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Apple's iPad 2 is the 'Holy Grail' of computing

Michael deAgonia | March 14, 2011
Eleven months ago, Apple released the first iPad, a touchscreen handheld computer that redefined tablets, disrupting the laptop/desktop market just as the iPod did to music players and the iPhone did to smartphones. On Friday, 15 million iPads later, Apple released its successor, the iPad 2. Many people -- myself included -- predicted long lines and sell-outs, just like last year. So did Apple deliver?

Given the three storage options, I'm often asked whether the move from 16GB to 32GB or even 64GB is worth the cost. That depends on several factors, including the size of your iTunes library and whether the iPad will be a home or travel device. If the iPad will mainly stay home, iTunes Home Sharing should offset the need for more storage, as you can access your computers' iTunes libraries on your local Wi-Fi network and play their content on the device wirelessly. This includes movies, TV shows, podcasts, music and music videos, which you access from either the built-in iPod or Video applications.

In general, though, I've always felt it's better to have too much storage than too little; I'd have bought a 256GB model if I could. Then again, my iTunes library is nearly 1TB in size.

New chip, two cameras

The first iPad wasn't slow, even though competing devices (most announced without release dates) seemed to offer faster hardware. It has always been responsive, with minimal interface lag, if any. The iPad 2 takes this a step further. Featuring a new dual-core A5 chipset and double the memory (512MB instead of 256MB), everything feels faster, whether it's app launching, data loading, switching between apps, rendering photo effects, or outputting projects in Garage Band. The speed boost affects everything. (While Apple hates dishing out specs, benchmarks indicate that not only is iPad 2 much faster than the first generation model, but it smokes the Motorola Xoom, as well.)

The iPad 2 also features better graphics performance, which Apple claims has been improved nine-fold. Games such as Infinitely Blade, Dead Space and others have already been updated to support more detailed graphics. And other games like Rage HD can now use the built-in gyroscope to provide more accurate tracking.

The biggest design change is the addition of dual cameras, one facing front, one, rear. The iPad 2 now joins the iPhone 4 and the fourth-generation iPod touch in this respect. Unfortunately, the photos are more akin to those produced by the iPod touch than those from the iPhone 4.

In other words, just because you can take photos with the iPad 2, doesn't necessarily make that the best option. The resolution on the front-facing camera is a mediocre 640 x 480 pixels, or the standard resolution of computer monitors 15 years ago. The rear camera takes pictures and video shot at a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p).

While video is technically shot in HD, you must make sure that lighting levels are high to avoid compression artifacts and grainy results. I confirmed that pictures are noticeably bad when taken in low-light situations. Neither of the cameras holds a candle to those on the iPhone 4, never mind most dedicated point-and-shoot cameras.


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