The iPad 2 has some major improvements over the original iPad. The physical dimensions are very similar except for the fact that the iPad 2 is significantly thinner than the original iPad: 0.5 inches (13mm) versus 0.35 inches (8.8mm) for the iPad 2. This difference is definitely noticeable as soon as you take the iPad 2 out and compare it to the original iPad.

Physical Characteristics

The iPad 2 is much easier to hold in your hands. It doesn’t feel as though you are holding a slightly bowing brick. I don’t say this just because I now have an iPad 2 to compare it to. The original iPad is a bit awkward to hold when you’re trying to watch it in bed.

The screen for the iPad 2 is the same as the original iPad. Despite being the same, the iPad 2 has a bigger range of brightness settings. The iPad 2 can go dimmer and a tad brighter than the original iPad. This can work to your advantage in situations like watching Netflix in bed while your significant other is sleeping.

Cameras

One of the new features of the iPad 2 is the cameras. Let me just start off by saying Apple screwed up with the rear camera. This camera is so sub-par it’s not even funny. This is the same camera specs as the iPod touch 4th generation. If you were looking to use your iPad 2 as a movie camera, do not attempt it. You would be better off with an iPhone 3GS as a video camera as it’ll be better than the iPad 2. If you wanted to take still pictures, avoid this camera as well. Yes, it will work, but the original iPhone had a 2.0 megapixel camera and can take better photos than the iPad 2. I realize that this was a cost choice, but it was a poor choice on Apple’s part.

The front facing camera is the same as the iPhone and is not really meant as a video-camera per-se. The camera is a 640×480 resolution camera that is meant for FaceTime or Skype video, if Skype Video ever arrives for the iPad. It would have been nice to have a higher-resolution camera, however, since FaceTime is the intended purpose, it is perfect.

FaceTime

Now that there are cameras on the iPad 2, Apple has added three applications: FaceTime, Photo Booth and Camera. FaceTime works just as advertised and as one would expect. The rear-camera for FaceTime is not bad, as it will most likely get the job done if you need to show somebody something using the rear-facing camera. There are not many options within FaceTime other than swapping cameras. I would have expected there to be some PhotoBooth options built-in, but maybe that’s in a future update.

Photo Booth

Photo Booth, just like it’s Mac-based cousin, allows you you to use your camera to change the way the picture looks. There are only 9 available options with the current release of Photo Booth for the iPad: X-ray, Light Tunnel, Stretch, Mirror, Normal, Twirl, Thermal Camerca, Kaleidoscope, and Squeeze. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the one effect that most people like is Pop Art, and it isn’t available on the iPad 2 version of Photo Booth. There are 18 different effects on the Mac version of Photo Booth. It would be nicer to see more, but again, like FaceTime, this may come in a future update.

Camera.app

The third application, Camera, is the same camera application that is available on the iPhone. It has the ability to take pictures or video and browse items in your Camera Roll. The only difference is that it’s on the iPad so the screen elements are bigger.

The only issue I have with the Camera application is that Apple didn’t change anything about it. Don’t get me wrong, the camera application does what it is supposed to do. With that, it can be rather awkward to hold the iPad and take a picture. If you are holding the iPad 2 in landscape mode you can only use your left hand to actually hold the iPad because your right hand will get in the way of the photo. Yes, you can rotate the orientation on the iPad 2 and that will correct the issue, but given the way that the Smart Cover works, this is counter-productive.

Processor and Graphics

The iPad 2 contains dual 1GHz Processors. At first I didn’t really notice a huge difference, but now that I have put both of them side by side, I can definitely see the difference. I loaded up Monopoly HD on both the iPad and iPad 2 simultaneously and noticed that the iPad 2 was at the start screen a full 6 seconds less than the original iPad. So this increased hardware specification will allow developers to take better advantage of the processors.

During the introduction of the iPad 2, Apple touted a 9x graphics performance increase. I don’t have a way to accurately test this, although I wonder if some of the improvement on speed while loading Monopoly HD is due to graphics performance.

Headphone and Dock connectors

There are a few hardware design issues that I seem to have with the iPad 2. The much thinner design is not one of them. The issues I have are with the headphone connector and the dock connector. When you plug the headphones into the headphone jack, not all of the headphone plug is covered. This may not make any major difference, but it does look tacky. The dock connector has the exact same issue.

HDMI connectivity

The biggest feature, for me anyway, is the ability to mirror the screen using the HDMI connector that is purchased separately. The HDMI connector works much like the VGA adapter did for the original iPad, except instead of having the output to the adapter be application specific, this happens across the entire operating system regardless of whether the application supports video out.

If an application does support video out, that takes precedence over mirroring. Netflix is a prime example of this because the application will show the video on the external device if you plug in the HDMI adapter.

One thing for developers to be aware of is that if you have an incomplete implementation of video out, your application may cause unexpected results. I know this from first hand experience so verify that your application works with the iPad 2.

Audio

The next area to comment on is audio, more specifically, the speaker. The area for the speaker in the iPad 2 is significantly larger than the original iPad. Despite it being bigger, the iPad 2 sounds a bit tinnier than the original iPad. The bass is not as deep as the original, which could, in limited circumstances, be problematic for some.

Smart Cover

The last aspect I thought I would review is the Smart Cover. Apple’s Smart Cover is meant to pull double-duty. The first is to act as a cover for the screen to protect the glass, as well as clean it. The second is to have the Smart Cover act as a stand for typing as well as viewing.

The Smart Cover is comprised of four sections of magnets, as well as a connecting mechanism to adhere to the iPad 2. The Smart Cover folds over to create the stand, and only attaches to the iPad 2 one way. To orient the iPad 2, you need to have the Home Button on the left and the Smart Cover attached to the top. If you’re holding the iPad in portrait mode, the Smart Cover would go on the left side.

This can be somewhat problematic given that the Smart Cover can only go on in one direction. I prefer to have the headphone jack on the right side while watching movies. If I use the stand to have the iPad 2 almost directly in front of me, instead of at a an angle, the headphone will be on the left side. This orientation makes sense since the controls will all be on the top, and it’s not the end of the world, but it does force me to change the way I do things.

There is one thing to keep in mind with the Smart Cover. The way I have the cover in the picture above is the proper way to fold the Smart Cover. This is a bit strange considering that the microfiber surface has the opportunity to get dirty, and it is supposed to clean the screen. So if the microfiber side gets dirty, then the screen surely will not be cleaned. Just something to keep in mind.

In case you were wondering, here is a photo of exactly how strong the magnets in the iPad and Smart Cover really are. There is no trickery in this photo whatsoever.

Overall, the iPad 2 is an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary change. The addition of the cameras as well as FaceTime and Photo Booth will allow users to give excellent demonstrations that may get others to buy an iPad 2. The change in the way the iPad 2 feels is noticeable and much appreciated, as is the addition of the video mirroring. If you have been holding out for an iPad until the second generation, now is the time to pounce. If you have an original iPad, the upgrade path is a bit mirkier. If you have somebody who you can hand down your original iPad to, then by all means upgrade.

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