iPad 2 First Look: Early impressions

Consumer Reports News: March 11, 2011 10:46 PM

Friday night line-up at the local Best Buy
Photo: Consumer Reports

On March 11 at 5 pm, the Apple iPad 2 became available for purchase at retail stores—and I was able to buy one for a family member. I didn't have to wait on line, but I did have to go to three stores, because the local Target didn’t have any Verizon 3G models; and at around 5 pm, the local Best Buy had a 100-person line out front. Fortunately, the nearby Verizon Wireless store had no line and two units left in stock. I had my iPad 2 by 5:15 pm.

Setting up the iPad 2 took longer than I expected, because you need to do it on a computer, and my family member's iMac had outdated versions of iTunes, Safari, QuickTime, and Mac OS X. (We needed OS X 10.5.8 to run the recent version of Safari required by the latest version of iTunes). Once everything was updated, the actual iPad 2 setup took only about 15 minutes, including establishing a Verizon 3G data plan.

Here are a few of my earliest impressions after a brief time using the iPad 2.

It felt noticeably lighter than the iPad I've been using for the past year. But it didn't feel as much of a featherweight as the Kindles I've used. Until I read a book on it for an extended period, I won't know how long it will take for my arm to tire of holding the iPad 2 aloft, but it should take longer than with the heftier original iPad.

When I tried to download my first app, Angry Birds, via the 3G connection, the iPad 2 refused, saying that the download would be too large and that I should download the app using my computer or a Wi-Fi connection. (I used the iMac.) I appreciated that; our new 3G data plan has a per-month bandwidth limit, so it's likely to be less costly to perform downloads using a Wi-Fi connection, such as through a home router.

I didn't buy a case or cover for the iPad 2, because I wanted to leave that choice up to the person who will be using it. So to temporarily protect the iPad 2, I inserted it into the black Apple iPad Case I’ve been using with the original iPad. The iPad 2 fit into it nicely, but its buttons weren't as easy to access through the case's openings as they were with the original iPad.

IPad 2 01
The narrower iPad 2 (top) next to the original iPad
Photo: Consumer Reports

The sides are gone. The iPad 2 doesn't have flat sides, as the original iPad did; instead, the rear surface tapers off to a very narrow edge. So the data port, volume control, and other buttons aren't actually on the sides, as they were with the original iPad. They're on the curved parts of the back closest to the iPad 2's edges. To locate them from the front by hand, I had to reach around back, rather than feel along the sides. If you haven't used the original iPad, that may not seem strange to you, but for me it took some getting used to.

The rear camera is low-resolution. I took a few indoor still shots at night; the iPad 2 has no flash. The resulting JPG files had a resolution of 960 x 720, which is about 0.7 megapixels (a lot less than today's digital cameras.) ISO was 500, aperture f/2.4, with a focal length of 4mm. Bit depth was 24. I couldn't find any manual controls other than digital zoom for the iPad 2's rear camera. We'll look more closely in the coming days to see if there are other ways to control the camera's settings.

A new app: I tried Photo Booth, an app bundled with the iPad 2 that displays nine live video windows using an image from the front webcam, presumably designed to show off Apple's claimed boost in graphics performance as compared with the original iPad. There's a normal image, and then eight more that use fun special effects, such as Kaleidoscope, X-ray, and Light Tunnel. I thought it was neat; some of my non-techie family members found the distorted images of their faces a bit spooky.

There's much more to look into with the iPad 2, including videoconferencing, the Smart Cover, video streaming, and some other new apps. Early Saturday, we’ll have iPad 2s in our labs in Yonkers and let you know what else we find out in early testing. Check back here.

If you bought an iPad 2, let us know what you think of it. And if you haven't, let us know what you’d like us to find out about it by posting a comment below.

—Jeff Fox

More on the iPad 2:

Apple iPad 2 testing countdown: What we'll be looking for
iPad 2 First Look: Video-conferencing with Facetime
iPad 2 First Look: Using adapters and external devices

Jeffrey Fox

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