It will come as no surprise to you that the iPad 2 is lighter. But more than that, it feels qualitatively different, from the casing right through to racing around bends in whatever racing game thrills you.
When I advanced towards the table which housed several iPad 2s in their Smart Covers, I actually thought they were just the cases displayed, alone. To say it’s thin is an understatement. It boggles the mind that it’s thinner than an iPhone 4, yet doesn’t seem to have that “ready to snap” cheapness other super-thin products have. I picked up the iPad 2 when it was still cloaked in a (admittedly horrible) beige Smart Cover case. Don’t buy the beige colour, whatever you do.
You peel the plastic (or leather) screen-casing off bit by bit, until you can fold it over and use it to prop up the iPad for some browsing, typing or viewing. It’s origami! The way it clings to the iPad 2 like a needy child, breaking away with a bit of a yank (though not much of one,) or attracting to the magnetic side when it hovers close-by, is amazing. I only touched (and oh, how I touched) the plastic one, but it was pretty easy wrapping it around the back of the iPad, and browsing with one hand. I preferred propping it up though, for typing on—it kind of shifts back slightly at first, which makes you think you’ve folded it incorrectly, but it resumes its natural place which seems to be the perfect height for typing on.
It’s astonishingly fast—much faster than the original iPad. This is most evident when playing games, where the added graphics boost comes into its own. I played a car-racing game, and that horrid fruit-slicing one which everyone seems to like (I find it dull), and it almost seemed to pre-empt my moves. It’s weird, but you kind of forget you’re playing a game, and that you’re the one controlling it—it was like watching a really clear, bright, fast video, which you just so happened to be controlling. With no judder, buffer or visual noise to speak of.
Flicking between apps was just as fast. In fact, the only time I noticed any discernable slowness was opening iMovie, and loading up an open project.
iMovie seemed to be a breeze if you know how to use it, as demonstrated in the Apple keynote. What I noticed most about it, when I was having a quick try, was how bright the colours are—not that the screen resolution has changed, mind you, but it’s just testament that the original design had great clarity and brightness.
A speaker grille in the lower-left corner is physical evidence that the speaker should be louder—but trying FaceTime over a noisy room, or turning the volume up high on a game barely registered. I’m presuming you get more use out of that mono speaker when you’re in a quieter space. Surprisingly, when I loaded FaceTime, there were five available conversations to pick from. I picked number two, which connected me to a nice man in Cupertino. Sadly I couldn’t hear a word he said, because of the room’s din, but I did notice it wasn’t the best clarity. Perhaps in natural light it’ll look better.
The rear-facing camera shoots in HD, and also outputs in HD using the HDMI cable accessory. Loading it was quick and painless, and scanning around the room taking a few quick snaps, it was already obvious that most users will find the camera a joy to use. If you don’t have an iPhone 4 or something less cumbersome to shoot with on hand, naturally.
You could say that Apple didn’t re-invent the wheel much with the iPad 2, and that everything Jobs said in his keynote about it being the device that makes 2011 was nonsense. A lot of people are still skeptical about how, when and why they’d use a tablet—including myself—but I think Apple’s beginning to get there, in showing people that using a tablet can be an easier experience than using a laptop. Just look at iMovie and GarageBand, which will do more for getting casual users into fooling around with video-editing and music-making, than the OS X software programs would’ve ever done.