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Summary:

The first iPad 2 reviews are out, and by all accounts, Apple’s lead in the tablet space is likely to continue for some time. Does iPad 2 have the right specifications and software or is this a device that evokes emotions? The answer is both.

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Mere mortals won’t see an Apple iPad 2 of their very own until 5 p.m. this Friday, but the usual suspects have their reviews up Wednesday night. That gives everyone on the fence about iPad 2 an extra day or so to digest hands-on impressions, although I suspect by now most people know if they’re taking the plunge or not. If you’re still undecided, perhaps this review roundup will sway you one way or the other.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Walt Mossberg is generally pleased with his week of using the iPad 2, pointing out that unlike all of the Android devices he’s ever tested, Apple’s new tablet didn’t crash once. The slimmed device feels lighter in the hand but due to the more curved back, it’s sometimes difficult to plug in accessories, something I’ve also found with my fourth-generation iPod touch. Should you upgrade if you already have an iPad? Mossberg offers this advice:

[T]he iPad 2, in my view, offers an excellent balance of size, functionality and price, and keeps Apple ahead in the tablet race, at least for now. However, unless you are desperate for the cameras or feel you are laboring under the greater bulk of the original model, I don’t advise that iPad owners race to get the new version.

Josh Toplosky of Engadget put his iPad 2 review unit through an endurance test and found it fared slightly better than the original iPad and two hours better than the Motorola Xoom. Topolsky said the device was used on and off for around five days on a single charge, which bodes well for those concerned about the dual-core processor using too much juice. And that A5 processor provides a noticeable performance boost, both in terms of actual usage and the benchmark tests Engadget ran. Upgraders get the same message though: It’s an evolutionary, not revolutionary step. Still, Toplosky deservedly puts the iPad 2 on a pedestal, even with some minor issues:

It might frustrate the competition to hear this, but it needs to be said: the iPad 2 isn’t just the best tablet on the market, it feels like the only tablet on the market. As much as we’d like to say that something like the Xoom has threatened Apple’s presence in this space, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to do that. Is the iPad 2 a perfect product? Absolutely not. The cameras are severely lacking, the screen — while extremely high quality — is touting last year’s spec, and its operating system still has significant annoyances, like the aggravating pop-up notifications.

Glad to see I’m not the only one still bothered by the iOS notification system, but of course, that’s fixable and really shouldn’t sway anyone away from the iPad 2. Nor should the lack of Adobe Flash, USB ports, an SD memory card slot or 4G mobile broadband support, says Ed Baig of USA Today. He gives the iPad 2 three-and-a-half out of four stars. Like his peers, Baig critiques the camera quality. But the cameras add a simple, usable function that wasn’t there in the first model, so many consumers will see this, and the improved performance, as an overall win:

As Apple unleashes the latest object of desire, a slimmed-down iPad 2, it makes what was already a splendid slab even better, even if the overall upgrade is relatively modest. With a brand new Apple A5 dual-core processor, the iPad 2 is snappier, too, though it’s not as if the first-generation model was a laggard. Apple claims the graphics in the new machine have nine times the horsepower of the original. That’s difficult to measure, but Epic Citadel, a stunning, graphics-rich game, played smoothly in my tests.

The always entertaining David Pogue shares his review in the New York Times, and it’s far less about the iPad 2 hardware than it is about the iPad 2 experience. I really didn’t see any negative points made by Pogue, although he prepares you for his approach with the very title of his review article: “Appeal of iPad Is a Matter of Emotions.” Here’s a good summary of the emotions he’s talking about:

My friends, I’m telling you: just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience. We’re not talking about a laptop or a TV, where you don’t notice its thickness while in use. This is a tablet. You are almost always holding it. Thin and light are unbelievably important for comfort and the overall delight.

Perhaps this emotional appeal is why Pogue spent more time than others talking about the innovative Smart Cover that uses magnets to attach itself to the iPad 2. Indeed, I can’t think of a recent device accessory that will get more people talking about and interested in the device it’s designed for.

Finally, I hit up Mark Spoonaeur’s review at Laptop Magazine for two reasons: Spoonaeur is a true device user who typically offers excellent perspective, and because he tested the $829 iPad 2 for Verizon Wireless’s network. Different benchmark tests show much the same as other reviews. One test involving graphics performance stood out, though: Apple claims up to a 9x boost in performance, while Spoonaeur’s results were roughly half that. Still, the whole package, and not just specifications, is what counts and Spoonaeur says that packaged is indeed a compelling one:

[W]hile the new dual-core processor didn’t blow us away, it provides a noticeable performance boost while making resource-hungry apps such as iMovie feel buttery smooth. Then there’s the Smart Case, which demonstrates Apple’s uncanny hardware and software integration. The camera quality isn’t great, and there’s no 4G data or mobile hotspot feature. At the same time, Android 3.0 tablets such as the Motorola Xoom do a better job with multitasking and notifications. But when you look at the whole package–hardware, software, apps, battery life, accessories, and price–the iPad 2 is the king of tablets.

That last line sums it up from what I can see. Although I sold my iPad for a 7-inch Android tablet due to size preferences, it’s difficult to argue against the iPad’s continued dominance of the tablet field with this new model.

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  1. Good summary, Kevin.

    Regarding the graphics performance, John Gruber at DaringFireball.net had this to say using a custom app designed to test graphics performance.

    “For example, on my original iPad, with 200 on-screen sprites, the framerate dropped to 45 fps. On the iPad 2, with 400 on-screen sprites, the framerate remained at 65 fps. On the iPad 1, Guy’s demo app dropped below 60 fps with about 100 animated sprites; on the iPad 2, it didn’t drop below 60 fps until there were over 750 animated sprites.”

    So it seems graphics performance depends on what you’re testing, but certainly based on the test above, 9X increase is plausible given the app wasn’t optimized for iPad 2.

    1. Yup, I saw Gruber’s review after my write-up. Smart way to test the graphics: with a custom app for sprites. Once devs realize the potential and capabilities of the new chip, I think we’ll see some amazing stuff!

  2. great hardware, but as always the iOS “experience” is just flat out boring. it offers nothing for the true tech enthusiast. I will definitely pick up 1 for my mom though (so I can stop answering Windows questions)

    people can say what they want about Walt, but Pogue is FAR less credible IMO. he is sort of the FoxNews of the review world, if Apple were the Republicans. no one on the “outside” can take him seriously anymore.

    1. I’ll admit I was a little bored with iOS when I made the switch to an Android phone in January of last year. But I’m constantly using mobile tech devices, so I’m probably not a good representative of the average mainstream consumer. For those folks, I think it will take longer to be bored, if they ever are at all. ;)

    2. Um, We are not going to buy 10 or 20 million iPads! Clean, simple, and yes boring are good when we are trying to accomplish things. There is huge amounts of money in making stuff that people can use to perform everyday tasks, and frankly I don’t want to be entertained.

      GTD!

  3. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need to multitask on my iPad before, so Android can go ahead and boast about this all they like. I’m not bothered.

  4. Jahan Khan Rashid Thursday, March 10, 2011

    The ipad 2 has my mouth watering, it seems a truly untouchable device in the 9-10″ tablet market but i just wish they did a smaller version that i could fit in my coat/jacket pocket.

    1. +1 to that! The 7-inch form factor tablet I take everywhere; essentially it replaces a smartphone – for me, that is; not for most. Anything larger has more potential to stay at home.

    2. They do, Jahan…

      It’s called the iPod Touch!

      1. Jahan Kahn Rashid Jashue Thursday, March 10, 2011

        Sorry for the misleading post, i actually meant i wish Apple did an iPad thats a similar size to the 7″ Galaxy Tab, the Tabs screen being 3-4 times larger than the iPod touch which is a pretty big difference. I think i’m a minority as the iPod touch is too small for what i want to do on the go and the iPad 2 is too big, and i agree with Kevin that the iPad is more of a stay at home device.

  5. Jahan – they do make a smaller one. It’s called the iPod Touch.

    Lavue – I had to laugh at this comment. It reminds me of the old Windows v Mac days. Yes, maybe the iPad is just for people who like to get on and do stuff, rather than those of you who prefer to fiddle with settings just to get even the basic things to work.

    1. except Mac’s were never taken seriously in the corporate world & were never adopted, Windows reigned supreme because of it’s functionality & flexibility. the samething is bound to happen again in in the tablet space.

      Apple can have it’s fans, thats great. but Apple lost the desktop wars, they’ve lost the phone wars, & within the next 2-3 years will lose the tablet wars. this has nothing to do with being a “fanboy” its just purely marketshare statistical facts.

      Android will be Apples ultimate downfall, more so than Windows ever was.

  6. I’m mainly impressed with the apps produced for the iPad 2 launch. The hardware of the device is adequate (boring), not at all inspired. Apps like GarageBand2, however, were exactly what the doctor ordered. Just as the original iPad set the bar for hardware, Apple is using the iPad2 as an opportunity to set the bar for tablet apps.

    That said, consider that we’re only at the top of the second inning. Apple has a lead, but the game is still *wide* open. Writing off Google or the many manufacturers looking for a piece of the pie would be extraordinarily foolish at this point. All we really know for certain is that this game is going to be good.

  7. why is lack of usb, adobe flash and other things not a problem on an ipad and other “missing features” a problem on other non-apple tablets? how can a piece of hardware without flash be considered a valid alternative to a computer with a browser? of course apple has to lead the app market, somehow they need to provide a workaround for all the lack their hardware provides…the cord to a pc with itunes is a joke…

    so glad i start to see people questioning this brand and going over to tablets which may crash once per week but at least give the possibility to DO what they want!!

    1. The sad truth is that if you want Flash *today*, the iPad supports it via the Skyfire browser, the Xoom, doesn’t anyway, anyhow. What were you saying again?

      And please stop pretending the iPad doesn’t have USB, it does — you just either need the USB adaptor or the 30-pin to USB cable that comes with it, depending on what you want to do. And the USB adaptor also includes and SD one, which works, unlike the SD port on the Xoom.

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