Review: Apple’s iPad 2 Hands-On

Apple's iPad 2

Less than a year after the launch of the original iPad, Apple has now released the iPad 2 to both American and international markets. On March 25th, the international release date, I got my hands on a white 64 gig Wi-Fi model with the smart cover and HDMI adapter, and we’re offering not one, but TWO hands-on views of the device. You get to read about my experiences, and as an added bonus, check out the included video review that John P. has put together!

I never did get an iPad 1 on the theory that it’s best to avoid Apple’s first generation hardware products like the plague, so this hands-on is coming at you straight from the newbie’s point of view. Here in handy bullet form is my weekend’s-worth of first impressions of this thing.

First Impressions

  • Man, the screen gets dirty fast.
  • We Rule and We City are insidiously addictive.
  • The cameras are pretty shoddy, but usable.
  • Mind-mapping on tablets is a revelation. More on this in an upcoming post.
  • World of Goo was ahead of its time – I loved it on PC but it is OUTSTANDING on the iPad.
  • It’s WAY too easy to spend a fortune on apps without realizing it.
  • The speaker is actually pretty decent for what it is.
  • The smart cover is pretty handy, I like it more than I thought I would. And I thought it would be decent.
  • The smart cover doesn’t do a great job of cleaning the iPad screen.
  • I MUCH prefer the Kindle for reading books, but the iPad’s larger screen size is fantastic for graphic novels.
  • And finally, I can’t stop using it!

iPad 2

Aluminum back of the iPad 2

This week I’ve been bringing the iPad with me to work to see how it handles the stresses of my day job.

Physically the iPad 2 is a pretty impressive piece of hardware. It’s impressively thin, though heavier than you might think to look at it. Using it one-handed for extended periods of time (reading, say) would be a pain, literally.

The display is the same as the original iPad, but looks fantastic for all that. The upgraded graphics hardware under the hood mean that even with the same display technology, the pixels pumped to that display can be quite a bit better than the previous generation’s. Take a look at Infinity Blade for example, and if possible, compare it to the original iPad. It looks remarkable.

So far I’ll say I’m an enthusiastic adopter of the tablet ecosystem. I don’t think I could get away with ditching a PC and going tablet-only, but if this is the beginning of the tablet’s product life cycle, I could see it happening eventually. The iPad 2 is definitely a great little device for those who don’t already have an iPad.

Those who do have an iPad already might consider waiting for the iPad 3 unless there’s something really compelling about the hardware update, which is unlikely unless maybe you’re REALLY into the gaming element. The iPad 2′s graphic updates are incredibly impressive, especially when you get into video out onto large displays. More about that, and about apps, below.

3G or no 3G?

You’re in luck; you get the experience of two users who have used two different types of iPads. John P’s video review covers the iPad with 3G, while mine has no 3G. As far as I’m concerned, 3G on the iPad is a complete waste. Wi-Fi only is fantastic for me. It’s so easy to find Wi-Fi hotspots that I’ve had few problems, and the few times that I have had issues finding a connection, the iPad has had no problem keeping my apps going and retaining work until I got back to a place where it could get a solid connection going.

I should note that your experience may vary widely, though. I’m in Canada where data plans are notoriously harsh and expensive, and I already have to pay for one with my Android phone. The very LAST thing I want to do is saddle myself with yet another. If you live in a place where data is cheap and plentiful, maybe 3G isn’t such a terrible idea.

Smart Cover

I picked up one of Apple’s smart covers after seeing a variety of responses to them from American iPad users who had experience with them. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but so far I’m mostly impressed. I love the stand feature, though I do wish it worked as a vertical stand as well as a horizontal stand. You can also use the magnets in the cover to attach it to magnetic surfaces like fridges, which could be handy in some circumstances. It then becomes a hanging screen.

Apple made a point of mentioning the microfiber backing of the case that cleans the screen while it’s covering the device, but this is an iffy proposition at best. It does an admirable job of cleaning the glass, but only where it actually touches the glass. The fact that the cover folds up to become a stand prevents three large stripes from touching the iPad at all, and those stripes remain uncleaned.

Overall I can’t help but feel that as many good features as it has, the iPad still really needs a case, ideally one that accomodates the iPad 2 itself along with the Smart Cover.

HDMI Adapter

I haven’t given the HDMI adapter a try yet, but you can bet I will be soon. After reading Trace Dominguez‘s post about Real Racing 2 HD the other day, it’s very high on my priority list – my jaw is still on the floor after seeing the video of the game in action.

Apps

Ahh, apps. I could, and will, do more than one post just about them, but I’d be remiss to not comment again on how evilly easy it is to spend money on a lot of apps very quickly. There’s plenty of really good software out there for the iPad. Some that particularly stand out to me:

  • Dropbox is amazing, especially when you start getting into productivity apps that integrate directly with it for cloud loading and saving.
  • World of Goo
  • We City
  • We Rule Quests
  • Words with Friends
  • Kindle. Yes, I greatly prefer reading on the actual Kindle device, but for some uses like reference, the larger screen is an advantage.
  • iThoughtsHD is a fantastic mind-mapping app that I use extensively at work. Integrates with Dropbox, Box.net and other cloud services for file storage.
  • DocsToGo Premium is a little pricy, but working with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint and getting the ability to integrate with Dropbox and other cloud file services made it a no-brainer for my app library.

I’ll undoubtedly run down a lot more apps in future posts, but these are the few, the proud, the ones that really caught me in my first few days of iPad use. (Some may seem obvious to experienced iPadders; remember I’m a newbie!)

Conclusion

Have any of you out there gone with an iPad 2 after owning an iPad? We’d love to know what you think. Was the upgrade worth it, or do you regret not waiting for the iPad 3? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  1. says

    @Gord McLeod

    Please note that the Wi-Fi only model dosen’t have build in GPS. Instead your position is estimated via the Wi-Fi connection. In most situations that will be sufficient, but personally I wouldn’t be without the GPS.

    Regards Thomas, Denmark

    • says

      A fair point, but one I’m not personally concerned about. I never go anywhere anyway so I’m not worried if my iPad knows where I am. :)

  2. says

    There’s a mistake in the video. You can incorporate Gmail accounts into the mail app on the iPad very easily and since the mail app is always running it would be quicker. I also don’t think 3G is really that necessary as tablets while they can move from home to work aren’t really mobile devices like an iPhone.

    • says

      Agreed about GMail. I have it set up to work with the Mail app in the iPad and it was pretty trivial to set up. I even managed to get my work mail going through Exchange into the iPad, which I’ve had trouble with on other platforms.

  3. says

    My impressions of the iPad2 is that Apple, Inc. – while nothing ground-breaking or headline-worthy – introduced timely and thoughtful improvements to their product.

    What I’ll always remember the iPad for is that it introduced the form factor, which turned out to be a significant game changer in personal tech. Even though I wouldn’t want one for myself, I can’t help but acknowledge what it’s done for the industry and consumers.