none really compare to the iPad 2. They try to sell themselves on hardware specs, and honestly that shit just doesn’t matter. The iPad is relatively cheap, thinner, and more polished than the competition, with more killer apps. I hope that Android tablets will catch up, but right now there’s really no competition.

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