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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  • podperson - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Just admit that most PCs are used as toys. Heck, the whole reason the personal computer took off (in homes) was as a games platform.

    Most of the people I see with PCs are using them to surf the web, watch youtube, update facebook, or mess around with digital media. Where I work there are Macs and PCs available to the public with 27" monitors all open to Facebook (hint, it's a university). Exactly what is this "work" you need to do on PCs? For most people it's a little bit of text editing now.

    For some kinds of things the iPad is markedly superior ergonomically to a PC (or even a tablet computer or WACOM tablet display) — e.g. sketching or various musical apps. For others a PC is markedly superior. For still others one or the other is completely useless.
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Except it isn't bulky nor underpowered for many things.

    I have a 2006 G4 iBook that is lower performance than a 2010 iPad 2. If the iPad 2 is a toy, then so is just about any early 2006 computer, including older Pentium M based laptops.

    It is also far less bulky than self same 4 year old computers, with trivially 2 to 3 times the battery life.

    I paid $500 so that my wife can follow my kids around, but still have a computer she can put in her purse. Without the iPad, she would have indeed settled for an iPod touch, but a netbook with a hinge? Too short a battery life and too hard to manage (Windows XP, Windows Update, AV, etc) for the harried housewife/homemaker
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Just how big is her purse? As for battery life I think you are looking through rose colored glasses in emphasizing the positive qualities that your device holds. As long as the device lasts until you get home to plug it in (maybe even your vehicle) it will suffice. The iPad is too bulky and not functional enough too do day to day tasks. As I said earlier, the authors point this out.

    As much as we want these cute devices to succeed we find ourselves using other devices that are far more practical. I've made the same mistake myself in the past. Anyone remember the Sony Clie? Another proprietary underpowered overpriced device. I believe I paid $500 for it. It gathered dust for years until I finally put it in a box. There's the cool factor and then there's reality. Do you set it out for your friends' visits or do you actually get x value out of it?

    Also, you are going to be carrying your phone with you already. Why carry both devices with you when one doesn't have more functionality over the other? I would think that the balance for function belongs to the smartphone (phone service is more valuable than screen size).
    Reply
  • michael2k - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Her purse is big enough to hold an iPad, a wallet, another smaller purse, a phone, keys, two Capri Suns, two candy bars, a small bag of chips, and a couple of diapers.

    As for battery life, that's exactly what the iPad is; it lasts as long as it needs to until it gets home to be plugged in. I cannot find a laptop under 2 pounds with similar battery life. The minimum requirement is 6 hours.

    I carry my phone because I am more like Anand than not. She carries the iPad because she isn't like Anand, at all. It would be the equivalent of me driving a Civic and her driving a minivan; surely the very concept of a soccer mom and her requirements being different than a 9-5 commuter isn't lost on you?
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    So, we can officially say this is the official tablet of soccer moms everywhere. Yay.

    She carries it around not because she is unlike Anand. She carries it around because she has a strong back!
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    A lot of the "sales" are from the retail outlets and not-necessarily the end-user consumer. There's people that buy it to sell to China or other Asian countries that buy it for double it's price; there are a plethora of reviewers these days; there are the people with mass amount of wealth that buy up anything just because they can; and then the hipsters that want to be cool and fit in. It reminds me of the episode of South Park with the smug Prius drivers.

    I'm not saying this isn't a bad device and it's mobility makes it beneficial in many regards. But the price of its mobility does not make it as attractive as it would be at the lower price (~$250). I'm not saying it should go for $100, but you're nearing the $1000 end of the spectrum for these devices and way over that for the necessary apps and accessories.
    Reply
  • crunc - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    I don't know why I'm getting into this argument, but all the iPads, including iPad 2's, that I'm seeing out in the world would seem to dispell your notion that no one is actually buying them for their own use. I saw 3 of them within 5 feet of me on the train this morning, for example. In 3 weeks time or so I'll be another one on the train with one, and also using it at home. I don't own a laptop. I wouldn't mind a laptop, but I'd rather have an iPad. It is, for me, far more comfortable to use then a laptop. Even the excellent trackpads on MacBooks don't compare to the entirely touch-based interface of the iPad. Obviously they aren't for everyone, but for some these are a great choice. I don't expect to write a book on it, but I then don't write books. If I ever decide to write a book, maybe I'll get a laptop. Reply
  • Ushio01 - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    It's a fasion accessory just like the iphone, to be with the "in crowd" you have to have apple products that's all there is to it. Everyone on here must know at least someone who bought an iphone and then use it only for calls and texts, I know dozens of people who have done this. Reply
  • crunc - Monday, March 21, 2011 - link

    Actually, no, I don't know anyone who has an iPhone that only uses it for texts and phone calls. Everybody I know who has one uses it for virtually everything, myself included. In fact, I rarely text and only occasionally make phone calls (mostly of the, "should I pick up a pizza?" variety). You go on living in your little dream world, though. I won't stop you. I have an order in for an iPad 2 and I'm really looking forward to it. I love my iPhone and I want something akin to a laptop, but that isn't that, because the iOS interface is fantastic and the devices are more comfortable for me to use. Sure, there's some shortcomings to the platform, but they are overwhelmed by the multitude of positives. Reply
  • sarahtim - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I think this sort of comment represents a failure of imagination. As iPads sell million after million you have to adjust your idea of how many hipsters there are...
    Other people are different from you.
    Speaking for myself; I find my iPad extremely useful. I use it for a number of hours each day. I don't find it clunky. To me, and this is a very personal thing, the cost was of little consequence. While it is poor taste to blurt out your relative wealth when many folks are having a rough time of it, it is the only way to answer your comment. Further, I consider iPads to be very good value. I bought the bottom of the line iPad 1. It does everything I want. The bulk of its time is spent streaming video via the Air Video app.
    I represent a single data point - as do you. I fully appreciate that an iPad is a useless paperweight to you. No problem. When I use my iPad I do it in private. I don't discuss my ownership with others. I don't think I'm clever or a better person because I have one.
    You would have to look at me for a very long time before you thought of a hipster. Trust me on this. :-)
    Reply

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