As Steve Jobs announced the iPad 2 at the Yerba Buena Centre for Arts, San Francisco the event was being beamed around the world to the BBC centre, where we managed to get a hands-on test of the new device. Meanwhile our colleagues in the US were also experiencing the iPad 2 in physical form at the event. Here are our first impressions:

Smart appearance

The most striking, and noticeable new feature, is the new Smart Cover. While a cover may not sound like the most obvious thing to get excited about, we were impressed by how quick and easy it was to attach and detach using magnets (that quickly align into position - no more fiddling). Another cool feature is that the cover switches on the iPad when you open it, and switches it off when you close it.

The new Smart Covers switch on the iPad as soon as you open them.

The new Smart Covers switch on the iPad as soon as you open them. 

That's cool, but even cooler is what happens when you peel the Smart Cover back and disengage that magnetic clasp: the iPad 2 automatically wakes back up, bypassing the lock screen in the process. (There's an option in the Settings app to turn this feature off.)

The Smart Cover itself is a rectangle exactly the size and shape of the iPad's screen, folded in four parts. The side that faces inward is made of soft microfibre cloth; the outside is either leather or polyurethane in one of five colours each. As with Apple's case for the original iPad, the Smart Cover can be folded up to provide a gentle incline for typing, or flipped around to make a stand for watching video. In this latter regard, it's vastly superior to the case for the original iPad, which always felt a little bit wobbly in this configuration.

One Apple representative referred to attaching the Smart Cover as a foolproof operation, but we proved him wrong by failing to do it the first couple times we tried. After we figured out how it worked, it all went smoothly. It's also great to hold an iPad in a range of colours, and the white model with a Smart Cover looks much more stylish than the black original.

Slimmed down

We were also struck by how much lighter and thinner the new iPad 2 is. Nobody would accuse the original of being a fatty, but our side-by-side comparison photos show just how much thinner the new iPad is. It also has the tapered edge from the iPod touch, which gives it the same visual effect of looking smaller than it is. Visually it appears smaller than the iPad, although it has the same large screen and bezel.

Putting the iPad 2 next to our original iPad shows just how much thinner the new model is compared to the original.

Putting the iPad 2 next to our original iPad shows just how much thinner the new model is compared to the original.

In terms of materials, the iPad 2 and the iPad are cut from the same cloth (figuratively speaking): There's a glass front and an aluminum back. The device still seems solid, though palpably thinner. The big difference when looking at it from the front is that you can't see the edge of the aluminum frame, which is quite noticeable around the edge of the original iPad when viewed from the front.

Weighing in at 590 grams (down from 680g) it's also much more comfortable to hold. 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 hard to hold - and made a case pretty much necessary.

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 most notably the tapered edge.