The Apple iPad 2 tablet goes onsale in the UK from Friday 25 March. We've got one already and we’ve spent the last day or so giving it a try. Here’s what our first 24 hours with the iPad have taught us.
Next up, we tried the browser. After all, we were pretty keen to tell the world we’d got our hands on the new iPad 2. There aren’t really any differences to report here. Safari works just as it did before, with an open book icon to take you to sites you’ve bookmarked and the number of pages currently open denoted to the left. We still find it a bit odd that you have to click on this to be taken to a separate page of thumbnails of all those currently open pages before confirming you want to launch a new one and eventually being given the option to enter a new URL. We prefer the simple + button a la Mozilla tabbed browsing. Page refreshing is not as intuitive as the pulldown approach of Android either. This is nitpicking, however. The web browsing experience on the iPad and the iPad 2 is slick and speedy and the new model’s display is marginally brighter and seemingly sharper.
Content-wise, Apple still expects you to view video footage through its mediated YouTube app and BBC iPlayer apps. This ensures quality video playback, though our test footage of the excellent series Wonders Of The Universe was not as sharp as we’d hoped. Obviously, bandwidth issues come into play when streaming video, but once the programme was ready to start playing, we didn’t experience caching issues. Even so, the lower than expected playback quality was a real disappointment.
The iPad 2 can not only display proper 1080p high-definition video; it can splice together scenes, add titles and a soundtrack and then package it up to share online or over email. You simply need the £5 iMovie app that is one of Apple’s additions to the App Store and that has been specifically written to take full advantage of that impressive nVidia graphics processor. Local storage sensibly includes adding your completed video to your iTunes library where you can call it up whenever you wish.
You can also record your own voice or the sounds from your own instruments with the updated version of GarageBand. Again, this is designed to make the most of the processing power the iPad 2 has at its disposal. You can plug in a microphone, guitar amp and so on, or play the drums, guitar or keyboard on the £5 GarageBand app. Unlike iMovie, this app also works on the original iPad, so we gave it a spin on both versions. We’re still trying to spot the difference in terms of playback or virtual instrument sensitivity. It feels rather odd bashing away at an onscreen drum kit and ‘tish’-ing the high hat, but perhaps we’ll feel less self-conscious and Phil Collins over-expressive away from the office environment and in the privacy of our home. We didn’t get as far as laying down multiple tracks on the two devices, but the app supports eight-track recording and mixing.
Impressively, our web surfing, FaceTime and PhotoBooth exploits, BBC iPlayer viewing and attempts at musical mayhem didn’t decimate the iPad 2’s battery. We’ll do more formal battery tests soon, but we used perhaps a third of the battery over the day’s fairly intensive usage.
Finally, we have to comment on the Apple iPad Smart Cover. The magnet attachments are clever, and we like the concept of a pull back cover that puts the screen to sleep and then reawakens it when it’s whipped back. In practice, the magnets don’t snap quite so neatly into place, the roll back design doesn’t form the functional iPad stand we were promised, and we found ourselves adjusting the cover to try and make it push the iPad 2 more upright. It can be awkward to position so that it acts as a prop at all, sometimes falling flat on itself. Oh, and it doesn’t look that great either. Coupled with the fact that the screen didn’t always magically light up as promised and there was a clicky noise similar to the iPhone or iPod charging connector switching on and off, we found the Smart Cover wanting in its execution.
For all that, the iPad 2 is already a firm favourite. Its a revision rather than a redesign and brings the iPad’s processing power and capacity into line with the Honeycomb tablets we keep being promised are about to launch. It’s easily the best tablet on the market, but perhaps not a must-have upgrade for existing iPad owners.
For technical analysis and an in-depth verdict, read our Apple iPad 2 review