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
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  • Mike1111 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Well, Anandtech is a site for geeks, but shouldn't you have at least mentioned how you think the iPad 2 could fit into the average person's life? People who don't "work" with PCs in their free time and who don't have a dedicated PC workflow?

    Some thoughts regarding the review:
    - I thought the glass was supposed to be from Asahi Glass (Dragontrail)?
    - Okay, the Xoom can't play videos with b-frames without problems. But what h.264 videos can the iPad 2 play? Same as iPad? More? High-profile? Blu-ray class h.264 videos?
    - I wish you could have gone more in-depth regarding the A5. Why is it so big compared to the Tegra2? How efficient does it work? What kind of video decoder/encoder are used? etc.
    Reply
  • Zebo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Nothin like the real things baby.....I have used a x201 tablet since April of 10 and it's the best investment I ever made. True outdoor viewable with upgraded outdoor IPS screen and 500 nits. true keyboard, true duel core processor, true work machine. I have ATT card to get internet and take it everywhere I go. I bet I travel more than Anand and it's the only way to fly. Reply
  • tcool93 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I don't even own the Ipad. Yet I do know for a fact there are at least two other browsers you can use with it besides Safari. The Atomic browser, and the Skyfire browser... both supporting tabs and supposedly are much better than Safari. Skyfire even has partial flash support, and viewing social network sites built in (twitter, facebook, etc). Both of those browsers have very good reviews also. Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I'm starting to play with iCab, but I don't have an iPad. Reply
  • dagamer34 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    3rd party browsers unfortunately don't get the Javascript speedup built into iOS 4.3 Reply
  • tipoo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    The javascript engine is built into the browser. Of course they don't get the faster Safari engine, they aren't Safari. They use their own engines. Reply
  • name99 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Yes and no.
    The current iOS will no allow third party apps to create code on the fly, so those browsers will not be able to use JIT'ing, even if they wanted to write a sophisticated javascript engine.

    On the other hand, Apple is well aware of the limitations of their current browser tech and are actively working on ways to run different parts of the browsing code in different processes (for both performance --- multi-threading, non-blocked UI --- and security reasons), on both OSX and iOS.
    When this effort comes to fruition, who knows how much of the underlying tech (in particular, in this case the ability to create code on the fly, perhaps in some sandboxed fashion) will be made available to devs?
    Reply
  • Zebo - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    You'll never even think about a slate tablet after that.

    10 hrs battery
    all windows apps
    plays games
    IPS screen (with upgrade)
    can use as HTPC when on road
    can publish this site effortlessly
    I doubt you'll use a another device besides your iphone
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    And I could buy three iPads for the same price. It simply isn't a valid comparison for the same reason the MB Air, Asus Slate, and other $1000+ devices aren't; not in the same category, not even in the same price range. It's like saying that after driving a Mercedes S-class, you'll never think about driving a Lotus Elise or Porsche Boxster ever again - it's not really a useful or valid comparison to make.

    I don't doubt that the X220t is going to be an excellent, excellent device - fixes every problem I had with the X200/201t, goes back to the IPS display, and it's going to be pretty fast too. It looks pretty awesome, IMO. If I was in the market for a tablet PC (as opposed to a smartphone-based tablet), this and the ASUS Slate would be the only two I'd really look at - the ASUS is kind of like a cheaper version of the X220 except without the built-in keyboard.
    Reply
  • snouter - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    But I left it on a plane. What did I replace it with? An 11" MacBook Air. Honestly, it's no comparison. The Air can do so many things that the iPad could not. Tablets will stick around and find niche applications in lots of places, but I'd keep my eye on the the super thin super light notebooks. BTW, the Air has a ULV Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz and will get Sandy Bridge in the next update. The processing power is far superior to the tablets and the netbooks. It's everything I wanted to do with my iPad, and it's a notebook when I need it to be. Main main work Laptop is still a 17" MacBook Pro, but none of these tablets, netbooks or ULV laptops are in competition with it. When the next Air comes out with a backlit keyboard and ULV Sandy Bridge, I'll be there. Reply

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