Apple's iPad 2: a hands-on report
SAN FRANCISCO -- After Wednesday morning's unveiling of the iPad 2, Apple invited attendees to try out the hardware up close for the next hour or so.
I only needed a minute to confirm one of Apple's claims: Yes, it's thin. At .34 inches, it makes a MacBook Air look fat. It's also lighter but still too hefty for extended reading while standing up.
Its screen resolution, dock connector, button layout and even, Apple says, its 10-hour battery life match what's on the current model. So does its pricing, which has to be giving manufacturers of other, upcoming tablets fits. (Apple has sliced the price of the original iPad by $100.)
As before, you can get a WiFi-only model in your choice of black or white with 16 gigabytes of storage for $499; a 32 GB model costs $599, and a 64 GB version sells for $699. (My advice: Don't get the white one. It's lot more likely to show off dirt and smudges.) Models with support for AT&T and Verizon's 3G mobile-broadband services cost an extra $130. Apple will start selling it on its Web site on March 11 and at 5 p.m. that day in its stores.
Apple's presenters showed off the iPad 2's A5 processor by, among other tasks, using its Photo Booth app to distort video in real time. It should also make this model even more viable as a gaming device. (The annual Gaming Developers Conference is going on a few blocks away at the Moscone Center. I wonder how many of those programmers wish they could have sneaked into Apple's event.)
That processor also should come in handy for resource-intensive apps such as the new iPad versions of Apple's Garage Band and iMovie, both of which look remarkably like their Mac OS X versions.
But until more applications use that chip for jobs that nobody thinks to do on a tablet now, the iPad 2's most interesting components have to be its front and back cameras. Neither will replace your camera or even your phone's camera for still photography. The front-facing camera has a VGA (640 by 480 pixel) resolution, while the back one offers a higher 720p (720 by 1028 pixel) resolution. The front can focus automatically; the back has a fixed focus.
Both do video and can stream that via Apple's FaceTime program. Other iPad applications, such as Skype, should be able to tap into each, as well. But you'll need one other item to do proper video conferencing on this device: a stand.
Apple hopes to cover that need with its Smart Cover, a nifty folding screen protector--in leather, for $69, or plastic, for $39, each with a choice of five colors. The cover magnetically latches to the side of the iPad 2. It has a weird sort of symbiotic relationship with the iPad, putting it to sleep when folded to cover the screen and waking it up automatically when you start to open it. You can then fold the cover into a triangle that either positions the iPad 2 for easy typing or stands it up for movie viewing.
The iPad 2 sports the fewest changes from the original iPad in its software. Its updated iOS 4.3 software should finally bring its media-sharing AirPlay feature to fruition. But its notification system -- through which background apps can get your attention by throwing a note in front of everything else on the screen -- remains inadequate compared with what's on Android or HP's webOS. Current and upcoming iPad owners can only hope that a fix will come at some future Apple event.
6 p.m. Fixed a typo that had the iPad 2 almost a yard thick.
| March 2, 2011; 5:47 PM ET
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