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Review: A look at Apple's iPad 2 [Updated]

March 14, 2011 | 12:53 pm

You might not be able to eat an iPad, as someone pointed out last week to the president of the New York Federal Reserve, but there is enough to salivate over in the new iteration of the market-defining tablet computer.

The general design of the device has not changed much, though it does look more like earlier versions of the iPhone with gentle curves instead of the boxier iPhone 4. Here’s what hasn’t changed: The Wi-Fi is still 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth still 2.1 + EDR, and there’s still an accelerometer.

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e86b54783970d-pi That said, there are some notable tweaks: a new dual-core A5 chip, a gyroscope, a couple of cameras and the option of Verizon for 3G service in addition to AT&T. Oh, and there is a new color -- the apparently elusive white. No white iPhone has surfaced yet, though reports promise its debut this spring.

Most impressive is what Apple has managed to replicate with the launch of a moderately modified device: hype.

Lines yet again curled around buildings across the country hours before they went on sale, with news of sellouts passing down like a wave to those waiting farther down the line: The 64 GB is all gone; the AT&T 3Gs are gone. People lined up at some stores even when there were no more in stock and no promise to get any. Online orders don’t offer anything closer to instant or semi-instant gratification. Shipments have been delayed two to three weeks.

Whether it’s worth waiting in lines or waiting for delayed gratification at home is a personal decision. We put a 32 GB with Wi-Fi only through its paces and stepped through some of the upgrades and changes to help you figure out whether it’s an iGotta-Get-It or Not-Gonna-Sweat-It device for you.

Form

The iPad 2 is a slimmer, sleeker version of its predecessor. And overworked wrists are thankful for the slight shift in weight. The Wi-Fi version weighs 1.33 pounds, and the 3G version is about 1.35 pounds.

"Sexy" and "svelte" are two words that come to mind to describe the new iPad. The curves and the feel are both more appealing than its predecessor. It is noticeably less cumbersome to hold. It fits in the hand similar to the way the iPhone 3G and 3GS did. Another thing that might help with comfort and dexterity is Apple’s new iPad 2 cover. More on that later.

All of the buttons –- power/sleep, mute and volume –- are tucked along the outer curves on the top and right respectively. The port for the sync cable is a little harder to get to and connecting it will take a few tries and some getting used to.

Video: While front and back cameras were gotta-have additions the masses clamored for, the cameras aren’t quite ready for their close-up.

Ipad boxes FaceTime video worked easily by setting up which e-mail addresses should be used to call the iPad (no phone numbers needed since the tablet isn’t a phone), but it is nowhere near the quality that appears in ads. Neither the VGA-quality front camera nor the 720p HD-quality camera offers a clear image. That said, it’s good enough to make out the most important features of the people communicating. The same holds true for using the cameras for other video chat software. The audio quality, however, is stellar. Ultimately, the streaming video is serviceable enough for Grandma and Grandpa thousands of miles away to keep up with the baby -- but they may still need the bifocals to make everything out.

For simply shooting video, the back HD camera does just fine. But holding an iPad to shoot video is just downright clumsy.

The rear camera at a meager 0.7 megapixels is nowhere near acceptable for still photos. There are basic cellphones with better still cameras.

Audio: The original iPad was no slouch when it came to audio. This version sports a single speaker across the bottom back and offers a noticeable slight boost in audio quality and volume. Using it for streaming music and for video chats proved equally satisfying.

Function

Thinking: The addition of the 1GHz dual-core A5 chip make the tablet a more powerful gaming device. Graphics in games already optimized for iPad 2, like Asphalt 6: Adrenaline HD, are quite stunning. And though my performance was woefully under par, the actual gameplay is slick and very user-friendly. The new design of the device and the souped up power along with the new three-axis gyroscope expands the tablet’s prowess as a true gaming device.

Syncing: The initial sync was a bit of a challenge –- with iTunes in Windows. Sure, the information and applications transferred from computer to tablet, but there was no organization and duplicate apps without obvious distinction between iPad and iPhone versions. It actually took several syncs to get folders to show up as organized in the iTunes interface. Eventually, we resorted to doing it on the iPad itself.

Fun

There are 65,000 apps specifically designed for the iPad. One of the cool and cost-saving features of the App Store is that it recognizes which apps you already have for iPhone that have iPad counterparts. Two little letters added to the end of a familiar title -- HD -- seem to mean you'll be paying again for others.

What this heavy app user would really appreciate is a smarter iTunes/App Store that recognizes duplication and adds only the iPad-optimized versions so you don't have to spend hours sifting through page upon page of apps whose icons look exactly the same. It feels like combing for lice and is about as much fun.

Extras

Apple has also added a few extras over the air and over cable: AirPlay for wireless streaming of music, photos and video to compatible devices; AirPrint for wireless printing to select models of HP printers, and video mirroring (which requires an additional cable) for plug-and-play sharing of what's on your screen with a broader audience.

Ipad coversAnd then there's that amazing little Smart Cover that seems to have everyone mezmerized. With literally three folds of the magnetic cover, the iPad can prop up for typing or stand up for video chatting or viewing. The covers work seamlessly with the new iPad, waking it when opened and putting it in sleep mode when closed. It's sold separately, of course, costing $39 for the polyurethane version and $69 for leather. There's no denying how seamless they are. For the clumsy among us, it will take a few times to get used to folding it properly.

[For the record at 2:24 p.m.: A previous version of this post reported that the price of the polyurethane Smart Cover was $49. The price is $39.]

The folks at iFixIt found in their teardown of the cover that there are 31 magnets within the iPad 2 and Smart Cover -- 10 in the iPad 2 itself and 21 inside the cover.

On the downside, the color options are a bit limited and, frankly, unappealing. Plus they are truly only covers -- not cases. Again, for the clumsy among us, they don't promise or provide any protection for the bulk of the device. If you drop or bump the iPad don't expect the cover to do anything but cling to its host. And the covers may be smart but they're not completely thoughtful -- they do leave noticeable smudges with each groove on the cover.

Speaking of smudges on the screen, they still multiply quickly, despite Apple's touting of a fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating on the screen.

Overall

For those inaugural iPad owners who are wondering whether to upgrade, the incremental changes, however sexy, and low-end cameras might not be enough to truly quell that upgrade addiction that's likely burning in your belly.

For those of us who waited to buy an iPad, it was worth the wait. And that's a good thing, because you'll probably have to wait, for a while at least, to get your hands on one.

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-- Michelle Maltais

twitter.com/mmaltaislat

Video: Michelle Maltais reviews the Apple iPad 2. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles/Los Angeles Times

 Photos, from top: Curious customers try the new iPad 2 at the Apple store at the Grove in Los Angeles on Friday, when the tablet computer went on sale; stacks of iPad boxes await the crowd at the Apple store in San Francisco; an Apple employee sets up a sign showing off Apple's new Smart Covers for the iPad 2 at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York. Credits: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press; David Paul Morris / Bloomberg News; Emmanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty Images

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