Saturday, April 9, 2011
Apple iPad 2 Preview
The second generation iPad went on sale earlier today, to much fanfare and long, long lines. We're hard at work on our full review of Apple's second generation tablet but there were a few things we wanted to chime in on before too much time passed.
The iPad 2 is a very logical update to the original iPad. The hardware gets an upgrade, with revised industrial design, a slimmer chassis, and Apple's new A5 SoC inside. A5 brings along two Cortex A9 cores, a dual core version of PowerVR's SGX543 graphics chip, and 512MB of memory. Software stays mostly the same but gets some tweaks; the iPad 2 ships with iOS 4.3, which was released earlier this week as an update for the iPhone 4 and original iPad.
The industrial design has changed pretty significantly, from the convex curvature of the original iPad's back to the flat back of the new iPad. Starting with the iPhone 4, Apple has been moving away from the continuous curvature that dominated their handhelds two or three years ago (think iPhone 3G/3G-S, iPod touch 2G/3G, and the 4G/5G iPod nano) and more towards a flatter and more rectangular design language across the board. The iPhone 4 is the only one that's really angular, but the 4th generation iPod touch debuted the same flatness with more ergonomically friendly curves. The iPad 2 basically carries the iPod touch 4G design language on a larger scale.
The iPad 2 is slightly lighter but easier to hold than the previous generation. Laying in bed and reading is probably where the difference becomes most apparent. The gentle curvature running around the edge makes the in-hand feel surprisingly different, as does the considerably thinner profile. I'm actually shocked at how dramatic the difference is.
The downside to the very large radius curvature on the outside is that the dock connector is now awkwardly exposed. It's very similar to how the iPod Touch looks, with about 2 mm of exposed connector visible viewed from the back.
The previous generation dock connector was the subject of constant criticism for being way too tight. Apple has over-corrected with the iPad 2 and now the dock connector is too loose. Just browsing the Apple store, I noted several units whose dock connectors appeared plugged in, but had come just loose enough to not charge.
When connecting 30-pin dock cables, there's not too much resistance holding the cable in place, and the port itself is difficult to locate without flipping the thing over or viewing it from below.
Another welcome change - the return of the white iDevice. After the no-show that was the white iPhone 4, I was pleased to see Apple ship the white-bezeled iPad 2 on time with no production hitches. I was also wrong about how good white would look. Instead of being overwhelming or busy, the white bezel actually has one notable advantage over black - it doesn't show fingerprints or dust. That alone was what constantly drove me crazy about the previous generation - it always looked dirty. Shockingly, white seems to actually make sense.
Other hardware chances are the addition of front and rear facing cameras for FaceTime and taking pictures, but unfortunately, they seem to be pieces lifted from the iPod touch and nothing near the iPhone 4's 5 megapixel shooter. We'll talk about what this means for picture quality overall later on in the preview. The switch on the side can now be configured to either be a device silencer or a rotation lock switch, and there is now a large speaker on the bottom right corner of the device.
Overall, the new design really works - the iPad 2 feels good in hand, and instantly makes its predecessor feel a little clunky. But we didn't just pause our testing to talk about design, there's a lot under the hood of the iPad 2 that demands attention.