So yeah, everyone has already done their review of the new iPad, and we’re a little late to the party. It happens. Unfortunately, as a new tech blog, we don’t have the clout to get a review unit so I had to wait until I was able to get my hands on one. Now, keep in mind, this iPad 2 is not mine. I’m not going to be swayed by the fact that I used personal money to get it because, well, I didn’t. This iPad is owned by an ominous third party who may or may not be ominous. So are you ready? Wait, let me get a coffee…
At First Glance
When the iPad 2 arrived, I was beyond excited. It came after making a long trip around the world from China. A trip that I tracked very closely. It was a short trip, but it took forever if you ask me. When it finally showed up, I was looking forward to what might be the weirdest thing that I enjoy: Opening the box. Whether you’re a fan of Apple products or not, you must be able to admit that their package design is near flawless… but I digress, we’re not reviewing a box here, even if it is the best box ever. *sigh*
So the iPad 2. It came, dressed in white, 32Gb, Wi-Fi & 3G, the works. Right out of the box it was ready to go, I mean ready to be connected to iTunes and configured because it’s still not considered a stand-alone product. After that though, it was ready to roll. The first thing I noticed that it’s very thin. The whole design is really nice. Similar to the original, but refined in a way that makes it feel very new, and very sleek. It makes the original iPad seem a bit clunky. So clearly, Apple took a step in the right direction with the new form factor. Next I noticed the display, not much new here. It seems a little more clear than what I remember of the original, but maybe I’m not remembering it correctly. After having the iPhone 4’s retina display in my pocket for awhile now, almost every tablet/phone display I see seems mediocre. That’s basically it, the display is nice, but it’s definitely no retina display.
Using The iPad
I have to be honest here, I was a bit disappointed. It all works wonderfully, but so did the original, so nothing about the new iPad really wowed me. The cameras are the only major addition, but the front facing camera is really not what I’d expect from an Apple product. No matter what setting I used it in, it was grainy. It just seemed like they blew up the size of the image on a camera that was meant to be used at half of the iPad’s native resolution. Pixelated, grainy, and over-exposed are some of the words that come to mind. The story for the rear facing camera isn’t much better. While it’s a clearly a better camera, it still looks a little below “apple quality,” and feels incredibly awkward to use. When the original iPad came out, I was baffled as to why they left out cameras, now I think they might have had the right idea. The iPad 2 is far too big to use as a point-and-shoot device. Once you’ve positioned the picture you’re trying to take you have to somehow move your fingers around the device to hit the small touch screen button. It all feels too unnatural to be useful day-to-day. With the addition of the cameras, Apple also added FaceTime and Photo Booth to the mix. Both of which work well, but with the quality of the cameras, they are underwhelming to say the least. FaceTime still seems pointless to me, the few times I’ve used it have been interesting, but video calling in general just doesn’t seem useful to me. Photo Booth is basically the same thing you’d expect from the application on your Mac. It’s fun for 20 minutes, and you’ll never use it again. Not much of a let down though, because I expected it.
Using the iPad on the internet is, without a doubt, what this thing was made for. Safari is gorgeous. Web pages render nicely, scrolling, tapping, and zooming around is really natural, and the whole experience just feels right. To be completely honest, using the internet on a touch screen of this size is easily better than any desktop experience, until you stumble across something that’s in Flash. I’ll be honest, it doesn’t happen much these days. Most sites out there have a back up solution for the iPads and iPhones of the world, but every once in awhile, you find one that doesn’t, and boy is it annoying. I’ll admit that I see Apple’s point with keeping Flash off their iDevices, it’s a clunky application that, to this day, has a hard time running smoothly on some desktops. I’ve seen Flash on some netbooks and it’s awful. Since the iPad is right around the same spec level as a netbook, I can imagine Flash having a few issues on the iPad. Truthfully, when I did stumble across the occasional Flash-only video, I was more mad at the website than Apple. It’s strange because at this point when I’m using my iPhone, I almost never run into a lack-of-Flash problem, but on the iPad I did… A few times. The most noteable was using Facebook. Since I’m on an iPad, I was using the browser version of Facebook, and whenever I came across a video that my friend shared, I’d click play, and nothing would happen. On the iPhone app, it knows you don’t have Flash so it finds the right substitution. Unfortunately that’s not the case for the iPad.
Outside of the few glaring issues, the iPad 2 works wonderfully. With the addition of the A5 chip, it moves quicker than its predecessor and all the hard world Apple put in to making iOS work well on the iPad really shows. Movements are fluid and pleasant, transitions flow nicely, the OS really shines on the larger iPad display. Honestly, it feels like something out of a sci-fi movie and for that I really love the iPad.
As always with iOS products, you get the outstanding App Store to help you fill up your iPad with tons of new features. The level of customization the App Store gives you really lets you make your iPad become your iPad. I won’t go into many specifics here but I will say this, the official Twitter for iPad app is without a doubt one of the best apps I’ve seen for Twitter. So if you do get an iPad, and you have Twitter, get it. Other than that, you’re on your own with the App Store. I’m sure you’ll find things that you like.
My main problem with the iPad is where it would fit in my life. Honestly, I can’t find a place for it. When I’m on the couch, I like my laptop. When I’m on the go, I like my iPhone. When I’m at my desk, I like my desktop. The only reason I don’t already own an iPad is because I don’t know when I’d use it. I’m sure I’d find excuses to use it, maybe I’d replace the laptop on the couch with an iPad every now and then, but honestly, it would be forced. Remember back when Apple first announced the iPad? They put up a slide demonstrating a “gap” in the market between laptops and phones. A place for people who want mobility, but not too much mobility. iPad was set to fill that gap, but I can’t seem to find that gap in my life. Maybe I don’t have it. Maybe that gap is for commuters sitting on a train, or people on airplanes. Maybe it’s for long drives in the passenger seat. Who knows? All I can say is that I rarely fly, I’m rarely on a train, and I rarely take long road trips, so I’m not spending upwards of $500 on something that would be used rarely.
If you have the “gap” in your life where a tablet would fit nicely, then the iPad is a fine choice. Technically speaking, the iPad is great. If you can see yourself using it every day, then without a doubt, go for it. I’m sure you’ll love it. If however, you don’t have the space in your life for it, don’t force it. The iPad is fun and cool and this and that, but it’s not for everyone. Tablets in general are, I believe, a niche market. It will definitely have its user base, but I can’t fathom iPads replacing laptops any time soon.
More Time With iPad 2
So to really get a feel for this thing, I’ve decided to type this portion of the review from the iPad itself. Just as I expected, it’s pretty nice. I know of a few people who dislike the iPad’s touch screen keyboard, but personally, I’m a fan. I’ve been able to quickly adjust to on screen typing, largely due to my use of the iPhone. Switching to the iPad was, if anything, easier. For the most part, there isn’t many new things to report on, which is disappointing, but the original iPad got so many things right that there wasn’t much to add or change to this one. iOS 4.3 hasn’t been a massive leap forward like some of the earlier iOS releases, but it brought some welcomed features like AirPlay enhancements and iTunes home sharing. In fact, as I type this, I’m using home sharing to stream myself music while I type away outside. The streaming quality is good and it’s definitely adding to my enjoyment of this nice spring day.
Besides to the software features, there isn’t much to report. Other than the cameras that I mentioned earlier, the iPad 2 is largely the same as it’s predecessor. Internals have changed slightly, but it hasn’t made a drastic difference to the overall user experience that was already pretty well rounded. I mentioned earlier that I was a bit disappointed in the iPad 2, and I did mean it, but not how you’d expect. See the iPad 2 does a lot, in fact almost everything, right. It has a good year of market time over its competition and it certainly shows. All-in-all the iPad 2 is a fantastic product (minus the few hiccups), but the disappointing part is that there isn’t such a drastic difference between the original and the new one that really blew me away. Believe me, as an Apple lover, I wanted this thing to blow me away, but it hasn’t. I guess it can’t though. The first act was such a hit that the second act couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Honestly now, after really thinking about it, there isn’t much I can think of that would make the iPad 2 more exciting. It has, basically, all that it needs. The only thing I could imagine making the iPad as exciting as the first one is for Apple to start treating it more like a stand-alone laptop and less like a secondary device. Losing the iTunes syncing, for example, would be a step in the right direction. Packing a hell of a lot more power into it so I could use some of the heavy applications I use on my laptop would be nice, but other than that, I’ve got nothing. In short, for what it is, it’s wonderful. For what I want it to be, it’s not there quite yet.
So the iPad 2. It’s definitely a good evolutionary step for Apple. It’s a gorgeous product that, together with iOS, really shines. It’s quick, it’s fun, it’s intuitive, easy to use, and overall, a nice experience. It’s not an experience that’s right for everyone, but it’s core group of users will certainly like the new additions to the iPad’s hardware along with the enhancements to the software. It’s far from perfect, but it’s getting closer. If you’re the kind of person with disposable income who will buy an iPad 3 next year, then I’m sure you already bought one. If you’re the kind of person who sits on a train and could use something to occupy your free time, iPad would be great. If you’re like me though, and a little voice in the back of your head is saying, “but will you ever use it?” Listen to the voice. You don’t need this product. Until it’s feature-rich enough to remove your laptop from your life, you’ll be fine letting this one pass you by.