It’s thinner and lighter and has a front-facing camera for video calls. But is it worth shelling out the cash for Apple’s latest tablet computer, the iPad 2, which went on sale in SA last Friday? TechCentral editor Duncan McLeod spent the long weekend putting the machine through its paces.
There’s no doubt that the iPad 2 is in demand. Despite arriving at Core Group’s flagship iStore in Sandton’s central business district quite late in the day last Friday, the shop was still packed with customers lining up to buy the rapidly dwindling stock of the device.
A Core representative tells me that when the store opened its doors at 9am, there was a queue of at least 150 people snaking through the parking lot outside, all eager to get their hands on Apple’s latest tablet. In Cape Town, there were even reports of someone camping outside the company’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront outlet to be first in line to get the iPad 2.
Consumer demand appears to be insatiable. And it’s not hard to see why when one takes the device out of its packaging and starts to play around with it. Like other Apple products, the iOS-based interface is gorgeous. Swiping a finger to flip between screens, merging icons to create groups and firing up and browsing the App Store for new applications is child’s play.
Despite a proliferation of rival tablets — most of them running variations of Google’s Android operating system — Apple’s product continues to dominate the nascent computing segment. Why? Because the company has done a great job of creating an intuitive user interface and attracting developers to build applications for the platform.
It’s hard to identify the iPad’s one killer feature. I suspect it will differ from user to user. For me, the wide range of magazines on offer is most compelling. From the surprisingly good iPad newspaper The Daily (its photography is simply stunning) to the interactivity of Wired magazine’s digital edition, the Apple device makes reading a pleasure. I was also delighted to have digital access to The Economist, which I subscribe to in print. Having the business magazine available the moment it’s published — rather than relying on the vagaries of the postal system — adds enormous value to my consumption of the product.
There’s little doubt that the iPad and the iPad 2 are ideally suited to the living room. It lends itself to the consumption of media. Though the on-screen keyboard is also excellent, I can’t see the device replacing my notebook and desktop computers. It’s more of a leisure than a business computing device.
That said, for consumers who need to check a bit of personal e-mail, do their online banking, read magazines and watch a bit of YouTube, the iPad could easily replace a home computer setup.
The question is: is it worth getting one? I resisted for ages, watching dozens of manufacturers struggle to bring compelling 10-inch Android-based devices to market. In the end, I grew tired of waiting. When Apple announced it was bringing the iPad 2 to SA months earlier than expected, I gave in to temptation. Do I regret the decision? No, not in the least.
If I already had the original iPad, the decision would have been much more difficult. Should owners of the generation one iPad pony up the cash for the upgrade? Probably not, unless they have cash to burn.
The iPad 2 is a small and incremental upgrade, not a big leap forward. It’s the same size as the original, though a bit lighter and a third thinner. It also has two new cameras, including a front-facing one for the first time, which makes Skype and FaceTime video calling possible.
There’s also a faster processor — Apple’s new 1GHz, dual-core A5 chip — but the original device was already very snappy. Both devices run the same software, so the user experience is almost identical. Screen resolution is the same at 1024 x 768 on the 9,7-inch display. The evolutionary changes will be enough to keep Apple’s rivals at bay for a while, though the iPad 3 will probably have to bring more marked improvements to the table, especially as Android tablets gather steam.
Battery life remains best in class, beating all competitors hands down. A recent comparison by Engadget shows the iPad 2 handily beats its nearest rival, the Android-powered Motorola Xoom, in the battery stakes. The device actually delivers Apple’s promised battery life of 10-plus hours of active use.
There’s little doubt that the iPad 2 is the best large-screen tablet computer on offer from any manufacturer right now. It’s not perfect, mind you — the quality of the cameras leaves much to be desired and the screen resolution could really do with a bump up, but if you’ve got your mind set on getting a tablet, Apple’s product remains your best option. This is especially true given how aggressively the product is priced in SA — it’s cheaper than in some European markets.
The real decision to make is which of the 12 versions to buy — a 3G or Wi-Fi only model, white or black, and 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. It’s hard to make a recommendation here. The 3G models are much pricier — R1 200 more than the Wi-Fi-only variations — but if you plan to use this device on the road or if you don’t have Wi-Fi at the home or office, it’s the only real option. Of course, you could shell out for a wireless 3G modem/router, but than means lugging two devices around. And more memory is better, especially if you plan to transfer a lot of multimedia — music and video — to the iPad 2.
You’ll want to skip the magnetic Smart Cover, though. It doesn’t provide protection to the rear of the device and Core Group is charging a premium price — a basic Smart Cover will set you back a hefty R470, which is too much considering they retail in the US for $39. Rather buy a proper cover from a manufacturer like Capdase that will give your new toy the protection it deserves. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral