What reviewers are saying about iPad 2

Consensus: it's another winner.

iPad 2. Here's a summary of what gadget blogs and tech news sites are saying in early reviews of iPad 2.

The new device is little changed from the original: it's thinner and lighter, and has the same screen size and resolution (9.7-inch, 1024 x 768 pixels). On the front, there's 640 x 480 pixel webcam, mainly for Apple's FaceTime video calls; on the back, a video camera that can shoot 720p HD at 30 frames/second (or still), with a 5x digital zoom feature. You can check the details on Apple's specifications page.

But the seemingly small changes in thickness and weight have a big impact on reviewers. Macworld's Jason Snell: The end result of all this slimming down is that the iPad 2 is easier to handle than the original model....The iPad 2 is easier to carry with one hand, and the decreased weight makes it easier to hold for longer periods of time."

The New York Times' David Pogue was almost ecstatic over the result: "My friends, I’m telling you: just that much improvement in thinness, weight and speed transforms the experience. We’re not talking about a laptop or a TV, where you don’t notice its thickness while in use. This is a tablet. You are almost always holding it. Thin and light are unbelievably important for comfort and the overall delight."

Inside, the processor has been upgraded, to Apple's custom A5 dual-core chip, and reviewers say the results are dramatic. Engadet: "According to Geekbench, the CPU is clocked at 800MHz....The CPU and graphics performance of this tablet felt extremely impressive to us -- the iPad 2 performed excellently no matter what we threw at it, games and graphically taxing apps seemed to have higher frame rates, and even when dealing with CPU intensive programs like GarageBand, it rarely (if ever) seemed to be struggling."

"In short, the iPad 2 is the fastest iOS device ever made, by a long shot," writes Macworld's Snell. "And it’s not just an academic distinction: you can sense the speed when you use it, because everything’s faster and smoother than it was on the original iPad."

Apple hasn't said anything about RAM on the new tablet (or the old one), but most pundits assert that iPad 2 has 512 Mbytes, or twice that of the original.

The iPad 2 runs the new 4.3 version of iOS (also now avavailable for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPod touch third and fourth generation). Probably the most signifcant change for endusers is introducing the Nitro JavaScript engine, originally for the desktop Safari browser, to the mobile Safari.

The combination of faster JavaScript engine, the dual-core processor, and additional RAM creates an impressive Internet experience, according to Slashgear's Vincent Nguyen. "Pages load faster, render quicker, and scroll more smoothly," he writes. "There’s less time spent looking at the checkered pattern of a blank page, waiting for the content to show up, and pinch-zooming is resolved quicker too. Meanwhile, thanks to the extra RAM, we experienced fewer out-of-memory errors and crashes in both the standard browser and third-party apps. Where the original iPad could sometimes get overloaded by a particularly heavy webpage, throwing you back to the homescreen, we were able to open multiple tabs and still have no issues with the iPad 2 keeping up."

Despite the more powerful processor, the iPad 2 battery (as with the original) sustains more than Apple's promised 10 hours of juice, according to several reviews. "In nearly a week of use, I never saw a reason to disbelieve the claims," according to Macworld. "The iPad’s all-day battery life, perhaps its killer feature, remains intact."

"[S]omehow despite the thinner chassis and new CPU, there’s still room for a 25-watt-hour Li-Poly battery," notes Slashgear. "In reality, as was the case with the first iPad, we’ve seen in excess of ten hours mixed use from a full charge. That’s with WiFi switched on...."

Reviewers were impressed, even enchanted, by Apple's clever Smart Cover for iPad 2: an optional accessory, its a foldable screen that easily attaches via magnets, covering the touchscreen. "Simply put: I love this thing," writes TechCrunch's MG Siegler.  "The cover attaches via magnets. This makes sure it is never mis-aligned. And just as important: this allows it to easily detach as well. And the cover can fold up to double as a stand for either typing (slightly elevating the Pad 2) or watching content (elevating the iPad 2 higher)."

Engadget warns that, by design, it leaves the back unprotected. "We love the convenience of the Smart Cover and the way it looks, but if you're seriously concerned about the entire iPad (and not just the display), you might want to check out other options."

There were a range of complaints but none of them showstoppers: some reviewers wished for better cameras, or a higher resolution screen, a way to synchronize media and apps wirelesslly, an improved notification system, or the use of Mac OS-like widgets in the UI.

Don't forget to take the "The "Network World" Enterprise Tablet Recommendation Poll". Currently, iPad 2 has 47% of the vote, with Motorola's Android-based Xoom a distant second at 26%, and RIM's announced PlayBook at 9%.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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