iPad 2 Review Roundup: Apple Has Another Winner

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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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