Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reviewing The iPad 2

I only have 48 hours of iPad 2 use under my belt I can tell you that I couldn't (or at least wouldn't want to) go back to the 2010 iPad. Nothing was particularly wrong with the first iPad, the have the same firmware versions, and have all the same feature save some new camera and goodies on the iPad 2.

So why do I boldly claim that I could never go back to the "old" iPad? It's just the feeling you get when you use it. I suspect that users that had never had an iPad 1 will not see what the fuss is about. They will love there new iPad all the same, but they just won't know how good they have it.

Speed, it's all about the speed.

Everything is faster on the iPad 2: switching apps, loading apps, pulling up the onscreen keyboard, web pages just blaze to life. the Internet seems faster on this device than on any other in my house, and my personal computers are not slouches. With a 2009 MacBook Pro and a 2008 iMac I have no grips with those machines in my day-to-day use, but surfing the web on an iPad has always been more personal, more comfortable. Where a desktop or laptop seem to more of a utility the iPad was designed to be intimate, it's just you and a gorgeous (responsive) 10" touch screen. It sits in your lap and is just a different experience than a personal computer... Which seems ironic because the iPad is much more personal than a PC could ever be. In fact you could even look at the "personal-ness" of the iPad to be a drawback in some cases. Like a family household that has one iPad, with multiple people using it there is no easy way to have multiple accounts on the device. So be prepared to share your Angry Birds game with the rest of your house, you can't login to a saved game all your own.

So what makes the iPad so personal, so intimate? Like most Apple products it's the combination of form+function. The new tapered edges just make it feel slimmer and easier to hold, the 10" form factor is a great size. Everything from text on webpages to games and videos are at a great size to personally view the content. While the iPad is very dense, at only 1.33lbs it is the most portable computer you'll ever carry. Whether I am sitting it on my lap or holding it portrait to read a book, it never feels cumbersome. The iPad never gets hot, hell it never gets warm! Compare that to my MacBook Pro that could cook an egg with how hot it gets, and weighs 4.5lbs, the iPad is a welcome change on my lap.

The iPad, much like the iPhone and iPod Touch, is never really "off" so the iPad has this instant on feature that is even faster than a laptop. Combine this with the fact that you never have to turn it off, like you might your laptop, the iPad is always ready to go when you are. Games and apps save you place or "state" so you can easily and quickly get back to work, or play.

Whether you use the iPad for work or play the main feature where the iPad out shines you laptop is the amazing battery life. All computer companies make ridiculous claims about their products battery life it seems, and even though Apple seems to be more realistic in their claims they have always been a few hours short in my real-world testing. But the iPad, both iPads, have far exceeded Apple battery claims no matter what I'm doing. Apple states that the iPad will get 10 hours on WiFi and 9 hours on 3G; I can tell you that with the 9 months I had my first iPad with 3G I was getting between 14-16 hours on a battery, with 80% of that time being on 3G. That's 50% more battery life than Apple claimed I should get. My short 48 hours with the iPad 2 seems to prove that I can still expect the same great performance with this years model, irregardless of the fact that it is 33% thinner than it's predecessor with a faster processor and more RAM to boot.

How about those Smart Covers? Being the fanboy I am, I couldn't help but pick up Apple's newest toy and try it out. And I gotta say this is where Apple's blend of form+function is killing (or going to kill...) it's competitors. Apple made a case for the first iPad as well, that I thoroughly enjoyed and couldn't image using that iPad without it, but this year the Smart Covers really takes the icing on the cake. I used the Apple Case the entire 9 months I had the iPad 1, and again, 24 hours with the smart covers; I'm hooked and not looking back. Like everything Apple does there is this easy-of-use factor with the Smart Covers. The Smart Cover auto-aligns "magically" or magnetically with the left side of the iPad with a strong enough bond to support the weight of the iPad, even with some vigorous shaking on my part. Apple was also smart enough to stick a few more magnets on the right-side to hold the Smart Cover closed against the iPad as to not be flapping about when carrying the iPad. But the magnets on the Smart Cover do double duty; they also a hold the Smart Cover in various positions within itself. There is a triangular position that holds the iPad in a 30° angle for typing in landscape or you can flip it up to about a 80° angle for viewing video/pictures/whatever. You can also fold the entire Smart Cover around the back of the iPad and the magnets will do their work (on the right side again) and hold the cover for you. Now the magnetism around the back is only about 20% of what it is around the front (due to the magnets being on the front I suspect) but they still hold, so if you're vertically holding the iPad reading a book or webpage you don't have the annoyance of the cover flapping around on you.

The iPad 2 also added cameras in the mix, a front center VGA and back right "HD" camera. Which added the iPad into the FaceTime capable category of Apple hardware. While the camera are not near the quality level of the iPhone 4 (they are suspected to be the same as the iPod Touch v4) they will be "good enough" for what you need them for, FaceTime. FaceTime hasn't made a huge splash (or video calling in general) but I can see it taking off with the iPad 2. With the huge 10" display I can see my parents being much more excited about FaceTime-ing to say "hi" and to see their soon-to-be-born grandchild. I don't see them doing that with an iPhone, or even their Mac, it's that personal touch that the iPad brings. What about long distance couples, military families, friends, hell I've even used FaceTime for tech support before! Alongside FaceTime, Apple brought two other desktop apps to the iPad with iMovie and Photo Booth. iMovie received a upgrade from it's iPhone counterpart but it is still severely lacking in options to truly make a quality home video. But Photo Booth shines even better on the iPad than it even did on the Mac. It does this by adding touch to the experience, that "swirly" effect can be manipulated with your finger to anywhere on the screen. While this may only give an adult mild amusement, think about a child and their friends or how about a couple just starting to date (or about to...), Photo Booth provides a level of quick and easy fun that anyone can enjoy and share.

Oh GarageBand. I could (and might) write a whole article devoted to this amazing, ground breaking app. GarageBand is a $5 dollar app that should be $500 given it's capabilities, easy-of-use, and potential. Unlike iMovie, GarageBand for iPad is 95% of what GarageBand for Mac is; so I have no doubt we will see many artists using their iPad for their next album, see Ari Hest as a prime example. This is an app that truly is capable of providing fun for the most musically illiterate person, like myself, or an artist looking to make their next album.

Now that I've gushed for eight paragraphs about how awesome the iPad is, on true fanboy fashion, could I have anything negative to say about it? I could be truly cliché at this point and complain about the "lack" of Adobe Flash support but honestly I could give a shit about Flash; on ANY device I own. Since owning the first iPhone in 2007 I've have never missed Flash support, I even run ClickToFlash on all my computers browsers so Flash won't ever run unless I implicitly allow it and want it; which is very rare save YouTube. Or I could bitch about the "Walled Garden" that Apple has created by curating it's App Store and vetting each app that goes in it. But with the thousands and thousands of app available to me on my iPhone and iPad I've yet to look for something and come away empty handed, let alone find something on Android that I was unable to find or replicate. At the same I 100% support jail breaking of iOS devices, in fact I've jail broken all four of my iPhones (and my wife's two), and my first iPad. I fully plan on jail breaking the iPad 2 ASAP as there are quiet a few apps that I miss dearly when I am not jail broke. In fact I bought the WiFi only iPad specifically because I plan to jailbreak it and tether it to my iPhone via MyWi and their fantastic new OnDemand feature. But a jail breaking segment will be for another post...

Now seriously, what are some draw backs to the iPad 2:

Cameras - I realize that Apple does have to cut cost and cut features (for future products) but why not add better camera to the higher SKU's? Or maybe just the 3G models get better cameras. When the iPhone 4 came out I sold my point-and-shoot and I exclusively use my iPhone 4 for all my pictures and HD video, and that is saying something considering I have a baby on the way and will be taking more pictures than anyone will want to see. But Apple isn't one to have a diverse product line, they have three desktops and three laptops, and the new always ushers out the old. I have no doubt that with the iPad 3 we will see better cameras but it would have been nice to have them now, or at least the option.

Price - Now I know that Apple and the iPad kill all of their competitors on price, and that $499 price point is amazing for a 16GB tablet that can do so much, and perfectly fine for about 40% of the consumers buying iPads. But in typical Apple fashion they gauge the shit out of you for minor upgrades... Like I said $499 is a fantastic price but then it jumps $100 dollars just to add 16GB of memory! That's it, no added features or hardware components. has 16GB flash drives for $21, hell even BestBuy carries them as cheap as $35 dollars. Then there is Apple charging $100. Now I realize that a flash drive is not the same as the memory that Apple puts into an iDevice but with Apple buying hundreds of millions of flash chips, I'll bet they get a deal that's cheaper than $100 bucks a pop. The same goes for the 3G radio, that will add $130 dollars to the price of an iPad. Again I'm not sure what the price of a 3G radio goes for but when you buy them in mass quantities $130 dollars does seem excessive. We also don't know what, if any, deal Apple has worked out with the carrier. The carriers may very well get a cut of every 3G iPad sold, which would come out of that $130 up charge. So just jumping up to the 32GB with 3G adds to $230 dollars to your bill when really Apple could probably do it for $75 and still make money. But I can see why Apple wouldn't want to price their models only $25 or $50 dollars apart, the perception of "value" is lost. By tiering at $100 increments you build value and keep it simple. But it's still frustrating being in the tech industry and knowing how much these parts cost and getting screwed.

File Management - the iOS platform is closed one and Apple doesn't let end users nor developers access the file system to save/transfer/delete files at will. With iOS 4.0 Apple added a feature to add files to certain apps via iTunes and once on the device you can "pass" files between one app and another but the app has to "import" the file and it's just this big mess. Apple needs to just buy DropBox, integrate them into iOS and be done with it. That would give you a cloud (read: Internet) based solution to transfer and store files as well as give your iOS device one local place to look for files that was sandboxes and totally safe. I'd love to be able to download files from the web, on my iOS device, right to this folder and when I get home guess what? Thanks to MobileMe I've got a local copy on my Mac too. Apps like DropBox allow to keep you drafts in the cloud and work on them whenever, wherever. In fact this whole article was written in the app PlainText for the iPad that syncs to my DropBox account. So that gave me the ability to work on it anywhere and it also gives me several backup in case I really screwed this one up.

So even though this review covered a lot of feature that are indicative of the current and previous generation of the iPad, I whole-heartedly recommend the iPad 2 to anyone that is interested in a tablet. Even if you're an iPad 1 owner it's a worthy upgrade, it's more evolutionary that revolutionary, but I can't state enough how much a difference the speed and thinness make when using the iPad 2. There are so many options for you if you have a first gen iPad and you're looking to upgrade: sell it to help offset the cost, give it to a family member a spouse, parent, or sibling that would love to have an iPad at little or no cost, or you could always go the donation route. A lot of schools and libraries are looking to iPads to get kids excited and engaged with the curriculum by using iPads.

If you don't believe me, just head down to an Apple Store or Best Buy and spent a few minutes with an iPad. You may not "need" one but I guarantee you want one.

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