Using speed tests, benchmarks and in-depth testing, PC Advisor's Apple iPad 2 review shows that Apple's upgrade to the original Apple iPad is a worthy successor to the "most successful consumer product ever launched".
Apple iPad 2 review: smart accessories abound
With the release of the iPad 2, Apple is also releasing several accessories related to the iPad 2.
Most notable is the iPad Smart Cover, available in either leather or polyurethane. A Smart Cover magnetically adheres to the side of the iPad 2 and protects the front, locking and unlocking the iPad when you open and close the cover. It’s pretty nifty, and it sets the bar pretty high for all future iPad 2 accessories. To read a whole lot more about it, be sure to read my iPad 2 Smart Cover review.
But there are other accessories: the Apple Digital AV adapter finally lets capable iOS devices display HD video on HDTVs, and even lets the iPad 2 mirror its own screen on an external display. (Read on for details, or see our full review.)
There’s also a new iPad 2 Dock, which I wasn’t able to test. Like the original iPad Dock, it allows you to set your iPad upright in portrait orientation and charge, sync, or even play audio- or video-out. Now the bad news: The iPad 2 and the original iPad’s dock connector are different enough that accessories that tightly fit to the hardware won’t be compatible with the new model, so you probably won’t be able to reuse many of your iPad accessories if you buy an iPad 2. Apple also seems to have discontinued the iPad Keyboard Dock entirely. (No great loss, in my opinion - you’d be better off with a dock or a case and the excellent Apple Wireless Keyboard, a combination that allows you type in either portrait or landscape orientation, rather than the forced portrait orientation of the Keyboard Dock.)
Apple iPad 2 review: a video breakthrough
One of the most pleasantly surprising features of the iPad 2 is its improved support for HDTVs and HD video. A combination of iPad 2 hardware upgrades, a new adapter from Apple, and updates to the iOS share the credit, but the end result is great news for both entertainment and education.
On the entertainment side, the new Apple Digital AV Adapter lets the iPad 2 spread its wings. With this adapter, the iPad 2 can output high-definition video at resolutions up to 1080p, as well as Dolby Digital surround sound, all served via a standard HDMI cable that the owner of any HDTV will be familiar with.
I played back several HD video files on several different HDTVs via the iPad 2 and the HDMI adaptor, and the video quality was excellent. The inability to output HD video has been a sore spot on the iOS since the release of the original iPad, but now that it’s here, it looks (and sounds) great.
Exclusive to the iPad 2 that will be hailed by educators, presenters, and anyone else who has ever wanted to show off their iPad’s screen to a large crowd: video mirroring. When connected to the HDMI adapter, the iPad 2 will display a duplicate version of the contents of its screen on an external monitor. Want to demo an education app via a projector or HDTV for a classroom full of kids? The iPad 2 makes it possible.
In mirroring mode, the iPad’s interface is crystal clear. It looks great. Because the iPad’s video interface is a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll find black bars on the sides of the TV when in mirroring mode. The bars grow even wider if you put the iPad in portrait orientation, but the image of an iPad 2 in portrait mode still looks good - albeit smaller - on an HDTV.
On a few TVs I tried, however, I needed to adjust the video settings in order to display the entire picture. It depends on how your TV set frames HD content; my advice is to fiddle with the video settings until you get a picture that pleases you.
For the record, the iPad 2’s mirroring mode and its video-out mode don’t fight with each other. If an app supports direct video output to an external display, the iPad stops mirroring and switches to that mode. In addition to the Video app, there are lots of other examples: Keynote uses the external display as a presentation screen, for instance.
Apple iPad 2 review: the software story
The iPad 2 arrives with a new version of the operating system that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This version, iOS 4.3, is hardly earth-shattering, but does offers a few nice new features.
Third-party apps can now take advantage of streaming video via AirPlay, the system that lets iOS devices stream audio and video to various devices, most notably the second-generation Apple TV. The Videos and iPod apps can now connect to Macs or PCs running iTunes via the Home Sharing system, meaning - at long last! - you can stream music or videos from any Mac or PC in your house to your iOS device, elsewhere on your local network.
In iOS 4.3, the slide switch on the iPad can be put to use in one of two ways: It can either function as an orientation-lock switch, as it did when the iPad was first released; or it can function as a mute switch for alert sounds, as it did upon the release of iOS 4.2. In iOS 4.3, users can choose either behaviour via the Settings app. Now can’t we all just get along?
There are a bunch of other additions to iOS 4.3; stay tuned to Macworld.com for our full report on iOS 4.3, which is forthcoming.
Along with the new version of the operating system, Apple is introducing two apps as a part of the iPad 2 launch. One, iMovie, is an update to the existing version of iMovie that runs on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch. The other, GarageBand, is an all-new app for the iPad. Both apps are excellent, showing off the power of the iPad, the iOS, and, specifically, the iPad 2.
It’s interesting that for the original iPad launch, Apple showcased three iWork apps: Keynote, Numbers, and Pages. It sent a message that the iPad could be used for productivity, not just for consumption. And in the intervening 11 months, we’ve seen all sorts of interesting productivity applications released for the iPad. (Along with lots of games.) The iPad app ecosystem launched strong and has continued to grow, making it one of the iPad’s biggest advantages over competing tablets.
This time out, Apple has launched its new iPad with a pair of creativity apps. What’s the message? In the case of iMovie, it’s clearly tied to the existence of the iPad’s cameras. Now you can shoot video with the iPad (ideally the HD-capable rear-facing one) and then edit it right within iMovie. Apple’s also enabled a video workflow that starts with video shot on an iPhone 4, and then ends up being transferred to an iPad 2 for editing.
GarageBand for iPad is an almost breathtaking achievement. At times it feels more responsive than GarageBand running on the late-model iMac on my desk at work. Strumming its “smart guitars” made me almost feel musical, and I was able to create a (terrible) cover version of Fountains of Wayne’s “Hey Julie” in about 30 minutes, complete with vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and organ. My nine-year-old daughter was entranced with the app as well.
GarageBand for iPad isn’t as full-featured as the Mac version, but neither does it feel like a toy version. It’s a real app with a lot of real power, and I’d imagine that it will become madly popular in schools and garages everywhere. For more information, check out my first look at GarageBand for iPad.
Both apps do suffer from one of the great failings of the iOS: difficulty in getting files in and out and moving them around. To move an iMovie project from the iPhone to the iPad, for example, you’ve got to (1) export the file on the iPhone, (2) connect it to a Mac, (3) go to iTunes, (4) click the Apps tab, (5) scroll down, (6) click on iMovie, (7) click on your project, (8) click Save to put it on your hard drive; and then you have to (9) detach your iPhone, (10) attach your iPad, (11) click on it in iTunes, (12) click on the Apps tab, (13) scroll down, (14) click on iMovie, and then (15) drag your project back into iTunes.
Apple, there’s got to be a better way. Maybe in iOS 5?
NEXT: Apple iPad 2 in pictures >>