Apple iPad 2 review
Apple's iPad 2 has been around since 2011, but it's still on sale, outlasting the iPad 3 and iPad 4, which have been replaced by the new iPad Air. But is the iPad 2 still worth a look? Should you buy an iPad 2, an iPad Air, an iPad mini or an iPad mini 2 with Retina display? Here's our iPad 2 review, updated on 31 October 2013.
Not counting variants based on colour, storage and cellular facilities, Apple has released five full-size iPads, of which two are currently on sale: the new iPad Air and the far older iPad 2. There are also mini-tablets to choose from, however: the iPad mini 1 and the iPad mini 2, which features a Retina display.
Looking for something newer? Try: Should I buy an iPad mini or an iPad 4?
iPad 2 review: hardware and build quality
The iPad 2 is a handsome beast, sharing the iPad 4's slender dimensions and highly portable weight. (In fact it's even a fraction thinner and a shade lighter than the iPad 4, because the iPad 4 added a heftier battery to power its Retina display.) Build quality is impossible to fault.
The iPad 2 is light enough to read an e-cookbook one-handed while stirring mince with the other, and it's thinner than many magazines. As a portable media, web, email and gaming tool the iPad 2 has lots going for it.
The top and bottom edges of the iPad 2
iPad 2 review: Specs and measurements
The iPad 2's tech specs include:
- 9.7-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
- 1024x768 resolution at 132 pixels per inch (ppi)
- Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
- Dual-core A5 processor
- FaceTime camera
- VGA-resolution photos
- VGA-resolution video
- FaceTime video calling over Wi-Fi
- Back camera
- 960x720 photos
- 720p HD video recording
- Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n; 802.11n on 2.4GHz and 5GHz)
- Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR technology
- GSM/EDGE/UMTS/HSPA (Wi-Fi + 3G/cellular models only)
The iPad 2's physical measurements are as follows:
- Height: 241.2mm (9.5 inches)
- Width: 185.7mm (7.31 inches)
- Depth: 8.8mm (0.34 inches)
- Weight (Wi-Fi): 601g
- Weight (Wi-Fi + 3G): 613g
For more technical specifications and details, visit Apple's website.
iPad 2 review: processing power
Where it differs from the iPad 4, however, is in its power in handling those functions. Namely, the iPad 2's 1GHz A5 processor is considerably less powerful than the iPad 4's 1.4GHz A6X: the A6X is about twice as fast as the iPad 3's A5X, which was in turn a souped-up version of the A5.
In testing, we put the various models of iPad through the Geekbench benchmark and GLBenchmark 2.5 Egypt HD test; in GeekBench the iPad 4 scored 1,769 to the iPad 2's 765, while on GLBenchmark the iPad 4 scored 39 to the iPad 2's 14.
GeekBench testing for various models of iPad...
...and GLBench testing results
These figures translate into real-world performance differences that are substantial - but if you only use apps and iPad functions that aren't demanding, the hardware won't be pushed enough for these differences to become apparent. In other words, if you enjoy graphically advanced 3D games and complex apps, you need the iPad 4. Simple apps and browsing the web/using email will be fine on an iPad 2.
Bear in mind the 'future-proofing' issue, though. As time passes more and more apps will be built to take advantage of the iPad 4's power. Think about the apps you'll want to use, not just the ones you enjoy using now.
Infinity Blade II, one of the new generation of graphically ambitious mobile games. With its lesser processing speeds and non-Retina display, the iPad 2 will increasingly struggle to do justice to the latest gaming releases. See more iPad games reviews
See also: iPad mini review
iPad 2 review: screen quality
The other area where the iPad 2 is a long way behind the iPad 4 (and the most important factor for many) is the screen. The iPad 4 has a Retina display. The iPad 2 doesn't. (See What is a Retina display, and are they worth the money?)
The Retina display is so called because its pixels are placed so densely that the human eye shouldn't be able to separate them - it should be fooled into thinking it's looking through a window at real objects, instead of at a flat screen.
The iPad 4 (and iPad 3, iPhone 4 onwards and recent iPod touches) are all amazing to look at. High-definition web pages look incredible, and photos pop out of the page. In principle these devices have reached a point where screen fidelity cannot be improved... although there's always 3D.
The iPad 2 (and the iPad mini, which also doesn't have a Retina display) doesn't have bad screen resolution: we're talking a 1024x768 resolution at 132 pixels per inch (ppi) for the iPad 2, compared with 2048x1536 at 264ppi for the iPad 4. And if you come to it fresh, without having used an iPad 4, you'll probably think it looks good. But you can make out the pixels - only just, but the impression is of looking at a nice screen, rather than looking at the real world.
You won't have a bad experience with the iPad 2's screen, but the Retina display is noticeably sharper and genuinely transforms the whole experience. Graphically sumptuous games, films and photos are all wonderful on a Retina display.
If you want more information on the importance of the Retina display, as well as a visual comparison, check out our article iPad mini vs iPad 3: Display comparison. (The iPad 3 had a Retina display, while the iPad mini doesn't, so the comparison is essentially the same as comparing the screens on the iPad 2 and iPad 4. In fact, the iPad mini shares a lot of characteristics with the iPad 2 - it's basically an iPad 2 squashed into a smaller chassis.)
We've got this far without mentioning one of Apple's trump cards: the software. Apple's operating system for the iPad, as well as the iPad mini, iPod touch and iPhone, is iOS. It's currently on version 6, but iOS 7 is eagerly awaited.
iOS is user-friendly and attractively designed. Its main rival is Google Android, which the majority of the world's smartphones now run, along with large swathes of its tablets. Android fans will tell you that there are more features available on their platform, and that it's more customisable, and both of these things are true; but iOS has the advantages of being designed hand in hand with the hardware it's going to run on, so the user experience is always exceptional. Read more about it in our iOS 6 review and our iOS 7 review - just bear in mind that iOS 7 won't be here until the autumn.
iOS 7 will run on the iPad 2 as well as on the iPad 4, but you're unlikely to get the whole experience with all the new features. We already know that iPad 2 users won't get access to the new AirDrop feature and photo filters; and the changes to Siri, Apple's oft-ridiculed but improving voice-activated 'personal assistant' won't affect you either, since the iPad 2 doesn't have Siri. That may not seem to matter now, since Siri remains a novelty for many, but it's only going to get better as Apple works Siri-compatibility into all of its apps.
And while iOS 7 is going to run on iPad 2s, it isn't guaranteed that iOS 8 will. One of the nice aspects of owning an iOS device is the yearly update, which isn't always perfect but usually brings some handy new features. The iPad 2 won't be supported with iOS updates forever. Neither will the iPad 4, of course, but it's likely to have several more years of updates to look forward to.
iPad 2 review: 30-pin Dock connector rather than Lightning
There's one last consideration which will be of prime importance to those with speaker docks and probably little interest to the rest of us. The iPad 2 still comes with Apple's old 30-pin Dock connector, the same one it's been using for 10 years and which appears on the iPhone 4 and before and lots and lots of iPods.
If you own an old dock then the iPad 2 will fit it (assuming it's got a niche that's wide enough for a tablet). And if you've got old iPod charging cables these will all work with the iPad 2.
The iPad 2 comes with the old 30-pin Dock connector (left). The newer, slimmer Lightning connector on the right features on the iPad 4 and other current iOS devices. Future releases (both Apple devices and third-party accessories) will be designed for Lightning. Despite the name, Lightning isn't significantly quicker at charging or syncing your iPad, but its slimmer form helps Apple's design team
The iPad 4 comes with the new Lightning cable, which is thinner and reversible, but most importantly will be compatible with future waves of docks, cables and other Apple and third-party accessories. There is a shift towards wireless audio streaming, mind you, so this may not be as much of an issue as you might think.
You can buy an adaptor to make the iPad 4 fit older docks, but it's generally felt that these are somewhat overpriced. Shop around for third-party alternatives, but make sure you buy from a reputable supplier. See more advice: Are cheap, unofficial non-Apple iPhone chargers safe?
The iPad 2 remains an appealing option for some: iPad buyers on a budget who want a large screen, but aren't bothered about having the very sharpest screen. Or those who don't plan to use demanding apps and games, and can live without the most powerful processing speeds. Make sure you consider the alternatives: the iPad mini is more portable still and available for £60 less; if you want to do work on your tablet, though, its smaller screen may not make the grade. The iPad 4, meanwhile, offers future-proofing and the ability to take on demanding apps and 3D games, not to mention a fantastic screen that will make photos and movies dazzle. In other words, whether this is right for you depends on your needs. It's still a great product, though: a great-looking and still highly effective tablet that won't let you down.