iPad 2: Second Opinion

Welcome to Second Opinion, a semi-regular post where Giz AU offers its own perspective of a gadget the US guys have already reviewed. Today, we'll be discussing the magical successor to the magical Apple tablet, the iPad 2.

It actually goes without saying - Apple created the tablet. Sure, there may have been some gaddawful products over the past decade running Windows and claiming to be a tablet, but it was only when Apple jumped on board that the world realised that using a tablet didn't have to be a painful experience. But given that Apple is almost single-handedly responsible for the unquenchable thirst for tablets in the market today, its second generation product was always destined to be both closely scrutinised and highly demanded.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, using the iPad 2 is exactly like using the original iPad. The interface is exactly the same - big screen with smallish icons across multiple pages. There's still a minimalistic home button down the bottom of the device, a mute/screen lock switch on the side next to the volume rocker, a headphone jack and a power button on top. What is different are the two new cameras and the substantially thinner, lighter design.

It's actually surprising how much difference there is between holding the iPad 1 and 2 together. Where the first iPad seemed comfortable enough, it now feels heavy and cumbersome compared to the sleeker new model. And like Buchanan said in his review, the iPad 2 is fast - apps are like coiled springs, ready to burst open the second you press the app icon. Sure, give it a year for developers to work out how to push the updated hardware to its limits and this might not seem like such a big deal, but compared to some of the newer Android tablets I've played with, this responsiveness is amazing.

As expected, the Apple-specific apps that were designed for the new iPad - iMovie and Garageband - are testaments to Apple's strengths as a software creator. No matter how I look at it, I can't see Android or RIM (or even Microsoft, should they decide they want to join the rest of the world) creating such seamless pieces of software to demonstrate the power of their devices.

That said though, I still have big questions about the viability of the iPad (or any tablet) as a really useful tool. The inclusion of front and rear cameras allows for videoconferencing - something I was waiting for after the first generation - but as a productivity tool for a writer like myself, the iPad still doesn't compete with my laptop, despite its lightweight design and impressive power.

There's a lot to like about the iPad 2. The responsiveness is great. The way the smart cover locks the screen when you close it up, then unlocks it when you open it again. The growing range of apps. Infinity Sword. And the list goes on.

But far and away the most impressive feature of the iPad 2 is its battery life. Through whatever hocus pocus Apple managed to wrangle, the iPad comfortably lasted a week of minimum use, and a few days of relatively heavy use. It's the kind of battery life I want my smartphone to have. Hell, it's the kind of battery life I want ALL my gadgets to have. I don't know how Apple managed it, but I kept waiting to need to plug in the charger and kept not having to do it. That's impressive.

Even after a short hands on time with the BlackBerry Playbook, it's evident that the iPad's multitasking is lousy. I recognise there's a certain irony in noting that when it's probably one of the key reasons the tablet has such a good battery life, but there's just no helping the fact that switching apps on the iPad is cumbersome.

And although it's been mentioned before a billion times by any reviewer worth their salt, the fact you need to sync the iPad to a computer just to get it to work is well below par. Especially now that Apple has launched Airplay, connecting the iPad to your computer via a USB cable seems so 2004.

That's the billion dollar question, isn't it? Matt didn't hesitate to recommend the iPad 2 in his review, but I'm still sitting on the fence. I like the hardware. I like the software. But for the life of me I still can't work out what I could do with this that I couldn't do better with a dedicated computer and a smartphone with a solid data plan.

There are undoubtedly an army of iPad users out there who will disagree with me on this point, and that's okay. I can see how many people would be able to find a way to integrate the iPad into their day-to-day lives, whether for business or pleasure. But I'm not one of them. And before you rush out to spend hundreds of dollars on the latest shiny iTablet, I'd suggest you ask yourself whether or not the iPad can actually improve your day to day life, or if you want one purely because it's cool.

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