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Published March 25, 2011
Nevertheless the iPad 2's upgraded dual-core A5 processor and the PowerVR GPU are a true force to be reckoned with. In addition to the new hardware under the hood, Apple was able to slim the iPad 2 by a third, a very noticeable improvement when holding the device and carrying it around. The redesigned aluminum back sits more flush against a flat surface than last year’s model and the curved sides feel more natural in your hand. A friend of mine noted that he felt the curved corners created a sharper edge that dug into his hand over extended use but I haven’t really noticed that myself.
The front-facing and back cameras represent a much needed addition and when combined with communication software, add a whole layer of functionality to the iPad. However, quality of both cameras will have to be improved in the next iteration of the device as we expect Android competitors will surpass what Apple is offering today.
Audio quality between the old and new iPad is virtually indistinguishable. I compared the two side-by-side using several different MP3s and couldn’t proclaim one better or worse than the other.
Hardware aside, if you want the most variety in applications for a tablet, Apple's ecosystem is hands-down the clear winner. Although Apple’s 65,000+ dedicated iPad apps are unrivaled in sheer numbers and this alone could sway a lot of users towards Apple, I tried to note which were my top 10 used apps, in no particular order: Safari, Mail, AIM, SlingPlayer, The Weather Channel, GarageBand, Pandora, ESPN ScoreCenterXL, TV Guide, iPod. As it turns out, all of those are also available on the Android Market except for the Apple-specific apps.
iPad 2 aside, Apple has a great reputation among consumers and their products typically hold their value really well. This means that your iPad 2 will likely net you a few hundred bucks next year towards an iPad 3, prompting many to follow Apple’s yearly upgrade path with similar products like the iPhone.
The iPad 2 is a great tablet, but it’s not without its own set of shortcomings. While the display on iPad 2 looks better than the original, the same 1024x768 resolution is lagging behind the competition. Many expected Apple to increase the resolution on the iPad 2 but it wasn’t to be. If I could change one thing about iPad 2, it would be the lowly resolution.
Others will point to the obvious lack of Flash as a reason to look at the competition and there’s no way to argue against it. Steve Jobs publicly stated last year that Flash won't be coming to iOS devices, backed by a laundry list of reasons. If you absolutely need a Flash-compatible tablet, you should shift your focus to another manufacturer. For me personally, yes, it is a pain to visit a Flash site that doesn’t work, but the ratio of Flash versus non-Flash websites that I regularly visit is low enough to not be a deal breaker.
If you are looking for lots of expansion or connectivity on your next tablet, the iPad 2 isn’t it. Apple finally released a digital AV adapter that lets you output to an HDMI-compatible device, but there is a $39 premium on this accessory. HDMI-out and USB are offered on other tablets via built-in ports.
The big question for some 15 million current owners: if you already have last year’s iPad, is it worth upgrading to the new model? Probably not. The upgraded features are nice for sure, but they aren’t a must-have. If you can stand a little bit of lag every now and then in busy apps and cutting-edge iOS games aren’t your cup of tea, I would suggest hanging on to your original iPad for another year. Many of the software titles that Apple announced alongside the iPad 2 work just as well with the original iPad, including GarageBand.
If you are new to the tablet market, the iPad 2 will likely be in your top 3 choices (not just today but likely all year long). Apple retained the same pricing model for the iPad 2, meaning you can get your feet wet with a 16GB Wi-Fi only model for under $500. If I were purchasing a new tablet today, my buying decision would be between Apple’s iPad 2 and Motorola’s Xoom. Without any serious hands-on time with the Xoom yet, I can't draw a fair comparison but I will say that I'm perfectly happy with the iPad 2, its capabilities and its shortcomings.
Apple set out to reinvent the tablet user experience and judging by the overwhelming success of the iPad, I would say they have succeeded. As incredible as today's tablets are, the truth is that we are only at the infancy of tablet computing. So where does the form factor go from here? Aside from the obvious answers of thinner, lighter and more powerful, it's anyone's guess really. We will continue to see various display sizes and connectivity options. If 3D display technology really takes off in the coming years, we could possibly see that implemented into future tablets. On the business side of things, I think something like Microsoft's Courier, a failed dual screen tablet prototype, could really spice things up. And of course, let's not forget the software, the future is all about the software.
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