The second generation iPad went on sale earlier today, to much fanfare and long, long lines. We're hard at work on our full review of Apple's second generation tablet but there were a few things we wanted to chime in on before too much time passed.

The iPad 2 is a very logical update to the original iPad. The hardware gets an upgrade, with revised industrial design, a slimmer chassis, and Apple's new A5 SoC inside. A5 brings along two Cortex A9 cores, a dual core version of PowerVR's SGX543 graphics chip, and 512MB of memory. Software stays mostly the same but gets some tweaks; the iPad 2 ships with iOS 4.3, which was released earlier this week as an update for the iPhone 4 and original iPad.

The industrial design has changed pretty significantly, from the convex curvature of the original iPad's back to the flat back of the new iPad. Starting with the iPhone 4, Apple has been moving away from the continuous curvature that dominated their handhelds two or three years ago (think iPhone 3G/3G-S, iPod touch 2G/3G, and the 4G/5G iPod nano) and more towards a flatter and more rectangular design language across the board. The iPhone 4 is the only one that's really angular, but the 4th generation iPod touch debuted the same flatness with more ergonomically friendly curves. The iPad 2 basically carries the iPod touch 4G design language on a larger scale.

The iPad 2 is slightly lighter but easier to hold than the previous generation. Laying in bed and reading is probably where the difference becomes most apparent. The gentle curvature running around the edge makes the in-hand feel surprisingly different, as does the considerably thinner profile. I'm actually shocked at how dramatic the difference is.

The downside to the very large radius curvature on the outside is that the dock connector is now awkwardly exposed. It's very similar to how the iPod Touch looks, with about 2 mm of exposed connector visible viewed from the back.

The previous generation dock connector was the subject of constant criticism for being way too tight. Apple has over-corrected with the iPad 2 and now the dock connector is too loose. Just browsing the Apple store, I noted several units whose dock connectors appeared plugged in, but had come just loose enough to not charge.

When connecting 30-pin dock cables, there's not too much resistance holding the cable in place, and the port itself is difficult to locate without flipping the thing over or viewing it from below.

Another welcome change - the return of the white iDevice. After the no-show that was the white iPhone 4, I was pleased to see Apple ship the white-bezeled iPad 2 on time with no production hitches. I was also wrong about how good white would look. Instead of being overwhelming or busy, the white bezel actually has one notable advantage over black - it doesn't show fingerprints or dust. That alone was what constantly drove me crazy about the previous generation - it always looked dirty. Shockingly, white seems to actually make sense.

 

Other hardware chances are the addition of front and rear facing cameras for FaceTime and taking pictures, but unfortunately, they seem to be pieces lifted from the iPod touch and nothing near the iPhone 4's 5 megapixel shooter. We'll talk about what this means for picture quality overall later on in the preview. The switch on the side can now be configured to either be a device silencer or a rotation lock switch, and there is now a large speaker on the bottom right corner of the device.

Overall, the new design really works - the iPad 2 feels good in hand, and instantly makes its predecessor feel a little clunky. But we didn't just pause our testing to talk about design, there's a lot under the hood of the iPad 2 that demands attention.

The CPU: A Dual-Core ARM Cortex A9
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  • name99 - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Depends on what you mean by "properly".
    In the city iPad location services work astonishingly well. God knows how they do it, I guess the SkyHook database is just huge.
    On the other hand, if you plan to go hiking with your iPad, you might be disappointed.

    One way to test this (if you have a mac) is to see how well your mac provides location. Grab a location-aware app (google maps in Safari is an easy choice) and ask it to locate you. (Note that you need WiFi to be on for this to work usefully, so if you're doing it at a desktop mac, make sure WiFi is on.)

    If you have a portable, try it in a few different places. Are you happy with the results? Because that's about what you'll get from iPad without GPS.
    Reply
  • Mr Alpha - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    I don't believe it can. According to another famous Steve Jobs email iOS doesn't support getting internet access via tethering. On the other hand iOS 4.3 added hotspot to iPhone 4, which you should be able to use to get internet to a WiFi only iPad. Reply
  • solgae1784 - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    It looks like AT&T will allow iPad 3G to be used as a personal hotspot. Not sure about Verizon.

    http://www.att.com/gen/press-room?pid=19295&cd...
    Reply
  • ATC - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Yes you can. I have an iPhone 4 with 4.3 installed and with the new HotSpot feature of iOS 4.3 you can do just that. However, in the US my understanding is that you need a tethering data plan and AT&T or Verizon will charge you more to activate the HotSpot feature. Of course you can always get around that by JB your iPhone.

    I'm in Canada and the HotSpot feature works here for free and works great (I've been using it for the past 3 days to share my 6GB data with my iPhone). But there are a few things to consider when doing this. One, your iPhone's battery runs down much faster (it's using 3G data and Wifi at the same time). Second, while I haven't tested this, I think you lose location service/GPS on your iPad because only the 3G iPad has a GPS (I could be wrong though).
    Reply
  • 3DoubleD - Monday, March 14, 2011 - link

    I would be cautious here. I bought a Kindle with only WiFi thinking I could just tether to Android phone for internet access on the go... I was WRONG.

    In the case of the Kindle, the WiFi chip does not support connecting to non-router based wireless networks. So the Kindle cannot connect to any wireless network that you created with your phone, tablet, or laptop.

    So, the answer to your question is dependent on the wireless chipset used in the iPad. My recommendation is to find proof that someone has successfully tethered an iPhone with an iPad2 before wasting $800.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Definite improvement there; can't wait for HDR and more shader effects such as bump mapping to appear in mobile games. I knew years ago that the SGX was capable of AA but it's not something we've really seen up until now.

    I wonder how much faster this implementation is as compared to the SGX540 found in Hummingbird?
    Reply
  • rish95 - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Well Imagination Tech says a dual core SGX543 is over 4X faster than the SGX 540.

    So even though the iPad is at 1024 x 768 you can still expect 60% higher frame rate, but the power per pixel is much higher.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    Well that's disappointing. I hardly expected it to replace a dedicated camera, but with an iPhone 4-ish camera and the processing power it has it could have allowed for some neat things. But if the camera sucks, meh.

    Also, whats that vintage camera shown in all the test shoots?
    Reply
  • Sarah_ - Saturday, March 12, 2011 - link

    It's a Kine-Exakta II, made in 1948 :)
    The one in the picture is not functional but it definitely looks cool!

    http://captjack.exaktaphile.com/Kine-Exakta%20II%2...
    Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - link

    Thanks! Reply

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