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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  • synaesthetic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I have to agree, the 11" MBA is one extremely sexy piece of kit.

    I wish there was a similar option that wasn't branded with the half-eaten fruit of hipsterdom. And doesn't run OSX, which I don't particularly like.
    Reply
  • snouter - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    iPad does have for real 10 hour battery life and is generally maintenance free. Charge it, pick it up, use it. But, the Air gets a solid 5 hours (gets me from coast to coast) and is also pretty much instant on and generates no heat and I never hear the fan. So, although the iPad has a clear advantage in battery life it has no clear advantage as a "consumption device" and it forces you to favor apps and it does not handle media files as well and it does not have flash, which, is still out there.

    As far as price, yeah, the 11" Air is 50% to 100% more expensive, but ULV Sandy Bridge will see a flood of products on the PC side of things that should have lower price tags and if some PC manufacturer would please step up and start taking product design seriously.

    I typed this on my Air, and I would probably type less and put less thought into it (the same dreaded way that BlackBerry effect has really been a setback for written communications with the half butt answers) on an iPad.

    Also, one last Air advantage, it has a screen on a hinge. I got so sick of hold the iPad or having to prop it up on things...

    The iPad is a +1 device, sure, but... I'm going to stick with the 2 pound laptops for a while.
    Reply
  • nickdoc - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Well, if I deserve to be called a hipster or dickhead by some poorly educated idiot with two brain cells (both of them obviously white) for owning an iPad along with a MacBook Air, Mac Mini Server, MacBook Pro 15 and 17", 27" Cinema Display, iPhone4 and something else I forgot, then so be it. I'm not offended in the knowledge who the comment came from. A really sad case. Can't help feeling sorry for you, Kuka-whatever-your-screen-name-was.

    It looks like the comments here have been written by people under the age of 45-50 because no one has ever mentioned glasses. Yes, those things people need to see what's in front of them, far and near. It's worse when you need both. Then you won't be so happy to do any kind of work on an iPhone or even surf the web. You would wish for a larger screen every time you are forced to switch from your normal glasses to your reading spectacles. Use a netbook? Even worse. A tablet is different and allows you to read with your nose practically replacing your fingers on that touch screen. Perfect!

    As a surgeon, I often have to show other people what I mean. This can be a scan, a plain radiograph, lab results and so on. Unless I have a big screen right there for all to see, the iPad is the gadget of choice. Give it to the team before surgery to look at scans with my notes right there on the screen, pass it around when on teaching rounds, give it to a frightened patient to reassure. Try doing the same with a smartphone or a netbook (useless toys that they are) and you will see how crazy that idea is.

    Basically, in my field, there is no end to the list of possible applications. This is combining consumption with creation. Therefore, before using such terms as dickheads, try to think a bit further than your own little world if your "processor" has that much power. If not, well... As I said, a very sad case.
    Reply
  • Gunhedd - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Thank you. I wish more folks would pipe in with the real-world capabilities and uses they're discovering. No matter though. Apple-hate isn't new. I dealt with it in the '90s when Apple really was in trouble. Apple currently firing on all cylinders just keeps giving haters more and more to bitch about. (Price of success perhaps?)

    Hipsters? Dickheads? WTF?

    This comment isn't about the review but the inane comments that invariably get trotted out by hater technogeeks that won't move out of their mother's basement, disappointed that all the flash-porn won't work on an iOS device. Instant "fail" (or whatever silly phrase the self-annointed, self-important digerati are using today) in their book. These folks need to get out and learn that most people are "not" like them. But that would require getting a life. (Which would probably be easier than getting a date...)

    (See? I can paint with the broad strokes too. ;)
    Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed Alexander's glass article, it was a great read.
    My grandfather was a material scientist, so it brought back a lot of good memories.
    Reply
  • AgeOfPanic - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the great review. Anandtech seems to be the best site for independent and in-depth reviews. Please keep that going, because there is too much fanboyism going around. Saying that I have to admit, that I lean towards the Android side, because I think it's much more suited towards the tech enthusiast. Right one my HD2 is running the newest Gingerbread 2.3.3 rom from XDA, something impossible with iOS. However, I'm typing this on my iPad and if you would ask me which tablet I would recommend to my parents right now, I would say the iPad.
    I myself will switch. The question is if I can hold out to the quad core SOC that have been announced for later this year or will go for a Xoom wifi only model. The iPad convinced me that a tablet is what I need most of the time. However, iOS is hopelessly outdated. No widgets, notifications are laughable and browsing is annoying. With no memory, switching between tabs means reloading almost every time. And loading is slow.
    That's also why I was so interested in your browser scores. Couple of things I noticed. First of all you switched back to manual measurements for the page loading, because the Honeycomb browser stopped the timer too early. Isn't that just a sign that it is fast or was it really, really early? Manual measurement has it's on flaws though.Very susceptible to operator bias. I don't think you should report your scores in milliseconds then, because that implies an accuracy you just don't have. Furthermore, I would like to see error bars, so we can determine if these differences were really significant.
    Again, these are my comments. Thanks for the good work.
    Reply
  • bjacobson - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    want it on android... Reply
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I purchased an iPad 2 for my wife. I had been giving her my old MacBook Pro laptops, which at even four years old are complete overkill for her use. She adores the new iPad. It's far more portable and can be used in more situations than a laptop.

    Case in point, this week she created the family shopping list on her iPad 2 and brought it grocery store. She browses the WEB, FaceBook, games, EMAIL, and keep all her favorite photos, movies, and music.

    From now on, i'll be hocking my used MacBooks on craigslist if I can. She doesn't even want a laptop anymore. That's the biggest issue I have - it's too good. Too many people will find that tablets are better and abandon their laptops altogether. Laptops will stop evolving, much like desktops did once Laptops became popular.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    I agree that it's a better laptop for casual users. However the Flash limitation I believe is still a problem that prevents it from being a complete laptop replacement for even casual users (a lot of restaurant, automotive and photography websites are still unfortunately 100% flash based). As long as you have some access to a laptop however this is really a non-issue, except when traveling with only the iPad.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • alex2792 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I enjoyed reading the review,but it seemed a bit biased to me. While it's true that the iPad can't replace a laptop for content creation it works just fine in many fields. I sell annuities and the iPad has totally replaced my laptop when I'm on the go. I have designed presentations using keynote before and It worked great, whenever meeting a client I always bring my iPad instead of carrying paper brouchoures, in fact most of these clients end up getting an iPad themselves after playing with mine. Maybe Apple should pay me for advertising their product. Reply

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