Video Quality

The rear facing camera is native 1280x720 and unsurprisngly captures 720P video. It's essentially the same quality as the iPod Touch, which doesn't come as a surprise at all. There's been considerable discussion about whether this back sensor is optimized (or intended) for video. Given that 1280x720 size, it seems obvious this is likely the case. As we'll show, video on the iPad 2 is actually very good, it's still capture that suffers. 

In all honesty, 720P video capture on the iPad 2 is almost as good as the iPhone 4. In addition, there's no apparent change in magnification when switching into video mode on the iPad 2 like there is on the iPhone 4. This is again because 160 pixels are tossed away on the left and right sides in still mode. Unfortunately there's no way to capture a 1280x720 still from the iPad 2 unless you shoot video and manually grab frames. Video on the rear facing camera is captured at 1280x720 at 29.970 fps H.264 Baseline (1 reference frame) at 10.6 Mbps. Audio is 1 channel AAC at 64 Kbps. 

Like other iDevices, you can view the actual aspect correct capture frame by double tapping on the preview. 


I took two video samples with the iPad 2, one at our usual bench location in afternoon lighting, another outside the local cafe at night to show low light performance. As usual we've uploaded both to YouTube as well as hosted originals in a big 7-zip (186 MB). 

The iPad 2's 720P rear facing video capture sample in daylight is actually pretty impressive and on par with all the other iDevices. Apple still has class leading quality at 720P even when competitors are doing encodes at 1080P, and at this point it looks like their ISP and encoder is roughly the same as the A4's. 

I also took one more video at another location at night. I start outdoors and then go indoors into a cafe to give a feel for low-light performance.

Front facing video isn't super impressive on its own, but again on par with other iDevices. It's 640x480 (VGA) at 29.970 fps H.264 Baseline (1 reference frame) at 3.5 Mbps. Audio is 1 channel AAC at 64 Kbps. 

In spite of being just VGA the front facing video quality is quite decent. No doubt Apple is making a concious effort to go with lower resolution sensors (but with bigger pixels) instead of pushing for more megapixels on the front camera. It's a tradeoff that makes the front facing cameras on iDevices better in low light. Until FaceTime gets HD on mobile devices (and we get more mobile upstream bandwidth), VGA seems good enough.

Still Quality

It's still quality on the rear facing camera that's really disappointing. Still images are again cropped to 960x720 (4:3). The images are simply noisy and underwhelming all around. The competition is shipping higher resolution front facing cameras than what's in the iPad 2's rear facing camera, and the result is that the thing feels like it's saddled with two sub-par cameras. 

We've done the usual thing and taken photos with the front and rear facing cameras in our smartphone lightbox and at the bench locations. In addition I shot photos with the iPad around town and everywhere I carried it with me. 

The front facing camera seems to have some odd white balance issues, as it shows a reddish cast in our lightbox. Out in the wild, I never ran into any serious performance issues with the front facing camera, and honestly VGA seems fine for the time being until mobile devices get the bandwidth to juggle 720P videoconferencing.  

I guess the issue I have with the iPad 2's cameras is that the back one already seems woefully insufficient. Apple has already demonstrated that it's possible to both have a thin device and awesome cameras with the iPhone 4. Coupled with onboard HDR, the iPhone 4 still delivers images that rival all but Nokia's best. It's just puzzling why a device that costs substantially more out the door than the iPhone 4 delivers such subpar still capture quality. In reality, thickness is probably the most important constraint here, as the iPhone 4 is thicker than the iPad 2 and thus Apple couldn't simply toss the iPhone 4 cameras inside the iPad 2. I won't speculate about Apple's motivations for going with these cameras, but the end result is a rear camera that honestly doesn't impress.  

Compared to the Xoom

The Motorola Xoom's 5MP Rear Facing Camera

The Motorola Xoom's rear camera captures at 2592 x 1944 (5MP) and is assisted by an LED flash. This gives the Xoom's rear camera a 7.29x higher pixel count than what Apple offers with the iPad 2. But do more pixels mean a better looking picture? Well in this case, yes.

Mouse over to see the Motorola Xoom's camera quality

Mouse over to see the Motorola Xoom's camera quality

The iPad 2's rear camera predictably produces very saturated colors like the iPhone 4. The rear sensor is very noisy in low light situations and it's not very sharp on top of that. You'll also notice that Apple's funny white balance algorithm acts up in the shot with two external lights vs. one external light. 

The Xoom by comparison is pretty consistent in terms of white balance. Motorola also produces a sharper image, although the colors are far too hazy. If Apple over compensates for color saturation, Motorola tones it down a little too much. The LED flash keeps the shot with no external lights from becoming too noisy but it also royally screws up the white balance, making the image a bit too green.

As we mentioned in our review, the Xoom is surprisingly potent when it comes to taking pictures. It's by no means great, but it's way better than the iPad 2.

The Cameras: UI and Placement Apple's foray into iPad cases - Smart Covers


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Considering the source (ARMflix), you need to take that video with a huge grain of salt. It looks like they're running some Linux variant on the two systems (maybe Chromium?), and while the build may be the same, that doesn't mean it's optimized equally well for Atom vs. A9.

    Single-core Atom at 1.6GHz vs. dual-core A9 at 500MHz surfing the web is fine and all, but when we discuss Atom being faster than A9 we're talking about raw performance potential. A properly optimized web browser and OS experience with high-speed Internet should be good on just about any modern platform. Throw in some video playback as well, give us something more than a script of web pages in a browser, etc.

    Now, none of this means ARM's A9 is bad, but to show that it's as fast as Atom when browsing some web pages is potentially meaningless. What we really need to know is what one platform can do well that the other can't handle properly. Where does A9 fall flat? Where does Atom stumble?

    For me, right now, Atom sucks at anything video related. Sorry, but YouTube and Hulu are pretty important tools for me. That also means iOS has some concerns, as it doesn't support Flash at all, and there are enough places where Flash is still used that it creates issues. Luckily, I have plenty of other devices for accessing the web. In the end, I mostly play Angry Birds on my iPod Touch while I'm waiting for someone. :-)
  • Wilco1 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    The article is indeed wrong to suggest that the A9 has only half the performance of an Atom. There are cases where a netbook with a single core Atom might be faster, for example if it runs at a much higher frequency, uses hyperthreading, and has a fast DDR3 memory system. However in terms of raw CPU performance the out-of-order A9 is significantly faster than the in-order Atom. Benchmark results such as CoreMark confirm this, a single core Atom cannot beat an A9 at the same frequency - even with hyperthreading. So it would be good to clarify that netbooks are faster because they use higher frequency CPUs and a faster memory system - as well as a larger battery... Reply
  • somata - Sunday, March 27, 2011 - link

    CoreMark is nearly as meaningless as MIPS. Right now the best cross-platform benchmark we have is Geekbench. It uses portable, multi-threaded, native code to perform real tasks. My experience with Geekbench on the Mac/PC over the years indicates that Geekbench scores correlate pretty well to average application performance (determined by my personal suite of app benchmarks). Of course there will be outliers, but Geekbench does a pretty good job at representing typical code.

    Given that, the fact that a single-core 1.6GHz Atom (with HT) scores about 28% higher than the IPad's dual-core 1GHz A9s in the integer suite leaves me little doubt that the Atom, despite being in-order, has as good or better per-clock performance than the A9s.

    Even the oft-maligned PowerPC G4 totally outclasses the dual A9s, with 43% better integer performance at 1.42GHz... and that's just with a single core competing against two!
  • tcool93 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Tablets do have their advantages despite what the article claims. For one thing, their battery life far out lives any Netbook or Notebook. They also run a lot cooler, unlike Notebooks and Netbooks, which you can fry an egg on. Maybe they aren't as portable as a phone, but who wants to look at the super tiny print on a phone.

    Tablets don't replace computers, and never will. There are nice to sit in bed with at night and browse the web or read books on, or play a simple game on. Anything that doesn't require a lot of typing.

    Even a 10" tablet screen isn't real big to read text, but its MUCH easier to zoom in on text to read it with tablets. Unlike any Notebook/'Netbook, which its a huge pain to get to zoom in.
  • tcool93 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I do think the benchmarks shown here do show that there is quite an improvement over the Ipad 1, despite what many seem to claim that there isn't much of an upgrade. Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Appreciate the article, and appreciating that you're responding to the readers as well. All three of you said that it didn't integrate into your workflow, and I have a similar problem (which has prevented me from purchasing one). One thing I'm very curious about: What is your opinion on what would have been the Courier concept? Do you feel that is the direction that tablets should have taken, or do you think that Apple's refining as opposed to paradigming is the way to go?
  • VivekGowri - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I still despise Microsoft for killing the Courier project. Honestly, I'd have loved to see the tablet market go that direction - a lot more focused on content creation instead of a very consumption-centric device like the iPad. A $4-500 device running that UI, an ARM processor, and OneNote syncing ability would have sold like hotcakes to students. If only... Reply
  • tipoo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Me too, the Courier looked amazing. They cancel that, yet go ahead with something like the Kin? Hard to imagine where their heads are at. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    While I've seen the Courier video, and it definitely looked impressive, it's tough to say how that would've worked in practice.

    I feel like there are performance limitations that are at work here. Even though a pair of A9s are quick, they are by no means fast enough. I feel like as a result, evolutionary refinement is the only way to go about getting to where we need to be. Along the way Apple (and its competitors) can pick up early adopters to help fund the progress.

    I'm really curious to see which company gets the gaming side of it down. Clearly that's a huge market.

    Take care,
  • Azethoth - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Gaming side is a good question. Apple will have an advantage there due to limited hardware specs to code to. They are a lot more like a traditional console that way vs Android which will be anything but.

    Are actual game controls like in the psp phone necessary?

    I am also curious what additional UI tech will eventually make it to the pad space:
    * Speech, although it is forever not there yet.
    * 3D maybe if its not a fad (glasses free)
    * Some form of the Kinect maybe to manipulate the 3d stuff and do magical kinect gestures and incantations we haven't dreamed up yet.
    * Haptic as mentioned earlier in the thread.

    Speech could make a pad suitable for hip bloggers like the AnandTech posse.

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