Apple iPad 2 review: Apple's second-gen iPad finally discontinued

The Apple iPad 2 first launched in 2011, and, despite all odds, managed to stay on sale among Apple's iPad line-up until 2014, outlasting the iPad 3 and iPad 4, which were replaced by the new iPad Air. But is the iPad 2 still worth a look? Here's our iPad 2 review, updated on 18 March 2014.

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 iPad 4, which has been reintroduced now that Apple has decided to stop selling the 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.

While the iPad 2 is no longer available to buy from Apple's Online Store, it is still an option available in the official Apple Refurbished Store and is likely to remain available from some third-party sellers until supplies run out. But is it worth buying an iPad 2 or should you choose the iPad 4 or iPad Air? We investigate.

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.) Of course, it's not as light and thin as the flagship iPad Air, but 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.

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
  • Autofocus
  • 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 newer iPads, 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. The iPad Air, meanwhile, features an even speedier A7 processor.

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 iPad testing

GeekBench testing for various models of iPad...

GLBench iPad testing

...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 or iPad Air. 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 Air's power, particularly with its 64-bit architecture. Think about the apps you'll want to use, not just the ones you enjoy using now.

Infinity Blade II

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.

iPad 2 review: screen quality

The other area where the iPad 2 is a long way behind the iPad 4 and iPad Air (and the most important factor for many) is the screen. Both of the newer models have 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 Air and Apple's other Retina iOS devices 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 with a Retina display, 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 or iPad Air. 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.)

iPad 2 review: iOS 7

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.

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 7 review.

iOS 7 runs on the iPad 2 as well as on the iPad 4 and iPad Air, but won't get the whole experience with all the new features such as AirDrop and photo filters, andthe 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, particularly now that Apple has decided to stop selling it. Neither will the iPad 4 or ipad Air, of course, but they're likely to have several more years of updates to look forward to.

[Related: What people hate about Apple iOS 7: review of reviews | What people love about Apple iOS 7]

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 4s 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.

Apple 30pin and Lightning connectors

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, iPAd Air 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 and iPad Air come 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 and iPad Air 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?

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OUR VERDICT

We certainly think it's wise of Apple to let the iPad 2 go. It seemed to be clinging on for dear life and we knew it was only a matter of time before Apple deemed it too old to be part of the iPad line-up.

The iPad 4 (only available as a 16GB model) costs £329, which is the price Apple was previously charging for the iPad 2, and its specs and features are significantly better than the iPad 2 so we'd suggest choosing that option.

However, the iPad 2 remains an appealing option for those looking for a cheaper way to get an iPad with more storage space. Apple's refurb store (which is constantly changing so keep an eye out) offers iPad 2 models up to 64GB in capacity at prices ranging up to just £369, even for the WiFi + Cellular model. By comparison, a 64GB iPad Air would set you back £659.

Make sure you consider the alternatives, though. It's worth considering the iPad mini, which is more portable and cheaper than the iPad Air. The iPad Air, 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.

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