To say that Apple hit a sweet-spot again with the iPad 2 is an understatement, as what the Cupertino company managed to do is put another significant gap between its tablet and the ones of the competition, who just managed to announce models at the beginning of 2011 that could by called worthy iPad rivals.

    I’m sure Apple knew what to expect from the competition and wasn’t stressed trying to build something revolutionary, as an evolutionary device would have sufficed. So this is the iPad 2, just a better iPad, enough to make sure Apple keeps its dominance in the tablet market even in 2011. It won’t be 90% like last year, but it should be enough for them to maintain a healthy lead.

    So, with just one day before the official retail launch lots of iPad 2 reviews have surfaced the web, all praising the iPad 2 as a must have tablet. Looking at the specs unveiled at the official launch it’s hard not to like the iPad 2. My take on the new Apple tablet would be “if you like the iPad, you’ll love the iPad 2“. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the iPad 2, as seen by the online tech community.

    Construction

    Here are the most obvious changes compared to the 1st gen iPad, as iPad 2 is 33% slimmer and 15% lighter than its predecessor. This means it’s easier to hold in hand, but at the expense of having troubles sometimes to plug in the accessories in the 30 pin proprietary Apple connector. Yeap, there is a ‘too thin’ and Apple might have found it with the iPad 2. Being made from aluminum, the impression of strength that you do get from the first Apple tablet is present also on the iPad 2. The only button on the face of the iPad 2 received a minor revision and is now easier to click and produces a softer sound while pressed. All in all, the reduced thickness and weight work together to make a more natural impression when holding the iPad 2 in hand.

    iPad (left) vs iPad 2 (right)

    iPad (left) vs iPad 2 (right)

    Hardware and software

    Here changes are apparent when using the tablet, since the dual core A5 CPU is twice as fast than the previous A4 chip, while the graphics power was increased nine times. This means soon enough we’ll see some impressive games specially designed for the iPad 2, which could put Apple in the portable gaming console territory, where Sony is king right now. But let’s get back to speed, where people report that you’ll feel more snappiness than before, especially when browsing the web and switching apps (partially also because iOS 4.3 uses a better Javascript engine). Unfortunately the RAM amount is the same as the previous generation (or else Apple would have bragged about it), which means often switching apps just launches them again from the previous saved state. I hate that, especially in the web browser, when I open more than 3-4 tabs at once.

    A point where I would have liked to see a change is the screen, which is identical to the one in the original iPad. That’s a minor deal breaker, but probably the iPad 3 will improve on that next year, when all iOS devices and the MacBook Pros are rumored to switch to Retina displays.

    Then comes iOS 4.3, an important step forward that brings speed and functionality improvements (see the list here). It’s available for the iPod Touch, iPhone 4 and iPad, so it’s not iPad 2 bound, but here shines thanks to the amazing built-in video and audio editors, iMovie and Garageband, which would make Producers from any enthusiast consumers willing to put little effort into sharing their work directly from the Apple tablet.

    Video cameras

    As someone pointed out, there’s a world record with the iPad 2: it’s the only device with a camera resolution lower than its screen resolution. Don’t know how Apple managed that, especially since its iPhone 4 takes great pictures, something you won’t see on the iPad 2. Anyway, at least you can shoot 720p videos and edit them on the device. For this task the iPad 2 is good enough, but still don’t get it why Apple didn’t put better cameras on it. Facetime chats are adequate, but they’re still affected by the mediocre front facing camera.

    The back facing camera

    The back facing camera

    The Speaker

    If would be incorrect to call them speakers, as it’s only one. Unlike the first iPad, this one is placed on the lower back of the case. Reviewers have reported the same audio quality, but I think then you’ll put your iPad 2 into a case without an opening for the speaker it will fare even worse than the original. Tablets like the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy TAB do better at this chapter thanks to stereo speakers. iPad 2 can’t win all battles.

    The iPad 2 speaker

    The iPad 2 speaker

    Battery life

    This is another chapter where the iPad 2 holds a strong lead over competitors, but it’s a little bit worse than the previous generation, as Walt Mossberg observed. The new tablet barely exceeded ten hours of video playback, while the iPad 1 managed over 11 hours. That’s nothing short of impressive, but it’s a little step back, also something to be expected since processing power increased quite a bit.

    Smart cover case for iPad 2

    This is one of the must have accessories for iPad 2. It sleeps/wakes up the iPad 2, protects the screen and acts like an iPad 2 stand when rolled, allowing you to put the tablet in a position for typing or one for media watching & browsing. It’s the best cover for iPad 2 right now, and it’s only 39$ for the polyurethane version (get a list of current best iPad 2 cases and covers here).

    Smart cover used as a vertical iPad 2 stand

    Smart cover used as a vertical iPad 2 stand

    And one more thing about Smart Cover: the magnetic mechanism for attaching the case to the iPad 2 is amazing.

    What’s stopping you from getting the iPad 2?

    Let me finish by telling you that the iPad 2 is not a perfect device. It’s far from that, but it’s the best tablet to date for people who want to be mastered by their gadget. If you want customization go for an Android tablet, as there’s little you can’t do with one. In the case of the iPad 2, Apple tells you what you can and can’t do with it. Sure you now can stream some content to your TV via the Dock Digital AV Accessory Cable with HDMI video out, but why not mirror the screen completely, and wirelessly, with no cables. Maybe because you won’t like to see those awful sub one megapixel pictures from your iPad 2. A nd how about widgets on the main screen? Or Flash support?

    And if you don’t care for increased speed, as the 1st iPad is mighty quick and don’t need cameras you can stick with your first Apple tablet. It’s still a good tablet, and since yesterday you can install iOS 4.3 and get all the software features of the iPad 2 at no extra cost.

    Official guided tours for iPad 2 – get introduced to iPad 2’s new features by Apple

    iPad 2 video reviews

    If you want to get a feel of the iPad 2 there’s no better way that watch some video reviews. Here are a few selected from the web. Rest assured there are more to come, so in case the videos below are not enough for you just go to Youtube.com and search for ‘ipad 2 review’. I’m sure you’ll be more than satisfied there.

    PCMag

    Macworld

    LaptopMag