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Review: The iPad 2 and You

Apple's second-generation tablet delivers the goods, but it's more evolutionary than revolutionary

Summary

  • New tablet is twice as fast as its predecessor. It's also lighter.
  • HDMI output means you can connect the device directly to your HDTV to watch videos.
  • Front- and rear-facing cameras allow you to video chat with friends and family.

 

According to a popular saying, only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. Now you can add one more irrefutable fact to the list: a company with a high-tech toy will release a new-and-improved version shortly thereafter.

Such is the case with last year's iPad, Apple's megapopular 9.7-inch touchscreen tablet that sold more than 15 million units in less than nine months.

Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveiled on March 2 the iPad 2 (from $499), which has a number of improvements over its predecessor.

The iPad 2 builds upon what made the first iPad so successful — a beautiful screen, graceful interface, great battery and many hundreds of thousands of downloadable applications ("apps") to customize the device to your liking — but it also addresses a few shortcomings found in the original.

It's not a perfect 10, mind you, but the powerful and versatile iPad 2 won't have to worry about competition anytime soon.

Users utilizing FaceTime on the new iPad 2

— Courtesy of Apple Inc.

Performance perks

One of the biggest improvements to the iPad 2 is in the speed department.

Now running Apple's new A5 chip, the iPad 2 benefits from a dual-core processor, which is like having two engines under the hood of your car. As such, Apple says you'll get twice the speed of the first iPad. It certainly feels it. Whether you're launching the iBooks application (to read electronic books) or running a music studio program such as Garage Band for iPad, you'll notice a speedier performance.

Apple says graphics performance is up to nine times better than with the first iPad. While sophisticated 3-D games, such as Infinity Blade, are running much smoother on iPad2, without question, I wouldn't say it's that much faster. Still, it's a noticeable improvement. And it's fun to connect the optional $39 HDMI cable to play games on a big-screen HDTV.

Speaking of games, Apple added a gyroscope to the iPad 2 (also found in its latest iPod touch and iPhone), which is a built-in sensor that determines its position in a 3-D space and helps you control some games with greater precision as you move the tablet around.

Through the looking glass

One of the beefs with the first iPad is the inability to take pictures, shoot video or engage in video calls. With the iPad 2, you can.

Two cameras are built into the tablet: a rear-facing one for snapping photos, scanning bar codes or recording high-definition (720p) video, and a front-facing one for engaging in FaceTime video calls with other compatible Apple devices (iPad 2, iPhone 4, fourth-generation iPod touch and some Mac computers).

FaceTime is like Skype, where you can see who you're talking to and the other person can see you. On all FaceTime-enabled devices (except Macs) you can tap an icon if you want to flip cameras around, allowing the person you're speaking with to see what you're looking at (by enabling the rear-racing camera). He or she can do the same, too.

While Apple added two cameras, they don't take good still photos. Like the iPod touch, it's only a 0.3-megapixel camera; therefore, images look grainy. Not sure why Apple would put a good HD video camera (and a DVD-quality VGA video camera facing the user) but offer such poor still camera performance.

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