So I got myself an iPad 2, a nice fully loaded 64GB black one with 3G thanks to my fiancée and I having hit our wedding savings goal six months early. We’ve been wanting to get one to share for a long time now, but I was insistent on waiting for the second generation. After playing with it for a couple of days, I think I’m ready to type up a review…and I promise I’ve got some complaints down there.
Since Apple didn’t do a preorder, the only way to get one before the weekend was to wait in line…and that’s what we did. Throughout the course of the day on Friday, I did my best to try to monitor the lines at Apple Stores around the country via Twitter, but I really couldn’t get a good read on the local situation. Some stores seemed to have crazy lines while others had nothing.
When it was finally time to head over to the store at 4pm, we really had no idea what to expect. We went to the store in the Bridgewater, NJ mall and when we walked in and started to head down to the first floor, we immediately saw an intense line. Hundreds deep. No one knew how many iPads were going to be in stock when 5PM finally rolled around and they opened up the doors so I was petty worried that we weren’t going to get one. I decided to increase our odds and ran across the street to Best Buy while the fiancée stayed in line at the Apple Store. The Best Buy line was much shorter, I was somewhere in the 60-70 range when I got there. I claimed my spot in line and waited. It had been announced that Best Buy would start handing out tickets at 4:30, but they didn’t. This process didn’t start until 5. Until then, the line continued to get longer as other people decided to come across from the mall and see what Best Buy could do for them.
When Best Buy finally started handing out tickets, they quickly ran out of the exact model that I wanted, a fully loaded model in black, 64GB WIFI+3G for AT&T (a little faster data than Verizon and useable overseas with a prepaid SIM card from a local carrier). This was apparently one of the most popular models. After this news broke, a few people left, but I decided to stay and see what they still had when the all-mighty ticket-giving guy got down to me.
Meanwhile over at the mall, my fiancée was being told by Apple employees that it was unlikely she would be able to get one considering where she was in line. Things were looking pretty unsure.
Eventually, Mr Ticket-Giver finally got down to me and still had a sizable stack of tickets left. I was pretty psyched that I’d be able to get one, but I knew I’d be getting my second choice. No worries, I’d just get what I could get and see how the fiancée made out. I actually could have gotten the model I wanted in white instead of black, but I’m just not feeling the white. I decided to go with the 64GB black Verizon model. I got my ticket and could barely have been happier (an AT&T model would have been the only way). I texted the fiancée and let her know we got one, but to still stay in line until I got over there to pick her up. Anyway, I was a bit surprised at how many tickets they still had, it turned out that the last person in line (maybe 130ish?) got the very last ticket. Worked out pretty well.
Once I had my Best Buy ticket, I still had to stay in the line outside as they only let five people in at a time to actually buy their iPads. It wasn’t too much longer at this point though and once I got
my our iPad, I hopped in the car and drove across the street.
I met my fiancée in line over at the Apple Store. She had about five more people ahead of her (remember, she was somewhere around 200-300 in line and I was only 60-70 at Best Buy with about a fifteen minute window from when I got mine in hand to when I got over to her). Once we got up to the front, we were informed that they too were sold out of the AT&T model. So instead, we picked up a 16GB white WIFI only model for my buddy (we had a reciprocal deal worked out for whoever was able to get their hands on them first).
When we left the Apple Store, there were still a couple hundred people waiting. I have no idea if everyone got an iPad or not.
Alright, so with what went into actually getting one into my hands out of the way, let’s talk about the iPad itself.
This thing is insanely thin. You really can’t get a sense for how thin it is until you hold it yourself. It’s thinner than my iPhone and even with the Smart Cover on, is just a hair thicker. It’s like holding a (heavy) clipboard. And this thinness actually makes a difference. Even though the device is a bit heavy (despite being slightly lighter than its predecessor), the thinness almost makes the hardware disappear while you’re using it. You forget you’re using a device and you just sink right into what you’re doing. It’s truly amazing and I realize what it sounds like to say something like that, but it really is true, this is unlike any other computing experience.
The iPad 2 has a great feel to it. The workmanship and design easily best any other tablet on the market right now, including both the original iPad and the new Motorola Xoom. The aluminum backing makes the device feel super sturdy and from an aesthetic standpoint, the device just looks great. The only real knock here is that the iPad is still a little heavy (though not when compared to competing tablets of the same screen size), at first you’re not quite sure the best way to hold it to keep your arm from getting tired, but you figure it out pretty quickly. The weight lets you know this isn’t a toy, this is a real computing device.
The screen is very good, but still not a Retina Display. The viewing angles on this thing really couldn’t get much better, the colors never wash out. It’s plenty bright as well. That being said, if you’ve used an iPhone 4, you will notice the difference in the pixel density. The display isn’t quite as crisp, however, this difference isn’t anything like when I pick up my fiancée’s iPhone 3GS. The iPad is crisper. Now, to be fair about this point, that’s when holding the devices at the same distance. You don’t hold an iPad as close to your eyes as you do a phone. Under actual use, the pixel density is a complete non-issue. You only notice it in comparison, not on its own.
Battery life is outstanding. The device comes charged to something like 75-80%. Other than while it was plugged into a computer to sync stuff a few times, we didn’t plug it in to charge until today and it has been in use almost constantly since we got it out of the box. We can’t put it down. Battery life will never been something anyone could complain about on this device. Ten hours of real world use will be no problem. I’ve seen some of the battery rundown tests from a few gadget sites and their tests are getting about 10.5 hours of life with tests that are probably a bit more intensive than your average usage. I’d say, expect more.
Put bluntly, the cameras are the weakest part of the device. The front camera is VGA and the rear one isn’t even 1MP for stills (takes 720p video). That’s pretty low-end. I would imagine that this choice was more of a size issue than a cost issue for Apple. Higher quality cameras wouldn’t have fit into a device this thin and I’ll take the thinness over the higher quality cameras. The quality is fine for video chatting, but you’re not going to be taking stills with them. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Really. Even if the cameras were as good or better than an iPhone 4, holding up a 10″ device to take a photo is just all kinds of awkward. A tablet is never going to be heavily used as a camera, it just doesn’t fit the form-factor of the device. Besides, I don’t know about most people, but I will never have this thing with me and not have my phone which takes excellent photos just as close. It’s a non-issue.
The speed on this thing is redonkulous. I’ve never actually typed “redonkulous” before, but it feels appropriate. It just flies. Everything is so smooth, it makes my iPhone 4 feel slow and that takes a lot for a mobile device. iFixit’s teardown of the device actually showed that the A5 processor (built on a Cortext A9 dual-core chip) is actually not even running at a full 1GHz, it’s underclocked to around 900MHz. On paper, the A5 compares pretty evenly with Tegra 2 chips that run the Motorola Xoom and benchmarking puts CPU performance neck-and-neck. But in actual use, the iPad 2 just responds so much more smoothly than the Xoom, in my opinion. Graphics processing on the other hand, the iPad 2′s A5 smokes the Xoom’s Tegra 2. Games on this thing will fly. Existing iPad games already run much smoother, but once developers start taking advantage of this hardware, it’s going to be ridiculous. I’ve read a bit about the benchmarks for the graphics processing and the general consensus of all the articles and reports I’ve read is that it’s not even fair to put the two platforms on the same graph, the iPad 2 pretty much embarrasses the Xoom.
Okay, so that was a bit of nerding out, let’s talk actual real world performance…it’s nuts. The iPad 2 is a workhorse. The device runs incredibly smoothly. Apps launch instantly and run with no limitation, they just do their thing with no holdups from the hardware. I was reading some tweets by the developer of Filterstorm and he’s finding that he can drop full resolution RAW files from a DSLR into his app and work with them like it’s nothing. Nuts. This better mean that Adobe gets on the ball to get a Lightroom app into the App Store and, better yet, into my face.
The iPad 2 has 512MB of RAM which is twice as much as the first iPad, but only half as much as the Xoom and other competing tablets coming out soon. In practice, this doesn’t seem to limit anything, I dumped a bunch of RAW photos from my camera and could swipe through them like they’re nothing. Apps don’t seem limited at all. We’ll see what happens, but it seems like enough.
Simply put, on the hardware side, wow.
My only hardware complaint besides the display, which really doesn’t even lack in actual usage, is the lack of an SD slot. I got the camera connection kit and I don’t mind the $29 cost of it that much, but it’s just another dongle to try not to lose and make sure that I always have with me. I plan on using this a lot with my camera to dump photos to and maybe even be able to start editing some before I get home so having a built in SD slot would have been pretty solid.
On the software front, we get basically the same old iOS that we’ve been play with since June of last year. My personal preference is iOS over Android (that’s a discussion for another day), but I do like Android and what it brings to the table a lot. iOS is a clean and smooth mobile operating system that likes to keep things very closed up, but this attitude is what makes the device not only “just work,” but just work smoothly and quickly.
iOS is great, but there are some big issues that I have with it that seriously better get fixed in iOS 5. I actually had two basic complaints, but now that I’ve been using this, I’ve got a third. One of the initial two complaints is much less apparent on an iPad than on an iPhone and the other is the opposite. Firstly, the damn notification system. It’s awful. There’s not much else you can say about it. Luckily, there are less notifications to get on an iPad than on your phone so this is a little less of a problem, but if you’re still planning on using a lot of push notifications, you’re going to find this just as annoying as on an iPhone. iOS is the only modern mobile OS that still hasn’t gotten notifications under control, Apple must fix this.
The second complaint, and this is the one that’s really apparent on an iPad, is that there are no widgets. I don’t want much, but I would like to be able to see calendar events and weather and such right on the homescreen without going into an app. The homescreen looks nice and clean without it, but this slight break in cleanness would be worth the usability. Besides, you know if Apple were to add this, they’d make it look all nice like.
The wildcard complaint, the new one, is that Apple hasn’t yet built in a nice way for iDevices to work together. Before the iPad, this wasn’t really an issue, but it would be really nice to be able to send links/files/apps/photos/videos/whatever back and forth wirelessly without another app or anything. I just want the devices to know the others exist and communicate with each other. I’d also like this from my Mac as well, please. This isn’t a dealbreaker, photos and videos can be transfered from an iPhone to an iPad with the camera connection kit and Bump can also move some stuff between the two, but why should this require a third-party app? If third party developers can make it happen, Apple should be able to build it in.
Alright, so anyway, iOS 4.3 is what we’ve got for not and despite those complaints, it runs great and gets the job done. It’s reliable and it’s clean. I’m a fan. I don’t miss Flash. I really don’t. Most video on the internet is HTML5 by now and Flash is a crappy resource hog…even on a computer.
Photobooth is kind of pointless and I haven’t installed Garageband or messed around with iMovie yet so I can’t comment about them myself, but the reviews I’ve read are full of praise. I also haven’t tried FaceTime yet…in fact, I’ve only used it exactly once on my iPhone so I probably won’t be using it on the iPad anytime soon.
I’m still checking out more third party iPad-optimized apps, but I’m really digging Air Display which lets you use the iPad as a second display for your computer. It works via WIFI and is really good. There is some noticeable lag, but it’s very minimal. You can’t play video (well) or games on it, but for just having other things visible, it’s great.
Oh, and I enabled the extra gestures that make the home button unnecessary and I’m digging them a lot. I’d suggest it if you have one.
This is pure genius. It’s not an entirely brand new idea to have a cover that can also be a stand, but the way that it can fold into a stand for two different positions is great. Attaching it is quick and easy too. There really is no fuss to this, the magnets pull it right into place and it’s perfectly lined up every time. It’s the easiest to attach case that’s ever exist for a gadget, hands down. And it stays on too. The magnets are stronger than you think.
Opening the cover wakes up the iPad without the lock screen and you’re good to go. Closing it puts it to sleep. It just happens…like the refrigerator light. It’s well thought out and a great addition to the device.
I didn’t have an iPad 1, so the actual owning a tablet thing is new to me, but I have used others here and there to try out. So far, I’m finding that typing on this thing is much easier than I thought. I’ve got a good one handed thing going on with it and when putting it down and typing with two hands, it’s not too bad. I wouldn’t want to type a book on it and I only got through part of this review on it before wanting to switch to a real keyboard, but it’s more than good enough to get the job done.
A lot of people still question the need for tablets and I get that, but I also do agree that they are the future for most computer use. They won’t be great for everything, but general/casual computing actually feels better on a tablet than on a traditional computer. I’ve found that web browsing and social networking is a more comfortable and informal experience on an iPad. I can sit back on the couch and find a comfortable position without needing to worry about placing my computer on my lap. It really is ideal when you’re not typing a whole lot.
Compared to the Motorola Xoom
I had a few minutes to play with a Motorola Xoom today and I’ll be honest and say that it’s pretty a nifty and overall solid device. However, when you compare it to the iPad 2, it just doesn’t hold up. The Xoom’s Honeycomb version of Android is nice and the widgets and various things on the homescreen are useful, but they seem to make it feel cluttered and messy. iOS just feels cleaner. The Xoom also seemed decently powerful, but at the same time it wasn’t nearly as responsive and fluid. Despite having a solid notification system and a nicer app-switching UI, Honeycomb is lacking that smoothness and polish that the iPad has. The Xoom’s cameras are definitely better, but it was awkward holding the device up to take a photos with them. Like I said, non-issue.
The Moto Xoom seems to do a lot well, but but it also lacks in a lot of ways and in the end loses out to the iPad 2, in my opinion.