Immediately after Steve Jobs introduced the iPad 2 we were able to spend some quality time with the device. Here’s what we found.
The iPad 2 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor: 8.8mm and 601g, compared to 13.4mm and 680g for the original iPad. (We’re comparing the WiFi-only models here.)
What’s interesting is the effect this has on the ‘gripability’ of the product. The original iPad was one of the most solid pieces of hardware we’ve seen from Apple, but the combination of its weight, thickness, and the curve of its backplate made it a bit uncomfortable to hold for long. It’s much more comfortable to hold the iPad 2 in one hand. The slight decrease in weight helps, no doubt, but it’s also the thinness and the fact that the back side of the device tapers to a flat surface in a much shorter distance than its predecessor.
The reduced thickness of the iPad 2 means that we can’t say the iPad’s buttons and ports are on its side – there really is no side, unlike on the original iPad. There’s a front and a back, really, with a very small amount of curved space on the back where it meets the front piece. That’s where the buttons and ports are. It’s a very different feel from the original iPad. However, the buttons and ports are in more or less the same places as they were on the original iPad.
Beyond the device’s physical redesign, the major difference is the addition of a pair of cameras: one on the front and one on the back. As on the latest iPhone and iPod touch, these cameras can shoot pictures, record video, and be used for FaceTime video conferencing.
However, they’re of lower quality than the iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel camera, more in line with the cameras on the iPod touch.
The test images we shot were grainier with jagged edges than those shot with an iPhone 4. Even a FaceTime conference with an Apple rep looked a bit soft, though that could have been the result of heavy WiFi traffic.
According to Apple’s iPad 2 tech specs, the front camera – the one facing you when you’re looking at the iPad’s screen – is virtually identical to the front camera on the iPhone 4 and the fourth-generation iPod touch: it can record VGA video (640 x 480 pixels) at 30 frames per second and can take photos at the same resolution.
The back camera is similar to that of the fourth-generation iPod touch, in that it can record HD-quality (720p) video at up to 30 frames per second, and take pictures at that 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution; the camera also offers a 5x digital zoom. However, the iPhone 4 maintains its spot on top of the pack in terms of still images: its 5-megapixel camera produces substantially higher-quality pictures (2,592 x 1,936 pixels) than what the iPad 2 or iPod touch can produce.
FaceTime is still available only over a WiFi connection.
Perhaps the biggest hardware change, apart from the two cameras, is that the iPad 2 uses a new, dual-core processor Apple calls the A5. Apple says the A5 chip offers performance that’s up to two times faster than the A4 chip inside the original iPad, despite running at the same 1GHz clock speed; graphics are nine times faster, according to Apple. All the while, the A5 consumes a similar amount of power as the A4 does. That means that despite the improved performance, the iPad 2 should maintain the same 10-hour battery life as its predecessor.
It’s very hard to test the speed of a device like this, especially in a controlled environment like a demo room, but the iPad 2 certainly felt fast – really fast. The new GarageBand and iMovie apps, which presumably tax hardware to its limits, moved smoothly.
As with previous iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch models, Apple doesn’t publish nitty-gritty specs such as memory amounts. We may have to wait until someone – such as our friends over at iFixit – actually takes a new iPad apart before we know if the new model has more RAM than its predecessor. We certainly hope so.
Despite rumours that Apple would revamp the iPad’s display, the iPad 2 sports the same resolution – 1,024 x 768 pixels at 132 pixels per inch (ppi) – as the screen on the original model. It’s still, in Apple’s words, a “9.7in (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen Multi-Touch display with IPS technology.” (That’s in-plane switching technology.)
Instead of the pinhole microphone residing near the original iPad’s headphone port, the microphone has been shifted to the top back of the iPad 2 (on the 3G models, it’s actually right in the black plastic that covers the 3G antenna). The speaker has been moved to the back, and sports a grille design more like that of a MacBook Pro speaker.