31 Comments

Summary:

I’ve had the iPad 2 for almost a week, and during that time I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it. There is, after all, a lot to love about the tablet. But for first-gen iPad owners, is it worth the cost to upgrade?

ipad-review-feature

I’ve had the iPad 2 for just under a week now (it’ll be exactly a week Saturday morning), and during that time, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the device. I even leaned on it heavily during an unscheduled emergency archive and reinstall of OS X on my main work Mac. So how do I feel about Apple’s latest tablet after a decent amount of time using it, and do I still think it’s a worthwhile upgrade for owners of the first-gen iPad? Read on to find out.

Same UX, but Better All Around

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the iPad 2 provides the same great user experience as the original version. It’s that experience which makes it hard for competitors to come close when it comes to tablet market share, and it doesn’t feel any less impressive despite the lack of any major iOS overhauls since its introduction. (The addition of third-party apps is probably the single most significant change, despite features like multitasking, push notifications, and so on).

User experience benefits from the iPad 2’s improved hardware specifications. The dual-core A5 processor and 512 MB of DRAM provide noticeable speed improvements throughout the OS and apps, and animations look and feels smoother. You’ve probably seen the number around browser performance, but in terms of actual usage, the difference makes the original iPad feel sluggish by comparison. It’s sort of like when you get a new computer even though your last one isn’t very old. It doesn’t seem like performance could be all that much better, but the cumulative effect of under-the-hood improvements really changes the overall experience, even when OS and software all remain the same.

Smart Cover Is Amazing (if Flawed)

I thought maybe the Smart Cover would be like the original iPad’s official case, in that I would use it exactly once and then bury it in disgust. Not so (haha). The Smart Cover actually is as versatile and useful as the promo videos from Apple make it out to be.

I’m using the black leather Smart Cover with my iPad, and although the surface has already endured scratches and wear, they tend to add character rather than make the thing look ratty. Some users with the polyurethane cover have complained of smudges, but owing to material and color, that hasn’t been an issue for me. The only real issue is that the cover doesn’t do anything to protect the vulnerable aluminum back of the iPad 2. As a result, I’ve already got a couple of thin cosmetic scratches back there, but I’ve never yet been able to avoid that happening to an Apple product I own, despite my best efforts.

That single flaw aside, the Smart Cover is fantastic. I’ve come to think of it as part of the iPad 2 itself, and it rarely, if ever leaves the device. The folding design really does serve as a capable stand for landscape viewing, and props up the iPad perfectly for lap or tabletop typing. It doesn’t really offer a good way to stand the iPad up in portrait orientation, but that’s not something I’ve missed during the past week. What it does accomplish, it accomplishes without adding significant weight or thickness to the iPad 2, which is maybe its best feature. I tried many cases with built-in stands with the original iPad, and none left me satisfied the way Apple’s own solution for the iPad 2 does.

One final fun note about the Smart Cover: the magnets it uses are amazingly strong. I even used it to hang my iPad on my fridge, after seeing someone tweet a photo. Check out the evidence in the gallery below, but don’t go doing it yourself, lest I get blamed for everyone’s cracked screens and dented casings.

Better Carry-Around Device

With the iPad 2, I’m finding that I’m more likely to bring it along when I set out for the coffee shop or to run errands. The original iPad was heavier (though not by much) and bulkier, and while I might have taken it with me, I wasn’t often inclined to actually pull it out and use it in public. The combination of the Smart Cover (which provides grip on the backside) and the new design that’s more conducive to holding makes it a much more convenient travel companion.

The iPad 2 is still lacking in one key respect. There’s not much I miss about the Samsung Galaxy Tab I briefly owned, except for the 7-inch form factor I could easily slide into a jacket pocket. The iPad still needs a bag, pack or purse to be used on the go, which is always going to leave you thinking twice about whether or not you really need it with you.

FaceTime and Camera are Nice, not Necessary

The new cameras on the iPad 2 might eventually allow for some amazing applications on the platform, but for right now, I found myself not really making any use of them during the past week. I used FaceTime exactly twice, mostly just to find out how it worked between iPhone and iPad, and between Mac and iPad. And I used the rear-facing camera one other time, shooting demo video for use with iMovie. A third attempt to use the rear-facing camera simply crashed the app I was testing.

Unless you already find yourself doing a massive amount of video calling on your Mac, iPhone or iPod touch, the addition of cameras probably isn’t a worthwhile motivation to upgrade at this point. Unlike some, I think the quality is fine for what you’d actually use the cameras for, but I honestly don’t think those uses currently justify an iPad 2 purchase.

Sore Spots

A few things consistently annoyed me about the iPad 2. First, I found it really difficult to get the SIM card tray open when I had to swap in the one from my original iPad. Obviously, this is only a concern for iPad 3G models, but it was frustrating enough to merit a mention. I did eventually get it to work, but it actually felt like I may have done some minor damage to the mechanism in the process.

Overall, experience with ports and protrusions isn’t ideal on the iPad 2. Because of the sacrifices made in order to allow for minimum device thickness, the dock connector and headphone jack leave part of the connector exposed when plugged in. It can also be quite trying to get the dock connector in to the port on the iPad 2 in the first place. You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing, as an incorrect angle could cause the thing not to insert at all. And while I don’t find the volume rocker or lock switch to be any worse or better than on the previous design, I do find myself having to spend a bit more time finding the sleep/wake button.

One final minor concern: Using the March Madness live streaming iOS app, I found that streaming quality was much better on my original iPad than on my iPad 2, over the same Wi-Fi connection, even after multiple reinstalls and network setting resets. This wasn’t the case with other video streaming apps, so it might be specific to this app, but it does leave me wondering if somehow the iPad 2 might not be getting a slightly weaker Wi-Fi signal with its redesigned antenna.

To Upgrade or Not?

The iPad 2 is a great buy; there’s no denying that. Buyers looking for a tablet won’t find a better option on the market today (or likely even a year from now, if the situation continues on as it has been in that space). But is the iPad 2 really a worthwhile update for owners of the original iPad? Despite my initial inclinations, after a week of use and given the limited stock of available software specifically tailored to the device, I’d have to say no.

That’s not to say upgraders will regret their purchases; I don’t. But for the vast majority of tablet owners, who aren’t using their devices in personal and professional capacities for most of the day, the original iPad still offers a user experience unmatched by any other company’s offerings, and is more similar to the iPad 2 than not, in all the most important ways. If you’re buying new, get an iPad 2 (unless price is your number one priority), because the future will bring better apps to the platform that really show off the hardware upgrades, but if you’re thinking about updating, wait until those apps start to appear before making your decision.

 

  1. Why would you need to get at the SIM card? I just called AT&T and they transferred my data plan from my iPad to my iPad2.

    Share
    1. Hey Mark, I should’ve explained that I’m based in Toronto, so I had to swap out the AT&T SIM for a Rogers one. Even still, you probably should be able to get at the thing easily, don’t you think?

      Share
      1. Great iPad 2 review! Best one out there yet. Good job dude!

        I wanted to ask, did you need to “modify” the OS for you to use Rogers on it? Or is the iPad2 unlocked and we can insert any SIM in there?

        Share
    2. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, March 21, 2011

      GSM iPads are all unlocked. Verizon iPads are locked to Verizon by definition.

      Share
  2. Probably the best Ipad2 review I read

    Share
  3. I think it is still feels heavy (if you are holding for so long). I think apple can still work on it to make it much more thinner and lighter. I don’t see any use for the camera (it is nice to have feature). I will return it today since I don’t use it much (beside reading). I will be happy with iPad 1 for now.

    Share
  4. The NCAA app is sweet. Bummer I haven’t used it much because I’m at work… ;)

    Share
    1. I thought that’s where people would be using it most! On mute, of course. :D

      Share
  5. Do you have a screen protector on your iPad 2? If not, any scratches on the screen so far?

    Share
    1. No need for a screen protector. Scratch resistant glass, don’t wast your money. Spend it on a smart case and buy a Zagg invisible shield to protect the exposed back from scratches.

      Share
  6. I think you pretty much nailed it in this review based on my first week with my new iPad 2. I would have to agree it’s the best tablet around, of course that comment comes out of ignorance since I have no stick time on the galaxy tab or Xoom other than spending a few minutes at Best Buy playing around with them.
    The iPad 2 seems to be almost imperceptibly faster all the way around. The smart cover should really just be part of the design. I’m trying to decide if I really care if I get a few scratches on the back of the case. Maybe I’ll get a rear invisishield or something like that. I bought a cheap sleeve that the iPad with smart cover slides into and that’s how I move it around. I think the reduced weight of the new iPad plus the smart cover really makes the whoever package more carryable.
    I’ve never been holding my breath for the addition of cameras to the iPad. Maybe I’ll get some use out of FaceTime or Skype (the iPhone client for Skype seems to work just fine at 2x), but more than likely unless some really killer app comes out using the cameras they will probably go unused for the most part.
    I also had a hard time getting the SIM card tray open. I have an unlimited data plan with AT&T and the only way I could figure out how to get it into the new iPad was swapping SIMs. In fact, as far as sore spots go, I must have wasted 2 hours or more calling back and forth between Apple and AT&T trying to find someone who knew how to transfer the data plan. I think the trick in opening the SIM tray is that you have to insert the tool (paper clip) in vertically with respect to the body of the iPad. I also have trouble getting the dock connector in with the slope of the new case.
    I don’t know this for a fact, but I think there are already apps out there that highlight the difference in performance between the iPad 1 and 2. Read the reviews of “Real Racing HD and you’ll see the iPad 1 reviews are horrible while the iPad 2 review rave about graphics and performance. I’m not a gamer so this one kinda falls into the don’t care category.
    But I do disagree about recommending upgrading; I primarily rationalized it because my wife absconded with my 3G a few months ago and I picked up a used wifi only to bide time waiting for the new iPad. But even still I think if you have an original, use it regularly, the weight, size, smart cover and performance makes it a worthwhile upgrade.

    Share
  7. it’s amazing too me that people think the iPad is “so thin”, especially whenever I’ve owned a couple PDA’s nearly 10yrs ago that were thinner.

    back then I would have sworn by todays standards we would have been down too 2-3mm MAX, until then these devices still feel cumbersome & no amount of tapered edges trickery can change that.

    the average human loses longterm weight perception at .8lbs, big part of the reason you never hear anyone complaining about 7″ feeling heavy after longterm usage. obviously density matters but it’s irrelevant as the threshold is well below the typical 7″ formfactor.

    Share
    1. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, March 21, 2011

      “A chihuahua is not a small dog, I had a hamster that was smaller.” Makes no sense. iPad is a PC, not a PDA. By PC standards, an 8mm iPad is ridiculously thin.

      Also, you are misremembering. There were no PDA’s 10 years ago that were thinner than 8 millimeters. For example, the Palm V was a very thin PDA, and it was 10 millimeters thick.

      So yes, a PC that is thinner than a PDA is pretty thin!

      At 2-3mm, the iPad would have to be a solid diamond plate in order to not break or warp. Do you have any real conception of how small 2 millimeters is?

      > 7-inch

      There has never been a graphical PC with smaller than a 9-inch screen. The original 1984 Mac had a 9-inch screen. There has also never been a PC that couldn’t run native apps. So the 10-inch screen and native apps of iPad make it a legitimate PC replacement. Keynote and iMovie were ported from Mac to iPad simply by redoing the UI for touch. A 7-inch tablet with Java apps is a big phone, it replaces a phone, not a PC, it is a different class of device. Calling iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab both “tablets” is a meaningless marketing trick. An iPod touch is also a tablet in that case, and it is lighter, more portable, has more pixels, and even has native apps. Hold an iPod touch a few centimeters closer and you have a Galaxy Tab. So there is no point at all to a 7-inch tablet. Full-size Web apps and full-size native apps were all made for PC’s with at least 10-inch 1024×768 displays. That is not going to change. If you have to zoom around, that is a phone. On iPad you just run full-size Web pages and PC apps without zooming.

      Share
  8. On my iPad V1 jailbreaked :

    Garageband and iMovie 1.2 (compatible iOS 4.2.1 Edtion !!!) work great?…

    Smooth video editing with 720p files mp4 and mov… And with music + voice tracks…..

    It’s time to wait for iPad 3..

    So what’s are the news about it ?

    Share
    1. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, March 21, 2011

      The news on iPad 3 is it will be out of stock and hard to get around this time next year.

      You don’t have to jailbreak for GarageBand and iMovie. GarageBand is compatible with the original iPad and just installs. And you can install iMovie on the original iPad with Apple’s free Xcode developer tools.

      Share
  9. You forgot to mention how the cameras the the biggest pieces of shit ever. Even the ‘5 MP’ rear camera is a complete joke. Compare photos and you’ll see that the rear iPad camera is undeniably worse than the camera on an iPhone 3GS. And the front facing iPad camera is lightyears worse.

    Sure the cameras are handy in a pinch, but overall they are such poor quality that they cannot be used for a single goddamn thing.

    Share
    1. They can be used for a lot of things But art photography (weird gadget to hold for that). Augmented reality, quick note (photo) grabbin’ , & so on… It’s not too far back when people used to buy big, clumsy VGA cams for their Pc… Is it?

      Share
    2. Hamranhansenhansen Monday, March 21, 2011

      They are video cameras, not still cameras. They are useful for shooting video. I’m trying real hard not to call you a moron right now.

      Video cameras are not measured in megapixels, but rather in standard video sizes. The front camera is the exact same VGA you will find on almost all webcams. Back camera is the exact same 720p HD you will find on almost all 720p HD camcorders. Shooting video on iPad is practical because you tap go and you hold with both hands and have what is essentially a full-frame preview. Shooting stills is ridiculous because you can’t hold the device in one hand to reach the shutter and the device is too thin for a decent lens.

      By the way, you can buy an iPad 2 and a 12 megapixel Canon still camera for about the same price as a crashy 7-inch Samsung tablet with no apps, or about $200 less than a crashy 10-inch Motorola tablet with no apps. So if still photography is important to you, GET A STILL CAMERA.

      Duh.

      Share
  10. Great review. I am in no way inclined to upgrade to the iPad 2. Went to Best Buy and played with it for awhile. I enjoyed the weight but realized it was really the same old iPad.

    BTW – What camera did you use for the photos.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post